[Updated at bottom of post]
So, all eyes are fixed on the VW plant in Chattanooga, TN, because it’s supposed to be a test to see whether organized labor has any remaining power in the real world.
If a majority of Volkswagen’s 1,570 hourly workers vote yes, it would mark the first time in nearly three decades of trying that the UAW has successfully organized a plant for a foreign brand in the United States. This time, the union has a powerful ally: Volkswagen itself, which is hoping the union will collaborate in a German-style “works council” and help manage plant operations.
In truth, it is such a test: if organized labor cannot unionize the plant in Chattanooga, even with the support of the company itself they’d be organizing within, then there’s little reason to think they’d be able to do so anywhere else in the south (and perhaps elsewhere), any time soon.
However, the outcome at the Chattanooga VW plant is also a different kind of test for a different group: Republicans (and conservatives). How? For years, conservative thinkers and the GOP itself have argued that the reason they’re anti-union in practice is because unions are anti-business and anti-growth. As I alluded to previously, however, Volkswagen actively wants unionization in its Tennessee plant – they think it’d be a good thing. This is significant because if conservatives and elected Republicans in the state continue to oppose the union in this case, they lose the fig leaf of claiming a union would be “anti-business”: it’s kinda hard to claim you’re just trying to defend the interest of poor, beleaguered corporations against those dastardly, all-powerful laborers, when the corporation in question wants the union. So, are Tennessee’s conservatives “pro-business?” Do they want what the business (in this case, VW) says IT wants?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh, that was a good one. Too funny. Hang on, let me catch my breath for a moment here.
*Sigh*…no. Republicans in Tennessee are not only opposing the unionization plan supported by both many workers and the company those workers are employed by. Instead, they’re actively attempting to sabotage the unionization plan. How? Tennessee Republicans are actively threatening to remove the tax incentives Tennessee offered VW to locate its plant in their state.
“Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers, then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the State of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate,” State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said in a statement sent to the Free Press.
In other words, Tennessee’s conservative Republicans are willing to intentionally harm a business it recently spent taxpayer dollars to lure to the state, in order to make sure the workers of that business can’t unionize — even though the company wants them to.
The GOP establishment has answered, once and for all, whether their opposition to unionization is in fact the principled, prudent, pro-business stance they’ve always claimed it is…or simply the rigid, unyielding, anti-worker fixation of an ideology so hidebound it borders on zealotry.
**UPDATE: In not-wholly-unexpected news, the unionization effort failed last night in a 712 to 626 vote. The vote was always going to be uphill for organized labor in a region that has traditionally had strong anti-union sentiment, but just to make sure,
…Republican politicians in Tennessee as well as some outside conservative groups made sure that the plant’s nearly 1,600 workers heard plenty of anti-union arguments.
Even allowing for the hypocritical GOP full-court press on this issue, labor’s inability to win last night, if it doesn’t cement its long, inexorable decline, certainly does nothing to bring about its renaissance. More than anything else, though, last night’s vote serves to underscore what I said above: the utter bankruptcy of the notion that the GOP argument against unions is simply “pro-business” or “pro-growth,” rather than simply what it is: anti-worker.