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Vol. 78/No. 9      March 10, 2014

What’s behind vote against
UAW at Tenn. auto plant?
(front page)
Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted down representation by the United Auto Workers 712 to 626 in a secret ballot election Feb. 12-14. Contrary to the gleeful assertions of the Wall Street Journal and the moans of defeat from UAW officials, the results do not mean a historic blow has been dealt to the working class.

The “co-determination” deal rejected by VW workers was aimed, for the first time in the U.S., at setting up an institutionalized system of class collaboration modeled on similar such arrangements that have hog-tied German workers for decades.

Union membership in the U.S. has been shrinking for decades, the fruits of the union officialdom’s insistence on tying workers’ future to the profitability of their bosses and political support for the Democratic Party. Only 6.7 percent of workers in private industry are in unions today.

Every state in the South has a lower percentage of unionized workers than the national average. This is true in spite of the fact that Black workers are the most highly unionized of all sections of the working class.

Driven by a deepening crisis of their capitalist system of production and trade, the propertied rulers are deepening their attacks on workers’ jobs, wages and working conditions. Autoworkers have been a front-row target in this effort. UAW membership has fallen from 1.5 million in 1979 to 383,000 today.

In face of this assault UAW officials have made concession after concession — among them multitier wage scales and slashing of pensions — to facilitate the bosses’ efforts to rebuild their profit rates.

In Chattanooga the UAW had Volkswagen management and IG Metall, the union that organizes VW workers in Germany, on their side.

VW wanted to establish a works council, a worker-company collaborative body it has set up in its 105 plants around the world, with the exception of one in China and another in Tennessee. Under U.S. labor law, VW’s bosses needed a union in the plant to set one up.

The works council is an in-plant organization of workers designed to draw them into taking responsibility for the way the bosses run the company with “input” on work schedules, holidays, hirings, firings, promotions and safety. In case of differences a labor court decides.

Coming out of World War II, this institutionalized class collaboration was made the cornerstone of the relationship between labor and capital in Germany. About 75 percent of companies with more than 100 employees, and more than 95 percent with over 500, have works councils.

Berthold Huber, national chairman of IG Metall, is deputy chairman of Volkswagen’s Germany supervisory board.

This fits with the class-collaborationist course the union officialdom in the U.S. has pursued for decades. Those “who attacked this were attacking labor-management cooperation,” said UAW President Bob King Feb. 15.

With the precipitous drop in UAW membership, union officials need an expanded dues base to refill their coffers and pay their salaries. They saw the VW campaign, with the company’s willingness to exchange neutrality for a works council, as a boon.

Labor officialdom’s failure to organize South

The labor officialdom’s previous attempts to “organize the South” have all failed. In 1946 the CIO opened a campaign called Operation Dixie, with the stated goal of organizing millions of workers into the CIO. It ran smack into Jim Crow segregation.

The Dixiecrats who ran the South were an essential component of the national Democratic Party coalition, along with the labor bureaucracy. To take the battle to them would mean shattering the political alliance they relied on. By 1948 “Operation Dixie” was past history.

One of the biggest issues in the 1955 merger of the AFL and the CIO was the question of segregation in the labor movement. A. Philip Randolph, president of the AFL Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, demanded that the new united federation deny affiliation to unions that practiced racial segregation.

No such step was taken. A number of AFL unions that barred Black members or maintained segregated “B” locals joined in the merger. Similarly, a proposal to launch a drive to champion Black equality and organize the South was quietly laid aside. To this day workers in the South are overwhelmingly unorganized.

While losing an organizing drive is never good, the defeat of UAW officials’ effort to tie workers into collaboration with the bosses is no obstacle to workers finding the road to fight back effectively.
Related articles:
From Iowa to W.Va., profit drive threatens land and labor
Australia construction workers walk out over co-worker’s death
Fight for workers control of industry
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