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UAW forces VW's hand

Volkswagen bows to international pressure and recognises the union at its Chattanooga plant, reports Tony Burke

This week the United Auto Workers (UAW) in the United States announced they had reached an agreement with Volkswagen that will give the workforce in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a vote on union representation at the plant.

The workers will vote in a ballot on the question of union representation, conducted by the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) between February 12 and 14.

The majority of the workforce have already signed union cards and the NLRB set the election as a result of an agreement which was reached between Volkswagen Group of America (VWGOA) and the UAW.

What makes this vote different - and crucial - is that the Chattanooga workers will decide whether the UAW can move forward with a new approach with VWGOA, based on the principles of co-determination that would include the formation of a German-style works council at the plant.

This is groundbreaking stuff - if the workforce do vote yes it would do so in a "right to work state."

The VW Chattanooga plant is the only major VWGOA assembly facility without union representation and, with a works council, the Chattanooga plant would have a seat at the VW Global Group Works Council.

The decision to proceed with a ballot is also highly significant as it has been done with the support of VW and in the face of fierce anti-union activity from Republican politicians, assorted right-wing campaigners and "business groups" which have gone into a frenzy to try to stop the organisation of the plant.

Those intervening include two Republicans, Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, who say a UAW deal would harm the plant's competitiveness and the state's "business climate" - by which they refer to Tennessee's status as a non-union, "right to work" state.

Also wading in were a "business-backed group" which spent money on billboard adverts declaring: Auto Unions Ate Detroit. Next Meal: Chattanooga, and another right-wing outfit called the National Right To Work Committee which tried to bring legal challenges against the UAW. Also a so-called "anti-tax crusader," Grover Norquist, set up a group, the Centre For Worker Freedom, to try to prevent the organisation of the plant.

Undaunted, the UAW's region 8 director of organising Gary Casteel says: "We have reached an agreement with VWGOA that will allow workers to express their opinion and decide on the question of union representation in an atmosphere of mutual respect and co-operation.

"The UAW commends the company and the Global Works Council for recognising global human rights and worker rights in Tennessee."

Unions and members in the US will be watching the run-up to the ballot.

And they'll be watching the conduct of the ballot itself, even though it will be supervised by the NLRB - especially for anti-union activity, scare tactics, anti-union advertising and intimidation by right-wing politicians and assorted anti-union groups which are aware that in other "right to work" states there are two other German-owned plants - a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama and a BMW plant in South Carolina.

UAW president Bob King told the Morning Star: "This election will give American Volkswagen workers the opportunity to have a voice like all of the other Volkswagen workers around the world and play a role in co-determining the future of Volkswagen in Chattanooga.

"We deeply appreciate the support we have received from unions around the world."

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