The Spectacle Blog

UAW Fails to Win One for Democrats

By on 2.19.14 | 4:07PM

UPDATE: It has been widely reported, and was mentioned here by Natalie, that the Koch brothers helped fund anti-UAW efforts in Tennessee. The communications office at Koch Industries recently reached out to us, denying any involvement in the organizing campaign. According to a statement they sent us: "Koch had no involvement, neither directly nor indirectly, with this issue in Tennessee." We regret if we passed along any misinformation. -MP

After the United Auto Workers union’s recent defeat at the Chattanooga, Tenn. Volkswagen plant, the UAW must face the reality of union demise.

Only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are unionized, compared with 35.3 percent of public-sector employees. Not to mention that in this particular case, UAW membership has dropped from a high of 1.5 million in 1979 to only 382,513 in 2012. The numbers show the waning popularity of unions:

“Look at what happened to the auto manufacturers in Detroit and how they struggled. They all shared one huge factor: the UAW,” Mike Jarvis, a three-year employee told the New York Times outside the Volkswagen plant. “If you look at how the UAW’s membership has plunged, that shows they’re doing a lot wrong.”

Perhaps the most damaging reality is that Volkswagen was neutral about the impending unionization vote. That, coupled with the UAW's fierce campaign, should have secured their foothold in the southern factory—but it didn’t. In the wake of this disaster, union workers blamed the GOP:

“The narrow loss in the National Labor Relations Board election Friday would have been just an issue of working Americans exercising their rights if it were not for the despicable interference of Senator Corker, Governor Haslam, Republican state legislators and outsiders like Grover Norquist...” the Communication Workers Union said in a statement on Monday.

The UAW has doled out thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates, including Mass. Senator Ed Markey. The battle over Chattanooga looks more like a partisan frenzy than union vs. non-union. On one hand the Democrat UAW spent cash convincing people unions will make their lives wonderful. On the other hand Republicans funded warnings that the union will stifle the state’s economy.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, the failure of Detroit and the auto bailouts have stacked the case against them, giving Republicans a chance to show the benefit of de-unionization. The Washington Free Beacon reports:

"The workers at Volkswagen looked at the history of this union and made the best decision for themselves, their jobs and their community,” [Matt] Patterson [of the Center for Worker Freedom] said in a statement. “In spite of the UAW’s multi-million dollar propaganda machine, and with company and government officials at Obama’s NLRB aiding the union in every possible way, workers learned the facts and were able to make an informed decision.”

Perhaps part of the reason that unionization failed is because workers find themselves pretty darn happy with how they are treated and what they are paid. The days of no overtime, child labor, and unsafe working conditions are gone. In fact, most workers despise the OSHA requirements that sometimes prohibit them from efficiently doing their jobs. Today, few blue-collar workers could claim they work in inhumane conditions. The costs of unionizing, such as paying dues, have come to outweigh the benefits.

The future of private unions undoubtedly rests in partisan funding. If Democrats win, unions win and their main concern will be keeping Democrats in office, not supporting the working class. On the other hand, where the GOP succeeds, there is hope for blue-collar America.

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