Unions can negotiate higher wages only if productivity also increases so that owners still make a profit worth the risk and investment it takes to stay in business. But union work rules often impede productivity. And even if productivity doesn't lag, competition from nonunion companies producing similar products or offering similar services at a lower cost may make union companies less profitable. If unionization pushes wages higher than the market will bear, those companies are forced to cut jobs or go out of business. A union card doesn't do you much good if your job disappears because of it.
No doubt all of these factors played a role in the decision by the majority of VW's workers to vote against the UAW. But politics also played a role, though not in the way the UAW alleges.
The UAW, like the rest of the labor movement, has spent increasing energy and resources on politics as its membership has shrunk. Unions now devote as much if not more time and money to electing Democrats than they do to organizing new members. Some 90 percent of union political contributions go to Democratic candidates, and union staff and "volunteers" are the backbone of campaigns to elect Democrats at all levels of government. Yet 40 percent of union households voted Republican in the last presidential election, despite unions' unprecedented efforts to turn out their vote for the Democrats.
Many of the Chattanooga VW workers, no doubt, felt a cultural rift between their values and those of the UAW. Unions have become little more than subsidiaries of the Democratic Party, promoting liberal policies with which many of their own members disagree. And union dues pay for bloated bureaucracies and entrenched union leadership not open to effective challenge.
No wonder fewer than seven in 100 private-sector workers choose to join a union.
The UAW and the rest of the labor movement can expect more disappointments like that in Chattanooga, and there's not a lot unions can do to change it.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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