Most issues in politics are contentious, but not not all of them are contested. Some issues have been effectively won by one side. The issue of gun control, for example, might as well be declared over since Heller and the non-response to Newtown. You need not like the NRA or buy their arguments to recognize that they've won on the issue. They've won in Congress, in court, and in the realm of public opinion (Most Americans' positions on the 2nd Amendment consist of verbatim NRA talking points). Anti-gun groups will continue to fight when the opportunity arises, but doing so serves a symbolic function at best. The outcome is predetermined.
I think it's time to add the battle to save American labor unions to that list of lost causes.
If you've been following the efforts to unionize Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant – Autoblog's coverage has been extensive and remarkably impartial – you understand that the Detroit Free Press is being charitable by describing the No vote as a "devastating defeat" for the UAW. The auto industry has been migrating southward for decades, lured to places like Chattanooga by massive subsidies, lower wages, and a docile, anti-labor workforce. The Chattanooga plant was the UAW's first major campaign to unionize a Southern plant. Volkswagen is unusually pro-union (Chattanooga is its only non-union plant in the world, and the No campaign was led not by the company but by the usual rogue's gallery of right wing bagmen and sycophants). Despite the favorable setup, or at least a setup as favorable as any likely to be found in the South, the drive failed – 712 opposed and 626 in favor with 89% of eligible workers participating.
The UAW and the other once-mighty industrial unions in this country have been in decline for four decades as a result of a combination of factors including anti-union rhetoric from the right, mainstreaming of a "business friendly" attitude toward regulation and the labor market, overseas competition, and the restructuring of tariff and trade policies to make it appealing to manufacture in low wage countries. Had the UAW been able to declare victory at Chattanooga, they might have had a chance to establish a foothold in the rapidly growing Southern auto industry. Hyundai, Honda and Mercedes are in Alabama.
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Nissan and Toyota are in Mississippi. BMW is in South Carolina. Kia has a nation-sized complex in rural western Georgia. To be able to unionize in Chattanooga and arm future campaigns with the fact that the UAW did not spell the end of all life in Tennessee as right wingers claim would have been a boon. Instead the UAW appears to have lost its last, best chance to stop the bleeding.
The efforts by Republican bottom feeders to sway the outcome of the vote were vile even by their standards. TN state legislators were making the most bizarre of threats – to vote to end tax breaks for VW, as if that is something Republican state legislators are interested in or capable of doing. Bob Corker, aiming to prove that he is a shitheel of historic proportions, violated Federal labor law by announcing on the first day of the vote that he had "secret information" about VW planning to expand the plant if only the UAW could be kept out. In reality VW has been planning to expand in Chattanooga for years, as anyone who follows the auto industry even casually knows, in order to satisfy demand for the Passat and new CUV models to meet the company's ambitious new global sales goals.
In reality I think the efforts of the Peanut Gallery to manipulate the vote were meaningless. Auto plants are popping up all over the South specifically because the local workforce is anti-union and they don't need any last second shenanigans from Bob Corker to prejudice them against the UAW. Besides, everyone in that factory knows damn well that VW is at capacity and will be expanding it soon. It is informative to see how mendacious and low class Republican elected officials are willing to be in the context of a labor organizing effort, but I honestly believe that this vote, prior to which VW provided the UAW with open access to the Chattanooga facility to campaign directly to the workforce, reflects the desires of the people who voted. The anti-union leanings of the labor pool in a place like Chattanooga is one of the selling points of the South, after all.
The question is not where the UAW goes from here, because it is perfectly clear where the UAW is going. It will continue along the same path it has been traveling since the 1970s, losing membership to attrition, age, and the shifting political wind. Union membership seems to hit a new record low in the U.S. labor force every year and it's hard to see how that trend is going to be reversed. The Democrats do little more than pay lip service to organized labor. Republicans are almost cartoonishly vicious in their opposition to the idea. And the average American has absorbed enough anti-union rhetoric over the last thirty years that I can't fathom how even to begin to dislodge any of it. If the UAW even exists in another thirty years it will be as a shell of itself. I wouldn't argue with an assertion that it already is, for that matter.
If Chattanooga didn't work, Mississippi and Alabama and South Carolina certainly aren't going to work. I'm a proponent of organized labor and unionization but realistically I think it's a lost cause at this point. Our working conditions, wages/benefits, and standard of living are going to have to sink much lower, unfortunately, before the unions can start fighting back with a chance to win. Don't worry. We'll get there soon enough with this attitude that we'll be better off if everyone earns less.
43 thoughts on “DEATH KNELL”
The anti-union rhetoric is deeply woven into the fabric of everyday america. It was too late already, before this last, pathetic attempt. C'mon, Chuck… Lucy's gonna hold that ball nice 'n steady for ya this time!
We're going to have to get back to something close to gilded age conditions before some people pull their heads out of their asses.
I'm ok if people want to go cut their own throats.
What pisses me off is that they intend to take me down with them.
I decided what conditions I wanted in a work place, and then set out to get them. In other words, I took responsibility for myself and my actions.
If you don't want to do what it takes to get the same for yourself, that's your choice. Don't come trying to take what I've worked my arse off to get.
Giving it some thought, we do realise that changing the discourse is easier than we think. The obvious idea is we have to get 51%+ of all people to get their heads in order and make "smarter" choices.
The reality is getting about 70-80% (ie overwhelming consensus) of 1% (if that) of the general population. And no these people aren't the rich 1%. In fact this group is far more influencial than even the media.
I'll tell you where to find them:
You know those bright shiny new buildings that are the bus. school on your campus? We just have to get those soulless animals to find theirs again and stop preaching the gospel of Ayn. That they start telling their students labour movements are good and beneficial.
That more people like Krugman are sitting on the hiring panels for their faculties and are hiring like. Imagine when the bulk of "research" and theory that builds on a pro-labour and pro-human outlook is being taught to MBAs.
As I said, you only need to get the right people into the right places.
middle seaman says:
The country has moved right in the last 30-40 years. The Democratic Party, were labor is, is at best centrist and in reality at least half rightwing. Obama is the champion pf the 1% and stands solidly to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon.
That basically summarized union's lot. Younger generations have turned socially liberal. Hence, increased support for LBGT rights, use of social media, etc. Financially, there is still a bizarre support for conservative ideas. Ideas such lowering or eliminating SS find a lot of support.
Are we going to change? Is the pendulum going to swing back leftwards?
c u n d gulag says:
"…the drive failed – 712 opposed and 626 in favor with 89% of eligible workers participating."
712 chickens out-voted 626 people in support of Col. Sanders!
"Regular bucket, please. Extra-crispy makes me nauseous."
Back when I was a Trainer at a large telecom company (one about to be bought)- which means I was management – we had to sit through an all-day anti-union session with this asshole lawyer from "corporate."
He gave out advice on all sorts of things, from how to spot people trying to unionize, to what to do if they found union documents.
Now, mind you, this was in NC, about 8 years ago.
At the end of the session, he asked if anyone had any questions.
No one did.
I asked him, "Was anyone in your family a member of a union?"
He glared at me.
I asked the question again – my co-workers were floored by my question, but I had a reason for asking it.
"Well?", I said.
He said, "Yes, my grandfather and my father."
So I asked him, "Did they help you financially when you went to Law School?"
He glared at me again.
"Well?", I asked again.
He kept glaring at me, and said quietly, "Yes."
"Thank you, that's all I wanted to know," I said, as I got up and left.
I wanted to highlight this corporate lawyer's hypocrisy.
His UNION father and grandfather had put him trough Law School, and he became an anti-union specialist!
I look at people like that, as lower than worms.
I'd sooner stomp on an asshole like that, than I would some poor, hard-working, earthworm.
DOUCHE AIRCRAFT CARRIER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And I wonder why I haven't been able to find a job in 5 years?
Major Kong says:
Woo hoo! We can all make less money and have worse work rules!
Oops, I meant USA! USA!
I agree with Arslan, xynzee, and Gulag (I know, what a shock, right?). This post ties into yesterday's about Fifty Shades and Twilight; there's a huge percentage of the population with their heads up their asses. The same people who moaned dreamily to me, "Oh, Twilight is soooooo romantic" (with its creepy, much-older stalker boyfriend, kidnapping, and wedding-night brutality) are the same ones who insist they don't need any damned union (because who needs to make a living wage or be treated with any sort of decency in the workplace?).
the defeatism is unwarranted. unions have been winning plenty of elections, including in the south. here's an NLRB report for last year showing all NLRB election results (scroll down for the south): http://www.nlrb.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/basic-page/node-1680/FY2013%20Election%20Report.pdf
there are many reasons why a particular campaign can be lost, which can include a brainwashed workforce and legal and illegal union-busting by management, but it can also include bad organizing tactics which fail to get union supporters engaged, or which fail to persuade fence-sitters. anti-union attitudes of many workers can be an obstacle, but they're just one factor. as long as unions make economic sense for workers, workers will be attracted to them.
But every time I think that it isn't worth it, I think about the time I was drinking the same kool-aid and what it took to open my eyes. They'll come around. Granted, they'll find that they're unable to pay their bills, unfairly fired, and involuntarily becoming amputees or weathering other hazards. But getting back what we lost is going to be a lot harder the second time around.
@Sarah; what I've noticed is a careful brainwashing by the usual suspects to scapegoat others. If Joe Six-pack is fired for no good reason in a right-to-work state, it's not the company's fault, no-sir-ee! It's the fault of (pick scapegoat of the moment:) the gays, wimmen, colored-folks, etc.
Conditions will persist until the average American gains enough of a spine to stop acting like a job is some gift that their business-owner overlords grant to them. This is one (of many) reason why I scoff at the term 'job creators'. You do not 'create jobs'. What you create is work to be performed, and then you BUY jobs that have already been created — they were created the moment a human being capable of performing labor came of legal age. The only 'job creators' are the workers that produce the labor.
It will never, ever happen, but if you want to see REAL change? Get every single non-management type in the country to refuse to show up one day. Leave all of the 'job creators' to their own devices, see how much product/service they 'create' on their own.
The American worker has been so beaten down that they no longer understand how things work. Your labor is a product. It is a service that you provide. Make them pay what it's worth, and stop selling at a loss.
Bad literature has been around for years, though. I read V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic twentysomething years ago (and the first half of the second book, too, it made me nauseous thankyouverymuch), which was just recently made into a movie for the second time. I've read other things, though, both fiction and non-fiction. What's a shame is when people are not only not reading, they are proud to be non-readers. A friend of mine who is a retired English teacher said it was like pulling teeth to get her students to read, and she was all for the Twilight phenomenon. No word on what she thinks of fifty shades of grey, though.
Yeah. Those of us who are not straight white dudes need to be really careful. There was just a mistrial of a guy who murdered a kid for playing loud music. They had an option of finding on a lesser charge of second degree murder or manslaughter, which means that at least one juror thinks that the defendant was justified in shooting the kid. (yet it was attempted murder on the other three kids? I don't even know)
Tim H. says:
All part of making the nation safe for the investment community, and the folks who voted down the union likely had reason to fear, if not from VW, from past experience.
I think another alarming thing here is that unions are some of top sources of funding for democratic campaigns and pacs. Not only does this crap on the working class, but it is an entirely cynical method of impacting elections by cutting off the lifeblood of the democratic party.
Robert Heinlein (yeah, I know) put it in a book in my late teenage years. "Beggars fighting over a crust of bread." Or something close to that. "Too many rats in the cage."
It's my considered opinion that the entire world has one problem. Too many people for not enough work. So many problems are reduced or eliminated with fewer people.
The level of cooperation needed increases dramatically as the population continues to grow. Our political willingness to cooperate decreases dramatically as the population continues to grow. I'd like to apologize to my grand-daughter and her children.
Well mostly says:
"What's a union Daddy."
"I don't know, ask gramps! I think he was in a union."
"I can't – he's driving around in the RV with grandma. He said he wants to hit all the casinos in Dixie, remember?"
"Right. I guess it's something about standing up for workers rights."
"You mean like that Bob Marley song you always listen to?"
"Why don't we have an RV?"
"I guess it's 'cause I'm not in a union."
"It's a long story. Ask gramps when he gets back."
One thing that nobody has mentioned is that one of the reasons anti-unionism got such a strong foothold in the south is racism. When you have a union all workers are treated equally, the black workers would be equal to the white workers, at least in theory. Probably most younger workers don't realize that but there are probably some that are more than willing to spread the racism part of anti-unionism.
What the hell was Grover Norquist doing spending huge bucks fighting the union?? He didn't have a dog in the fight other than he's a FuckingRepublican!!
Steve in the ATL says:
I'm not convinced that this vote has broad implications. While union have given us great things in the past, such as higher wages, weekends, safety rules, etc., the workers in this plant are treated well. The pay and benefits are excellent, especially for blue collar workers in the area, and there have been no reports of arbitrary firings or mistreatment of workers. Shitty managers and low pay are what drive interest in unions. VW workers don't have either of those problems, so what benefit was the union offering? The union has to convince workers that it is adding value in exchange for the dues. I think that is where the UAW failed here.
Steve in the ATL says:
Notwithstanding any of the above, Bob Corker is still an asshole.
Given that a job at VW is considered a damn good job in the Chattanooga area and also given the massive fear campaign mounted by politicians like Bob Corker, I'd put a far more optimistic spin on the results than Ed. The UAW lost by only 86 votes, less than 7% of the total votes cast. I was expecting it to be a lot more lop-sided against the union.
Now I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that VW decides to build its SUVs in Mexico. I don't normally wish for outsourcing, but the possibility of making Corker et al. look like the lying fucktards they are is too good to resist.
Sarah: "Bad literature has been around for years, though. I read V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic twentysomething years ago (and the first half of the second book, too, it made me nauseous thankyouverymuch), which was just recently made into a movie for the second time. I've read other things, though, both fiction and non-fiction. What's a shame is when people are not only not reading, they are proud to be non-readers. A friend of mine who is a retired English teacher said it was like pulling teeth to get her students to read, and she was all for the Twilight phenomenon. No word on what she thinks of fifty shades of grey, though."
I read Flowers in the Attic around 1980 (I'm An Old). Yes it was crappy literature then, too, but nobody was pretending it was anything but awful, and most of us hid the books so our mothers wouldn't throw them away. In contrast, a lot of grown women swooned over "how romantic" Twilight was, and purposely gave it to their teen daughters. There is so much non-reprehensible literature out there right now for tweens, teens, and adults that there's really no excuse for Twilight except that the actual content goes over people's heads (which is a sad, sad commentary about society-at-large). I agree about the "proud to be non-readers" bit. I have siblings (grown adults) who are proud that they don't read anything but Facebook and proud that they can't spell simple words.
Sarah: "There was just a mistrial of a guy who murdered a kid for playing loud music. They had an option of finding on a lesser charge of second degree murder or manslaughter, which means that at least one juror thinks that the defendant was justified in shooting the kid. (yet it was attempted murder on the other three kids? I don't even know)".
Yeah, I can't even discuss this without exploding into a blind rage. Racism is still very much alive and present.
Gunstar: "It will never, ever happen, but if you want to see REAL change? Get every single non-management type in the country to refuse to show up one day. Leave all of the 'job creators' to their own devices, see how much product/service they 'create' on their own."
This same thought has occurred to me, too.
I've had a similar thought: imagine if one day no management showed up at work, how much stuff would still get produced. Now imagine how much stuff would get done if no workers showed up.
And which loss (if permanent) could a company best recover from?
I had an econ professor who (annually) gave his "Socialism" lecture. Crowds of students and other professors would attend. It took many square yards of blackboard (the early 70's) to diagram it out but I can boil it down to one sentence:The business owners go on vacation and are asked to never return because they don't provide any "value added".
Davis X. Machina says:
"Imagine when the bulk of "research" and theory that builds on a pro-labour and pro-human outlook is being taught to MBAs. "
never going to happen. What theology faculties teach isn't amenable to evidence. And that's what business schools are. They produce the clerics needed to serve the state religion.
There's no room in there for the scientific method.
Phoenician in a time of Romans says:
We're going to have to get back to something close to gilded age conditions before some people pull their heads out of their asses.
But the instruments of propaganda and control are so much better these days.
Have you considered that perhaps the end game – an impoverished corporate feudalism supporting a small layer of very very well off aristocrats – may well be stable, given a surveillance state?
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a human face being forced to lick a boot through the fear of permanent unemployment, forever.
We're pretty lose to the next gilded age right now. What it took last time, after a few decades of suffering, was the Great Depression and then a world war. After that we had a golden age that lasted about 30 years.
Reactionaries were railing against it all the while. Remember the red scare and black lists of the 50? the John Birch Society? Communist plots? Of course not. You're too young.
The Rethugs have had enormous success since 1980.
As a result they get to take every god damned thing away from you and me.
I can't wait until the Keystone Pipeline pollutes the mid continental aquifer.
Combine that with fracking, chemical spills, droughts, floods, and hive collapse, and living like slaves will be the least of our worries.
I have a friend who is usually quite bright, but she hates unions for the most irrational reason on the planet: her father got a job as an air traffic controller after Reagan busted the air traffic controller's union. But she hates unions and will NOT brook any conversation in which the relative benefits of union membership are discussed. I think it's just been drilled into her so often that she blindly accepts that unions=bad. Congratulations, Republicans and oligarchs!
At the company I work for, management recently sent the a list of demands saying if we do not vote yes, they are shutting down. The Union has been voting in all their concessions for 7 years now and, big surprise, management just demands more. My anti-labor Union President endorsed the list of demands, as usual (another reason Labor is done. How many of our grandchildren are going to have to face the Pinkertons again or be executed by the state in order to get back the rights we have lost through our apathy?).
I wrote a letter to my co workers encouraging a "no" vote and I was confronted by one of them. "You talk about 'principles'. Here is my principle: Food On My Table." Hard to argue with that, I guess. Problem is, I'm not sure conceding pay and benefits is going to put food on the table or that voting no is going to take food from the table.
@Davis X: Your assumption is that *all* theology is taught at the Seminary of the Batshit Crazy.
If you over came your bias enough you'd find there's a big world out there, even within theology. Yale Theological., U. Chicago, UC Berkley Div., Harvard Theological, Boston U. Theological…
Last time I checked Princeton isn't exactly the Community College of Backwaterstan. So by getting more like Krugman into positions of influence at the university and MBA level will have a far more dramatic effect on the discourse.
"The UAW and the other once-mighty industrial unions in this country have been in decline for four decades as a result of a combination of factors including anti-union rhetoric from the right, mainstreaming of a 'business friendly' attitude toward regulation and the labor market, overseas competition, and the restructuring of tariff and trade policies to make it appealing to manufacture in low wage countries."
I love ya, Ed, and this is well phrased, but I think this is a bit of sloppy thinking. The first factors you mention concern domestic politics, and those are clearly part of the decline of American unions, but the second half—I'm really not convinced that globalization is really such a significant part of this story. Or, more precisely, globalization may contribute when other factors are present, but it is itself neither necessary nor sufficient to cause the decline of unions, specifically, nor the more general trend toward greater inequality.
Think of it this way: If globalization were so significant, we would expect to find all economies facing global competition to experience similar declines in union membership—if not in exact percentages, then at least roughly in the same order of magnitude.
We don't find that. Per Wikipedia ("International Comparisons of Labor Unions"), many of the North Atlantic economies saw union memberships shrink, but at nowhere near the rate as in the U.S.: 42% private sector decline from '71 to '89; cf. 2% in Canada, 3% Norway, and not at all in Sweden, on the low end. The German-speaking countries were higher, and England under Thatcher higher still, but nowhere came close to the rates in the United States. German automakers had to compete with a rising Japan just as much as American ones, but Germany saw only one-seventh the de-unionization the U.S. did. So maybe one-seventh of the trend is economic, but that leaves six-sevenths, the lion's share, that is peculiar to American political culture.
The peculiar thing, or the heartbreaking thing perhaps, about this story is how comfortable even the American right was with unions in the 1950s and '60s. Matt Bruenig (and I'll cop to having had to Google who it was) posted a right-wing propaganda video from the 1950s defending the American free market system, and he noted it was remarkable how egalitarian the rhetoric was—the American system, it was argued, was superior in large part because workers shared so much in the economic pie. It wasn't really all that long ago, but looking at it now it's clear that that was a different country.
Because the decline of American unions is in my view the unmoved prime mover of rising income and wealth inequality (seriously, overlay any historical chart showing the rise of the 1%—the decoupling of median pay from worker productivity, the flattening of middle quintile incomes from top quintile incomes, etc.—on top of the rates of private sector U.S. union membership; you'll always find a correlation), I've spent a fair bit of time wondering what explained the turnaround in the early 1970s. Obviously it seems to a lot of employers that they can get richer if they keep their workers poorer, but it doesn't occur to the Europeans (and didn't occur to Americans in the '50s) to treat labor relations like trench warfare. The best explanation I can come up with is (future Supreme Court Justice) Lewis Powell's memorandum to the Chamber of Commerce, the thrust of which was that businesses had been too accommodating toward left-wing concerns, like environmentalism but also including labor unions (I haven't read it in detail, but I wonder whether the civil rights gains of the 60s were singled out). It's still a murky question, but I think that's got something to do with it.
At Steve in Atl – that is why unionizing efforts usually fail here in Ky at the Toyota plant – the pay and bennies are excellent, Japanese management philosophy rules and no one sees the need for a union. Workers will be pretty much resistant as long as they are treated well. Like Ed said, until working conditions are A LOT worse, like Ky coal mine communities at the turn of the 20th century, workers will not see the need for unionizing. To this day, unions and Democratic party affiliations rule in eastern Ky. Not so much in the rest of the state.
Townsend Harris says:
Davis X. wrote "the clerics needed to serve the state religion"
The cult licks and sucks the demon god Managerialism.
Don't forget that the UAW negotiated a two-tier wage system, pay cuts for longtime employees, and reductions in retiree benefits a few years back; they also rammed through some of those giveaways without a vote from the rank and file. Try telling a plant worker "We're going to take 1-2% of your paycheck every week, but you'll get something in return for it" when your name has been splashed all over the headlines for giving away the shop to the Big 3. It's not that the workers were rabidly anti-union (the shop voted 53% against, 47% for; UAW failed in their drive at the Nissan Smyrna plant in 2001 by 68 to 32), it's that the union leadership in this country has done nothing in the past 30 years to prove that workers need them.
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It looks like the workers may have shot themselves in the foot. VW is largely state & labor owned. They're starting to talk about stopping expansion in the south because the plant is non union.
"I can't – he's driving around in the RV with grandma. He said he wants to hit all the casinos in Dixie, remember?"
That's what gets me mad – all of those Tea Party people who have the time and money to spend part of their cushy retirement on f-ing the rest of us over, making sure that we won't have anything like what they've got.
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