Patterson: Southern workers continue to reject unions

Patterson: Southern workers continue to reject unions

January 18th, 2014 By Matt Patterson in Opinion Columns

A worker fixes a logo to a Volkswagen car.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Bob King has been busy.

The soon-to-be retired president of the United Autoworkers union has been trying to shore up his legacy as head of the once-powerful labor organization, telling foreign press that unionization of Chattanooga's Volkswagen facility is a slam dunk, and telling supporters in a speech on Jan. 15 that his union will continue to fight for the working man against the hated One Percent.

King seems anxious, and not just because he is a member of that One Percent (tax documents show he makes over $221,000), and not just because success in Chattanooga is by no means a slam dunk (much will depend on whether the workers are allowed a secret ballot election).

The truth is the UAW has been bleeding money and members for decades -- since its peak in 1979 of 1.5 million, the union now boasts less than 400,000 dues-paying members. And King's stated mission of organizing foreign-owned auto plants in the South -- which he freely and correctly admits is an existential necessity for his organization -- has thus far been a dismal failure. Time and again autoworkers in places like Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama have taken a look at the union's smoldering handiwork in Detroit and said "You know what? We're good here."

Some legacy.

And the UAW is not the only union desperate to gain a foothold in the South. In fact, the whole of organized labor has been flummoxed by its inability to charm Southerners with its wares, and they intend to do something about it. At the 2013 AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles, a regional chapter submitted a resolution titled "To Develop a Southern Organizing Strategy," which reads in part:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the Twenty-Seventh (27th) Convention of the AFL-CIO adopts as one of its top priorities a Southern Strategy that will include a long-term commitment to organize the South"

It is beyond irony that labor leaders like King lament their lack of appeal in the conservative South, while in the same breath touting their commitment to a global progressive agenda. In his January 15th Detroit speech, King admitted:

"The UAW's mission has always been to support social justice... We have continued this tradition by participating in political activity and coalitions..."

Indeed: OpenSecrets.org describes the UAW as "... one of the most politically active of all unions." In the 2012 election cycle the union spent $14.7 million, including $1.7 million on individual candidates (almost all liberals). An additional $11.5 million was given to outside groups dedicated to various left-wing causes.

Barack Obama was also a beneficiary of UAW largess, receiving $148,967 from the union in 2012. After the election, King even bragged that he and his "progressive allies" had "scored a huge victory... when we re-elected President Barack Obama."

To add insult to injury, King's heir-apparent as head of the UAW, current secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams, was an Obama campaign organizer in 2008.

So while unions support politicians like Obama and policies like Obamacare, yeah, they might just have a hard time cozying-up to Southerners who like their government small, their health insurance affordable, and their guns available.

Matt Patterson is executive director, Center for Worker Freedom, at Americans for Tax Reform.Mpatterson@atr.org