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What Should Libertarians Think about the Civil War? by Phillip Magness

The current national debate over the display and meaning of the Confederate battle flag has reopened a number of longstanding arguments about the meaning of the American Civil War, including within libertarian and classical liberal circles.

Because of its emotional subject matter, lasting political legacies of race and slavery, transformative effects upon American constitutionalism, and sheer magnitude as the most destructive military episode ever to occur on American soil, the Civil War exhibits strong tendencies toward politicization in the modern era.

Unfortunately, bad history often accompanies this politicization, and libertarians are by no means immune from this tendency.

Two common interpretations of the Civil War stand out as particularly problematic:

  1. libertarian support for the Confederacy; and
  2. libertarian support for the Union.

The Problem with Pro-Confederate Libertarianism

The first and perhaps best known “libertarian” approach to the Civil War attempts to find sympathy with the defeated Confederacy because of its resistance to the federal government and northern military authority or its professed cause of free trade and political self-determination.

Some aspects of this position have intuitive appeal that produces sympathy for the Confederate cause: it professes outrage against a Union that is said to have conquered by force, trampled on the rights of states and individuals, unleashed a military invasion, suspended civil liberties, denied government by consent, elevated Lincoln to a “dictator,” and effected a lasting centralization of federal power. In this view, the Union cause and victory is the foundational work for the modern state and all that is anathema to political libertarianism.

This interpretation falters in what it neglects: slavery.

This is no small irony, either, as the anti-slavery cause was arguably the preeminent political occupation of libertarianism’s classical liberal antecedents. A continuum of classical liberal thinkers from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill and J.E. Cairnes forged the main intellectual case against the slave system.

Abolitionism was also always a preeminent political cause of liberalism, extending from 18th-century statesman Charles James Fox to the 19th century’s Richard Cobden in Great Britain and strongly influencing such figures as William Lloyd Garrison, Lysander Spooner, and Frederick Douglass in the United States.

This is no small matter for the libertarian intellectual tradition either, for in sidestepping the slave question’s intimate connection to the Confederacy, pro-Confederate libertarians also inadvertently abandon what is perhaps the single most important and beneficial contribution that classical liberalism has made to the human condition: the abolition of slavery.

This is not to suggest that libertarian defenders of the Confederacy share its historical affinity for chattel slavery or the plantation system. Rather, they are guilty of turning a tin ear to the one unequivocally beneficial outcome of the war in the permanent destruction of American slavery.

The Problem with Libertarian Unionism

A smaller set of libertarians gravitate to a second common interpretation of the Civil War, defined primarily by its consequential outcome.

Unlike the pro-Confederate position, these libertarian defenders of the North are keenly aware of both the centrality of slavery to the conflict as well as the importance of the abolitionist cause to the liberal intellectual tradition. Standing as a direct antithesis to the pro-Confederate arguments, these faute de mieux Unionists recognize the inherent and fundamental contradiction between slavery and human liberty.

Their position embraces the Union victory on a consequentialist acceptance of the resulting emancipation of the slaves, and disavows any conceivable association between libertarian thought and a brutish Southern slavocracy, born of no other motive or purpose but to entrench and expand that pernicious institution — and deserving of nothing short of a violent and warring elimination by any means or justification.

The argument is both morally appealing and marked by its clarity, but it also suffers from its Manichean simplicity and a tendency to read an inevitable “irrepressible conflict” into the hindsight of the Civil War’s destruction.

This view recognizes slavery and celebrates its abolition, but it tends to neglect or even rationalize the war’s uglier features and consequences: a dramatic weakening of the constitutional federalism laid out in 1787, a rapid acceleration of the scope and power of the federal government, a precedent-setting assault on habeas corpus and expansion of presidential war powers that persists to the present day — and the horrendous destruction itself.

Measured by deaths alone, current estimates place the war’s military toll at 750,000 soldiers. Civilian deaths are more difficult to estimate, though the most common number given is 50,000. And perhaps most telling of all, between 60,000 and 200,000 slaves likely perished as a result of disease and displacement caused by the war.

Why a New Interpretation Is Necessary

Where then does this leave the conscientious libertarian in assessing the Civil War’s legacy?

To address the faults of both the pro-Confederate and pro-Union positions, I’ll offer two propositions for libertarians to consider:

  1. One needn’t be for the Union to be against slavery.
  2. One needn’t be for the Confederacy to object to the North’s prosecution of the war.

Stated differently, a morally consistent libertarian view of the war should strive to dissociate itself from the political actors that waged it, while also seeking to recognize its consequences, both positive and negative.

This much may be seen in the faults of the two views described above. Libertarians who embrace the Confederacy are more often than not reasonably aware of both the evils of slavery and the distinction between the abolitionist cause and the Union.

But they neglect the second rule; because of their distaste for the Union’s wartime policies, they stake their claim to a Confederate cause that, whether they admit it or not, thoroughly attached itself to the moral abomination of slavery.

And libertarians who embrace the Union are also usually aware of the objections one might lodge against its indulgences in unrestricted warfare, suspension of civil liberties, centralization of power, or any of the other charges often made against the Union’s wartime cause or its outcome.

But they thoroughly subordinate these objections to the greater moral purpose of emancipation — a focus that obscures all but the most simplistic reading of the war’s other political and constitutional consequences.

In each argument, the problem is not its primary emphasis, but the complexities it obscures or leaves out.

In place of both views, and in recognition of their deficiencies, libertarians might develop a better appreciation for the Civil War’s complexity by turning their analysis to the nature of the ruinous agency of the conflict itself.

War, whether waged to hold human beings in bondage or subjugate a political rebellion, is a consciously coercive action of the political state in its most expansive and direct form. And armed warfare, as both the Union and Confederacy came to discover across four destructive years, is horrifically messy, unpredictable, and destructive of human life and human liberty.

Military goals and political motives also matter, as they define the objectives of the armies and prioritize their execution. Thus, a military maneuver to capture an opposing political capital will take a very different form from one that eschews political objectives and seeks to maximize the liberation of slaves or the protection of civilians.

There may also be small glimpses of just action amongst individual participants in a far more ambiguous conflict. When the abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson raised the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, an all-black unit composed of escaped slaves, there is little doubt that they were fighting for emancipation, even as larger Union war goals moved far more slowly on this objective.

There is similarly little doubt about the motive of some Southerners who fought for their homes and families as hostile armies marched through their states; even a handful of Confederates — Patrick Cleburne, Duncan Kenner — pressed their government (in vain) to consider emancipation as a means of securing independence.

These graces on the periphery tell us more about the conflict’s moral complexity than anything that may be found in its political objectives. History is not a Manichean struggle between pure good and evil; we are not served by filtering its conflicts through a dualistic moral lens.

Instead of looking for a “side” to champion, we are better served by recognizing that even amid the unbridled horrors of slavery and the devastation of war, there may still be a few who are fighting for something better than their country’s cause.

Phillip Magness

Phil Magness is a policy historian and academic program director at the Institute for Humane Studies.

Sarasota School Board Candidate Ken Marsh gets a little help from his union friends

Pat210-302

Patricia “Pat” Gardner, President SC/TA.

PUBLISHERS NOTE: I, Dr. Rich Swier, regret having used the term “illegal” in this and any other article to describe actions by Ms. Pat Gardner and the SC/TA.

Democrat Ken Marsh is in a run off for the Sarasota County School Board in District 1. Marsh has been endorsed by the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association (SC/TA). An investigation has revealed that two officers of the SCTA have been using their official school board email accounts to promote Marsh, denigrate a sitting school board member, promote Charlie Crist for governor and take positions on a variety of political ballot measures. These two individuals are SC/TA President Patricia “Pat” Gardner and SC/TA Treasurer Kevyn Fitzgerald. For example an email from Pat Gardner reads:

—–Original Message—–

From: Gardner Pat

Sent: Thursday, September 11, 2014 3:37 PM

Subject: List of Contributors to Bridget Ziegler

Please forward:

Bridget Ziegler will be in a run off election for the District 1 School Board seat with Ken Marsh in November.

SCTA endorsed Ken Marsh. Bridget Ziegler will not say if she voted for or against the referendum because she voted against it. Attached is a list of contributors to her campaign. This information came right from the Sarasota Supervisor of Elections web site.

[ATTACHED FILE LISTING DONORS TO BRIDGET ZIEGLER’S CAMPAIGN]

>Please be aware that all e-mail to and from Sarasota County Schools is subject to the public records laws of Florida.

Kevyn_Fitzgerald1

Kevyn Fitzgerald, SC/TA Treasurer, teacher Riverview High School.

Kevyn Fitzgerald, who works at Riverview High School, forwarded an email from Gardner during school hours which reads:

From: Fitzgerald Kevyn

Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:55 AM

To: REDACTED

Subject: FW: Information for Restricted Class

From: Gardner Pat

Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2014 10:57 AM

Subject: Information for Restricted Class

Please forward:

Yesterday, I heard from a frustrated teacher at one of our elementary schools that one of her colleagues had announced in the lunch room that she didn’t know who she would be voting for in the Governor’s race. She was shocked and, truthfully, so am I.

We have a screwed up merit pay system ready to hit us right in the face. No one can understand the formula. They don’t have the tests. It is the biggest mess I have ever seen.

Rick Scott signed this bill into law before the session was even finished in his first year. He couldn’t wait. Charlie Crist had a similar version of a merit pay law and he vetoed it the year before. So how hard is it to make a decision?

Scott cut the education budget his first year by 1.3 billion dollars. Yes, the economy was in a shambles. However, Scott’s proposed budget called for cutting 1.75 billion dollars. Even the GOP led Legislature said no. So how hard is it to make a decision?

Scott championed and signed the bill to take 3% from your salary for retirement. He did not put it into the FRS. He used it to fund the state budget. Now they want everyone to go into a 401K. This proposed law has failed twice but they will keep trying. Crist will veto any law that will hurt the FRS. So how hard is it to make a decision?

What is next with Rick Scott? Will they try to limit your sick time? Will they reduce the number of days you can cash in at retirement or worse, take them away altogether? If this man wins everything is up for grabs. He will have nothing to lose.

So, how hard is it to make a decision? [Emphasis added]

NOTE: A flyer titled FAST FACTS For Florida Teachers and Public School Employees was attached comparing Crist to Scott.

You would expect senior SC/TA officials to know the rules concerning use of the school board email system. The Sarasota County Schools Information Technology Guidelines and Procedures, page 28, under the heading “Appropriate Use of E-mail” states the following:

Sarasota County Schools guidelines prohibit certain types of e-mail. These include mail that may be perceived as harassment, political campaigning, or commercial solicitation. Chain mail is also prohibited. Violators will be subject to loss of computer access privileges, as well as additional disciplinary action as determined by the Sarasota County Schools disciplinary procedures. Certain types of e-mail, including but not limited to harassing e-mail, may also subject the sender to civil or criminal penalties. [Emphasis added]

Gardner and Fitzgerald, with others, appear to be willfully ignoring these guidelines by using school board computers and the internal email system, during school hours to send emails that “may be perceived as harassment or  political campaigning.” The teacher mentioned in the Fitzgerald/Gardner email is clearly known to all those who overhead the lunchroom conversation. Both emails are promoting a particular candidate for public office.

So, what has Superintendent Lori White done about these, and other, violations of school board policy?

Scott Ferguson, Communications Specialist Sarasota County Schools, in an email sent on behalf of Superintendent White states:

Ms. Gardner and Mr. Fitzgerald are representatives of the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association.

Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreements between the School Board and the SC/TA, the Association has the right to use the School Board’s email system to communicate with employees regarding union business. Specifically, the instructional bargaining agreement stipulates, in Article IV-G:

E-Mail and Computer Access

1. The employer shall provide access to the Board’s electronic mail delivery system to the Union as a means of communications with the employees.

2. The employer agrees to provide access to a computer and the electronic mail delivery system for the senior Union representative at each worksite.

3. E-mail communications between the employees and the Union and/or its building representatives involving Union business will be considered a private communication not subject to Chapter 119, Florida Statutes.

4. When the Administration deems it necessary to read an employee’s e-mail, the employee will be so notified in a timely fashion. Such notification will include the reason for such interception. The e-mail of an employee will not be read by an unintended party without providing such notice to the affected parties.

5. The Union will reimburse the district a sum of $250 per year or the actual costs; whichever is higher.

Thus, the SC/TA has the contractual right to use the School Board’s email system to communicate with district employees for its own business. The School Board does not monitor these private communications, and they are not the subject of discipline.

Outside of the SC/TA’s ability to communicate with the employees, you are correct that our procedures state that the district email system is not to be used for, among other things, political campaigning. Superintendent White has sent a reminder to all employees of this prohibition.

So what action did Superintendent White take, after we notified her of the violations, exactly? Superintendent White sent out the following to all school board employees:

REMINDER TO ALL EMPLOYEES

As our community is in the midst of a number of political campaigns, I want to remind all employees about the School Board’s Information Technology Guidelines and Procedures which prohibit, among other things, using the School Board’s email system for any communication that may be perceived as political campaigning. While I encourage all our employees to be civically engaged in the electoral process, this engagement should not occur on work hours, nor should the School Board’s email system be used for this purpose.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Of course since the school board does not monitor these union “private communications” and “they are not the subject of discipline” then Superintendent White cannot know if her reminder will be honored. The only way to know for sure is to follow the school board procedure and revoke Gardner and Fitzgerald’s email privileges at least temporarily.

Imagine what would happen if a student used the school board computer system to politic, what would happen to that student? Perhaps Marsh needs to reconsider who his friends are? Or perhaps Sarasota County voters should consider Marsh and his union friends as “birds of a feather who flock together”?

CLICHÉS OF PROGRESSIVISM #21 – “Capitalism’s Sweatshops and Child Labor Cry Out for Government Intervention” by Paul L. Poirot

Prevalent in the United States and other industrialized countries is the belief that without govern­mental intervention, such as wage and hour legislation, child labor laws, and rules concerning work­ing conditions for women, the long hours and grueling conditions of the “sweatshop” would run rampant.

The implication is that legislators, in the days of Abraham Lin­coln, for instance, were cruel and inconsiderate of the poor—no better than the caricatured fac­tory owners of the times who would employ men and women and children at low wages, long hours, and poor working conditions. Otherwise, had they been humani­tarians, legislators of a century ago and earlier would have prohibited child labor, legislated a 40-hour work week, and passed other laws to improve working condi­tions.

But the simple truth is that legislators of a few generations ago in the United States were powerless, as Mao or Nehru or Chavez or Castro has been powerless in more recent times, to wave a wand of restrictionist legislation and thereby raise the level of living and abolish poverty among the people. If such a miracle were pos­sible, every dictator and every democratically chosen legislator would “push the button” without hesitation. (Editor’s note: See the recommended readings below for abundant historical evidence of this point).

The reason why women and children no longer find it neces­sary to work for low wages under poor conditions from dawn to dusk six days or more a week is the same reason why strong healthy men can avoid such onerous labor in a comparatively free industrialized society: surviving and earning a living are made easier through the use of tools and capital accumu­lated by personal saving and in­vestment.

In fiction, the children of na­ture may dwell in an earthly para­dise; but in the real life of all primitive societies, the men and women and all the children strug­gle constantly against the threat of starvation. Such agrarian econ­omies support all the people they can, but with high infant mortal­ity and short life spans for all survivors.

When savings can be accumu­lated, then tools can be made and life’s struggle somewhat eased—industrialization begins. And with the growth of savings and tools and production and trade, the pop­ulation may increase. As incomes rise and medical practices im­prove, children stand a better chance of survival, and men and women may live longer with less effort. Not that savings are ac­cumulated rapidly or that indus­trialization occurs overnight; it is a long, slow process. And in its early stages, the surviving women and children are likely to be found improving their chances as best they can by working in factories and so-called sweatshops. To pass a law prohibiting such effort at that stage of development of the so­ciety would simply be to condemn to death a portion of the expand­ing population. To prohibit child labor in developing countries today would be to condemn millions to starvation.

Once a people have developed habits of industry and thrift, learned to respect life and prop­erty, discovered how to invest their savings in creative and pro­ductive and profitable enterprise, found the mainspring of human progress—then, and only then, after the fact of industrialization and a prosperous expanding econ­omy, is it possible to enact child labor laws without thereby pass­ing a death sentence.

A wise and honest humanitarian will know that poverty (and worse) lurks behind every minimum wage law that sets a wage higher than some individual is capable of earn­ing; behind every compulsory 40-hour week rule that catches a man with a family he can’t support ex­cept through more than 40 hours of effort; behind every legislated condition of employment that forces some marginal employer into bankruptcy, thus destroying the job opportunities he otherwise afforded; behind every legal ac­tion that virtually compels retire­ment at age 65.

Men will take their children and women out of sweatshops as fast as they can afford it—as fast as better job opportunities develop—as fast as the supply of capital available per worker increases. The only laws necessary for that purpose are those that protect life and private property and thus encourage personal saving and in­vestment.

To believe that labor laws are the cause of improved living and working conditions, rather than an afterthought, leads to harmful laws that burden wealth creation, sap the incentive of the energetic, and close the doors of opportunity to those least able to afford it. And the ultimate effect is not a boon to mankind but a major push back toward barbarism.

Paul L. Poirot

Summary

  • Sweatshops and child labor were commonplace in preindustrial, precapitalist days because production and productivity were so low, not because people disliked their wives and children more than they do today.
  • Savings, investment, and economic growth improve working and economic conditions faster and more assuredly than well-intentioned but misguided laws that simply close doors of opportunity.

For further information, see:

“Child Labor and the British Industrial Revolution” by Lawrence W. Reed

“Sweatshop Blues: An Interview with Benjamin Powell”

“Book Review: Child Labor and the Industrial Revolution by Clark Nardinelli” as reviewed by David M. Brown

“Why Economies Grow” by Aaron Schavey

“The Man Behind the Hong Kong Miracle” by Lawrence W. Reed

ABOUT PAUL L. POIROT

Paul L. Poirot was a long-time member of the staff of the Foundation for Economic Education and editor of its journal, The Freeman, from 1956 to 1987.

EDITORS NOTE: Paul L. Poirot was a long-time editor of FEE’s journal, The Freeman. This essay is slightly edited from the original, published there in 1963 under the title “To Abolish Sweatshops.”) The featured image is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.

The UAW Against the Volunteer State: Labor politics is desperate, thanks to capital mobility by Wendy McElroy

The United Automobile Workers (UAW) recently failed to unionize the Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The campaign—and failure—revealed the desperation and changing dynamics of modern labor unions.

The UAW is the richest union in North America, with assets of reportedly more than $1 billion at the end of 2012. It is arguably also the most politically influential, because it donates large amounts of money to Democrats. Like most unions, however, its membership and dues are in decline while its costs, such as pension benefits, are climbing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Union Members Summary (Jan. 24, 2014), there were 14.5 million members in 2013, compared with 17.7 million in 1983, and 11.3 percent of workers belonged to a union in 2013, compared to 20.1 percent in 1983.

For the UAW and, perhaps, labor unions in general, the Chattanooga vote was a pivotal event: Foreign manufacturers employ a huge—and non unionized—workforce.

The stumbling block: Foreign auto manufacturers such as Nissan, Volkswagen, Toyota, and Mercedes-Benz have set up plants in
Southern “right-to-work” states. These states defend a worker’s right not to join a labor union; other states allow closed shops in specific industries, meaning that they exclude non-union workers. A February 15 Forbes article explained, “In more than 30 years, none of the free-standing assembly plants owned by foreign manufacturers in the United States have ever been organized. (This doesn’t include factories that originally began as joint ventures.)”

According to CBC News, the UAW isn’t alone in its concern: “Detroit’s three automakers—Ford, Chrysler and General Motors—are increasingly anxious about the 78-year old union’s future.”

Why would the UAW’s future worry Detroit’s big three? Unions and corporate executives, though they’re usually cast as enemies, share a vested interest in keeping the union strong.

“For them, it’s a ‘devil you know’ situation. They worry that the 382,000-member UAW could be absorbed by a more hostile union. Such a merger could disrupt a decade of labour-management peace that has helped America’s auto industry survive the financial crisis and emerge much stronger, according to a person with knowledge of executive discussions,” CBC News reported.

A standard method by which to unionize an American workplace is to have at least 30 percent of employees request a union, usually in the form of signing a card or a petition. After the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) approves the request, a secret-ballot election is held. If more than 50 percent of the employees vote for unionization, then a union is usually formed unless there are circumstances such as an appeal. A second procedure called a “card check” offers a different route; that’s when over 50 percent of workers request unionization. National Review explained what happens next: “The employer can choose to recognize the union, and it’s formed without a secret ballot. If the employer declines . . . a secret ballot election is held that requires majority support.”

The secret ballot has become a flashpoint, with surprising advocates and opponents. In decades past, unions pushed for secret ballots because they perceived a need to protect pro-union workers from threats or retaliation by employers. In short, secret ballots were a consciously pro-union measure to ensure workers could vote freely. Now, depending upon the politics of particular states and industries, unions want to make obsolete the secret ballot, which can function as an anti-union measure. That is, employees who vote secretly do not experience peer pressure or blowback from coworkers and union organizers. In some situations, this makes employees less likely to vote for unionization.

In recent years, Democrats have repeatedly introduced legislation into Congress that would automatically create a union without the step of a secret ballot or the need for employer consent. The only requirement would be for 50 percent of workers to request unionization. The legislative attempts have been unsuccessful so far. If the unionization in Chattanooga had succeeded, however, it would have established precedent, bypassing legislation altogether. It would have also made a crack in the barrier that has prevented the unionization of foreign manufacturers in the South. Unfolding the Chattanooga event reveals modern labor-union strategy.

The Pivotal Event

In February, the UAW seemed poised for victory in Chattanooga. A month earlier, it had publicly declared a victory by claiming that card check had demonstrated that a majority of workers wanted the union. It asked Volkswagen’s management for official recognition. But eight workers complained to the NLRB, reporting that the UAW had used thug tactics and misrepresentation in the ballot-casting. They also accused the management in Germany of threatening to cut the flow of work to the Chattanooga plant unless unionization occurred.

That might be the most interesting aspect of the story. As the Washington Post asked, “The German company is campaigning for the UAW, not against it, in a kind of employer-union partnership America has seldom seen. What gives?” Most foreign manufacturers oppose unionization of their American plants because it would usher in expensive benefits packages and weaken their control of workplace practices, such as hiring and firing. But labor practices in Germany are union-friendly. Volkswagen was undoubtedly targeted because the company is open to establishing a German-style works council, which would have been the first of its kind in America. A works council consists of blue- and white-collar employees who are partners in management decisions on issues such as productivity and workplace conditions. American labor laws, though, make this arrangement illegal without unionization. Specifically, federal NLRA statute section 8(a)(2) prohibits so-called “company unions,” which the VW works council would be categorized as.

The most powerful pushback against the UAW came from state officials who believed unionization would harm Tennessee’s economy and make the state far less attractive to business. One of the obstacles officials erected was a 2011 state law on secret ballots and the “selection of exclusive bargaining representative(s).” The law states,

Should employees and employers seek to designate an exclusive bargaining representative through an election, they have the right to a secret ballot election; if a secret ballot election is chosen, no alternative means of designation shall be used.

The state law has been called unconstitutional because it may contradict federal rules on unionization. Nevertheless, the state law clearly indicates Tennessee’s opposition. State Sen. Mark Green, the vice chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, also called for Volkswagen to facilitate a secret ballot to protect workers’ privacy and shield them from intimidation. The likelihood of intimidation increases because most petition signatures are generated employee to employee, face to face. Green argued, “You’ve got seven guys standing around you who work with you every day and they’re saying, ‘hey, sign this card.’” Green concluded, “We don’t elect the governor that way, we don’t elect our representatives that way, the ballot is secret. That’s democracy.” The senator also claimed to know of four large manufacturers that were monitoring the Chattanooga situation before committing to expansion within Tennessee.

Gary Casteel, the UAW’s regional director, denied the charges of union intimidation and threw the accusation back at the state government. A secret ballot, he argued, would give “outside interests” a 40-day window in which to take out ads and otherwise communicate anti-union messages to VW workers. By contrast, Casteel claimed the cards in the card check would carry a simple, self-explanatory message and not be confusing.

On February 14, the Chattanooga Volkswagen workers cast a secret ballot. They defeated unionization by a vote of 712 to 626. The defeat occurred even though Volkswagen had signed a neutrality agreement, pledging not to interfere with the UAW’s efforts; such agreements are considered to be endorsements of unionization. Volkswagen workers also defeated unionization despite a strong drive by the UAW that included public support voiced by President Obama. They defeated it even though the NLRB facilitated the election by fast-tracking it.  An anti-union campaign headed by Sen. Robert Corker, Jr., and Tennesseans’ concern about unemployment, prevailed.

Conclusion

Predictably, the UAW has appealed the February 14 results and seeks a revote. The union accuses state officials of “dirty politics.” For example, it argues that officials threatened to withdraw state-financed incentives if Volkswagen workers unionized. As of this writing (March 27), the NLRB has set a hearing for April 21, but delays are probable. Rejecting the vote would mean rejecting the solid precedent of siding with the voice of workers. Accepting the vote would mean undercutting labor unions on a matter that may be key to their future. Whatever the decision, union politics in America is changing.

ABOUT WENDY MCELROY

Contributing editor Wendy McElroy is an author and the editor of iFeminists.com.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.