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Alabama Politicians Want Your Life to Be Worse

In Relay Race to Organize the South, Volkswagen Workers Pass the Baton to Mercedes Workers

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, April 30, 2024

Michael Göbel, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, stepped down from his post yesterday, according to a video message that workers were shown.

Göbel had groused in an April captive-audience meeting about a worker’s claim that Mercedes had come for the “Alabama discount”: low wages. His departure is another win for Mercedes-Benz workers, who already scored pay bumps and an end to wage tiers—and they haven’t even voted on the union yet.

The company and Alabama politicians are ramping up their anti-union campaign as an election draws near. The 5,200 Mercedes workers at a factory complex and electric battery plant outside Tuscaloosa will vote May 13-16 on whether to join the United Auto Workers, with a vote count May 17.

They’re following close on the heels of Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who notched a historic victory April 19—the first auto plant election win for the UAW in the South since the 1940s.

The VW vote was a blowout: 2,628 yes to 985 no, with 84 percent turnout. The National Labor Relations Board certified the results April 30, meaning VW is legally required to begin bargaining with the union.

UAW’s Latest Labor Victory Is a Huge Climate Win, Too

By Katie Myers - The New Republic, April 28, 2024

(excerpt...)

Climate regulations and the Inflation Reduction Act’s generous incentives are now stimulating electric vehicle manufacturing. Despite the Biden administration’s pro-labor economic agenda, IRA funding—and thus billions of dollars in public and private investment—has largely gone to areas with low union density, spurring worries among autoworkers that the E.V. shift could create a second tier of lower-paid, nonunion workers spearheading the transition to electric vehicles, working in dangerous conditions with flammable elements like lithium.

In 2022, Volkswagen broke ground on E.V. production and assembly; the same year, the Mercedes plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama—UAW’s next battle, organizers tell me—began manufacturing an electric SUV. In the most recent union contract between UAW and the Big Three automakers, General Motors and Stellantis agreed to allow joint-venture E.V. manufacturing plants under the union umbrella, and now, Tennessee may be the next step.

Since the beginning conversations about reducing dependence on fossil fuels—a necessary transition that nonetheless could have deleterious impacts on workers across steel, coal, oil, auto, and building trades industries—workers have demanded a “just transition”: an energy transition that prevents as much of the workforce as possible from being dislocated, allows for training and opportunity, and provides jobs equal to or better than the ones that came before. Environmental organizations have taken up the demand, too, seeing that a united front for labor rights and environmental justice is more powerful than keeping the two at loggerheads, as right-wing politicians might prefer. A just transition is what workers in the South are demanding as the IRA funds flood in.

“We’re seeing a bunch of E.V. manufacturers come here,” said Michael Adriaanse, “and they should be union.” Adriaanse organizes with the Blue Oval Good Neighbors Committee. In rural, working-class Black communities in west Tennessee, this labor and community coalition is mobilizing to bargain with Blue Oval City, a Ford joint-venture electric vehicle plant that’s the recipient of the largest public investment the state of Tennessee has ever made, with an added $9.2 billion in funding from the Department of Energy. The VW victory has given workers hope for their efforts to negotiate good jobs and community benefits with the E.V. industry, he added. But it’s going to be hard-won.

With US Workers on the March, Southern States Take Aim at Unions

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, April 26, 2024

Since six Southern Republican governors last week showed "how scared they are" of the United Auto Workers' U.S. organizing drive, Tennessee Volkswagen employees have voted to join the UAW while GOP policymakers across the region have ramped up attacks on unions.

The UAW launched "the largest organizing drive in modern American history" after securing improved contracts last year with a strike targeting the Big Three automakers—General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. The ongoing campaign led to the "landslide" victory in Chattanooga last week, which union president Shawn Fain pointed to as proof that "you can't win in the South" isn't true.

The Tennessee win "is breaking the brains of Republicans in that region. They're truly astonished that workers might not trust their corporate overlords with their working conditions, pay, health, and retirement," Thom Hartmann wrote in a Friday opinion piece.

"The problem for Republicans is that unions represent a form of democracy in the workplace, and the GOP hates democracy as a matter of principle," he argued. "Republicans appear committed to politically dying on a number of hills that time has passed by. Their commitment to gutting voting rolls and restricting voting rights, their obsession with women’s reproductive abilities, and their hatred of regulations and democracy in the workplace are increasingly seen by average American voters as out-of-touch and out-of-date."

Southern Autoworkers aren’t Listening to the GOP’s BS Any More

By Tomm Hartmann - The Hartmann Report, April 25, 2024

The UAW’s successful unionization effort last week at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee — the first successful unionization effort at a car factory in the South since the 1940s — is breaking the brains of Republicans in that region. They’re truly astonished that workers might not trust their corporate overlords with their working conditions, pay, health, and retirement.

Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee — along with Governors Kay Ivey (AL), Brian Kemp (GA), Tate Reeves (MS), Henry McMaster (SC), and Greg Abbott (TX) — issued a joint statement last Tuesday condemning the vote:

“We the Governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas are highly concerned about the unionization campaign driven by misinformation and scare tactics that the UAW has brought into our states. …

“In America, we respect our workforce and we do not need to pay a third party to tell us who can pick up a box or flip a switch. No one wants to hear this, but it’s the ugly reality. … The experience in our states is when employees have a direct relationship with their employers, that makes for a more positive working environment. They can advocate for themselves and what is important to them without outside influence. …

“[W]e have serious reservations that the UAW leadership can represent our values. They proudly call themselves democratic socialists and seem more focused on helping President Biden get reelected than on the autoworker jobs being cut at plants they already represent.”

Southern autoworkers, though, aren’t listening to the GOP’s BS any more: a unionization vote is set for the week of May 13th at a Mercedes plant in Alabama and more than half the workers there have already signed a card indicating their desire for union representation.

The problem for Republicans is that unions represent a form of democracy in the workplace, and the GOP hates democracy as a matter of principle. It’s why conservatives have opposed every effort to expand voting rights from the Jim Crow era, through fighting woman’s suffrage, to opposing voting rights legislation from 1965 to this day.

Corporations, on the other hand, are not democracies: they’re organized along the lines of feudal-era kingdoms with a big boss (CEO), a small society of Lords and Ladies (senior executives and the board of directors), and a large number of serfs whose continued employment is up to the whims of the Boss and the Lords and Ladies.

Labor Organizer Jane McAlevey on UAW’s Astounding Victory in VW Tennessee & Her Fight Against Cancer

How Workers Win: Labor Organizer Jane McAlevey on Her Life & Strategies to Beat the Power Structure

The UAW’s Chattanooga Victory: Score One for the North in Our Endless Civil War

By Harold Meyerson - The American Prospect, April 22, 2024

History—good history, if conditional history—was made last Friday in Chattanooga, as workers at Volkswagen’s factory there voted to join the United Auto Workers by an overwhelming margin of 2,628 to 985, a 73 percent to 27 percent landslide.

The vote was historic on any number of counts. It marks the UAW’s first successful unionization of a foreign-owned auto factory after a number of failed attempts; it marks the first unionization in many decades of a major group of workers in the non-union South; it may even mark the rebirth of a powerful union movement, something the nation has lacked over the past 40 years.

It also marks, alongside the provisional victory of the Starbucks baristas, a breakthrough in the type of occupation that’s been able to unionize. In recent years, there’s been a wave of unionizations among university teaching assistants, interns and residents, museum docents, and other workers who can’t readily be replaced should management fire them for their pro-union proclivities. But it’s been standard practice for management to fire assembly-line workers, retail clerks, drywall installers, and the myriad of other workers for whom replacements can indeed be found if and when they threaten to unionize. It’s illegal for employers to do that, but the penalties are so negligible (restoring those workers to their jobs after months or years of litigation, giving them their back pay, and posting a notice of this settlement somewhere in the workplace) that it’s long been standard practice in American business. The VW and Starbucks workers had that sword hanging over their heads, yet managed to prevail nonetheless. Should their example inspire the millions of workers who’d like to unionize but fear employers’ retaliation, that would mark a sea change in America’s political economy.

The historic status of the victory at Volkswagen, however, is still as yet conditional. To really mark a historic break with nearly 60 years of union decline—a decline that is at the root of the erosion of the New Deal’s egalitarian economics and, correspondingly, the rise of record levels of economic inequality—it can’t be a one-off. The UAW has to roll this on to other Southern foreign-transplant factories; the first test of its ability to do that will come the week of May 13, when workers at the Mercedes factory in Vance, Alabama, will also vote on whether to join the UAW.

But this victory—if it does become a harbinger of more—should be situated in an even larger historical context. It may well mean that the North now has a better chance to win the Civil War that began in 1861 but never really ended. That war, of course, counterposed two labor systems that were inextricably intertwined with two racial and social systems as well.

Auto Workers Union Wins Historic Victory at VW in Tennessee

By Dan La Botz - International Viewpoint, April 21, 2024

The United Auto Workers union won a tremendous victory for labor last week that has the potential to begin to restore the power of unions in America.

Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted overwhelmingly on April 20 to join the United Auto Workers Union, a historic victory, winning the first union election in that industry in the South since the 1940s. Some 2,628 cast votes in favor and 985 against, that is 73% voted for the union. All together 4,326 were eligible to vote and about 84% did.

Union president Shawn Fain told workers celebrating the victory, “You all have just done the most important thing a working-class person can do, and that is stand up.”

Until now, the South has been a bastion of bosses, of non-union open shops, where workers had no vote and no voice in their workplaces. If this victory leads to others, as it is expected to, it will change completely the balance of forces between the corporations and the working class in America. The South, based on slavery until the late 1860s, and on Jim Crow segregation, disfranchisement, and lynching until the 1960s, has remained the U.S. region with fewest unions, lowest wages, the poorest educational level, the worst public health, and the most backward political attitudes in the country. This UAW win could begin to change all of that.

'You All Moved a Mountain': Tennessee Volkswagen Workers Vote to Join UAW

By Olivia Rosane - Common Dreams, April 20, 2024

Workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the first Southern autoworkers not employed by one of the Big Three car manufacturers to win a union Friday night when they voted to join the United Auto Workers by a "landslide" majority.

This is the first major victory for the UAW after it launched the biggest organizing drive in modern U.S. history on the heels of its "stand up strike" that secured historic contracts with the Big Three in fall 2023.

"Many of the talking heads and the pundits have said to me repeatedly before we announced this campaign, 'You can't win in the South,'" UAW president Shawn Fain told the victorious workers in a video shared by UAW. "They said Southern workers aren't ready for it. They said non-union autoworkers didn't have it in them. But you all said, 'Watch this!' And you all moved a mountain."

According to the UAW's real-time results, the vote tally now stands at 2,628—or 73%—yes to 985—or 27%—no. Voting at the around 4,300-worker plant began Wednesday.

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