Like Trees Standing by the Water…

 D Rivera12Many 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.

D Rivera3The 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.

Solidarity Forever!

5 comments for “Like Trees Standing by the Water…

  1. Paul Hosse'
    February 18, 2014 at 10:40 am

    As I wrote in my last blog article about the union vote at the VW Chattanooga plant, this wasn’t so much as a vote against unions or unionization. Far from it. Based on exit interviews, it was more of a vote against the UAW since most of the individuals cited the UAW’s history as an example of what they didn’t what to repeat there. In addition, the workers stated they were happy with their pay and working conditions, so why work the boat? Lastly, Volkswagen was actually promoting the UAW’s attempts—something that rarely happens—so they could form a supervisory council. Outdated US labor mandates employees have to have a union; they can’t elect among themselves. Perhaps if another union stepped up to the plate, the results would be different.

    • nwuatlarge
      February 19, 2014 at 12:01 am

      Hey man!

      You were spot on in your blog about the facts that you mention. I certainly meant to acknowledge that, so if I didn’t, I’m an ignorant slut.

      But suggesting that a sizable chunk of the ‘No!’ votes stemmed from concerns, doubts, or criticisms of UAW leadership is a far cry from saying both that UAW leaders are unchangeably corrupt, and that none of these naysayers might relent even were UAW to acknowledge past errors and show a new spirit of meeting workers where they are. Do you get what I’m saying here?

      I’d bet a chunk of change, at least for me, that my critique of the UAW would be a lot more scathing and unrelenting than yours. That said, I also notice that UAW extended an olive branch to the Teamsters Union that has helped to found Teamsters-for-a-Democratic-Union; the UAW insisted on backing the Civil Rights movement when most of the rest of AFL-CIO was bug-eyed about ‘commonists’; the UAW was instrumental in seeding both the environmental justice movement and attempts to organize graduate students on campuses in North America. And I could go on.

      For my part, I’m willing to bank on good faith and a willingness to engage real critique on UAW’s part. If that is so, then our little confabulation could play a role. YOU could play a role, if you wanted. You could have a budget to go to Chattanooga and listen and learn and teach all at once. You might not want to, but you could!

      Such an approach–not necessarily you, not necessarily me, but a process of engagement, admitting past faults, and moving forward–seems much more likely to succeed than trying to invent another auto union at this point. If someone can show me how they’d go about doing that, who knows? To an extent, I’ll try anything.

      That extent definitely does not extend to agreeing to permit a company union at VW-Tennessee. Maybe Volkswagen would prove honorable, etc., but the rule that company unions were illegal resulted from the fact that almost ALL company unions have been criminally fraudulent.

      If you can show me, first of all, that this allegation is in error, and second of all, that companies like Walmart, Koch Brothers, Coors, Haliburton, and on and on and on and on among the Fascist-500 wouldn’t conspire against their workers and then blame the poor saps for complicity, then I’d be willing to change my view. But I believe in putting my money where my mouth is: I’ll wager, number one, that you cannot demonstrate that past company unions have been generally honorable, and I’ll bet that I can show that they’ve been generally corrupt and venal.

      Anyhow, thanks a ton for commenting. This give and take is how we hammer things out. Show me when I’m wrong, and you can rest assured, that I’ll express my opinion fully and forthrightly. As always,

      Solidarity Forever, &

      Ciao for now,

      • Paul Hosse'
        February 19, 2014 at 6:04 pm

        I completely agree Jim. I think a critical problem is that too much of this “us vs them” is artifcial; designed to keep the people divided and at each other’s throats rather than us focusing on the real source of our troubles.

        I really don’t have to much to say—for or aganist—the UAW. I know that when I was head of NWU Kentucky, they wanted nothing to do with us whatsoever. Wouldn’t list us as an affiliate union; help staff their booth at any events; leave material; nothing. I do, however see an opening for unionizng the plant if someone else comes in. I personally would love to see more employers utilize a worker’s council set up with a similar supervisory committee, however, I see no reason why the employees couldn’t chose to elect from their own members and represent themselves as a self contained bargaining unit.

        As for the Teamsters, my wife is retired from Local 89. She’s a member of the Retiree’s local and I’m an associate member. BTW, I may take you up on your offer at some point!

        • nwuatlarge
          February 20, 2014 at 8:11 am

          Hey man!

          So what is it that you completely agree to? I’m saying that the UAW is going to win, and that we ought to be open to helping them do it.

          You suggest that ‘us-versus-them’ is incorrect–a “critical problem,” you call it–and that what? We ought to unite with management and stockholders and bankers? That’s not what you’re saying, right? So what does that idea mean? I’d like to hear more.

          You say that “if someone else comes in,” then unionizing might work out. Who or what would this ‘somebody else’ be?

          I’ve had all sorts of run-ins with district and local unions over the years. Non-responsiveness has been frequent too, if not as ubiquitous as you experienced in Kentucky. To me, that will never change the fact that I intend to back unionization and hope that the strongest and most independent organizations step up to the plate and do their jobs, with any luck, with our help at NWU in the process.

          You also return to your point about “workers councils.” They’re illegal, except in the context of the workers’ having their own organization, 100% free of company involvement. Such restrictions are in place for very good reasons. I’ll bet you about that, as I laid out in my previous comment, so I look forward to seeing who wins the little wager if we give it a go.

          • Paul Hosse
            February 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm

            I agree the plant will likely go union. It may even go UAW, but as it now stands, it will be against the plurality of the employees. Perhaps another union can do better in organizing the workers. That seems to be what they are saying and one shouldn’t impose a union, any union, that the employees don’t want. Neither government, management, and outside union organizers know better than the people themselves. “Big Brother” can wear a blue collar just as well as a white one.

            I agree that worker’s councils are a good thing, but diagree that they can only be employeed by forcing the employees to look beyond themselves and bring in outsiders. I think the employees are capable of banning together to look after their own interests, especially in light of the absence of conflict and general satisfaction of the employees. If both sides are happy with each other, as they now are, why take steps to disrupt that? Why poision the well? There doesn’t always have to be management/employee conflict; sometimes things just work, and I think the employees are quite able to come together and make their own decisions.

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