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Works council at VW plant in Tennessee

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Juan Conatz's picture
Juan Conatz
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Sep 17 2013 23:12
Works council at VW plant in Tennessee

Thought this was interesting. VW is basically trying to set up a works council in their plants in the U.S. South. I believe, but not for sure, that UAW said a works council without actual union representation would be considered a form of company unionism, and therefore be illegal under U.S. labor law.

In any case, they're trying to get VW to volunatarily recognize them.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/09/13/us-autos-uaw-vw-idUSBRE98C0392...
http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2013/09/17/vw-uaw-union/

redsdisease
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Sep 19 2013 05:30

I'm not usually that surprised by leftists, but I've been pretty shocked at the response by a lot of them on this. I've read several people say things like: "yeah it's company unionism, but it's important culturally" or "the UAW is just adapting to new conditions." Mind boggling.

syndicalist
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Oct 8 2013 13:52
Quote:
VW Labor Chief Backs UAW Union Bid for U.S. Works Council
www.nytimes.com
Volkswagen's top labor leader lent weight on Monday to efforts by U.S. union UAW to represent workers at the German company's U.S. plant, an issue that has raised hackles among some U.S. politicians and other critics of UAW.

http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/10/07/business/07reuters-vw-uaw.html...

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Juan Conatz
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Feb 17 2014 18:16

So, my understanding is that VW was going to voluntarily recognize UAW through card check, but some outside anti-union organizations and state Republican politicians got loud and the process went through NLRB election. VW stayed neutral, but the anti-union campaign was waged by the above people and groups. UAW lost the vote.

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Juan Conatz
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Feb 17 2014 19:19

There's been a ton of articles on the lost election and what was going on, plus a lot of discussion on Facebook, but several things stand out to me.

-There's no horse in this race. This was a fight between two different versions of how a capitalist enterprise should be run, either in the style of European social partnership or the Southern USA's 'right to work' norms.

-The UAW presented itself in these European social partnership terms, playing down its 'combative' past, emphasizing working with the company, etc. A lot of colloborationist language, even for a buisness union.

-Not sure if this is true, but I've seen it said that new hires in Detroit (because of concessionary contracts and multuple tiers) make the same as the non-union auto workers in the South.

-A lot of attention has been paid to the various outside anti-union groups and local politicians 'interfering' in the election, but other than who it was (outside groups instead of the company), this is pretty normal things to face in a union drive. UAW was so busy with its social partership stuff it was taken aback by outside groups trying to make this a conventional election campaign. Granted, there was a politician who threatened to get state subsidies for VW cut if the UAW won, and there were numerous billboards run outside the plant tying the UAW to Obama, Detroit urban blight and gun control, but I think making this about these things is glossing over UAW's bad model.

-Speaking of bad models, I've saw on an anti-union site that UAW spent $5 million on this campaign, and they still lost. Granted, it was only by 62 votes, but that's a lot of goddamn money for a loss. Similarly, the UAW ran an election campaign here with the University of Minnesota grad students, spending something like $2 million dollars and got clobbered.

-Along with the outside groups interfering angle, I've seen a lot of stuff which is basically urban liberals pointing out the 'backwardness' of Southern workers, which is a form of coastal leftist elitism that should be ultimately rejected.

-Over 600 people still voted for the UAW, which is a significant number of people. A minority union that is almost half of the workforce could do a lot, but unfortunately, the union will probably just do some halfhearted legal maneuvers and then abandon the plant.

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Steven.
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Feb 17 2014 19:41

Thanks for the update, I've been following this vaguely through Facebook, but with very little interest. Basically you make the point with your first comment, we have no horse in this race.

I mean did the union even have a set of demands, like improvements to wages and conditions? Because if not then why on earth would people vote for recognition? To keep the same conditions, but pay union dues as well?

That's crazy spending $5 million. In the UK union movement there is just not that sort of money splashing around in organising campaigns (I am personally involved in a union organising drive at the moment amongst a group of 300 workers, and our budget is 0!). I mean for such a small group of workers they could have just let them have union membership free for a few years, or offered them a several thousand dollar bribe for less money than that!

Thinking about it, actually what could they even spend that money on? As all you would basically need to do is have some meetings, do some leaflets and posters and try to have one-on-one conversations with almost all the workers at some point…

syndicalist
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Feb 17 2014 19:50

Hurridly. Been following. Juan makes some decent points. Obviously our broad sense of revolutionary unionism has nothing in common with either works councils or top down and corporatist organizing the UAW engaged in.

I suspect that the amount of money the UAW spent was over a 3 year period. I need to look that up,but I that's the time frame.

From a soft left and trade unionist perspective, this article by Mike Elk is of interest:
http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/after_uaw_defeat_at_volkswagen_in_...

Something I wrote elsewhere:

I don't think the bosses and their State tools are against phony
co-determination and represrentation, it was that the works councils
were predicated on the UAW being part of it.

Yet "The Detroit Free Press" writes:

"Volkswagen has said it favors the creation of a German-style “works
council,” which gives workers a voice on a variety of product and
other decisions. Under U.S. law, a union must represent employees for
a company to form a works council."
http://www.freep.com/article/20140214/BUSINESS0104/302140095/uaw-volkswa...

[Something I'm unclear of actually]

Perhaps the underlaying "fear" by the bosses and their State and other
allies would be any sort of union toeshold anywhere in the auto
transplants would lead to further "unionization" in other Southern
auto transplants and all the supplier plants.
So it appears to me that this was just as much a united front against
any form of unionization in a growing segment of the Southern
industrial economy (now that textiles and related industries are near
gone).

This Rueters article is interesting and may point to a parallel
top-down strategy, but am not clear, based on the above info, how
that effort would be made.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/16/us-vw-chattanooga-idUSBREA1F0A...

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Feb 17 2014 19:51

Steven, I imagine a lot of it was having paid organizers, staff, having offices, ads, flying UAW higher-ups down to Tennessee, etc., but syndicalist is probably correct that this is a figure that isn't just October-February.

Was just reading something on a blog run by liberal NGO type people in the South and they dropped this bomb they got from Mike Ely's article:

Quote:
1. A lack of community engagement.
We have blogged about this repeatedly: Southern organizing is relational and community-based. Period. If you want to win elections, issue campaigns, or union elections down here, you have to build networks of activists and community members who support your cause. By all accounts, the UAW did not do this, and it hurt them bad. The best bulwark that any union has against managerial and third-party hostility is the neighbors and families of those workers who will decide yea or nay, and no amount of access to a shop floor will ever change that in the South. And tying into this point….

2.The UAW bargained away house calls on potential members in the neutrality agreement. The following is from Mike Elk’s piece in Working In These Times and summarizes our reaction well: “One longtime labor organizer…was so shocked that the UAW didn’t do house visits that he sent me a message today to ask me if it was true.” Almost every organizer that we have discussed this with has been jaw-on-floor shocked at this revelation. The house visit is the primary tool used to build a union, and to bargain away this tool because it ‘violates German union norms’ when the VW factory being organized is in Tennessee makes our eyes bleed. Even with shop floor access, most people still won’t talk candidly about how they feel about work at work, which is why it’s vital to speak to workers away from the job. Giving this tactic away was pants-on-head stupid.

3. Agreeing to concessions before you even file the election petition.
The foundation stone of any real union is democracy. Union democracy ain’t perfect, it occasionally ain’t even democracy, but by agreeing to cost containment before you even have union recognition is at best a bad idea and at worst a sweetheart deal to the company. This kind of bargain appears corrupt and was used against the UAW in this election. At the end of the day, the basic argument for voting a union into a workplace boils down to: “You should have a say on how you get treated at work.” When the UAW consents to an agreement that eviscerates that foundational argument for collective action on the job, we should never be surprised by a negative end result.

4. Volkswagen was able to break the neutrality agreement without the UAW raising hell.
That is a problem. It was clear that low- to middle-level managers on the floor were actively involved in the No 2 UAW campaign at the plant. A quick Google search of “uaw chattanooga vw neutrality agreement violation” brings up no instances of the union challenging Volkswagen about this, and insisting that they put an end to the violative interference. At any point VW management could have pulled the choke chain on this anti-union campaign but they were not made to by the UAW. Introducing open managerial hostility into the campaign made it just that much easier for workers to vote “no” if they felt that their jobs were at stake, and it is mindboggling that the UAW would not seek to draw attention to an action that undermines the entire point of having a neutrality agreement in the first place.

5. The modern UAW is run by a breed of ostriches indigenous to Detroit.
More from Working In These Times: “When asked by In These Times if the inability to make house visits hurt the union drive, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams simply responded, ‘No.’ “ This, combined with UAW International President Bob King’s insistence that the VW effort represents a new model after it lost, indicates that the high-level leadership of the UAW is not grounded in the day-to-day realities of growing a union in the modern day. It is one thing to fuck up, it is another thing to fuck up this bad, but it is wholly unforgivable to fuck up this bad and not be able to admit you made any errors or that this strategy is worth reexamining after the vote.

I have never heard of or been involved in a union campaign that did not have house visits in their strategy...that is insane to me.

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Feb 17 2014 20:51

Sorry, just need to be quick so I can't post up the links. . .

Very quickly, Juan, syndicalist and steven already made all the valid points. "No horse" being the important bit.

My understanding, and what I should link to, is that VW management is the body that actually filed with the NLRB for an election. This type of filing for a union election from a boss is pretty rare and is never used in these circumstances. To explain, when bosses file these things, they are hoping to bolster a "decertification" campaign rather than, you know, get union rep. in their shop. . . Further, VW voluntarily cut weeks off the filing-to-election time bid, again, something employers NEVER fucking do. Employers love that NLRB bullshit time span that gives them time to intimidate workers. . . Basically, in short, this union campaign was half run by VW management and half run by UAW, each with their heads stuck wayyy up their own arses.

Its unbelievable the shit UAW has stirred with this. This shit from the business unions gets worse every year (up the rank-n-file, as always red n black star ). May their shit structures dig their own fucking graves.

teh
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Feb 17 2014 21:36
Juan Conatz wrote:

-Not sure if this is true, but I've seen it said that new hires in Detroit (because of concessionary contracts and multuple tiers) make the same as the non-union auto workers in the South.

My understanding is that new hires in Detroit make less than auto workers in anti-union strongholds and rumors that the UAW was planning to cut wages as part of unionization was part of the reason they were voted against.

http://www.philly.com/philly/business/labor_and_unions/20140215_ap_e124c...

And hey they made the boss cry: " Frank Fischer, CEO and chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga -- who had encouraged the idea of starting a German-style "works council" at the plant, like those in place at Volkswagen's other factories -- even seemed saddened by the outcome."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/02/14/united-auto-w...

syndicalist
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Feb 17 2014 23:12

I would not be at all surprised if some of the VW workers took a look at the two tiered UAW negotiated contracts, held their noses and said P.U. that stinks....

Quote:
Fat profits put 2-tier pay on UAW agenda
......................
DETROIT -- As billions of dollars in profits pile up for the Detroit 3, so does resentment within the UAW toward the two-tier wage system that has helped produce those profits.

http://www.autonews.com/article/20140217/OEM01/302179958/fat-profits-put...

syndicalist
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Feb 17 2014 23:20
Juan Conatz wrote:
I have never heard of or been involved in a union campaign that did not have house visits in their strategy...that is insane to me.

Yet the UAW had "captive audience" meetings inside the plant. That was part of the agreement with VW: No "Excelsior" list for a trade for "captive audience" meetings.

PS: Here's the anti-union site for those with a geeky interest (like me): http://www.no2uaw.com/

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Feb 17 2014 23:22

JC, with the house visits I think that is a cultural thing. In the UK, and I would think this would be even more the case in Europe, you definitely wouldn't have house visits as part of a unionisation drive. I think people would probably interpret it as invasive and maybe even threatening. (Although I have been aware of it as pretty standard practice in the US since watching some film about the janitors organising on the West Coast somewhere)

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Feb 18 2014 00:13

Maybe. You for sure deal with the problem of people thinking it's invasive or maybe threatening, but the on-the-fence people that can be convinced outside of a work setting outweighs the few who might not like this. It's also part of the model of emphasizing 1-on-1s or 2-on-1s outside of work, which I think is more of an American thing based on community organizing stuff rooted in the civil rights and environmental movements of the 60s and 70s.

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Feb 18 2014 09:56
Quote:
some film about the janitors organising on the West Coast somewhere

Bread and Roses?

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Feb 18 2014 10:03

And, to be fair, there's certainly a door knocking tradition in the UK, too. I know SF has done some here in London as part of tenant support.

And - totally off topic here - the Labour Party knocked on my door a few weeks ago. They really just have no idea how to deal with me. First I told them I was a principled non-voter but, even if I did vote, I was committed socialist, so why would I have anything to do with the Labour Party? Confused expressions all around.