Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jon Shefner

Committee Members

Frances Ansley, Michelle Christian, Harry Dahms, Paul Gellert


The process of globalization has fundamentally altered the relationship between states, corporations, and trade unions. The increased mobility of capital combined with the desire among state actors to attract foreign direct invest has led to an unprecedent decline in trade union density in nearly every developed nation. This decline is concerning because numerous studies have indicated that trade union density is a key factor in mitigating the impacts of globalization and combatting economic inequality. As a result, states and state actors should increasingly look for ways to facilitate the expansion of trade union density. One promising avenue for doing so involves examining the behavior of foreign owned firms operating in the US. Using a combination of ethnographic and comparative historical methods, this dissertation explores the labor practices of Volkswagen Group of America with a specific eye towards how union representation is negotiated with the United Automobile Workers. Although Volkswagen is a company with a celebrated labor history and a unique model of employee representation, the efforts to organize a works council and certify a labor union at their Chattanooga facility were met with hostility on the part of the firm, outside pressure groups, and state politicians. This dissertation argues that the changing composition of the state apparatus has led to a situation in which the capitalist class is increasingly responsible for guiding policies that, in both the short and long term, disproportionately harm members of the working class.

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