It is not uncommon for people of a country to go to extraordinary measures to forget events in their history that are uncomfortable to even mention, particularly events that resulted in mass death and destruction. Germans are extremely reticent to even acknowledge their country’s horrific attempt to exterminate human beings based on their religion, or the devastation they wrought on most of the world because of one madman’s attempt to rule the Earth. In America, many people living in the South have fond memories of the Confederacy and celebrate the deaths of three-quarters-of-a-million Americans their secession and warmongering against the United States caused. It never fails to flummox sane Americans as to why a fair number of southerners love the Civil War and its effects to the point they conduct re-enactments of battles that killed other Americans, but there is no accounting for Americans in love with the idea of tearing the nation apart and connecting completely unrelated events to America’s greatest shame.
There is a concerted effort by Republicans in Tennessee to invoke a Civil War mindset to marshal opposition to a vote this week on union representation at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. Long before the vote this week, Grover Norquist put up billboards claiming the vote is a vote for Barack Obama, and one wonders why the anti-government crusader opposes the idea of combining traditional American collective bargaining with European-style “works councils” that will be the first of its kind in America. Opponents of the unionization vote put out a call to Tennessee rebels to thwart the “union advance” like the Confederate army in a Civil War battle. Republicans, Norquist, and poverty wage proponents are espousing a plantation mentality that workers voting for decent wages and working conditions are tantamount to uppity slaves standing up to plantation owners. That is the mindset of southern Republicans invoking the Civil War where the Confederate army withstood an attack by “Northern Union invaders.” Volkswagen has not mounted any opposition to the vote for union representation and has left the decision in the hands of their American employees.
Volkswagen’s commitment and neutral-positive stance followed calls from Chattanooga plant workers and their unionized counterparts in Germany not to discourage unionization. Volkswagen CEO Frank Fischer answered by promising that Volkswagen “is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.” Republicans and right-wing fascists like Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the Center for Worker Freedom are not staying neutral and spent a fair amount of money portraying the employee vote as an existential threat to the Confederacy and a vote for President Obama. Matt Patterson of the Center for Worker Freedom wrote that Tennessee “workers’ voting for representation are an invading union force from the North,” and that “the people of Tennessee routed such a force in the Battle of Chickamauga when the Confederate army stymied an invading Union army during the Civil War; so let their descendants go now and do likewise.”
Besides a clarion call for confederate rebels to oppose Northern invaders, the Republican interference in a private business is sheer hypocrisy when they claim to be champions of free enterprise and oppose government interference with business. The interference came in the form of threats of reprisals against the international corporation if the company does not follow Republican demands and attempt to thwart the vote. State Republicans issued a threat to the company that if employees embraced unionization, something Volkswagen is not opposed to, the Republican-controlled legislature will vote against approving future incentives to help the auto-maker expand in Tennessee. State Republican senator Bo Watson said, “The members of the Tennessee Senate will not view unionization as in the best interest of Tennessee,” and warned that “if the Volkswagen employees vote for union representation it will be exponentially more challenging for the legislature to approve any future subsidies or incentives for expansion.”
Tennessee Republican governor Haslam joined rebels in the fight against “Union invaders” and warned that “there are ramifications to the vote” and issued a veiled threat that unionization may jeopardize “our ability to attract other suppliers.” Haslam’s threat is in spite of Volkswagen’s neutral-positive stance and calls for third parties to butt out. Volkswagen’s international CEO obviously does not understand that hypocritical Republicans, advocates for non-governmental intervention in business and champions of free enterprise, have no comprehension of neutrality and will resort to fear mongering and threats to prevent “employees” in the former Confederacy from earning decent wages under safe conditions. Tennessee Republicans have a Confederate obligation to intervene and “beat back the Union invaders from the North” that belies their phony devotion to free enterprise and hypocritical opposition to government interference in businesses.
Despite Republican opposition, “Volkswagen is eager to have a German-style works council at the Chattanooga plant” because they understand the value to the company of employees having a voice in making the company more productive and profitable. A works council is a type of workplace governance pairing managers and workers that European companies claim has been beneficial to companies because it gives employees a voice in enhancing the fiscal health of the company. German workers assert that “workers should be concerned about the health of their company” and that “nobody’s got more at stake in the long-term success of the company than our membership and white-collar workers who are on the shop floor.”
One Volkswagen employee and team leader, Dave Gleeson, said he and his co-workers already “make good money,” but they were compelled to organize by safety and unstable scheduling issues. Gleeson said “I can talk to the plant manager, the plant president, and they can listen to you, but there’s no power behind it. You don’t have a say in how it goes.” That is not the case in European “works councils” that have proven beneficial to employers and employees alike and it explains Republican opposition to this week’s vote. Republicans oppose anything beneficial to workers whether it is union representation, living wages, sick leave, vacation time, maternity leave, or overtime pay.
If Republicans, including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) who said that a move by Volkswagen “to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief” and asserted that Volkswagen would become “a laughingstock in many ways if they inflict this wound” hate unionization they should explain why. Americans understand Republicans hate unions because they oppose good wages and safe working conditions, and yet they never have the gall to say it in public. Instead they claim a vote for union representation is a vote for President Obama and appeal to Confederate sympathies to oppose “union invaders from the North.” Most Americans look at the Civil War with sadness and shame that a group of southerners hated America to such an extent they attempted to tear the nation apart to keep other human beings working for free under brutal conditions. Americans get it; many southerners are still enraged the Confederacy was prevented from ripping America apart, and although it is a part of American history it is something decent people are not proud of and are sick to death of hearing how wonderful the Confederacy or the Civil War was. If Republicans and fascists like Grover Norquist hate unions, that is their prerogative, but keep the Confederacy out of it because most Americans understand that it is not unions conservative fascists hate, it is America and its workforce.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.