Volkswagen Gave Money to Anti-Union Group That Used Pro-Confederate Rhetoric (Updated)

Mike Elk

A photo of Matt Patterson from the Competitive Enterprise Institute website. Volkswagen donated to the right-wing group's gala in June. (Photo from Competitive Enterprise Institute)

Ear­li­er this week, Work­ing In These Times report­ed on a neg­a­tive media blitz by anti-union con­sul­tant Matt Pat­ter­son aimed at coun­ter­ing a Unit­ed Auto Work­ers (UAW) orga­niz­ing dri­ve at Volkswagen’s Chat­tanooga, Tenn., facility.

VW has pledged to remain neu­tral in the union elec­tion and, in an email to Work­ing In These Times, denied hav­ing any ties to Patterson’s effort. There’s no way to direct­ly fact-check whether VW is cur­rent­ly con­tribut­ing mon­ey to Pat­ter­son­’s effort — Pat­ter­son is employed by Grover Norquist’s Amer­i­cans for Tax Reform, which, as a 501(c)(4), doesn’t have to dis­close its donors.

But now, Work­ing in These Times has dis­cov­ered a mon­e­tary con­nec­tion between Volk­swa­gen and Pat­ter­son. Accord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Post, Volk­swa­gen Amer­i­ca con­tributed $5,000 dol­lars to the annu­al Com­pet­i­tive Enter­prise Insti­tute (CEI) fundrais­ing gala in June. At the time, Pat­ter­son was a senior fel­low at the right-wing insti­tute. He had already coau­thored op-eds under his CEI byline in Forbes and the Chat­tanooga Times Free Press oppos­ing the UAW cam­paign in Chat­tanooga. In July, fol­low­ing the gala, he stepped up his on-the-ground anti-UAW offen­sive as part of a CEI sub­pro­ject called Save Chat­tanooga,” appear­ing on local TV shows and at a Tea Par­ty-affil­i­at­ed forum in Chat­tanooga to lam­baste the union’s Volk­swa­gen orga­niz­ing campaign.

The Free Press op-ed, which CEI reprint­ed on its web­site and placed on fly­ers to dis­trib­ute to Chat­tanooga res­i­dents, is stir­ring con­tro­ver­sy over its pro-con­fed­er­ate rhetoric.

The op-ed reads:

One hun­dred and fifty years ago an invad­ing Union army was halt­ed at Chat­tanooga by the Con­fed­er­ate Army of Ten­nessee under Gen­er­al Brax­ton Bragg. The Bat­tle of Chicka­mau­ga was one of the blood­i­est days of the entire Civ­il War, and a resound­ing defeat for the North­ern forces. Today South­east­ern Ten­nessee faces inva­sion from anoth­er union— an actu­al labor union, the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers (UAW)….

No won­der Hamil­ton Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er Tim Boyd warns that union­iza­tion will be like a can­cer on [Chattanooga’s] eco­nom­ic growth.” Indeed it would be, though per­haps an infec­tion is a more apt metaphor, an infec­tion borne by an invad­ing union force from the North. One hun­dred and fifty years ago, the peo­ple of Ten­nessee rout­ed such a force in the Bat­tle of Chickamauga.

Let their descen­dants go now and do likewise.

Labor activists are call­ing upon Volk­swa­gen to dis­tance itself from the op-ed. Chat­tanooga native Chris Brooks, of the local com­mu­ni­ty-labor group Chat­tanooga Orga­nized for Action, was out­raged by the com­ments and said that they were designed to divide work­ers in order to stop the union drive.

I am beyond words furi­ous and insult­ed that some­one like Matt Pat­ter­son would come down here and use that kind of lan­guage lit­er­al­ly just weeks pri­or to a neo-Con­fed­er­ate ral­ly held up the road in Murfrees­boro, Ten­nessee,” wrote Brooks in an email to Work­ing In These Times. Not only that, but the orga­ni­za­tion that spon­sored Pat­ter­son — the Chat­tanooga Tea Par­ty — has just announced that it is launch­ing a hate-based peti­tion dri­ve to keep the Chat­tanooga city gov­ern­ment from enact­ing leg­is­la­tion that would pro­vide domes­tic part­ner ben­e­fits to our gay and les­bian city employ­ees. So it is clear that Pat­ter­son and the oth­er cor­po­rate front groups com­ing into our city are align­ing them­selves with anti-work­er and anti-equal­i­ty orga­ni­za­tions and are open­ly try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the South’s vicious his­to­ry of racism and homo­pho­bia to accom­plish their goal of stop­ping local work­ers from orga­niz­ing a union.”

Upon hear­ing that VW Amer­i­ca had con­tributed mon­ey to the orga­ni­za­tion that employed Pat­ter­son when he wrote the pro-con­fed­er­ate op-ed, Brooks called upon VW to denounce the remarks. I want to know what VW is going to do to hold account­able peo­ple who use our his­to­ry of racism to divide work­ers. How would Volk­swa­gen feel if a U.S. cor­po­ra­tion was going there and appeal­ing to their Nazi history?”

Volk­swa­gen Group of Amer­i­ca spokesper­son Carsten Krebs did not respond to a request for com­ment on this story.

After the pre­vi­ous Work­ing In These Times arti­cle revealed that Pat­ter­son was seek­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars from Amer­i­cans for Tax Reform and oth­er anti-union groups to bankroll his anti-UAW project, UAW Pres­i­dent Bob King said in a state­ment, It is my hope, for the sake of the work­ers at the Volk­swa­gen plant in Ten­nessee, that out­side spe­cial inter­ests won’t inter­fere with work­ers decid­ing for them­selves the ques­tion of union­iza­tion. This is a deci­sion that should be sole­ly left up to them.”

UPDATE: Volk­swa­gen spokesper­son Car­son Krebs sent Work­ing In These Times the fol­low­ing com­ment in response to this story:

We are not mem­bers of CEI. We didn’t sup­port CEI for any spe­cif­ic action or any action against UAW. Our Gov­ern­men­tal Affairs Depart­ment attend­ed a din­ner fea­tur­ing Sen­a­tor Rand Paul — so did Ford and the Auto Alliance.

We are also attend­ing din­ner [SIC] of oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in Wash­ing­ton D.C. — con­ser­v­a­tive and lib­er­al. We are com­plete­ly bipar­ti­san in our approach.

As a gen­er­al prin­ci­ple, Volk­swa­gen sup­ports the right of employ­ees to rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all its plants and is in favor of good coop­er­a­tion with the trade union or unions rep­re­sent­ed at its plants. Volk­swa­gen is cur­rent­ly work­ing on an inno­v­a­tive mod­el for the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of employ­ees’ inter­ests which will be suit­able for the USA. This mod­el will be based on pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence in Ger­many and oth­er coun­tries where the Volk­swa­gen Group is active. A deci­sion about rep­re­sen­ta­tion ulti­mate­ly lies in the hands of the employees

When asked by in a fol­low-up email if Volk­swa­gen denounced the con­fed­er­ate rhetoric used in Pat­ter­son­’s op-ed, Krebs respond­ed, Come on … for sure.”

Full dis­clo­sure: The author’s moth­er is a for­mer mem­ber of the UAW, and the UAW is a web­site spon­sor of In These Times.

Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Work­ing In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is cur­rent­ly a labor reporter at Politico.
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