Volkswagen was 'first domino to fall' after union vote, UAW president says | US labor unions


After celebrating the union's historic victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee, Sean Fain of the United Auto Workers union told the Guardian he was confident of further union victories at auto plants across the country, saying “Volkswagen workers are the first domino to fall.”

“They've shown it can be done,” Fain added in an interview Sunday night. “We expect to see more of that in the future. Workers are fed up.”

A three-day unionization vote at Volkswagen ended last Friday with the union winning an overwhelming victory by 2,628 to 985. It is the first time that workers at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South have formed a union. The plant was the only non-union Volkswagen plant in the world. The vote in Chattanooga was the first unionization vote in the UAW's ambitious $40 million campaign that includes 13 automakers and 35 non-union plants across the country, including Volkswagen, Mercedes, Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai.

The UAW's next unionization vote will be held at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Alabama, where 5,000 workers are scheduled to vote from May 13 to 17. Mercedes has been much more opposed to unions than VW, with Mercedes officials telling workers, “We don't believe the UAW is going to make us any better.”

Fain expressed great confidence that the company would win, despite Mercedes' anti-union activism. “At the end of the day, I believe that Mercedes workers definitely want a union,” he said. “And I believe that the vast majority of workers will vote in favor.”

At Mercedes, rank-and-file workers, not UAW officials, are leading the organizing effort at the plant. “Mercedes workers have literally run this campaign with very little support from us,” Fain said. “That's what they wanted. It's great to see workers feel their power and be able to exercise it.”

He laughed off attacks from business executives and Southern politicians that the UAW is a third party, saying the union is its members, not an outside group, and that it's companies that bring in third parties, such as outside consultants who spread anti-union information.

“Employees are no longer fooled by corporate ploys,” Fain said. “It's the same tactics that corporations use all the time. They've seen it so many times. I think employees are prepared. They know corporations will continue to use fear and will continue to use politicians as agents to use fear.”

Workers at a Volkswagen auto plant celebrated a victory in a vote to join the UAW union in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Friday. Photo: George Walker IV/AP

In an interview with The Guardian, Fein hit back at six southern governors who had condemned the UAW campaign, saying it was “driven by misinformation.” “They're liars. They're the ones misleading people,” Fein said. “These politicians are showing they're just puppets of corporate America. They don't care about working-class people at all. They elected them, and they don't care about the workers who are being left behind.”

Fain was apparently outraged by a joint letter from Republican governors of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas that denounced the UAW as “a special interest group that is infiltrating our states and threatening jobs.” Fain said the governors are “destroying our economy because they don't care about workers getting a decent wage. Working class people run our economy,” he said. He added that the governors' “economy is an economy of the billionaire and corporate class, and they're monopolizing all the profits while leaving workers behind.”

During a celebratory event with Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga late Friday night and in an interview with The Guardian, Fein said Volkswagen workers now need to focus on negotiating their first union contract. “I'm hopeful that good things will happen for Volkswagen workers,” he said. “We want to use the big three contracts as a framework.” He added that Volkswagen workers will play a big role in crafting a “list of demands” for contract negotiations.

Fain acknowledged that unionizing at Tesla may be especially difficult, given how vehemently Elon Musk is opposed to unions. “Elon's extreme hostility to unions says a lot about the kind of person he is,” Fain said. “He's a billionaire, but he's more interested in his ego, building rockets and flying to the moon than he is in taking care of the people who make it possible — the people who make Tesla profitable.”

Fain acknowledged that Musk would “probably be much more hostile” to unionization than other CEOs. “At the end of the day, it's the workers' choice, not Elon Musk's choice,” he said. “As we unionize more and more companies, unionization will become more and more inevitable.” [unionizing Tesla] “It will happen, and we will continue to support workers who seek justice and better treatment in the workplace.”

When asked what Joe Biden should do to get union votes, Fein said, “He needs to keep doing what he's been doing, which is supporting the workers' fight.” Fein praised Biden for being the first sitting president to stand on a union picket line. Biden joined the UAW picket line when the union went on strike in Michigan last September against Detroit's Big Three. He also praised Biden for making it easier to unionize electric vehicle battery plants.

Fein has criticised Donald Trump's stance on electric vehicles, warning that Biden's plans to boost EV sales could be a disaster for the US economy and a boon for Chinese manufacturers. Fein told The Guardian that Trump's plans to shrink the US EV industry could put many auto workers at risk. [electric vehicle] “Some people in the industry are at risk of losing their jobs,” he said.

At a victory celebration in Chattanooga, Fein called on Volkswagen workers to help workers at other auto plants organize unions. To inspire them, Fein quoted Matthew 17:20: “Verily, I say to you, If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Remove from here to there, and it will remove, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Fain told The Guardian that faith is important to him. “The basis of all religions is love – love for your fellow man,” he said. “When we speak as workers and as workers, it's important to talk about these things – that everything we do is to make life better for humanity. Three families having as much wealth as the bottom 50% of Americans is the opposite of everything religion teaches. I will continue to rely on my faith. I make no secret of that.”



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