A few weeks back, a Volkswagen manufacturing plant in Tennessee had a vote on whether to affiliate with a union. A fairly standard procedure, which happens in industrial workplaces across the world on a regular basis, right? The vote narrowly fell, and the shop will remain non-unionized, at least for now. However, despite the seeming ordinariness of this occurrence, the vote has become a much bigger talking point across America.
Republican senators have been accused of influencing the vote by essentially threatening the workers that they would be damaging the entire state of Tennessee and taking away potential jobs from friends and family members. The senators argued that if Volkswagen unionized, it would mean other employers would avoid Tennessee when making decision about where to locate manufacturing plants – they would move to a non-union state instead (as many of the other southern and western states continue to be). More perniciously, they also argued that if the workers were to unionize, the state government would no longer provide subsidies to Volkswagen to encourage them to locate their production facilities in Tennessee – essentially trying to force their prophecy to come true by actively pushing VW to locate elsewhere.
Of course, anti-union situations like this remain widespread in the US. German companies like Volkswagen actually have quite a strong culture of unionization, at least domestically, as there is clearly a much stronger belief in cooperation, mutual benefit, and the need to work together as a society in Germany. In the US, however, anti-union ideology abounds, and many companies will indeed threaten to leave areas if unions are formed – with no repercussions from politicians or the government.
Walmart and McDonalds are both staunchly anti-union, with the former keeping a very close eye on employees and moving into action at the first sign of labor organization – a selection of anti-union talking points given to store management were recently leaked. And since the birth of NAFTA in 1994, it has been increasingly easy for companies to simply uproot their manufacturing processes to just south of the Mexican border, where wages are cheaper and the labor is more easily exploitable due to high levels of poverty.
Unions may have their faults, but they have long been the traditional way in which the working class and the poor have demanded and won their human rights and freedoms from the exploitative owners of the capitalist class. Consequently, it’s fairly understandable that ultra-capitalist corporations like Walmart want to destroy them. Politicians, however, should be standing up for the people they represent, rather than siding with the corporate anti-union line, like the Republicans in Tennessee have. Unfortunately, today’s politicians seem to be more concerned with money and their corporate friends than with helping the poor and the working class – and it’s time the working class of the southern states started to realize that and vote differently.