Today, America’s workers need a lot of courage to stand up for a better future in their workplaces.
The AFL-CIO salutes the women and men of Volkswagen’s Chattanooga plant seeking UAW representation who displayed that courage, and then some.
Federal labor law states that it is the policy of our country to “encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining and to protect the exercise by workers of full freedom of association....”
To that end, union representation elections are supposed to be fair and democratic, conducted under conditions that permit the free and untrammeled choice by workers to exercise their right to vote.
Volkswagen, in contrast to many employers in the United States, respected the right of employees to make their own choice about union representation. Volkswagen acknowledged that worker input on operations improvement plays an important part in the company’s success.
Despite employer neutrality, the election at Volkswagen was held amidst a firestorm of interference—from politicians and outside special interest groups. Workers faced the unbridled opposition of the American plutocracy and its extreme right-wing political agents.
Tennessee State Sen. Bo Watson, the Republican leader in the state Assembly and other Tennessee politicians threatened to withhold incentives for possible expansion of the plant.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker publicly stated that if workers voted against union representation, Volkswagen would bring new product to the Chattanooga plant.
We know that Sen. Corker and Gov. Bill Haslam engaged in an unconscionable abuse of power. But we do not yet know the full scope of their misconduct. Working people are determined that the facts will come out and that there will be complete accountability for their attack on Volkswagen workers’ rights—legally, politically and economically.
This was not an example of politicians expressing their opinions. These were clear and unmistakable threats by the powerful designed to interfere with the free exercise of workers’ right to vote in an election.
Grover Norquist, the Koch brothers and others, whose identify we have yet to learn, dumped money into a media campaign of lies and distortion whose sole purpose was to instill fear and uncertainty among the workers.
This attack was not just an attack on Volkswagen workers exercising their rights. It was an attack on our highest democratic principles. The labor movement and our allies will mount a campaign to call out those who would wage a war against our most important freedoms in an attempt to maintain political and economic control.
Every union election is a contest between hope and fear—between hope for a better life in and out of the workplace and fear of the power of the powerful to punish workers for trying to make their hopes real. The fact that this time it was a senator, a governor and organized wealth doesn’t change that their message was fear and hopelessness, backed up by threats.
In Chattanooga this week, the power of organized money was strong enough so that fear won a round. It’s not the first time that money and callous threats had a short-term victory, and it won’t be the last.
But our labor movement and our country are built on the great truth that, in the end, hope is stronger than fear.
And so our message from the 12.5 million women and men of the AFL-CIO to the women and men of Volkswagen is this: When you stand up for yourselves, you stand up for everyone who works and you will never be alone.
We will be with Volkswagen workers—and workers across the South and the whole country—until they win the workplaces they, and all of us, deserve.