Kentucky Tire Plant Is a Sad Little Metaphor for Mitch McConnell's Anti-Union America

(AP Photo/Stephen Lance Dennee, File)Sen. Mitch McConnell knows he probably won’t get a lot of union votes on Nov. 4.

Oh, he’ll keep trying to grab as many as he can by pandering to so-called “social issues” like guns.  Neal Knox, a former NRA head, once bragged that the gun issue “is the one thing that will spin the blue-collar union member away from his union." (See “The Right Wing Attack on the American Labor Movement” by Joanne Ricca, who is retired from the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO.)

The NRA, which is cozy with anti-union groups like the National Right to Work Committee, has endorsed McConnell. The NRTWC is in the senator’s corner, too.

The unions of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO, many of whose members are hunters, have endorsed Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who wants McConnell’s job. Meanwhile, McConnell, the supposed gun guy, has yet to accept Grimes’ challenge to meet her on a shooting range.

Anyway, everybody knows that voter turnout almost always goes down for mid-term congressional elections, compared to presidential elections. McConnell hopes a host of Kentuckians who pack union cards will be among those who won’t bother to go to the polls or who haven’t even bestirred themselves to register.

Team Mitch knows the odds: a union member who votes will likely go for Grimes. Thus, McConnell (and other like-minded anti-union candidates) nearly always benefit when union members don’t vote or don’t register to vote.

McConnell wants union members who like to hunt and shoot to vote for him because the NRA is on Team Mitch. The NRA is blanketing the Bluegrass State with a pro-McConnell flier.

McConnell would rather union members not look at his record on union issues. It’s dismal. But don’t take my word for it: Check out the AFL-CIO’s U.S. Senate scorecard for 2013.

The AFL-CIO says McConnell voted the union position on legislation just 17 percent of the time in 2013 and only 12 percent of the time since he came to the senate in 1985.

Let’s get specific. McConnell supports a national right to work law. He opposes the Employee Free Choice Act. He opposes collective bargaining rights for public employees.

McConnell is against prevailing wage laws. He wants to abolish or render ineffective OSHA and MSHA.  He wants to do the same with laws designed to safeguard worker life and limb on the job.

McConnell would like to deep-six the National Labor Relations Board or at least pack it with members who share his anti-unions views. His ideal secretary of labor is his wife, ex-Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. She shares her spouse’s deep disdain for all things union.

Indeed, when McConnell extols “free enterprise,” he means free of unions.

McConnell is an old-time Social Darwinist who doesn’t believe business owners have any meaningful responsibility toward the well-being of their workers or their communities. McConnell thinks that employers ought to have the right to run their businesses pretty much as they see fit, and if workers don’t like it they can quit and get a job somewhere else.

McConnell is a disciple of the “trickle-down” theory of economics. That is, if you make the rich richer with big tax breaks and regulation relief and let them drive down wages and bust unions, everybody will be better off.

“Trickle-down” economics gave us the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Reagan recession of the ‘80s and the George W. Bush recession of the first decade of this century.

On the other hand, union jobs go hand in hand with prosperity. Sadly, a lot of jobs are still going overseas. McConnell is fine with that.

Not long ago, he led senate Republican opposition to a measure to stop companies from deducting from their tax bill expenses connected with moving their operations to a foreign country. The measure also would have provided tax credits to companies that bring operations back to the U.S. McConnell said the job-saving bill was an election year stunt by Democrats.

Anyway, some union members do vote on the social issues, especially guns, evidently believing the union will always be there for them.  They should chat with members of United Steelworkers Local 665 at the big Continental Tire plant in Mayfield, Kentucky, where I have lived all of my life.

A lot of the union members enjoyed hunting. They were able to buy nice guns and hunting duds — nice homes and vehicles, too — on their good union wages. They had paid vacation time on which to go hunting, too.

The plant and the union were around for more than 40 years. But seven years ago, Continental shut the plant. 

Predictably, local Republicans who are tight with McConnell blamed the union. However, the union did all it could to help keep the Mayfield plant open.

"We made concessions in 1994, 1997 and 2001," said Wayne Chambers, Local 665’s last vice president. “We offered to extend our labor agreement and commit to workforce restructuring, if the company would make an equal commitment to invest in the plant and this community. Continental wasn't interested. They told us they were a global company, and they were going to build their tires wherever they wanted and as cheaply as they could."

“Wherever they wanted” included cheap labor countries.

Of course, you could replace “Continental,” “tires” and “Mayfield” with dozens of other company, product and town names all over the country.    

Our tire factory is a metaphor for the future of organized labor and American industry if the likes of Mitch McConnell keep having their way. The plant’s unhappy fate is also a stark warning to union men and women inclined not to vote to Ditch Mitch because the NRA, or some other single-issue, social issues group, is supporting him.

The plant isn’t just an empty building with a crumbling parking lot full of weeds. The factory, which employed more than 2,000 people at its peak, has been demolished. Machines are grinding up the concrete remains into gravel.

Only a warehouse survives. It is being used for storage by a non-union company and employs few people compared to the plant in its heyday. They are paid much less than the plant workers earned, too.

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