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United States: the main automobile union hopes to establish itself at Volkswagen

The powerful automobile union UAW (United Auto Workers) wants to expand to foreign manufacturers present in the United States.

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United States: the main automobile union hopes to establish itself at Volkswagen

The powerful automobile union UAW (United Auto Workers) wants to expand to foreign manufacturers present in the United States. After successful negotiations at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis (Chrysler), the three American giants of the sector, the organization hopes to open a new era with a vote at Volkswagen this Wednesday, April 17.

The 5,500 employees of the German group's site in Chattanooga, Tennessee, are asked to vote for or against the formation of a union, at the call of the UAW. “We are really enthusiastic,” explained Isaac Meadows, a worker at this factory, on Tuesday, who was distributing leaflets before starting his shift early in the afternoon.

The UAW remains a prestigious success, with the signing of collective agreements among the “Big 3”, ratified in November after six weeks of a strike unprecedented in its duration. But so far, the union has not managed to establish itself in any of the non-American manufacturers, the vast majority of whom have taken up residence in southern states of the United States. In Chattanooga, the creation of a UAW branch has already been rejected twice.

But several experts believe that the tide may have turned, thanks to the momentum generated by the fall's advances among the "Big 3", where the UAW obtained an average salary increase of 25% over four years. The aura of its new president, Shawn Fain, elected in March 2023, plays a role in this renewed mobilization. This trained electrician triumphed after the first ballot open to all members. He embodies renewal, breaking with the old guard, decimated by a corruption and embezzlement scandal which involved two former presidents. “It’s the right time,” wants to believe Isaac Meadows, reached by telephone by AFP. “Wages are not keeping up with inflation. People realize that as a work force, we have a lot of power.”

After the “Big 3” agreements, the UAW wanted to ride the wave and launched an awareness campaign among 13 manufacturers, which employ around 150,000 people in total, including smaller American players like Tesla or Lucid. In addition to Volkswagen, the UAW has filed a request to hold a vote at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Alabama, which has 6,100 employees, but the Labor Enforcement Bureau (NLRB) does not has not yet set a date.

The South is a land to conquer for the UAW, which faces rejection from the governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, author of an open letter targeting the union, co-signed by five other governors of the region, all Republicans. They accuse the union of “disinformation” and of using “intimidation tactics”.

“In the United States, we respect our workers and we do not need an outside organization to tell us how to carry a box or touch a switch,” argue the elected officials. They warn that the arrival of the UAW with a foreign manufacturer would jeopardize the future of the site, without arguing. Before this election, Volkswagen committed to adopting a position of neutrality, which amounts to not opposing the formation of a union. “We respect the right of our employees to decide on the question of union representation,” the German manufacturer indicated on its site.

The Volkswagen works council has posted a video online in which its president, Daniela Cavallo, and employees from Wolfsburg, Germany, show their solidarity with the colleagues in Chattanooga. The UAW also changed its approach before the vote, relying more on local organizers rather than taking the reins, said Stephen Silvia, a professor at American University and author of a book on the auto union in the South. For him, Chattanooga is "the best opportunity the UAW has ever had to organize a site in the South."

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