UAW Drive Succumbs to Right-Wing Media Blitz

Last week the United Auto Workers union came up short in the election to decide on wether they would represent workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, TN.

Had they won the workers would have been the first unionized VW employees in the United States and an important inroad for the union movement would have been forged in the South.

Back in September, Volkswagen had issued a letter pledging not to oppose the union effort and CEO Frank Fischer asserted the company, “…is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

Often companies bitterly fight attempts by workers to seek union protections, so VW’s attitude of acceptance generated optimism that the way was cleared for a historic result for labor in Chattanooga.

However, the final count showed out of 1338 eligible voters, 626 cast votes in favor and 712 against with 147 not participating.

What went wrong?

There has been much attention on the threats issued by Sen Corker and state GOP politicians that a ‘yes’ vote for the union would mean a cut off of state subsidies to VW and cause a steering of new jobs away from the state, a claim strongly denied by the company itself.

Not as much focus has been given to the media amplification machine that was ginned up in the weeks before the vote to poison public opinion against unionization at VW in Chattanooga.

This artificial “echo chamber” played on the decades long smear, demonization and scapegoating of unions by right-wing media voices. 

RWM vs. Labor Media

Documents reveal that Chattanooga was turned into a microcosm of what the right-wing media machine has worked to create in the culture overall; a closed circuit of misleading and biased misinformation, along with emotionalized false narratives to short-circuit rational deliberation. 

Last week we talked about “Astro-turfing,” the propaganda-driven efforts of big money shadow groups to manipulate opinion and emotion toward their agenda.

After all, when your proposals are all about serving the very few at the economic top no matter what that means to everyone else, you need a massive effort to convince (deceive) people to join your cause.

And indeed, Grover Norquist of the far-right Americans for Tax Reform produced just such a campaign in Tenn by channeling funding to an Orwellianly named front group: Center for Worker Freedom.

It was understood that with the company not opposing, there would need to be an intense outside push to defeat the union.

Norquist, working with an outside anti-union paid “consultant, generated numerous anti-UAW news hits which were pushed into local and national media.

A dozen billboards in the city displayed messages including “United Obama Workers” to inject partisan politics and race into the atmosphere.

But none of this had to be conjured out of thin air. 

The point is there is already in existence an intense right-wing media infrastructure from pervasive local and national talk radio to Fox “News” to so-called “think tanks” like Heritage and Cato.

This amounts to a nonstop, union-busting propaganda campaign beamed into cars and homes 24 hours a day every day of the year for decades now.

All Norquist and associates had to do was hyper-activate this machine for the specifics of the VW fight.

Like the larger right-wing media movement, they used rhetoric and propaganda to cynically manipulate public sentiment for purely financial and ideological goals, with no regard for truth or the consequences of their divisive, scorched-earth tactics.

Just think alone of the capability to have Senator Corker’s false, fear mongering message repeated by accommodating mass media, until it saturated the local debate with mind numbing anxiety.

Psychologists warn of the “Illusion of Truth” created when a message is absorbed over and over, especially when triggering emotional vulnerability like fear or anxiety.

As we do the post-mortem and analysis of the union loss in TN, lets be sure to look the ponderous pachyderm of pervasive propaganda squarely in the eye.