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Working man's friends?

A lying politician and his wife
A lying politician and his wife
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

One truly wonders why any worker would vote for a Republican. Ever. In any election. Particularly given the events of the last four years since elected Republican governors and legislators have actively tried to restrict and even abolish workers’ and, in particular, union rights. In Wisconsin, Ohio, even New Jersey public employee unions have seen their bargaining rights curtailed severely or stripped altogether. In even in labor-friendly states like California, they have seen their pension benefits questioned and even cut.

But until last week no public official had dared interfere directly in a union-employer negotiation and certainly never tried to keep workers from voting to embrace union representation. Not since the dark days of the early 20th century has government on any level so blatantly tried to disrupt the formation of a union shop.

In Tennessee, the United Auto Workers had been working for several years to organize the workers in the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. And it appeared they had succeeded. Last week, over three days, the workers in that plant voted on whether to join the UAW and make their plant union represented. The employer, Volkswagen, apparently had no difficulty with this and, indeed, welcomed certain aspects of it. No one…absolutely no one…believed that the employees of the plant would vote down the union.

Until the R’s, both in Washington and in Tennessee, got to work. Now the point has been made in the space numerous times that the R’s hate unions. They hate everything about unions. But what they hate most of all is that union members tend to vote for Democrats. And Republicans can’t have that. Not if they can help it. In Tennessee, they apparently could. The Republican governor, Bill Haslam, and several other Republican state officials suggested that state incentives to Volkswagen would be harder to come by if the plant were to unionize. And U.S. Senator Bob Corker suggested that he had been assured that, should workers vote down the union, Volkswagen would begin building its new SUV in the Chattanooga plant.

Now ignore the fact that all these threats and promises were blatantly illegal, that their perpetrators should be in jail not in the catbird seat. They worked. On Friday, the vote was final…and the workers turned down the union. The Republicans, slimy tactics and all, had won.

And yet, those we must question here are the workers. Unionization has never been easy. Thousands of workers died to gain the benefits workers in this country enjoy now. The forty-hour week, the minimum wage, employee pensions and insurance. Employers didn’t hand these things to their workers out of the goodness of their hearts. They were won by workers in unions fighting for their rights. And government has most often been the ally of the employers, not of the workers.

But these workers, in the face of threats and worthless promises, simply lay down and died. They gave up on the one entity that that could guarantee their present rights and gain them new ones. And, in so doing, they slapped the face of every brother and sister worker in the country.

Harry Truman once said that, under Republicans, labor could expect “a steady barrage of body blows” and if they stayed silent, they would “deserve every blow they get”. One has the same feeling now.

These workers, having voted against their own interests, deserve everything that happens to them now.

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