April 22, 2024

Historic UAW Victory in Chattanooga Unleashes Southern Organizing Potential, Paves Path for Democracy Revitalization in America

Chattanooga, TN — In a monumental victory for workers’ rights and democracy, on Friday Volkswagen workers in Tennessee won their union in a resounding victory — a watershed moment demonstrates how long-standing barriers to organizing in the South can be overcome. Jobs With Justice celebrates this historic win as a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for fair treatment and collective bargaining power, and urges the labor movement to step up calls for industry-wide standard setting.

“Just as cotton was king in the 19th century, the auto industry is core to the South in the 21st century. These Volkswagen workers — alongside auto workers throughout the industry — are on the frontlines of the nation’s most significant battle in the war to preserve democracy,” said Erica Smiley, Executive Director of Jobs With Justice.

This resounding 73% union-yes victory not only marks a breakthrough in the fight against anti-union forces but also serves as a beacon of hope for workers across the nation. The courage and resilience of the Volkswagen workers have opened the floodgates for organizing in the South, challenging the myth that the region is too hostile to unionize.

“After two heartbreaking union elections in 2014 and 2019 resulted in a loss with significant interference by Tennessee politicians and third party interest groups, Volkswagen workers’ resilience and hard work has finally paid off,” remarked Michaela Winter, Jobs With Justice National Organizer based in Tennessee. 

More than 30 labor, faith, and community organizations rallied behind the Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, including Jobs With Justice of East Tennessee (JwJET). The infrastructure of solidarity JwJET and other community groups have cultivated continues to build a network of workers willing to join together in solidarity – from contract fights to picket lines.

“As long as there is a U in UNION we have a fighting chance. The things that VW workers learned to do in this campaign cannot be taken from them. Listening, asking hard questions, speaking to media, deciding what changes they want, lifting their voices, overcoming fear of losing a job, telling politicians that workers can think for themselves, and standing shoulder to shoulder with other workers,” commented June Rostan, Jobs With Justice of East Tennessee Co-Chair.

The world is watching as American workers, especially in the South, assert their power to demand fair treatment. This victory sends a clear message to corporations, including transnational automakers, that workers will no longer tolerate exploitation and injustice.

Inspired by this success, workers at other assembly and parts plants throughout the South (like Mercedes in Alabama) are ramping up their ongoing organizing efforts. In full support of all of these courageous Southern workers organizing shop-by-shop, Jobs With Justice calls on the broader labor movement to meet the opportunity by boldly calling for industry-wide interventions that create a friendlier terrain for unionization.

To build a future that considers worker voices, the labor movement must seize this opportunity to advocate for industry-wide standards that address climate adaptation, racial wealth divide, and democratic practices at work. Specifically, Jobs With Justice urges the Biden Administration to leverage federal sustainable-energy investments to facilitate negotiations between the auto industry, workers, and unions to establish these standards.

“This is one of the first opportunities in our lifetimes to align the goals of climate adaptation, significantly closing the racial wealth divide, and expanding democratic practice at work — all in the spirit of preserving and expanding on our multiracial democracy,” concluded Smiley.

Jobs With Justice remains committed to fighting for workers’ rights and advancing social and economic justice for all.

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