Why Labor Lost Its Crucial VW Vote

Pundits weigh in on what the UAW needs to do now

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 18, 2014 1:35 PM CST

(Newser) – On Friday, the United Auto Workers union lost what had been hyped as a make-or-break vote for the future of the labor movement, as Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., rejected a company-backed plan to unionize. Why did that happen, and what does it mean for unions? Here's what people are saying:

  • It is first and foremost the story of how "outside influence" affected the election, argues Richard Wolff in a post on Bill Moyers' site. "Organizations of business, the wealthy, and the conservatives … work constantly to shape workers' life experiences and thus how they see the world." That made public opinion a fertile ground when outside groups started buying anti-union billboards. It's always been this way though: in the 1930s, communist groups did the same on the pro-union side.

  • That played a factor, agrees Jon Healey at the LA Times, but "the fundamental problem is that the pitch itself wasn't compelling." VW already paid its workers well, so what did they have to gain? UAW pitched it as a way to give workers a voice in company policy and make the entire company run more smoothly. "Right. And workers are supposed to pay for that privilege?"
  • "Many folks in Chattanooga see the UAW as modern-day carpet baggers," observes Peter Morici at the Detroit Free Press. The union strongly supports the Democratic party, and with it liberal causes like abortion rights and gun control that "are an anathema to many Southern blue-collar workers." Many also blame the union for bringing down Detroit. The UAW needs to "give up on most social causes that have nothing to do with their members' wages and work environment."
  • VW supported the effort because it likes the "workers' council" model Germany's IG Metall union fosters. "But the UAW is a very different sort of beast," and workers knew it, the National Review argues. It hobbled Detroit's automakers with "with ridiculous and cumbersome work rules," and it's so corrupt that workers can't actually trust it to look out for them. "The ladies and gentlemen in Tennessee are backing the right horse here."

Retired circuit judge Sam Payne announces that Volkswagen employees voted against United Auto Workers representation, Feb. 14, 2014, in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Retired circuit judge Sam Payne announces that Volkswagen employees voted against United Auto Workers representation, Feb. 14, 2014, in Chattanooga, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press, Dan Henry)
In this July 31, 2012, file photo, an employee works on a Passat sedan at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
In this July 31, 2012, file photo, an employee works on a Passat sedan at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.   (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, file)
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