America is where class struggle gets derailed by culture wars. It’s happened throughout our history. It happened again last week in Chattanooga.
For more than a decade, the ability of the United Auto Workers to win good contracts for its members—clustered in GM, Ford, Chrysler, and various auto parts factories across the industrial Midwest—has been undercut by its failure to unionize the lower-wage factories that European and Japanese car makers have opened in the South. Daimler, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen—all of them ventured to the non-union South to make cars on the cheap for the American market.
This week—from Wednesday through Friday—employees at Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee may well make history. Actually, they may make it twice.
If a majority of the roughly 1,500 workers vote to recognize the United Auto Workers as their union, their plant will become the first unionized auto factory in the South. It will also become the first American workplace of any kind to have a works council—a consultative body of employees who regularly meet with management to jointly develop policy on such work-related issues as shifts, the best way to use new machinery, and kindred concerns.
Two things to know about Henry Waxman: First, during his 40 years in Congress, he authored and steered to enactment the legislation that provided health care to millions, that put nutritional labeling on food, that gave rise to generic drugs, that provided medical care to people with AIDS, that greatly reduced smog and acid rain, that strengthened the safety standards for drinking water and food, and that signally reduced the number of Americans who smoke.
For Democrats, for liberals, today’s political climate poses a singular challenge. On one hand, poll after poll shows the public believes the economy is rigged against all but the rich. On the other, poll after poll shows that the same public—particularly after the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare—doesn’t believe government is the answer to the failings of the market economy. Indeed, recent polls show that the public mistrusts big government more than it does big business (which does not mean it holds big business in high, or even middlin’, esteem).
One fundamental reason why the American economy continues to limp along is that no one—at least, no one with major bucks—is investing in it. The Obama Administration countered the collapse of private sector investment in 2009 with its stimulus program, which, alas, was partially offset by all the cutbacks in state and local government spending. It’s not been able, however, to get any subsequent investment projects through the Republican House. The private sector—the corporate sector more particularly—returned not just to profitability but record profitability by the middle of 2010, but its profits have neither resulted from nor led to increased investment.