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How the UAW Could Change the South (Counterpunch)


How the UAW Could Change the South – By Eve Ottenberg (Counterpunch) / May 10, 2024

The UAW is on a roll. After winning stupendous contracts at the Big Three automakers this past year, the union then organized Volkswagen in Tennessee April 20. What’s eye-popping about this is that the UAW succeeded not only in the South, but also with a foreign car manufacturer – a twofer. Now as the union zooms in on a May vote by 5000 workers at Mercedes in Alabama, the larger implications of Shawn Fain’s still relatively new union presidency have become clear, namely, a change in workers’ culture in the anti-union, right-to-work South; because if the UAW racks up more wins in the region, that will alter the local political ecosystem. Politicos will find themselves in an environment that includes a growing union presence, something they have sought to extirpate for generations.

The first, most obvious improvement wrought by UAW wins will be a boost in the standard of living for working people. A rising tide lifts all boats, they say, and as auto factories pay more and offer better job security, other employers will follow suit or be left in the dust by a worker stampede to the auto industry. True, that stampede may take time to gather force, but it will happen if other employers don’t get in line. This, of course, will threaten the Southern status quo: the people with money, donors and plutocrats who control governors and statehouses will resist, but in the long run it’s simpler to raise wages than to try to hold back the sea. So if the UAW truly organizes its industry throughout the South, it will better the lives of lots of non-autoworkers.

Another change is that a UAW presence will entice people eager to appeal to union members into the political fray. Some will win. And their platforms will be more generous to ordinary people on bread-and-butter economic issues than they would be without an altered South. Such politicians will start legislating toward benefitting working people. Their popularity will encourage others. While this process may take years, it still remains a very likely result of masses of unionized voters and ever more people in those voters’ ambit.

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