Many folks with whom I’ve spoken over the past few days, in the parlance of the hills around here, have “been mad enough to eat iron and spit nails.” The loss of a shot at Union representation in Chattanooga—just over a few blue ridges from me—was the reason for the dispirited and angry feelings.
I’d like to offer a different view, one that basks in modest hopes and cautious optimism at the same time that it counsels attention to adjusting our attitudes and tactics moving forward. Much of the writing that I convey on this site will be rich in documentation, like ‘literature reviews,’ as I’ve said before. Not so this missive, which will remain off-the-cuff, intuitive, and based on what I’ve seen and heard and learned and struggled to understand about the South since, lo these forty-odd years ago, I was a callow undergraduate from Texas in my first New England encounters with Eugene Genovese’s Roll, Jordan, Roll: the World the Slaves Made.
The first observation that I’ll make is in the nature of, ‘Like wow!’ Over forty-seven per cent of the ballots cast endorsed a union environment there on the Little Tennessee River. Well under half of the eligible workforce voted against the UAW. I’d be willing to gamble that, were the plus-or-minus two hundred absentees given a chance to choose, instead of having to attend to sick kids, parents that they were helping, or whatever else deflected them, the outcome would have been even closer.
The only way that the United Auto Workers will be losers here is if they give up. The organized-labor cause was like a pick-up gang of footballers playing against Bayern-Munchen, like a small college football team playing against the Seahawks. The disparity wasn’t in talent, or heart, but in budgets and promotion and the massive muscle and sophisticated threat of billion-dollar propaganda machinery: if the UAW’s investment in this fight was ten per cent of the total spent, I’d stand amazed. I’d bet that it was little more, for sure. Yet we came close.
My second observation is just that. Yes, we lost. So what can we do to pick up the pieces, come out swinging next time, and garner sixty per cent or more of the workers in favor of Solidarity and a union democracy?
I could write about addressing the prison-industrial-complex that so divides and eviscerates our region—in fact, my next blog will be about a historical instance concerning this topic that took place a hundred twenty-three years ago in Chattanooga. I could write about the terrorism that pro-union laborers and families have experienced over the past hundred-odd years, at the hands of the Klan and more independent minded thugs and goons. I could write about the insidious cancer of militarism and individualism that established institutions promulgate from cradle to grave. I could write about the hideous monstrosity of Taft-Hartley and its relationship to the militarism and individualism and imprisonment and White Supremacist horse manure of KKK enforcers and anti-communist assassins.
I could write and speak about all of that and more, delving into matters of self-criticism, in relation to union leadership, for example. But what I think and write is not the issue. If the first lesson of this new ‘Battle-of-Chattanooga’ is that we almost expletive-deleted won, then the second lesson is that we need to be open to digging a little deeper than we’ve done heretofore to find out, from the workers in Southeast Tennessee themselves, what they need, why some of them may have voted in apparent contradiction of their class interest, and so forth.
In that regard, I’d like to say that, here in the National Writers Union At-Large Chapter, we have some members who will pitch in. We’d be happy to help with Dialog Sessions, a social innovation developed by Dr. Douglas Taylor, of the Southeast Community Research Centre. We’d also be happy to help, with Community Engagement, or with on-the-ground investigation of what took place and how to position ourselves next round. Dr. Taylor is just one resource within the Union whose expertise is in such areas.
But that’s the point. Neither we nor other pro-labor practitioners of good faith and stout heart can do much good if the context of engagement doesn’t shift, if we close ourselves off from discovering things that might make us uncomfortable, if we merely try to get a bigger hammer, a larger budget, a slicker media operation. We’re never going to be able to outspend the Koch brothers or outmaneuver the established order of things with bucks and tricks. We’re only going to win here, and save our asses in general going forward, if we organize, and that means a campaign that builds from the grassroots up.