By Raymond Freeman 03/20/2014
German cars are superb. The reasons are simple.
Germans use their heads better than we do. Further education is free, so they produce lots of engineers. Employers have apprenticeships and produce lots of skilled workers. They pay workers well, as did Henry Ford, creating prosperity, producing sales. Above all, they treat workers as intelligent human beings. By law, unions are on company boards and in every factory. “Our works councils are the key to our success and productivity,” a Volkswagen executive said.
Works councils arose after WWI, were abolished by the Nazis and reinstated by the British. (The Volkswagen plant was in their sector.) They’re successful: Volkswagen has become the biggest carmaker in the world (third, counting light trucks). Considering it was in ruins in 1945, that’s not bad.
Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., is nonunion. It’s planning a major expansion and wants a works council. Under federal law, that needs a union. Workers have the right to a vote in an “atmosphere free of coercion, intimidation and interference.” So VW signed a neutrality agreement with the United Auto Workers to ensure a fair vote.
But Republicans were furious. They were afraid that things would work out well and lead to more unionized workers. So they resorted to their usual dirty tricks of intimidation and lying. Lies were spread and not rebutted, because the agreement prohibited house visits by pro-union workers to explain the truth. In America, dirty tricks work.
Putting politics before jobs, Republican State Sen. Bo Watson threatened that if the union drive succeeded, the Republican legislature would vote against future incentives for VW. Gov. Bill Haslam warned that suppliers would not locate to the area if the plant was unionized. This was laughably false, as VW would need millions more components. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., claimed he’d had “assurances” that VW would expand the factory only if workers rejected the UAW. This obvious lie was rebutted by VW. Corker doubled down. In America, lies work.
The worst intimidation came from outsiders. Grover Norquist and the billionaire Koch brothers cranked up spuriously named outfits like the Workplace Fairness Institute and Center for Worker Freedom. They slimed the UAW for having supported President Barack Obama (appealing to racists). They said that unionized carmakers were bankrupt, which is entirely false. They told workers that unionization would “imperil their employer,” which is laughably false. Norquist’s storm troopers put up billboards screaming that Chattanooga would become the “next Detroit.” No other democratic country has organizations spreading outright falsehoods to bamboozle its citizens into ignorance and fear.
The Germans were astounded at the sheer viciousness of the opposition. They use the frontal part of the brain to reason logically. Republicans operate on people’s ignorance and fear by manipulating the primitive part of the brain. They’ve spent millions perfecting this technique in “think tanks.” Obviously, the goal is to prevent thinking.
Even though a majority of the workers had signed cards saying they wanted the UAW, it was defeated. The vote was 626 for, 712 against, 165 abstaining (42 percent, 47 percent, 11 percent). A worker said the majority voted against the UAW because they believed the union would take away their guns (!). And they believed the union had hurt Detroit’s carmakers, as if the Germans were the stupid ones.
The UAW issued a statement saying, “We’re outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union.” VW executive Frank Fischer was shocked as he announced the result. He said, “Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America’s production needs and serve our employees’ interests.”
Question: Why do Germans want to serve America’s interests better than Republicans do?
Answer: Frankly, my dear, Republicans don’t give a damn about America’s interests. They don’t want America’s economy run for the benefit of regular Americans. It’s run for the benefit of the GOP’s aristocracy and the “political donor class,” its billionaires. A fearful, beaten-down workforce desperate for anything suits them just fine, as in Victorian Britain. Don’t expect to learn this from America’s lazy, corporate-owned media. But Britain’s Guardian stated that VW workers get paid $67 per hour in Germany. They make under $20 per hour here. Republicans want to keep it that way. Productivity has soared in the U.S. but wages have been stagnant since 1975. Hence, the redistribution of wealth upward has been immense. That’s why Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said America has become like Downton Abbey. Democrats can’t get this simple message out.
But I’m optimistic. The guy with the world’s biggest bully pulpit has condemned such glaring inequality. That’s Pope Francis. And a Volkswagen might well avoid the South altogether in future. I’ll die laughing if they build a new factory in Detroit.