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Pants on fire alert: the UAW did not destroy Detroit
DURING THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF FEBRuary, the circus was in town in Chattanooga. There were a few lion tamers, a few sword swallowers—but mostly there were lots of clowns. I am referring, of course, to the conflict over unionization at VW.
Local clowns began the performance with a favorite Republican lie. Career Republican wannabe Robin Smith was the chief spokesperson for the “UAW Destroyed Detroit” lie. The decline of American automaking is a complex narrative. But with just a little more information, she would know that the chief culprit responsible for this decline was bad management. Let me reiterate for clarity. Bad management was the primary factor in the decline of the US auto industry—not unions.
The UAW did not decide to build unsafe, gas-guzzling monstrosities that were nearly impossible to sell. Management decisions led to the production of automobiles that could not compete with VW, Honda, and Toyota. While foreign automakers were building economical, safe, attractive, and easy-to-drive cars, US car managers were counting their money, lazily resting on their laurels, and depending on the loyalty of American consumers. American consumers were loyal—but they were not stupid.
On the principal of “never tell the truth if a lie serves you better”, the UAW Destroyed Detroit Lie was repeated over and over. Billboards shouted it, political hacks, local yokels and Bob Corker repeated it. Republicans were even able to slip in one of their favorite gambits in the South, race baiting, by tying President Obama to unionization.
Conservatives claim that they want to keep government out of our private lives—but it was Republican politicians who were butting into a private business matter. Right-wing bloviators representing the interests of Big Money began to show up to amplify the Big Lie. Make no mistake: These extremist groups with sweet-sounding names like the Center for Worker Freedom have one objective in mind—keeping wages low for the benefit of their rich clients.
Then the Teabilly Clowns showed up, claiming that unions are “un-American”. Gerald McCormick and Bo Watson threatened to cut off their noses to spite their faces, reminding me of the scene in “Blazing Saddles” when the African American sheriff holds himself hostage to escape a lynch mob. They threatened VW workers, saying if the workers voted to unionize, they would not approve any tax breaks for expansion, thus proving the point that Republicans never interfere in private business. Or perhaps not.
After all the attendant fools had prepared the audience, the main attraction entered center ring. When Gary Casteel, union director for Region 8, complimented Sen. Bob Corker, saying that Corker “respected these workers’ right to make up their own minds”, our former mayor went nuts. There was more squawking and honking than a flock of Sandhill cranes. Corker made it clear that he did not respect workers’ right to choose a union. A decision to join the union would be catastrophic for the Chattanooga economy, he protested. He said that he had “insider information” that if workers rejected the union, VW would soon announce the expansion of the plant. Never mind that VW firmly denied Corker’s claim. Remember “never tell the truth if a lie serves you better”?
Corker’s hatred and fear of the UAW was on full display. Could he still be holding a grudge because he was booed off the stage by UAW workers at the Spring Hill GM plant after he had voted against money to keep their plant open? Does Corker harbor an inner Chris Christie? His disregard of labor law is egregious. His solution for VW is for them to start their own union. Most knowledgeable labor lawyers agree with Thomas Kochan of MIT, who flatly states that company-sponsored unions are illegal. However, “the law” will not interfere with the Big Lie’s narrative.
To those claiming that The UAW Destroyed Detroit Big Lie did not influence the vote: A version of it was repeated by anti-union employee Mike Jarvis in a story aired by a local TV station. He said, “Look at every company that’s went bankrupt or shut down or had an issue. What is the one common denominator with those companies? UAW. We don’t need it.” Using this faulty logic, we could say that pilots are responsible for all crashes and flight problems because they “are the one common denominator.” Apologies to those pilots that ran into a surface-to-air missile.
Bob King, the UAW president said, “It’s never happened before that a US senator, a governor and a leader of the state House of Representatives threatened a company and threatened the workers during a union election.”
Welcome to the South, Bob. The good ol’ white boys had slave labor for more than 100 years. They became accustomed to low-cost labor. In Tennessee, worker exploitation is as American as apple pie. Wrap yourself in the flag, thump the Bible—and make sure you don’t have to pay a living wage.
This fight is far from over. Stay tuned.