Now that we have celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ coming to America, next up will be the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Great War. And no sooner will we end our sad remembrance of that event than our national attention will turn to marking the 150th year since the tragic Civil War ended. Yet in some ways, and in some parts of the South, the Civil War never did end. Not really.Over the past few months the old battle cry, warning that the hated Northern Union Army was invading the South, has been frantically replaced with a call to arms that the Northern Union is invading the South. Of course this is in response to the United Auto Workers’ attempt to unionize Volkswagen’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee.Like a Shakespearean comedy, one in which our Southern politicians were blissfully unaware they were playing the lead roles, this was truly “Much Ado About Nothing.”German Efficiency and the UAWFirst, Volkswagen in Germany wanted to add a workers council to its new American factory. This shouldn’t have surprised anyone, given that Volkswagen has these same councils at its factories worldwide, with the sole exception of China. Operating much like Japan’s famed autoworkers’ union, the councils exist to give the assembly line workers a voice in their workplace. The idea is that investing them in their jobs will help improve the whole manufacturing process, with the ultimate goal of productivity gains. But few reporting on the process included the fact that the UAW had already made a critical agreement: If VW Chattanooga became unionized, which is a legal prerequisite to form a workers council in this country, the UAW would not be able to negotiate for wages or benefits. Then again, it’s worth remembering, this is the same UAW that — years before the Financial Meltdown — willingly tore up a multi-year contract with the Big Three of Detroit and allowed them to install a two-tiered wage system for new hires, while substantially reducing long-term benefits. This is not the UAW of the 50s or s60s. But, like those of our own Civil War, the memories of the brutal but long past UAW conflicts seem forever embedded in our collective subconscious.Take for example the reaction by Tennessee politicians to the fact that one of their cherished hometown businesses might become infected by a Yankee union. While Mint Juleps were spewing from lips across the State Legislature on this news, the calm “Southern Genteel” nature of their beloved Senator Bob Corker disappeared. And it looked like Governor Bill Haslem might well be overcome by the vapors.Really Grover?The only question in this situation was why national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist decided that this cause, turning back a union invasion from the North, fell into his line of advocacy. Norquist had billboards put up across Chattanooga, proclaiming, “Detroit, Brought to You by the UAW” and “The UAW Wants Your Guns, Pt. 1.” Reading them, one would have thought that folks near the Appalachian Mountains were living in the throes of financial wealth, and that somehow their economic situation could have been “brought down” to Detroit’s level. (As for the gun confiscation charge, no one could discover where either the UAW or Volkswagen was making any such demand.)Here’s one fun fact for you. General Motors earned $3.77 billion worldwide in 2013, but fully $7.5 billion in its North American operations. Theoretically, one could say that part of that $7.5 billion in financial success came from their very unionized workforce. But I digress; that story forms no part of this comedy.Threat PokerConcerning the duality of the political argument covering private corporations in America today, Steven Pearlstein summarized it best in his recent Washington Post column. Pearlstein wrote that when a Democratic Administration moved to save all of Detroit by using billions of mostly recoverable taxpayer dollars to keep them in business, that was referred to as a “Socialist government.” But when Southern politicians use billions and billions in never-to-be-recovered taxpayer money to locate car manufacturing plants in their state, that’s called business development.Poor Volkswagen. All it wanted to do was form a worker’s council and keep building its exceptional Passat sedan. The company took the position that it would be completely neutral; its American workers themselves would decide whether to unionize so they could then form a workers council. Immediately Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson called that move “downright un-American,” then insinuated that VW’s unionizing might cost the German automaker future state incentives worth up to $600 million. Senator Bob Corker raised on that threat, saying he’d spoken with executives at Volkswagen, who had told him that if this factory unionized, the proposed upcoming VW SUV would definitely be built in Mexico. When Volkswagen executives said that that was in no way true, Corker doubled down on his bluff and said they didn’t know what they were talking about. (Corker later claimed he’d been misunderstood.)Leave it to Gov. Haslem to try to push this argument over the top. His position was that if VW unionized, he would have a hard time getting new parts suppliers to come to a state that the UAW had invaded. Moreover, a union infestation could stop other automakers’ plans to possibly build more factories in the Old South dead in their tracks. But apparently no one told Bill Hagerty, Haslem’s Commissioner of Economic Development, that. Because Hagerty told the Washington Post that Tennessee had no problem in attracting parts suppliers for numerous automakers there, pointing to the 650 firms now giving 94,000 people jobs in the Volunteer State.But remember, this is a Shakespearean comedy: No one in the media bothered to point out to the Governor that just a 30-minute drive south of the Tennessee state capital lies GM’s Springhill Assembly Plant. Opened in 1990, built in part with huge state tax subsidies — and unionized from day one. In fact, there are UAW plants scattered throughout the Deep South. GM Bowling Green, Ford Louisville, GM Arlington, Ford St. Louis, GM Wentzville, Chrysler Fenton, Freightliner NC, and so on. Those plants didn’t stop BMW, Toyota, Mercedes, Honda, Kia, Hyundai or Nissan from building plants across the Old South, any more than GM Arlington kept Toyota from building a truck plant in San Antonio. Oh, and GM is going to add new product to its unionized Springhill factory. Unionized or not, Tennessee has already agreed to kick in more tax money for that expansion. Come to think of it, the National Football League Players Association, a union, didn’t stop Tennessee from allocating big bucks for the Titans’ stadium, either.Unearned Image?Like I said, this is truly a great Southern Shakespearean comedy, because in the end the UAW vote failed by 86 votes. Volkswagen’s workforce said they were treated well by their employer, were happy with their pay and so on. Few thought to ask the workers how it was going to turn out before this battle erupted. Apparently not Volkswagen or the union, but definitely not Tennessee’s so-called free-market politicians, who ignore the fact that a true free-market advocate would not give away billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to corporations earning, dare I say it, billions of dollars — and then lose it completely when the real free market might deliver an outcome they don’t like (with the consent of both the company and its workers).I deeply hate to bring this up, but apparently only Communist China and Tennessee reject the idea of a German style worker’s council at a Volkswagen factory.And all this dark humor, brought on by the latest incursion into our beloved South by “outside” forces from the North, only validates William Faulkner’s 1951 assessment: “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.”© Ed Wallace 2014Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism. He hosts Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF AM. E-mail: email@example.com; read all of Ed’s work at www.insideautomotive .com.