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Ear to the Ground

Right Wing Mounts Stealth Campaign in Freshening Labor Battle in Tennessee

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Posted on Nov 18, 2013
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A few weeks ago we told you about a pact between the United Auto Workers and Volkswagen in which the carmaker agreed to not oppose a unionization drive at a new plant in Tennessee as it seeks to create European-style worker councils (which under U.S. law first means recognizing an independent union). But recent reports reveal that anti-union organizations are mounting a fight against the UAW anyway, even though VW says it doesn’t want a battle.

Look at it as yet another proxy war by the right wing against working-class America.

In These Times was among the first to report on a stealth campaign by anti-union activists fearing a successful UAW organizing effort at the Chattanooga VW plant might fan workers’ desires to organize across the “right-to-work” South. From the article:

Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them.

“Everyone is definitely looking at this fight,” the anti-union consultant, Martin (not his real name), told In These Times. “This is the union fight going on right now and everybody [in the anti-union world] is looking to play their part and get compensated for playing their part.”

As the only major VW plant in the United States, Chattanooga is also the only plant whose workers have no opportunity to join German-style “works councils”—committees of hourly and salaried employees who discuss management decisions, like which plant will make specific car models, on a local and global scale.

Organizing with the UAW, workers say, would help them to both form new works councils and gain representation at existing ones—which, in turn, would attract more jobs to the area.

In These Times also got its hands on a memo from Washington, D.C., anti-union consultant Matt Patterson detailing efforts he had already made and a road map for the future:

Patterson explained his approach thus far to laying the groundwork for an anti-union campaign, which he calls the “Keep Tennessee Free Project,” in Chattanooga. From last May to August, he said, he “leveraged a $4,000 budget into a deep and effective anti-UAW campaign that received national media attention, pressured politicians to issue public statements against unionization, forced the union to expend resources to counter our efforts, developed an extensive intelligence network that stretched from Chattanooga to Germany to Detroit and brought the terrible economic legacy of the UAW to the forefront of the debate.”

Patterson claimed that during the summer, he generated 63 stories denouncing the UAW effort in Chattanooga. In three months, he said, he was able to build a media echo chamber that now hammers Chattanooga with anti-union messaging on a regular basis.

And such remarks aren’t idle boasting. The fruits of Patterson’s anti-organizing crusade have appeared in the National Review, Forbes and local Chattanooga TV station WDEF 12, in addition to a host of smaller conservative talk radio shows.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.

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