UAW wins overwhelmingly at VW – ORGANIZE THE SOUTH!

Workers celebrate their victory at Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 19, 2024.

It wasn’t even close.

Casting their ballots from April 17-19, workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, voted by a nearly three to one margin in favor of representation by the United Auto Workers union. The final tally was 2,628 to 985, with 83% of the 4,300 workers at the plant participating.

The mood of union supporters in Chattanooga was beyond jubilant, with union supporters yelling and jumping for joy when they learned they had won a majority. The celebratory feeling extended far beyond Tennessee, with spontaneous cheering by thousands of people attending the April 19-21 Labor Notes conference in Chicago when the results were projected onto a wall April 19. UAW President Shawn Fain received a hero’s welcome when he addressed the conference two days later. 

This was the third time the VW workers voted on union representation, with the UAW losing by slim margins in 2014 and 2019. In 2019, anti-union organizations and politicians, besides using the familiar scare tactics, were able to exploit a huge corruption scandal in the UAW. A federal investigation uncovered theft of members’ dues money, kickbacks from vendors and bribes from bosses at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (now Stellantis) in exchange for weak contracts.

For decades, UAW members saw their hard-won gains whittled away by concessionary contract bargaining. This too was used to turn VW workers against the union.

A lot has changed in five years. In 2021, UAW members voted in favor of changing how their International Executive Board was elected, choosing direct elections — “one member, one vote.” In 2022 and in a 2023 run-off election, opposition candidates won a majority of the 14 seats on the IEB.

The militant “Stand-up Strike” that began Sept. 15, 2023, and took on General Motors, Stellantis and Ford simultaneously won huge gains, reversing the trend of givebacks. The unorganized auto companies, hoping to discourage unionization, then gave their workers big raises. This was referred to as the “UAW bump.”

This scheme by European, Asian and non-union domestic companies, including Tesla and Rivian, failed miserably! Thousands of workers at these companies reached out to the UAW, seeking to organize. The union has committed $40 million to organizing the unorganized auto workers.

Volkswagen is just the beginning. Mercedes workers at two plants in Alabama are voting on UAW representation from May 13-17. Union drives are underway in a number of other non-union plants, most of them in the U.S. South.

It can be done! Organize the South!

Before the VW results were known, members of the capitalist media expressed skepticism that a union could win in the U.S. South. Governors of five Southern states warned that unionization could cost workers their jobs and/or discourage new investments that would bring jobs to the region, threatening “the values we live by.” The VW vote was a big punch to the bosses’ collective gut.

Now the union’s chances of winning at other southern plants are being downplayed. “Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at the research firm AutoForecast Solutions, predicted that most Japanese and South Korean manufacturers with plants in the South would be more difficult targets for the UAW, because they have worked hard to develop a close relationship with workers,” the New York Times reported April 20.

However, the prospects for a successful unionization drive across the South, including but not limited to the auto industry, are high. Many of the 400-plus unionized Starbucks stores are in Southern states. The Union of Southern Service Workers has launched an ambitious organizing drive.

The labor movement urgently needs to organize the South. Volkswagen workers have clearly demonstrated that it can be done!


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