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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Dems Can Help Prevent the Next Labor Defeat

In addition to Ed Kilgore’s excellent post on the “Chattanooga Labor Fiasco” below, you may want to take a gander at Chris Kromm’s Facing South post “3 lessons from the VW union defeat in Tennessee,” which notes, “If 44 workers at Volkwagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tenn. — less than 3 percent of the plant’s 1,560 hourly employees — had voted “yes” instead of “no” in last week’s closely-followed union election, the United Auto Workers and labor would be celebrating a “historic” victory in the South.”
Kromm continues, noting “three takeaways” from the failed UAW campaign, abbreviated here:

1) Where Was the “Neutrality?”…Make no mistake, the UAW was operating in a hostile, anti-union climate…In the weeks leading up to the vote, Republican Tennessee lawmakers unleashed a steady stream of threats about the supposed economic consequences of voting in a union, variously claiming that, if the UAW were successful, VW would nix future plans to produce a mid-size SUV in Tennessee and that state lawmakers would halt business subsidies to VW. Nationally, an offshoot of GOP activist Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform sponsored billboards around Chattanooga warning that the UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians including “BARACK OBAMA” and that “UAW Wants Your Guns.”…
2. Union Organizing Takes Time:…Interestingly, Tennessee is where labor made one of its first attempts to organize international auto makers, at the Nissan Motors plant in Smyrna. As The Christian Science Monitor reported, the Tennessee Nissan workers “voted by a 2-to-1 margin not to accept UAW representation,” 1,622 to 711…Compared to the Nissan campaign, the UAW did much better in Chattanooga last week, winning more than 47 percent of the vote in their first effort since VW opened the plant in 2011. While certainly a setback, the results suggest the UAW and other unions have a base of support they can build on — if they dig in for the long haul.
3) The Importance of Community and Education:..Given the deep resistance to unions among many Southern leaders, a key ingredient to most successful organizing campaigns in the region has been mobilizing community support. Building alliances with faith, civic and other leaders, creating a sense of movement that goes beyond the workplace, has been critical to winning many union drives in the South…One criticism leveled at the UAW is that organizers didn’t fully engage its allies in Tennessee. As Elk reports, some in Chattanooga felt the UAW was “lukewarm” in its relations with the broader community: “Community activists said they had a hard time finding ways to coordinate solidarity efforts with the UAW, whose campaign they saw as insular rather than community-based.”

And, as Kilgore notes “…Now the very existence of private-sector unions, a familiar part of the American landscape for most of the last century, is under attack from Republican politicians.” This gets at the crux of the problem. Democrats have got to get a lot more vocal on this topic. Republicans are able to do their worst because they are operating in a vacuum created by too much silence on the part of Democratic leaders.
It’s good that President Obama and a few other Dems have spoken out on the topic. And there certainly should be an investigation into violation of labor law in the VW vote. Our fortunes are inextricably tied to the future of the Labor movement. All of that said, it does appear that too many Democratic leaders have been a little mousey on the topic. It’s time for the lions to roar.

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