Public Comment

New: Why the UAW Lost In Tennessee

By Harry Brill
Monday February 17, 2014 - 04:58:00 PM

We just learned about the defeat of the UAW in Tennessee by a vote of 712 to 626. What really happened? The politicians and corporate leaders in the vicinity engaged in a vigorous campaign to defeat unionization. But UAW failed to be as vigorous as their opponents were. Although Volkswagen remained neutral, it imposed a serious constraint on the Union. It insisted that as a condition for being neutral, the Union should refrain from visiting workers at their home. UAW should have never accepted this condition. As experienced organizers know, visiting workers in a relaxed environment on a one on one basis is a powerful tool for winning support. Second, UAW decided against reaching out to the community. What a disastrous mistake! Unfortunately, a social movement approach is foreign to the current union leadership.  

Would the UAW have won the election if it had taken these steps? One never knows for sure. But the chances would have been excellent. All it had to do was convince 44 employees to change their vote. Please do the arithmetic. If we add 44 votes to the 626 it received, the pro-union tally would have been 670 votes. Subtracting 44 from the 712 who opposed unionization would have reduced that vote to 668 votes. The Union would have squeezed through to victory. Indeed, it might have gotten a lot more votes than the minimal needed.  

This defeat reminds us of a very important lesson. When the barriers are enormous, as they often are in labor and other struggles, progressives must take advantage of the political tools available to them or else!