On Tuesday, the New York Times published a look at the ongoing feud between pro- and anti-union forces at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It paints a picture of a political battle fought mainly by outside forces, utilizing the deep pockets of some of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.
Steven Greenhouse’s story “Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. in Tennessee” is mainly focused on the lobbying efforts of anti-union groups, including the freshly minted Center for Worker Freedom. The CWF is a subsidiary of Americans for Tax Reform, the well-known anti-tax group led by conservative titan Grover Norquist. Conservative commentator Matt Patterson heads the CWF, and has made it clear that he wants the UAW out of Chattanooga, telling the NYT
“Unions are a big driver of government. Unions are very political, the U.A.W. is one of the most political. If they help elect politicians who pass huge government programs, that requires taxes.”
Mr. Patterson has serious resources to call upon in his crusade. In a piece for conservative blog The Daily Caller, Mr. Patterson lambasted the UAW as a “left-wing ATM machine.” He also criticized the recent rejection by the NLRB of a worker complaint alleging misleading solicitation by the UAW at Chattanooga, labeling it as politically motivated. Mr. Patterson’s CWF is just one of a number of conservative lobbying groups making their presence known in the region. Previous efforts by the UAW to organize the transplant auto factories have widely been dismissed as moribund. However, the level of spending and lobbying action of anti-union groups suggests otherwise, at least in this case.
Greenhouse’s full piece is well worth a read, if only because it shows how high the stakes at Chattanooga have become (or at least are perceived to be). It also demonstrates, perhaps unintentionally, how “pro-union“ and “anti-union“ have been constructed as all-or-nothing categories in post-bailout America. That new politics of exclusion has turned what would originally have been a fairly small-scale regional controversy into a national issue.
The fear of (or hope for) a domino effect of widespread unionization of the Southern auto industry is palpable amongst groups with a national reach. Even so, the level of concern may be overblown. Every plant is unique, and with manufacturing subdivided between an ever-larger number of OEMs and locations, the chance of unionization automatically spreading is slim. VW’s well-publicized sales difficulties in North America coupled with major layoffs last year have undoubtedly contributed to an exceptional climate at the plant, one unlike the other transplant factories. The future still holds many uncertainties for the friends and foes of organized labor.