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February 19, 2014 1:21 PM Intimidating VW Workers Could Come Back to Haunt Republican Pols

By Ed Kilgore

This news (via Reuters) falls with the predictable weight of another shoe dropping, but it’s interesting that it’s happening so fast, even as conservatives everywhere are still celebrating the successful intimidation of VW workers in Tennessee by local Republican politicians:

Volkswagen’s top labor representative threatened on Wednesday to try to block further investments by the German carmaker in the southern United States if its workers there are not unionized….
German workers enjoy considerable influence over company decisions under the legally enshrined “co-determination” principle which is anathema to many politicians in the U.S. who see organized labor as a threat to profits and job growth.
Chattanooga is VW’s only factory in the U.S. and one of the company’s few in the world without a works council.
“I can imagine fairly well that another VW factory in the United States, provided that one more should still be set up there, does not necessarily have to be assigned to the south again,” said Bernd Osterloh, head of VW’s works council.
“If co-determination isn’t guaranteed in the first place, we as workers will hardly be able to vote in favor” of potentially building another plant in the U.S. south, Osterloh, who is also on VW’s supervisory board, said.
The 20-member panel - evenly split between labor and management - has to approve any decision on closing plants or building new ones.

I’m sure most Republicans don’t consider Osterloh a legitimate representative of VW management, which has had this socialistic “co-determination” system foisted upon it by socialistic Big Government in Germany (known to U.S. conservatives in other contexts, of course, as the heroic champions of public-sector austerity). But the fact remains that Bob Corker and other noisy opponents of UAW representation of VW workers in Tennessee used the argument that VW would surely send any new work somewhere else if the union was approved to great effect in the runup to last week’s election. It would be richly ironic if that argument turned out to be off by 180 degrees.

Aside from the specifics of VW, this development is a reminder that employers actually care about some things other than minimizing business costs. If politicians insist on giving them subsidies and freedom from regulations and reducing the bargaining power of their workers, they may gladly pocket such concessions. But the idea that screwing workers and the public are the only path to economic development isn’t at all irrefutable outside the fever swamps of those avidly pursuing a race to the bottom.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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