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State of the Unions
Tennessee Anti-Union Vote Shocks MSM

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?

We hasten to add that there’s no room for triumphalism on either side. The margin of defeat for unionization was only a few score votes; it could easily have gone another way. If the union had won by ten votes the Post piece wouldn’t look nearly as silly. Both sides should draw conclusions from this fact accordingly.

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  • Anthony

    If I worked there, I would have voted against the union, but not because I am against the idea of Unions. In a “flat world,” where good paying jobs can be sent away to the third world in the blink of an eye, it makes sense to do whatever makes your employer happy.

    • Stacy Garvey

      This vote didn’t make the VW people happy. Under pressure from the German equivalent to the UAW(German auto worker’s union), VW management SUPPORTED the UAW in TN.
      The consensus of plant employees was simply that the UAW was a destructive and corrupt organization that couldn’t be trusted to look after their best interests.

      • Stacy Garvey

        It is possible to be pro union but at the same time anti UAW Wagner Act protected monopoly unions.

      • Anthony

        Maybe, maybe not. Local Chattanooga officials said that automotive suppliers would be less likely to locate in Tennessee in the future if the plant went union, which would hurt the economy in the surrounding area. Also, due to cost pressures, it might be impossible for a union to force the company to pay higher wages. Car factories locate in the south for many reasons, one of which is that it is possible for their employees to live well on a relatively low salary. 30K a year goes a LOT further in east Tennessee than in the Chicago area, for example.

    • free_agent

      As I read somewhere, a major purpose of a union is to unionize all of the manufacturers in a particular industry, levelling the wage rates across companies, and thus “taking labor costs out of the competitive equation”. That is, if the union has a lock on producing widgets, the companies really don’t care if those wage rates rise uniformly across the industry, because the increased costs can be passed on to the customers. But in the modern world, there are too many places where a manufacturing plant can be placed for a union to get a lock on all of them.

  • Anthony

    Don’t know enough about Plant/Area dynamics nor cultural interplay to tea leaf result (MSM probably similarly situated…).

  • rheddles

    There were 1550 workers eligible to vote. Only 626 voted for the union. 40%. Under the circumstances, that is a dramatic repudiation of the union. If VW really wants a workers council, they should open a plant in Michigan. Plenty there are empty. Wonder if the UAW could win a vote there?

    • Andrew Allison

      Exactly! The MSM is painting the result as being extremely close when, in fact, non-votes were effectively votes against unionization. I suspect, given the closeness of the actual vote, that if the UAW succeeds in getting a re-run, the margin will increase significantly.

      • Alexander Scipio

        I suspect Obama’s NLRB will overturn the vote.

  • brad lena

    It’s not workers of the world unite, it is transnational corporation unite. Labor costs from their perspective are not about the interests of labors, it’s about cost and logistics to market. Corporate mobility, automation plus robust infrastructure across the globe make the interests of labor a minor sidebar issue and the UAW a museum piece.

    • Alexander Scipio

      Yes – but the problem with unions today is the public sector ones. They contribute hugely to the DNC, aren’t concerned about manufacturing or offshoring, and have increased our Debt enormously.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m surprised that TAI let “Yet despite this business-friendly environment, incomes in the region still lag those of the North and West” slide. The cost of living is significantly lower in the New South.

    • Alexander Scipio

      Yes, but it was preceded with rising living standards in the South for years. I was also uncomfortable with that but figure, if they start from a lower point, their living standards can rise more quickly, and they can still be below parity. All true.

  • Richard S

    Mickey Kaus keeps noting that part of our problems is that American law with regard to Unions is from the New Deal era. Might be time for a major rewrite. (Personally, I think workers should have to recertify their union every 5 years, rather than unionizing, and deciding which union to join being a one-off. And I see no reason to prohibit company unions.). And are most reporters at major papers union members nowadays? That might shape how they see things.

    • Alexander Scipio

      Yes. and re-outlaw public sector unions that JFK made legal. And Federal RTW laws for government contractors.

  • TommyTwo

    [set insincere condescending tone to 11]

    Awwwwww, did their choo-choo jump the track?

  • Jim__L

    I wonder — with the decline of unions as a force in big-money politics, how do the Democrats plan to keep Reagan Democrats in the fold?

    • Alexander Scipio

      The decline is mostly in traditional unions. Government-sector unions are picking up the slack – AFSCME, AFT, NEA, and they are the largest donors to the DNC nowadays, along with the lawyers’ guild. Of course, the Obama admin didn’t help itself by getting the AFLCIO on-baord Obamacare then then hosing them with it. I’d guess the DNC will get alot less GOTV and fewer donations from traditional labor going forward. As to Reagan Democrats – they don’t care about them – they cling to guns and religion; they’ll supplant their votes with those of amnestied illegals.

  • Atanu Maulik

    American workers are getting wiser. Good for them.

  • Jim B

    Tennessee Anti-Union Vote Shocks MSM – At the risk of… No, actually with a high degree of certainty of sounding stupid: What does MSM stand for?

    • free_agent

      MSM = “mainstream media”
      This abbreviation is often used by people who criticize the MSM for being either too liberal or too conservative.

      • Jim B

        Thank you, free agent

  • free_agent

    You quote, “where union membership grew by 19 percent or more last year”.

    I’d like to see more about that — given that unionization has generally been stagnant or declining for years, a significant uptick in particular states might indicate something interesting.

    • Alexander Scipio

      I don’t know, but I’d guess AFSCME/SEIU union growth….

      • free_agent

        Government employment is down significantly, so AFSCME is an unlikely source. But SEIU, yes, news reports are that they’re on a roll, much unlike other unions.

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