Tip Sheets

UAW victory in Tennessee challenges anti-union legacy of Jim Crow

Media Contact

Adam Allington

The United Auto Workers’ election victory at a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee is giving the union hope that it can make broader inroads in the South, the least unionized part of the country.

The next test will come at a Mercedes plant in Alabama where workers are scheduled to hold a vote next month.

Andrew Wolf

Assistant professor, ILR School

Andrew Wolf is an assistant professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations and says there is a reason why the South has been traditionally opposed to unions.

Wolf says:

“It’s impossible to overstate what a big deal the UAW’s victory in Tennessee is. This is a direct challenge to the entire racialized economic system of the South. Keeping the South union free was a core piece of Jim Crow, because unions bring working people together across race.

“The South continues to maintain ‘the southern discount’ which is lower wages resulting from right-to-work laws and intense government and employer opposition to unions, the effects of which have downward pressure on wages everywhere.

“Increasing labor’s presence in the South going forward could be a rising tide that lifts all boats for workers.”

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