Right Wing Watch: Chattanooga TEA Party’s Money Machine

Jim Crow never went away, it evolved. Adapting to the times and changing expectations of our culture, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire.The Klan traded in their white sheets for LLCs and their brickbats for PACs. The Citizens Councils and John Birchers and Governor Wallace supporters all found renewed vigor with the election of the country’s first black President. Grabbing their Gadsden flags and donning their triangular hats, they congregated at well-financed, politically orchestrated gatherings and called themselves the “TEA Party.” While the outward appearance and the methods of the Old Southern Guard have changed, their goals remain the same: control. They seek to control the bodies of women, to control the lives of people of color, to control the relationships of queer folks, to control the use of violence and fear in our society to their benefit.

The best current example of this is the Chattanooga TEA Party (CTP). For the past year, the CTP leadership (Mark West, Larry Grohn, Charlie Wysong, April Eidson, to name a few) have been rallying conservatives around an extremist right-wing agenda, such as fighting against equality for Chattanooga’s LGBT city workers and recalling Chattanooga’s first openly gay Council Representative. Recently, they launched a new initiative to "protect Tennessee’s borders," a brazenly racist objective that utilizes vigilante rhetoric and publicly calls for political action to be taken against the unprecedented influx of thousands of children across the U.S. border over the past few months in the hopes of escaping extreme poverty and violence in their home countries.

The right-wing extremism of the CTP should be of deep concern to everyone in the greater Chattanooga region, especially given the fact that their agenda appears to be achieving some electoral victories as a result, at least in part, of their recently formed Political Action Committee: ”Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency” (CGAT).

The CGAT has provided Mark West, Charlie Wysong, and other leaders in the Chattanooga TEA Party with the legal opportunity to funnel thousands of dollars from a small number of wealthy conservatives into local political races and issue-based politics, further unbalancing and distorting our pay-to-play political system to the advantage of their right-wing agenda. As a result, a small number of bigots have been capable of launching a serious attack on a city law that would provide equality for Chattanooga’s LGBT city workers and their families. You can read the disclosed donors and expenses of the CGAT at the Tennessee government’s website for online campaign finance by searching for CITIZENS or by clicking HERE.

Here are just a few of the notable right-wing extremists who have donated large sums of money to the Chattanooga TEA Party’s PAC:

Andy Miller, who is raking in a fortune as the owner of a healthcare venture capital and private equity firm, donated $10,000 to CGAT in 2013. Previously, Miller dropped $260,000 into two Tennessee Super PACs to support the candidacy of Lou Ann Zelenik, a notorious anti-Muslim bigot whose opposition to the construction of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was the centerpiece of her campaign. Not one to hide her crazy, Zelenik publicly claimed that “Islam does not claim to be a religion, but a social and political system that intends to dominate every facet of our lives and seeks to dominate it’s host culture by any means including force and violence.”
According to The Tennessean, Andy Miller also serves “on the board of the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, whose top issues include opposing the spread of Islamic Shariah law. Zelenik is the group’s former executive director.” The Tennessee Freedom Coalition is a hate-based organization committed to the persecution of Muslims in Tennessee. In fact, according to OpenSecrets.org “in April 2011 the organization hosted Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders as a speaker; Wilders is known across Europe for his anti-immigration and anti-Islamic politics. He has called for the banning of the Quran and called Islam a totalitarian ideology rather than a religion. In 2011, Wilders was acquitted in the Netherlands of inciting hatred against Muslims.” At the Tennessee Freedom Coalition’s recent statewide conference, in which Andy Miller was one of the key-note speakers, Geert Wilders gave a hate speech in which he spewed the following:

we must repeat it over and over again, especially to our children, our Western values and culture based on Christianity and Judaism is better and superior to the Islamic culture (applause), and leaders who talk about immigration without mentioning Islam are blind (applause)”…”we must stop the immigration from non-Western countries and we must forbid the construction of new hate palaces called mosques (applause)”…”the press calls it an Arab spring, I call it unfortunately an Arab winter (applause), Islam and freedom, Islam and democracy are incompatible (applause)”…”the so called Prophet Muhammad was a terrorist worse than Bin Laden ever was (applause)”…”neutrality my friends, neutrality in the face of evil is evil itself (applause).”

Dennis Bizzoco, a prominent anti-choice activist who was instrumental in the closing of Chattanooga’s sole abortion clinic in 1993, has donated $1,500 to CGAT. At the time of the clinic’s closing, pictures show a smiling Bizzoco driving a a bulldozer into the building at an anti-choice celebration following the purchase by wealthy conservatives.

Sam Casey, a prominent anti-choice attorney whose work focuses extensively on ending human embryo research, has donated $5,000 to CGAT. Casey’s law firm publicly admits to advocating for laws that would restrict a woman’s access to abortion to only those cases involving a serious health risk to the mother or in the case of pregnancy as a result of rape and/or incest - with the caveat that these exceptions are “only where politically necessary as an incremental step” toward the total outlawing of reproductive choice.

These behind-the-scenes financial contributions are part of the broader context in which normally marginalized viewpoints, like that of the deeply bigoted Chattanooga TEA Party leader Charles Wysong, become politically substantive - because elected officials know that campaign money stands behind their venomous words. Wysong infamously referred to the recent city’s domestic partners ordinance, which extended health care to all city workers and their families regardless of sexual orientation, as "evil" and "wicked" and told the press that he and the other CTP members “are serving notice that Chattanooga will not be … giving normal status to sodomy.” Wysong was instrumental in obtaining the signatures needed to have Chattanooga’s Non-Discrimination and Domestic Partnership Ordinance placed on a ballot for referendum and has been a public voice in the recall of City Council Representative Chris Anderson.

Just as terrifying as the proliferation of hate-based right-wing extremism, is the depth of support it has in our local government. Just take a look at the following political candidates who have all either received support from CGAT or who have donated to it:

  • Chester Bankston, Hamilton County Commissioner
  • Bill Bennett, Hamilton County Assessor of Property
  • Larry Henry, Hamilton County Commissioner
  • William “Bill” Hullander, Hamilton County Trustee
  • Robert Philyaw, Juvenile Court Judge
  • Larry Grohn, Chattanooga City Council Representative
  • Deborah Scott, former City Council Representative
  • Roger Tudor, candidate for Chattanooga City Council and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of East Tennessee

CGAT’s website states that the PAC “was instrumental in assisting in the 2013 election of several local candidates including Ken Smith, Larry Grohn, and Chip Henderson." Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency are listed as having contributed $1,500 to the campaign of City Council Rep. Larry Grohn in his financial disclosures. Yet, the campaign finance disclosures of both City Council Rep. Ken Smith and City Council Rep. Chip Henderson show no such donations, either direct or in-kind, from CGAT on their official documents.

In addition to turning out the vote against providing equal benefits to LGBT families that work for city government, the Chattanooga TEA Party/CGAT have endorsed an entire slate of candidates:


The right-wing hate machine is on the rise and has effectively consolidated its power in the local county government and is gaining traction in the city government. That is clear. The question is: how will those of us on the left effectively fightback against their agenda to set the clock back on reproductive rights, racial justice, and justice for the LGBT community? How will we take our power back? I don’t have a long-term solution to this question, but I do have an immediate reply: VOTE.

UPDATE 8/5/2014
In what has to be one of the greatest internet examples of the local right-wing’s theater of the absurd, Mark West, president of the Chattanooga TEA Party and lead spokesperson for the CGAT, has written a blog post in which he refers to human rights activists as “radical homosexual fascists.” Never mind the fact that Nazi fascists rounded up homosexuals and forced them into concentration camps for mass extermination, all justified using dehumanizing language scarcely distinguishable from that used by many members of the Chattanooga TEA Party. West exhibits the same cognitive dissonance in his claim that human rights activists “do not believe in the America our founding fathers fought and died for, one that recognizes and respects freedom of religion, speech and thought.” West, like most bullies and bigots, screams in defense of the continued persecution of queer folks and then cries that his free speech rights are somehow being violated when he is publicly called out or shamed - or when other private organizations, like banks or television networks, rightfully decide they will not legitimize those beliefs by providing them with finances or air-time. Like most TEA Party politics, his assumptions rest on the failure to understand basic facts - like the fact that the First Amendment limits the government from censoring viewpoints and has nothing to do with one private citizen (like myself) acting on their right to free speech by calling out another citizen (like Mark West) for being an ignorant bigot.

The Birth of U.S. Labor Federations, Political Parties, the General Strike and the Ten Hour Work Day

"In December 1827, Philadelphia’s craft unions formed the Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations, the first U.S. labor organization that encompassed workers from various trades. The following summer its member unions founded another first: a local Working Man’s Party that ran its own candidates for municipal and state office, calling on craftsmen to use the ballot box ‘to take the management of their own interests, as a class, into their own immediate keeping.’ By the early 1830s similar parties had appeared in at least sixty cities and towns, from Portland, Maine to Washington, D.C., and as far west as Cincinnati. They called for improvements in public education, for an end to compulsory militia musters, for repeal of conspiracy laws applied to unions, and for other reforms beneficial to the lobbying classes. The Democratic Party soon embraced enough of these causes to coopt independent labor politics, but craftsmen continued to organize across occupational lines.

From 1883 through 1836, craft unions established central federations in thirteen cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Albany, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. Coordinating efforts through the National Trades Union (NTU) founded in 1834, these ‘city centrals’ spawned labor newspapers, mobilized strike support, helped to build new unions, and championed reforms workingmen’s parties had endorsed. First and foremost, they agitated and organized to reduce the standard workday from twelve or more hours to ten. While the NTU petitioned the federal government to grant its employees the ten-hour day, local activists staged strike after strike demanding the same from their bosses.

The largest of these strikes occurred in June 1835, when the Philadelphia Trades Union organized unionists from seventeen crafts to join a walkout initiated by Irish ‘coal heavers’ who unloaded barges along then Schuylkill River. This was the first general strike in U.S. history and a resounding success. After three weeks the City Council announced that municipal workers would henceforth work ten hours a day with no reductions in pay, and private employers quickly followed suit. Inspired by Philadelphia’s example, craft unions across the mid-Atlantic states launched ten-hour strikes that summer and fall, and in most cases they won.”

- “From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor In The United States by Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty, illustrations by Joe Sacco

Historical origins of the worker “strike”

"Among wage earners, sailors were by far the most militant. They included men of all colors and a few women who went to sea disguised as men. They displayed a legendary contempt for welders of arbitrary authority, from constables to kings. Several thousand of them became pirates, whose declared purpose was to "plunder the rich." And no one outshone sailors when it came to labor solidarity, for shipmates were quite literally in the same boat… Work stoppages are called strikes on account of sailors; they would "strike" - that is, lower - a ship’s sails when they were no longer willing to work."

- “From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend: A Short, Illustrated History of Labor in the United States” by Priscilla Murolo & A. B. Chitty & Illustrations by Joe Sacco

Socialism Depends On Who Benefits from the Subsidy: Exposing Right-Wing Myths About Public Housing in Chattanooga

Just four sentences into a lengthy report on the future of Chattanooga’s public housing in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, readers will find this bit of right-wing spin:

for all the good [Chattanooga’s public housing] sites have done in providing numerous people with temporary shelter while they get back on their feet, large concentrations of public housing have become associated with generational poverty and crime.”

The right-wing spin is revealed by exposing the assumptions that underlie this statement.

Myth #1: Public Housing was created as a “temporary” safety net to catch people who have fallen onto hard times.

The economic system of the United States (state-capitalism) is centrally organized around the production of profits for the few at the expense of the vast many. Under this economic system, the market only provides housing when it is profitable to do so. And history has proven this fact out: in the United States, the market has never produced quality, affordable housing for the working poor. That duty instead fell to the United States government, which created public housing during the New Deal in response to both the failures of capitalism and the insistent demands of mass movements of poor and working people. 

But don’t take my word for it. In their unanimous recommendation of support of the Wagner-Steagall Housing Act of 1937, the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor wrote that ”No immediate aim of the American people” is “more widely supported and more insistently voiced that the desire to attack the social evils of the slums and to provide decent living quarters for at least a portion of the underprivileged.”  The 1937 Housing Act passed and established public housing for the first time in the United States.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also says as much in their official explanation of the purpose of public housing: “Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.” Temporary? Not quite. Again, according to HUD, “you may stay in public housing as long as you comply with the lease.”

Far from being a stepping stone between homelessness and entry into the private housing market, public housing was explicitly created for the purpose of providing low-income renters with quality housing in such a way that their housing does not rely on the market. And that is why it is so hated.

From its very inception in Chattanooga, public housing has been under constant attack from the Chattanooga Chapter of Associated General Contractors, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, the Chattanooga Board of Realtors, and other free-marketeers who have a vested class interest in ensuring that the “free market” maintains its mythical, divine status without the hindrance of any public or governmental alternatives.

Local news reports from April, 1950 recount a public meeting before the Chattanooga City Commission in which over 250 people showed up to voice their opinion on the creation of our city’s first public housing projects with federal money. James R. Chamberlain, chairman of the Chattanooga Board of Realtors, presented a petition allegedly signed by over 5,000 persons requesting that a public referendum on public housing be administered “to permit the voters to decide such an important controversial issue.” Chamberlain is quoted as saying “the move to oppose public or socialized housing is sweeiping over this country. Public officials and cities everywhere are joining the movement.”

At the time, public housing had the full-throated support of the newly-created Chattanooga Housing Authority, a representative of which  replied by saying that “slum clearance means health, improved sanitation and the eradication of crime. If that is socialistic I plead guilty” and “the truth about public housing is that low-cost housing is for people of low-income who can never live in new houses.”

The Chattanooga Housing Authority was not alone in voicing their support of “Socialistic policies” that provide decent housing for low-income people. Speaking on behalf of organized labor, Stanton Smith, the secretary-treasurer of the Central Labor Union, declared that “as far as Socialism is concerned the Federal Government spends $155,000,000 a year to guarantee business loans, $160,000,000 a year to aid newspapers and magazines through postal rates that are less than the cost of handling the papers and magazines, $229,000,000 a year to aid aviation, $225,000,000 a year to aid the merchant marines, $452,000,000 for navigation aids, $990,000,000 to aid private housing. Whether its Socialism or not seems to depend on whether you benefit by the subsidy.”

The need for public housing is as great today as it has ever been, especially in a state like Tennessee, which leads the nation for minimum wage workers. Naveed Minhas, the Chief Financial Officer for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, is actually quoted in the paper as telling public housing residents to “Strive to get a job and get out of public housing regardless of what’s happening at the housing authority.” Never mind the fact that almost 40% of public housing residents are disabled. Never mind that a single mother working a minimum-wage job would still qualify for housing assistance. The condescending attitude of the current Chattanooga Housing Authority towards its own members is just another example of the gulf that exists between the agency and the very people it exists to support and is a far cry from the progressive advocacy the agency engaged in at its inception.

Myth #2: Large concentrations of public housing are associated with generational poverty and crime.

This myth goes something like this: poor people are poor because they live with other poor people and when poor people get together bad things happen (now add some deeply racist undertones). In this myth, public housing recipients are not placed within a historical context of segregation, over-policing, mass incarceration, housing discrimination, inequitable municipal development, institutional racism, gentrification, and systemic disinvestment of government programs of social uplift. This myth does nothing to address the dire need for living wage jobs, healthcare, culturally relevant community services, universal access to higher education and vocational education, or safe and healthy living conditions for residents facing accessibility challenges due to disabilities and persons in need of public transit, but instead places the blame solely on poor people for being poor together. By perpetuating false assumptions about public housing residents, this myth, and the policies based on it, fail to address the root causes of poverty. Not only that, but it completely omits the positive side of living in public housing, like the strong sense of community among residents who look after one another and support each other.

Scanning the articles on public housing in any major newspaper, you are likely to see the words “crime” and “drugs.” Public housing residents themselves are often subjected to the most intense and degrading over-policing imaginable and are prime candidates for being placed in the US penal system, the largest system of mass incarceration the world has ever known. The same is not true for banks (or bankers).

Wall Street was directly responsible for the “massive, systemic financial fraud in the banking and credit industry that triggered the 2008 financial crisis,” and yet, according to the press, crime is not even close to being as tightly associated with banks as it is public housing and public housing residents.

And while the press claims that public housing residents are commonly associated with drugs and the drug trade, we would be hard pressed to find many newspapers making the same claim about banks following the reporting by London’s Oberver which exposed how US banks, like Wells Fargo, were “at the centre of one of the world’s biggest money-laundering operations” and were directly involved “in swilling hundreds of billions of dollars – the blood money from the murderous drug trade in Mexico and other places in the world – around their global operations, now bailed out by the taxpayer.”

In fact, global banks like HSBC were found to be directly involved in money laundering for internationally recognized terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, and senior banking officials were explicitly involved in sanctioning these illegal activities. After all these revelations became public and the government was pressed into taking action, the US Department of Justice declared the bankers too big to jail. The bank instead agreed to a $1.9 billion fine, or “about four weeks’ earnings given the bank’s pre-tax profits of $21.9 billion last year.” Apparently, bankers can literally get away with aiding and abetting murder, as long as it makes a profit.

All of that, but I can’t even begin to imagine a journalist at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, or many other newspapers for that matter, saying that, whatever good they might have done over the years, the United States financial system has become associated with deep political corruption and crime. 

Anti-Fascist Alert: Largest Neo-Nazi Organization in Country Planning 40th Anniversary National Meeting in Chattanooga on Weekend of Holocaust Remembrance Day

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains information about a violent, disgusting white supremacist organization.

The National Socialist Movement (NSM) has announced that their 40th anniversary national meeting will be held in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Friday, April 25th and Saturday, April 26th.

April 27th is Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), a national memorial day in Israel set aside to commemorate ”the approximately six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accessories, and for the Jewish resistance in that period” according to Wikipedia.

Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “one of the largest and most prominent neo-Nazi groups in the United States” with over 61 chapters in 35 states around the country. The NSM publicly claims to be the decedent of the original American Nazi Party started by Navy Commander George Lincoln Rockwell in 1959 and is currently led by Jeff Schoep.


NSM leader Jeff Schoep in his self-made Nazi costume

The National Socialist Movement is a right-wing white supremacist organization with a history of violence, theatrical street actions, fetishizing the so-called “founding fathers” and openly calling for the violent removal of “non-white races” from the United States.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center:

NSM ideology mirrors that of the original American Nazi Party. The group openly idolizes Adolf Hitler, described in NSM propaganda as, “Our Fuhrer, the beloved Holy Father of our age … a visionary in every respect.” NSM says only heterosexual “pure-blood whites” should be allowed U.S. citizenship and that all nonwhites should be deported, regardless of legal status. As Schoep put it: “The Constitution was written by white men alone. Therefore, it was intended for whites alone.”

The NSM is probably best known for carefully staged protests, carried out in full-blown Nazi uniforms and swastika armbands, that have managed to win substantial news coverage for the group. The best example of the NSM’s provocative rallies came on Dec. 10, 2005, when the group made international news after a planned march through a black neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio, sparked rioting by residents and counter-protesters. The riots cost the city more than $336,000, though the NSM members escaped the violence and were not liable for any of the destruction. “The Negro beasts proved our point for us,” Schoep crowed after the rally.

The national gathering for the NSM is entitled “Putting Family, Race and Nation First while Fighting to Secure American Jobs, Manufacturing & Innovation.” There is a planned banquet for Friday, April 25th and a rally planned for Saturday, April 26th. The locations have not been made public on the NSM website.


National Socialist Movement Cheerleaders Posing for a photo

I will make sure to post information regarding planned anti-fascists actions in Chattanooga as soon as they become available.

"The Scab’s Confession" - by Clarence J. Hamby, Sr. of "Clifty" Tennessee (White County)Written in the early 20th century by miner C.J. Hamby, this Tennessee folk song tells the story of how he felt “like a crossbreed between the devil and a hog” for signing a “yellow dog” contract - a legal agreement between a company and the workers in which the workers agree to not join a union as a condition of employment. Prior to being outlawed by the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, “yellow dog” contracts were used by employers to break unions. The contracts were often enforced by the Sheriff’s office, who would summarily imprison, beat and murder union organizers that dared to shadow the porches of workers in these “company towns.” Such was the case in White County, Tennessee where miners worked for the Bon Air Coal and Iron Corporation, which owned not only the mines, but all the land in the surrounding area, the mining towns on that land (Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Eastland and Clifty in White County as well as towns in Hickman, Lewis and Wayne Counties), the houses in which the miners lived, the stores in which they shopped, the newspaper they read and even the cemeteries in which miners were all-too-often buried. The miners were even paid in currency produced by the company - called “scrip,” which they then had to pay to the company doctor (Dr. E. B. Clark) to receive medical treatment.Very little of the company towns remain today in White County, but local educators and families have organized an annual festival the first weekend in the month of May in which they give tours, share stories, and display items like scrip for younger generations to understand what life was like under corporate rule. High-res

"The Scab’s Confession" - by Clarence J. Hamby, Sr. of "Clifty" Tennessee (White County)

Written in the early 20th century by miner C.J. Hamby, this Tennessee folk song tells the story of how he felt “like a crossbreed between the devil and a hog” for signing a “yellow dog” contract - a legal agreement between a company and the workers in which the workers agree to not join a union as a condition of employment. Prior to being outlawed by the Norris-LaGuardia Act of 1932, “yellow dog” contracts were used by employers to break unions. The contracts were often enforced by the Sheriff’s office, who would summarily imprison, beat and murder union organizers that dared to shadow the porches of workers in these “company towns.” Such was the case in White County, Tennessee where miners worked for the Bon Air Coal and Iron Corporation, which owned not only the mines, but all the land in the surrounding area, the mining towns on that land (Bon Air, Ravenscroft, Eastland and Clifty in White County as well as towns in Hickman, Lewis and Wayne Counties), the houses in which the miners lived, the stores in which they shopped, the newspaper they read and even the cemeteries in which miners were all-too-often buried. The miners were even paid in currency produced by the company - called “scrip,” which they then had to pay to the company doctor (Dr. E. B. Clark) to receive medical treatment.
Very little of the company towns remain today in White County, but local educators and families have organized an annual festival the first weekend in the month of May in which they give tours, share stories, and display items like scrip for younger generations to understand what life was like under corporate rule.

Solidarity Forever: An Outpouring of Support for VW Workers from Around the World

The UAW vote at Chattanooga’s plant was close. Our local workers came within 44 votes of winning a secret ballot election in one of the most hotly watched - and hard fought - Southern union elections in decades, on their first try. Since then we have been inundated with endless diagnosis and breakdowns by national pundits - most of whom seem to know so very little about so much. One of the most important and completely unprecedented aspects of the union election (which went completely unreported) was the huge outpouring of local, regional, national and international solidarity for the Chattanooga workers who were struggling so hard, against incredible odds, to do what no one before them has successfully done: organize a foreign auto-factory in the deeply anti-worker South.

In honor of our local workers and their incredible courage and leadership which has inspired so many around the world, I wanted to share some of the support that I have witnessed first hand. Solidarity forever.


Hundreds of union members and labor supporters showed up at a solidarity event at a Chattanooga labor hall the week prior to the vote at VW


Chattanooga area unions - like the Sheet Metals Local #5 - showed up with their own signs of support for VW workers


Local Chattanooga labor supporters showed up with their own hand made signs of support and love


Chattanooga artist and progressive activist Tracy Knauss made numerous images of support for VW workers - including this one calling on VW workers to vote “UNION YES”


Another image by local artist Tracy Knauss quotes the letter of support written by former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich that was published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press


Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich published his editorial in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on this Facebook wall - where it got thousands of “shares.”


Republican lobbyist and corporate consultant Grover Norquist spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in Chattanooga placing anti-union messages on billboards, radio ads and television ads. Jobs with Justice responded with this online image that got hundreds of “shares.”


Popular Facebook groups like “UNION THUGS” published statements of solidarity for Chattanooga’s VW workers following the vote.

By far, the single greatest source of solidarity statements are the comments left on the Chattanooga For Workers and Volkswagen Workers United Facebook walls. I have compiled a very small sample from the hundreds of comments and posts written by a folks ranging from other unions in Chattanooga to union locals in California, Oregon, Ohio and New York to unionists and labor activists as far away as Germany, Canada, Argentina and Israel. Regardless of the loss, it is clear that when Chattanooga workers stand up, the world pays attention. I could not be more proud of my city nor more inspired by my neighbors and friends. It is well worth the read:












Chattanooga Workers and the Vote of their Lives

This opinion piece originally appeared under the title “Historic union vote at VW has wide implications” on the front cover of the Perspectives section of the Sunday, February 9th, 2014 Chattanooga Times Free Press. It ran opposite to an anti-worker piece by Glenn Spencer of the “Workforce Freedom Initiative” - which is a division of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Back in November, a previous editorial of mine was published by the CTFP detailing how the US Chamber of Commerce and US Congress are partners in a brutal class war against working people and had also ran opposite to Glenn Spencer. - CB

This one vote could change everything.

Later this week, workers at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen factory will participate in an election that could be a historical turning point for working people in the United States.

The choice: Whether or not to organize a union.

If Chattanooga workers say “yes” to a union, they will not only be voting for safer working conditions, better wages, and improved benefits, but they will also be opening the door to an entirely new form of worker empowerment in our country: a works council. Built on the principles of co-determination, a works council would provide unionized Chattanooga workers a seat at the table and a voice in the decisions that are central to the future of the company.

Chattanooga is the only VW plant in the world where workers are without a legitimate union and are excluded from the decision-making process provided by a works council. Volkswagen has openly supported the right of their employees to organize a union and have a voice in the workplace because the company sees worker empowerment as a fundamental component to their long-term success.

And VW is right. When skilled and dedicated workers are supported and respected on the job, they are free to do their best work. In workplaces that lack union protections, workers have less autonomy, less security, and less support. Non-union workplaces diminish the quality of work being performed and make workers less likely to invest more in developing their own skills and mastering their craft. On the other hand, unionized workers have a voice in the conditions of their workplace, better pay and benefits, and greater freedom to pursue their own professional development and expand their skills. From teachers to welders to nurses, workers work best when they are treated as assets to be supported and invested in, not as mere cogs to be discarded in a profit-driven race to the bottom.

In response to VW’s support of our local workers, right-wing business and political leaders have lashed out against unions, going so far as to publicly compare our workers and their organizations to cancer. Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd said a unionized workforce at VW would be “like a cancer on economic growth in Hamilton County.” Commentator Roy Exum wrote that the effort was being led by “a very foolish and cancerous cell of Volkswagen assembly workers.” More recently, Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, speaking to local business and political leaders, compared the struggle for union recognition to “inserting a cell into the body” in which “that one cancer cell is going to multiply and kill the body.”

This misdiagnosis of working people is the ultimate example of ideological quackery. These snake oil salesmen are engaged in an absurd public relations campaign to paint working families as the villains responsible for wrecking our economy. They are doing this because they are dedicated to promoting and preserving an economic system in which workers have no power and extreme wealth is amassed on a foundation of poverty and insecurity. The basic belief that underpins union solidarity — that workers should be supported and treated with respect — is such a threat to a corporate culture that places Wall Street greed over meeting basic human needs that these rightwing ideologues are using the incendiary rhetoric of cancer to vilify it. To these corporate charlatans, unions represent the threat that Jesus poses to Gordon Gekko: that the golden rule might one day replace the rule of gold.

For far too long, working people have been pushed down and shut out. The results are all around us. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, over half of the 225,000 jobs in Chattanooga are low-wage.

At Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, workers earn about half the hourly wage of what unionized workers at GM and Ford take home. When benefits are added, our local workers at the tax-payer subsidized VW factory make $40 an hour less than their union counterparts in Germany.

That is why the darling of Wall Street, Steve Moore, came to Chattanooga to call our workers a “cancer” and why other out-of-state, corporate front groups (like the so-called “Center for Worker Freedom”) have come here to disrupt the voting process. They want to ensure that corporate profits in the South remain at an all time high while the wages of workers stagnate at a rock-bottom low. Wall Street is terrified that the majority of VW’s workers who signed up to organize a union back in September will make good on their pledge and vote “yes” for a union because of the example it might set for the rest of the country: Workers standing together to negotiate for safer working conditions, stronger job protections, union wages, improved benefits and a voice in the work place.

The ability to freely form a union could make a powerful difference in the lives of working families here in Chattanooga. The ability to form a works council could change the way we do business in this country. Volkswagen is willing to provide our local workers an opportunity to change everything.

Now it is all in the hands of our local workers, who have to ask themselves the same question that the late Pete Seeger so famously asked working families all over the world: Which side are you on?

Corporate Lobbyists Invade Chattanooga Pushing Racist Anti-Worker Agenda

According to the Wall Street Journal, anti-union groups are “streaming” into Chattanooga, including the “Center for Worker Freedom, which is associated with Americans for Tax Reform, a high-profile lobbying group run by Grover Norquist, said it has rented 13 billboards around Chattanooga and booked commercials on local radio stations.”

According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, Grover Norquist’s lobbyist group Americans for Tax Reform has spent tens-of-millions of dollars over the years pushing an anti-worker and anti-union corporate agenda. They are ranked in the top twenty lobbyists groups in the country for outside spending.and are one of many corporate dark-money groups serving as an ATM for political operatives like Matthew Patterson, the out-of-state corporate consultant who has been hired by Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform to head the anti-union public relations campaign in Chattanooga.

The Nation magazine has previously reported that Patterson wrote a pro-Confederate editorial calling on Chattanooga workers to fight against one another and against the United Auto Workers like their ancestors once fought for slavery on behalf of the Confederacy. Patterson also distributed hundreds of fliers and used the same rhetoric at a local TEA Party anti-union event in the weeks prior to a neo-Confederate rally in Murfreesboro

Now, Patterson has purchased a billboard trying to connect the UAW to the first elected Black President, Barack Obama.


Billboard purchased by Americans for Tax Reform front-group, the “Center for Worker Freedom”

Local Volkswagen employee, Michael Cantrell, speaking to the New York Times about the attacks on unionization by paid corporate lobbyist Matthew Patterson, had this to say:

"He’s making money coming into our community from Washington and telling me and my co-workers what is best for us. What does he know about the auto industry?"

All I can say is “Amen.”