In Rejection of Bedfellows

Why would workers ever vote against unionization? They did just that, of course, last month at the Volkswagen plant in Chatanooga [1], and due respect requires that the choice be seen as rational. While it is impossible to know all of the thoughts behind each of the 712 “no” votes, the matter has already been put to some journalistic research and analysis, and we are thus, to some extent, enlightened as to how such an outcome was possible in the face of the irrefutable reality that unionization results in higher wages and better benefits.

Any notion that the threats, express and implied, that spewed forth from the lips of certain Republican politicians had any appreciable effect on the result can be dismissed out of hand. Workers have unionized in the face of graver opposition in the past, albeit usually from their employers rather than their elected leadership.

Charges of a corrupt deal between the UAW and Volkswagen management, past concessions made by the UAW to the Big Three, and tepid involvement on the part of the UAW with community organizing in Chatanooga have all been cited as causes for the defeat. [2] But what we might be observing is another manifestation of the phenomenon that gives rise to blue collar workers voting for Republicans in what appears to be in opposition to their own economic interests.

The association between organized labor and the Democratic Party is manifest and undeniable. But with waning union membership in the United States, the influence of organized labor in the Democratic Party has been marginalized. What has gained the ascendancy within the party instead are those social factions devoted to unrestricted sexual license and abortion, and these now control the Democratic agenda. Social and cultural conservatives, regardless of collar color, have been incentivized to depart. In such circumstances it is easy to see how some workers might see union advocacy as an invitation to render assistance to a political party that stands against their cherished beliefs, beliefs which, to the bewilderment of the materialist and Utilitarian hierarchy in the Democratic Party, they hold to more dearly than their own paychecks.

Becoming supporters of the Republican Party in its present form is no solution for labor unions, of course, since that would be climbing in bed with their executioners. The Republican zeal for the abolition of labor organizing is not due solely to Labor’s historic association with the Democrats, but is grounded in the ideological commitment to plutocracy that the party adopted in the Reagan era. 

To survive, the labor movement will have to chart its own political course. It must aggressively pursue the interests of working people, regardless of what political party is in power, and it must resolve to assert its independence from social and political interests that alienate its membership. Unions must become expressive of the will of their membership, or their intended membership, and transform the political landscape rather than merely adapt to it.

There is no other choice. Unions are dying in America, but they are essential to the well-being of working people. There is just no substitute for them.

Jack Quirk