Feb. 14 was a good day for right-wing extremists who subjected Volkswagen’s Chattanooga workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats to pull state tax incentives. The UAW knew it was coming. It happens just about every time workers consider representation. Then the extremists have the nerve to shout “crybabies” when workers demand the federal government investigate those underhanded actions.
Who is complaining about the objections to the tainted Volkswagen vote? Groups such as Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation — and the politicians they lavish contributions on – came out to stop hard-working citizens from getting ahead. They poured millions of dollars into their vicious anti-union campaign. Billboards, radio spots and not coincidentally, plenty of free local media carrying their messages in a fight in which they should have no dog.
Why is it that you’ve never heard of a group with “Right to Work” in its very title defending a worker unjustly dismissed? And what Americans for Tax Reform and their fabricated group “Center for Worker Freedom” won’t tell you is they only demand freedom for those who control the workplaces, certainly not Volkswagen line workers. To right-wing extremists, fighting workers’ rights is as natural as fighting civil rights back in the day.
One of these groups, “Southern Momentum,” claims to be an organic group of Volkswagen workers who came together of their own accord for the election campaign. Instead, Southern Momentum, registered at a management law firm, disclosed after the election that in two weeks it raised “funding in the low six figures” from “businesses and individuals” rather than Volkswagen workers.
With secret business funding, this “grassroots” organization also hired one of the nation’s largest anti-union firms, Projections, to create propaganda for their anti-union campaign.
At Volkswagen, the lies, threats and coercion were just enough to tip the scales against unionization. Usually, these right-wing groups merely provide support to a rabidly anti-union company that wants to keep its workers at its mercy. Volkswagen, understanding that worker input and satisfaction is a key component of its success, wanted to let its workers decide on their own. The right-wing groups filled the void with a steady stream of misinformation, coercion and outright threats. That they were able to enlist the services of a United States senator, state governor and state lawmakers – public servants who are supposed to represent ALL of the people — shows what working people are up against.
There’s been a lot of noise lately about the demise of labor and the UAW in particular. The UAW is in it for the long haul. We don’t quit. We don’t run. We don’t hide behind names that suggest we are something that we are not. We know these fights take a long time, commitment and resources. We didn’t quit at Freightliner in North Carolina, where we now represent more than 4,000 workers, and we won’t quit in Chattanooga.
We know the arc of history is with us, just as it was when workers fought for their unions at General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in the 1930s.
The arc of history was against the right-wing extremists during the civil rights movement, but it was a long struggle. In time, it will prove to be against them in the new workers’ rights movement. The outcome is too important to allow right-wing extremists to control every aspect of workers’ livelihood and well-being.
Gary Casteel is director of UAW Region 8 and directs the union’s organizing efforts in the South.