Good summary of the status quo. Allow me to add: Aside from the obvious political struggle, there is also a significant cultural difference at play here between corporate America and the German business world. One of the reasons for the adversarial nature of the U.S. labor-management disconnect is the preference of American culture on individualism and self-reliance. In the current context this clashes with Germany’s ideal of co-determination and corporate social responsibility.
This contrast has been blown up even further by protagonists on both sides of the debate: First, by conservative U.S. politicians who were reproaching Volkswagen for entering into a dialog with the UAW and basically telling the company that they don’t know how to run their business – publicly. And secondly, by senior union officials in Germany who are comparing Tennessee and the U.S. to North Korea.
Time to call in the mediators.
The most important labor debate in the country right now isn’t the minimum wage issue that President Obama spent so much time on in his SOTU speech this week. Rather, it is a fascinating fight that’s going on at a VW plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, over whether or not there will be a German style “works council” at the factory, an old style branch of the U.A.W, or no organized labor movement at all.
It’s a deeply psychological fight that has created some surprising alliances and rifts, and may herald an entirely new way to think about labor relations and economic development in this country. As everyone knows, American unions and American management are like oil and water—in the U.S., shareholder capitalism has always had little regard for the ownership rights of workers, and (perhaps as a result) organized labor has always been militant and difficult. Management squeezes, and labor…
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