Chris Brooks

The Alligator and the Auto Worker

Income inequality is higher today than any time since the Great Depression. One reason why is the widening gap between pay and productivity—a graph that resembles an alligator’s mouth.

Rising productivity is due to more than just robots. Work has intensified through lean production, where fewer workers are pushed to perform more work in shorter times. Workers are electronically monitored so that companies can squeeze maximum profit from every second.

Two years ago the Auto Workers (UAW) broke new ground when skilled-trades workers at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant voted 108 to 44 in favor of unionizing.

It was the union’s first victory at a foreign-owned automaker in the U.S. South.

But the success was short-lived. The UAW went on to suffer several high-profile losses, including at Nissan and Fuyao last year.

Viewpoint: Don’t Fall for the Members-Only Unionism Trap

One of corporate America’s next big goals might surprise you: passing legislation to prevent unions from having to represent workers who don’t pay dues. This is just the latest of many business-friendly labor law reforms proliferating across the country.

Jersey Day Spooks Kroger Management

According to Kroger, sports partisanship on the job is OK but union partisanship is not.

The grocery chain has long allowed employees to wear team jerseys of their choice on designated “game days.” NASCAR and NFL teams are among the honorees.

But when Kroger workers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio began wearing UFCW Local 400 jerseys to work on game day, as part of their campaign for a new contract, the company abruptly announced that only Kroger uniforms were allowed—nationwide.

It's a truism that for unions to preserve their gains they must organize the South—but as the recent failures at Volkswagen, Boeing, and Nissan made clear, this is easier said than done.

There's no sugar-coating a loss this dramatic: 2,244-1,307 against the United Auto Workers, after a 12-year campaign to organize the mile-long Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.

After four attempts, the UAW has yet to win a plant-wide vote at a foreign-owned auto plant in the South.

Transit Workers Take the Driver's Seat in 'Right-to-Work' Tennessee

At Labor Notes trainings I hear lots of reasons why union members think their co-workers aren’t involved: They don’t understand labor history. They don’t appreciate all the union has done for them. They watch Fox News. They’re scared or apathetic.

I always say, “Remember what inspires people to organize a union in the first place. They join and stay involved when they experience what it means to wield collective power.”

Backed by a huge banner reading “Buy American—Hire American,” President Trump declared in March that his administration would make the U.S. the “car capital of the world” again.

“For decades, I have raised the alarm over unfair foreign trade practices that have robbed communities of their wealth and robbed our people of their ability to provide for their families,” Trump said. “They’ve stolen our jobs, they’ve stolen our companies, and our politicians sat back and watched, hopeless. Not anymore.”

If you’ve ever attended a Labor Notes Conference or Troublemakers School or picked up one of our books, you know that everything we do draws on the organizing know-how and creativity of rank-and-file workers.

This style of education is known around the world as “popular education.” In the U.S., it was pioneered at a school tucked away in the hazy Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee.

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