February 18, 2014

Sore Losers at MSNBC and American Prospect Play Race and Culture Cards in UAW VW-Chattanooga Loss

File this under “Pathetic” and “Predictable.” On Alex Wagner’s MSNBC show yesterday, Wagner set up Timothy Noah, an MSNBC.com columnist, with the latest and most desperate excuse for the UAW’s failure to gain the ability to represent VW-Chattanooga workers in a plantwide election last week. She did so by referring to an American Prospect column earlier in the day by Harold Meyerson, who blamed “the politics of race and culture” for the loss.

Noah predictably took the bait, even though “race” was not mentioned once in any coverage I saw in 2-1/2 days after the election until Meyerson went there. Video and a transcript, followed by a couple of jabs at Meyerson by yours truly, follow the jump (bolds and numbered tags are mine):

Harold Meyerson has a piece today that I think —


WAGNER: — nails this a little bit. And he talks about the UAW has, or the idea of organized labor and finds, y’know, great welcome in NYU and in bastions of sort of liberal, progressive thought. But then when it comes down to it, here you have workers on an assembly line in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who have turned down the option. And he makes a point that, “As many unions have discovered, generally to their woe, the politics of race and culture often eclipse those of class in the United States.” [1]

NOAH: Right.

WAGNER: And these sort of cultural means around unions, um, distracted from the actual economic benefits of them. [2]

NOAH: The South has always been hostile territory for union organizing. Y’know, as Harold said, the culture war in the South trumps the class war. [1] You already have in a number of Southern states right to work laws, which means that even if they had unionized the plants, those who benefitted from the presence of that union wouldn’t have had to pay union dues if they didn’t feel like it.

So you’re in an overwhelmingly hostile climate. And the opposition I gather, through, portrayed this as a kind of northern invasion, a refighting of the Civil War. [3] Apparently there are not a lot of, uh, black employees in this particular plant. [4] And so, that kind of, uh, uh, uh, waving of the Confederate flag was an effective strategy. [5]

WAGNER: That would explain also the sign, “United Obama Workers,” which speaks volumes [6] in terms of the, uh, cultural differences in certain parts of the country. Author Timothy Noah, thank you as always for your time and thoughts.


[1] — It’s interesting that very little of this garbage about “culture war” and “class war” was heard before the election — which tells me that this is a desperate attempt for an excuse which doesn’t fly in the real world.

[2] — Wagner’s premise of “economic benefits” is shaky at best. The VW plant’s compensation package averages $26-$27 an hour (the latter figure is from a Wall Street Journal editorial yesterday). At least one worker has said that he would have had his pay cut if the UAW had won. Where’s the “benefit” in that?

[3] — Please. How about some evidence that anyone in a position of influence used “Civil War” analogies in the runup to the election? The only Google News item I found with a Civil War reference was here, where the author, who appears to be an active letter-writer but not a direct player in the VW-Chattanooga drama, wrote, “Some think … there will be no problems at Volkswagen if the union wins but wiser voices remember the Civil War, when brother fought brother, and any blend of union versus non – no matter the legislature’s naïve intention — is tantamount to a raging disaster.” His item wasn’t about race or culture at all.

[4] — The headcounting is really tiresome, but let’s go there, because Noah did. For starters, the plant’s workforce “includes people from about 37 different countries.” Apparently there are quite a few black employees at the plant. This AP photo definitely shows one, and probably two, out a total of six workers pictured. This grab of random footage included in a Fox & Friends video from this morning shows one out of three. In terms of overall workforce makeup, the most on-target item I could find noted the following:

But the UAW has still faced an uphill climb with a workforce unaccustomed to the union concept. Unlike the 80 percent Black Nissan plant in Mississippi, the UAW’s other big target in the South, a large majority of the Chattanooga workers are white. Typically, African-American workers have been more open to unionization.

That tells me that the number of blacks at VW-Chattanooga is far more than minor. By the way, Nissan workers rejected the UAW in three different formal votes at two plants last decade. Maybe the author of the excerpted item needs to reexamine her stereotyping.

[5] — Where’s the evidence that anyone hauled out the Confederate flag in the runup to the election? This particular Google News search on the 26 days before the election found no evidence that anyone did.

[6] — No. What the “United Obama Workers” “explains” isn’t about race at all. It’s about fear of having the UAW begin to do to the Eastern Tennessee economy what it did to Metro Detroit. The union got bailed out by Obama. It will forever and deservedly be associated with him because of that bailout. Deal with it, Alex.

Meyerson’s poisoning of the race and culture well at American Prospect is especially telling. Why? Because he also wrote a lengthy column two days before balloting began in the three-day election. In that column, he never used any variation on the words “race,”  ”culture,” or even “class.” In other words, he didn’t think that those items were particularly relevant to the upcoming election’s outcome. Only when things didn’t go his way did he reach for the bottom of the barrel and go back to the good old leftist standbys of race and class.

Nice try, Harold. No sale. Oh, and shame on you.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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