The Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was supposed to be the beachhead for the spread of labor unions in the South. Unlike many employers in the region, the German-owned company put up no opposition to the unionization drive at its plant, and many on the left were predicting a victory for the United Automobile Workers in last week’s vote. But when the votes were counted, the UAW came up 86 votes short. There will be no union in Chattanooga.To get a sense of just how devastating this defeat is for many on the left, take a look at this pre-vote column in the Washington Post. It seems to assume the workers would vote to unionize, assuming that this would then force the South to reexamine its attitudes towards unions, labor relations, and free-market economics:
The UAW’s organizing effort in Chattanooga is the latest challenge to the economic model that has defined the “New South” over the past 50 years — a model based on racial tolerance, low taxes, light regulation and a docile, non-unionized workforce.The success of this model stoked a rising standard of living across much of the Southeast that has become more cosmopolitan and better educated. Yet despite this business-friendly environment, incomes in the region still lag those of the North and West, while unemployment rates in many states are higher than the national average. And those once-grateful and -docile workers are beginning to notice — even in right-to-work states such as Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina, where union membership grew by 19 percent or more last year — the fastest rates in the country. […]The genius of democratic capitalism is its knack for learning from past mistakes and adapting to new realities. That’s what Volkswagen and the United Auto Workers courageously set out to do over the past year in Chattanooga. The question now is whether the South’s business and political elite will have the foresight to hop on that choo-choo or once again get left behind at the station.
The op-ed predicts the triumph of the auto worker over the “business leaders” and “free-market conservatives” trying to keep them down. Yet in the end, it seems that the workers at these Southern plants hold views more similar to business leaders and free-market conservatives than the WaPo editorial page. Who knew?