Union-busting, ‘Bama Benz-style Skip to content

Union-busting, ‘Bama Benz-style

The UAW lost the organizing vote at the Mercedes plant in Alabama. Berry Craig digs into the union-busting by Mercedes management, and what’s next.

3 min read
(Photo by Rochelle Hartman [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons)

TRIER, Germany – “With weak labor laws in place, enforcement can be a struggle, and sometimes these companies can turn things around,” said UAW President Shawn Fain in a news conference after his union lost the vote to organize two Mercedes-Benz plants in Alabama.

He added,  “This is a setback. This is the same playbook they always follow — it’s ugly, it’s brutal, and it’s wrong.”

'Bama Benz-style union-busting is illegal in other Western industrial democracies, including here in Germany, home of Mercedes-Benz, whose German plants are unionized.

Laws protecting union rights in the West are weakest in the U.S. In no other Western country — except for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy — have unions been more stubbornly and violently resisted than in the U.S.

In Germany, unions enjoy strong legal protection. Article 9, paragraph 3 of the German constitution says: “The right to form associations to safeguard and improve working and economic conditions shall be guaranteed to every individual and to every occupation or profession. Agreements that restrict or seek to impair this right shall be null and void; measures directed to this end shall be unlawful. Measures taken pursuant to Article 12a, to paragraphs (2) and (3) of Article 35, to paragraph (4) of Article 87a or to Article 91 may not be directed against industrial disputes engaged in by associations within the meaning of the first sentence of this paragraph in order to safeguard and improve working and economic conditions.”

No such guarantee is in the U.S. constitution. Instead, in some “right to work” states, RTW itself is enshrined in state constitutions.

“The German government is now investigating Mercedes for illegal union-busting conduct,” wrote Louis Feliz Leon and Jane Slaughter in Jacobin. “The Alabama plant is operated by Mercedes-Benz US International, a subsidiary of Stuttgart-based Mercedes-Benz Group AG.”

Backed by ample evidence, Fain charged that Mercedes-Benz officials threatened and even sacked some pro-union workers.

“Mercedes has waged a concerted effort to dissuade workers from unionizing, according to workers in Alabama and labor experts,” CBS News reported.

“Mercedes is red-hot opposed” to unions, CBS quoted Harley Shaiken, a labor authority and University of California-Berkeley emeritus professor.

Shaiken said the company employed a consulting firm and joined with Alabama political leaders to keep the UAW at bay, accoring to CBS. They included Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, whose hatred of unions is well-documented.

On Monday, the day voting on the union started, Ivey said she signed a bill aimed at taking away tax incentives for companies that voluntarily recognize unions, AL.com reported.

Here’s more from CBS: “Mercedes is accused of disciplining workers for discussing a union, firing union supporters, and forcing employees to attend meetings while making  ‘statements suggesting that union activity is futile,’ according to the National Labor Relations Board. The agency is investigating six unfair labor practice charges filed by the UAW against the company since March.”

In Payday Report, Mike Elk wrote that “the union bled support in the face of manipulation and a disinformation campaign. Many workers bought into Mercedes’ pleas to give them another chance and voted against the UAW.”

Said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in a statement: “During this campaign, Mercedes claimed to be neutral – but they were anything but. They held captive-audience meetings where they propagated lies and threats, fired their U.S. CEO, and brought in a pastor to dissuade workers from joining the union.

“Gov. Kay Ivey and her anti-worker corporate allies fought this vote tooth and nail. That obstruction is part of a long oppressive history in the South, from slavery to Jim Crow to ‘right to work’ laws to prison labor. But today, young, Black, Brown and women workers in the South are writing a new chapter and building a new economy – one that lifts up workers rather than exploits them.”

As feeble as federal laws protecting union rights are in the U.S., you can bet they will be feebler if Trump wins another term and the Republicans flip the Senate. 

While Biden has proved to be the most pro-union president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, Trump was the most anti-union president since the GOP trio of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert  Hoover. whose only-rich-lives-matter politics gave us the Great Depression.

Trump favors state RTW laws and has signaled he’ll sign a national RTW law.

In announcing the UAW’s endorsement of Biden, Fain flayed Trump, declaring he “doesn't care about the American worker.” He called Trump a “scab,” adding “Donald Trump is a billionaire, and that’s who he represents.”

 After the vote, Fain made it clear the UAW isn’t giving up on trying to organize non-union auto plants.

“I’m not scared at all,” the New York Times quoted Fain. “I believe workers want unions, I believe they want justice, and we’re going to continue doing what we can do.”


Cross-posted from the KY AFL-CIO web site.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY