It was hard to tell which was the more unbelievable.
Was it the activists who’d come to the news conference dress-acting as oozey millionaires? There was Wilfred Warbucks, with his grand top hat and three-piece suit, waving his fake money around like a one-percenter, a real wolf of Wall Street. There was Priscilla Diamonds, with her fake pearls and her disgust for workers.
“If they could only be as trained as my Corgi,” she said.
They called themselves Millionaires for Wealthcare; they were dapper and dramatic and completely satirical, fanning themselves with their Monopoly money, clapping at all the wrong moments, trying to highlight through their caricatures the wrongness of the anti-union argument.
“Keep that labor cheap!” Priscilla Diamonds shouted.
Yet somehow the absurdity of their protest got upstaged by the politicians on the stage who’d come to speak out against the coming union vote at the Volkswagen plant at Enterprise South industrial park.
Monday morning at the Chattanooga State Office Building, there were five Republicans: Sen. Todd Gardenhire next to Rep. Richard Floyd, Rep. Gerald McCormick next to Rep. Mike Carter. Not one of them batted an eye when State Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, at the microphone, said what has to be the Latest Strange Statement in this battle over the unionization of VW.
“Should the workers at Volkwsagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers,” Watson said in the heart of his speech, “then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”
Is that a threat?
Is Watson threatening VW? Is he saying that if workers unionize, then they ought to kiss goodbye any chance of our state government helping to incentivize a VW plant expansion?
I think he is, because in the very next sentence, Watson says this:
“I do not see members of the Senate having a positive view of Volkswagen because of the manner in which this campaign has been conducted,” he said.
A positive view?
Is he guilt-tripping VW?
With a strong-armish and patriarchal tone, Watson told VW that our state government doesn’t like them.
To parse his two statements is to realize the depths we’ve reached: The leader of our state senate is telling the auto manufacturer that injected new job creation, global attention and excitement like epinephrine into our region that they’re in the doghouse and, even more shocking, that our Senate will block any incentives that could lead to a new plant expansion.
It’s incredulous, not one but two steps removed from logical. With the somber backing of his four colleagues, Watson stated that the same Senate that gave $500 million (that’s a lot, even for Wilfred Warbucks) of incentives to come here would be the Senate that says no to the next plant expansion if VW unionizes.
And they blame the UAW on job loss?
If VW executives take this statement seriously — here’s hoping they don’t — then gone is any chance they would locate their new plant in Chattanooga. (Makes you wonder if they’re glad they did in the first place). Watson just showed his cards, and VW probably won’t take the trouble to see if he’s bluffing.
Goodbye, Scenic City. Hola, Mexico.
Maybe all this strange talk is because we have been trained to see unions as little better than malaria, like some distant, off-shore contagion. We find unions threatening because they upend the way we’ve arranged the furniture: Only certain people make decisions here. Only certain people have the power.
This psychosis starts in elementary school, and continues through graduation. Few times, if any, are children given real power and voice over their education. Few times, if any, do bureaucrats give teachers real power to creatively craft the lessons they teach.
So we learn passivity. We learn to source our power elsewhere: away from our work, away from the ground. We talk big about self-determination (during parades, in our history books) but not when it applies to workers at VW.
After all, this is their vote, not ours. Not Watson’s, McCormick’s or anyone in the state Senate.
And isn’t it a crime to threaten anyone on how they vote?
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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