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The German automaker's U.S. subsidiary earlier this month brought a case in a Washington, D.C.-based federal appeals court seeking to overturn a vote by a group of skilled trade workers at its Chattanooga, Tennessee, assembly plant to join the United Auto Workers. The dispute is a high-profile test of whether unions, an seek new members by targeting smaller groups, rather than organizing whole plants or companies as in the past.
What is notable about the ‘Dieselgate’ scandal is not that corporate executives lie and cheat, but its environmental scope. By rigging the emissions tests, Volkswagen cars may have added nearly a million tons of air pollution to the atmosphere annually – roughly the same as combined annual emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture in England. And, according to the New York Times, VW executives might not face any U.S. criminal charges.
As the Volkswagen case shows, the more trouble caused by closed-off code embedded in an ever-increasing number of physical objects, the more the makers of those objects will struggle to shield themselves from calls for transparency. When code inflicts real harm, such as Volkswagen’s polluting cars, the creators of that code must be held accountable. It’s time to start demanding that smart things open up.
German unions use their positions on corporate boards to push their agenda. They have unleaded waves of strikes and secured generous wages increases thus ending years of waning influence.
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