Pyongyang, Tennessee?

On February 4, 2014, in News Clips, by CLJ

 

German union boss Detlef Wetzel of Germany’s IG Metall, compared nonunionized Southern states to North Korea.  Huh?  Yes.  Holman Jenkins, Jr., has the story in the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea? That’s the analogy Germany’s top labor leader recently applied to the American South because, in the American South, nonunion auto plants are permitted to exist.

Detlef Wetzel, chairman of Germany’s IG Metall union, told Reuters late last year: “Low wages and union-free areas: that’s not a business model IG Metall would support. If companies entered these [Southern U.S.] states in order to be free of unions, meaning to not acknowledge a fundamental pillar of democracy, then we’re in North Korea.”

It would be interesting in an appalling sort of way to plumb Herr Wetzel’s reasoning about when employment of nonunion workers makes a country North Korea. After all, 82% of German workers aren’t unionized either. But no doubt his epithet only applies to countries that compete with IG Metall for jobs.

Volkswagen Tennessee plant

This meshes with the agenda of United Auto Workers chief Bob King, who has sought the German union’s help to organize the U.S. plants of Volkswagen and Mercedes. What happened to Mr. King’s pitch of just a couple of years ago, that the UAW’s new mission was to make auto makers more productive and profitable? Nowhere is it written the union couldn’t be an asset to an employer, but never in evidence was a strategy to turn Mr. King’s nicey-nice sentiment into action.

His union not only makes common cause with a German union whose aim is to reduce the competitiveness of U.S. plants. He lately proposed to boost his union’s strike fund with higher dues in order, as he put it, to avoid “confrontation” with the Big Three. In fact, the union seeks a confrontation: Its mission in next year’s contract talks is to revoke the “entry-level” wage established in 2007 to help Detroit match costs with its foreign competitors.

A question the union gauges only in its inner sanctum is whether, so soon after the bailouts, politicians are ready to indulge a more militant UAW. Doubtful. Democrats in Washington may be attached to the idea that the decline in unionization and rise in inequality are the same thing, mostly as an excuse for doing the bidding of organized labor, a major funder of the party. But politics does not trump reality out in the economy.

After some hemming and hawing, Volkswagen has now decided not to invite the UAW into its new Chattanooga plant on a “card check” basis—without a secret ballot vote. For one thing, many of the pro-union cards the UAW boasts about were apparently signed by temporary workers no longer at the plant.

Volkswagen remains under pressure from IG Metall to accept the UAW into the factory whether or not workers want it. The union sits on VW’s supervisory board and reportedly threatened to block a new crossover SUV to be built in North America that VW desperately needs to rescue its faltering U.S. ambitions.

Now this battle seems to be ending with a whimper, perhaps foreshadowing the same for Mr. King’s Southern strategy. VW just announced $7 billion in fresh investment, certain to include a new midsize SUV. The company’s new U.S. boss says Volkswagen will “listen” to America rather than the other way around.

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