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Why UAW Made the Right Move at Volkswagen in Chattanooga


"The UAW is ready to put February's tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga," King said. Now is the time, he added, for the Haslam administration to provide $300 million in incentives for the plant, which it had previously sought to make contingent on rejection of the unionization bid.

Want more reasons? The union said the federal laws governing the NLRB "never contemplated the level of extreme intimidation and interference that occurred in Chattanooga," and that the same effort would likely continue in a second election. It said a "congressional inquiry into the Haslam administration's incentives threat to Volkswagen provides the best opportunity for additional scrutiny."

It is sad to think that a dysfunctional Congress offers the best opportunity for anything, so let's stipulate that it will resolve nothing.

In the near term, the UAW and the labor movement have three issues that are far more pressing than what has already happened in Chattanooga.

First, it is vitally important that GM  (GM - Get Report) solve the perception problems that have accompanied its recall of 2.6 million vehicles due to faulty ignition switches. From every indication, GM acted reprehensibly, both in its reaction to known ignition switch failures and in its harsh courtroom tactics in cases where plaintiffs lost family members.

The UAW is heavily invested in GM's bankruptcy restructuring, and its failures inevitably become the UAW's failures, even though the ignition recalls underscore the lesson that many of GM's failures over the years were management failures, not failures of its union model. Opponents of unions are always quick to link the union with GM. So for the union's sake, Mary Barra needs to fix this problem.

Secondly, the mantle to lead the union movement in the South has now passed to the International Association of Machinists. Already the principal union at Boeing  (BA - Get Report), the IAM is mounting an effort to organize the Airbus plant in Mobile, Ala.

Even the most cursory review of this effort shows that the IAM has a better chance than the UAW did: It has more support within the state, it has more to offer workers and it learned lessons from UAW's failure.

The IAM also plans another run at the Boeing plant in Charleston, S.C.

Third, the union movement needs to remember that what once made it great was helping desperate people who were grossly mistreated, not trying to sell itself to autoworkers who already benefit because it did its job too well. Despite long odds, the union movement needs to redouble its efforts to help farmworkers and other oppressed workers.

North Carolina and most other states have farmworkers -- including tobacco workers -- who make minimum wage or less, suffer a sub-standard lifestyle and often live in labor camps where they can't even reside year round because their work is seasonal.

Who is helping them?

Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

To contact this writer,
click here.

Follow @tedreednc

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