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Culture Doesn’t Explain Why Alabama Mercedes Workers Didn’t Unionize

Learning the Right Lessons From the UAW Loss in Alabama

By Jane McAlevey - The Nation, May 21, 2024

Mercedes put on an “A-level boss fight.” Which was only to be expected. So how can the union win next time?

Late last Friday afternoon, Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, addressed workers at the Mercedes SUV plant in Vance, Alabama, after the union failed in a representation election (2,054 votes in favor, 2,642 against) many had expected them to win. He told them, “Justice isn’t about one vote or one campaign. It’s about getting a voice, getting your fair share.”

When Fain was sworn in as president on March 26, 2023—after winning the first direct election for the UAW presidency by just 477 votes—the challenges were monumental. He had national negotiations for the Big Three automakers coming up in less than six months and an organization plagued by decades of corruption. The union was burdened with staff used to taking the easy way out, allowing members’ contracts to worsen as its leadership indulged in fancy cigars, fine hotels, and gourmet food.

In the 14 months since his election, Fain has made remarkable headway. He launched a bold strategy in the Big Three negotiations—the stand-up strike—which resulted in significant gains. Next came the North Carolina Daimler truck negotiations for plants in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee, and the decisive unionization win at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. His intrepid leadership reaches far beyond the union and has uplifted the entire progressive movement.

Perhaps for that reason, the VW victory raised expectations that the UAW could win in Alabama. But Alabama isn’t Tennessee. Alabama’s top business, political, and community leadership are so hostile to unions that they implemented every nefarious tactic in the 1993 book by the notorious union buster Martin J. Levitt, Confessions of a Union Buster. In it, Levitt outlined a campaign just like the one headed by Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. “The enemy was the collective spirit,” Levitt writes. “I got a hold of that spirit and while it was a seedling; I poisoned it, choked it, bludgeoned it if I had to, anything to be sure it would never blossom into a united workforce.” He forthrightly admitted that anti-union consultants are “terrorists…. as the consultants go about the business of destroying unions, they invade people’s lives, demolish their friendships, crush their will, and shatter families.”

Alabama Auto Workers REACT to Chattanooga Volkswagen Workers WINNING UNION

By Union Jake, Adam Keller, et. al - Valley Labor Report, May 1, 2024

Volkswagen Workers WIN BIG

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


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


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