Power of Labor Unions Spirals Downward

Power of Labor Unions Spirals Downward
by JBS President John F. McManus

It looked as though the United Auto Workers had everything going its way in February. Workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga were expected to vote for the union to represent them. Once that victory had been achieved, similar campaigns to enlist auto workers at the Daimler-Benz plant in Alabama and the BMW plant in South Carolina would be taken from the drawing board and put into action. Also, the company officials at the Chattanooga plant had refrained from opposing the unionization effort.

But when the votes were counted, it turned out that the UAW’s hopes were dashed by a vote of 712 to 626. Stunned union officials immediately demanded a new election, claiming undue influence against their effort had been generated by Tennessee lawmakers. But now, even that demand has been withdrawn. And the solid financial and organizational support for left-wing Democratic politicians that has always been part of UAW operations suffered another setback.

In recent years, auto companies have built new plants in U.S. southern states precisely to escape compulsory unionization laws in the northern states. Everywhere, the UAW’s clout has waned, even in Michigan where its headquarters sits. In 1979, UAW membership exceeded 1.5 million workers; that number has shrunk to less than 400,000 today. Scores of local branches of the once-giant labor organization have been closed. Rather than just auto workers, the UAW has turned for new members to left-wing media outlets like the journalists at Mother Jones magazine, and then to Sierra Club employees and university student workers. Still, UAW’s once-impressive numbers continue to decline.

There’s nothing wrong with workers voluntarily gathering together in a labor union. But a problem exists when membership is compulsory — as it is when a union gains approval by a majority of workers, the procedure in place in about half of the 50 states. Excessive demands by unions have forced some companies to close their doors, others to flee to southern states. Union clout generally, not just that of the UAW, has declined across the nation.

Always a reliable backer of left-wing and Democratic Party causes (such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society), the UAW could regularly be counted on to throw its financial and organizational muscle behind Democratic candidates at all levels. But the days of its enormous influence are far behind us now, and even though the UAW will still be a player in many races, it will not be near the potent force it once was.

UAW officials are now faced with the choice of accepting the wishes of the Chattanooga majority or filing for a new election that could be held as early as next February. Meanwhile they are licking their wounds and wondering what the future might be for their organization and for all the left-wing causes and politicians they have always supported.

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