Friday, November 21, 2008

One Big Union

Next bail-out: The Auto Industry. Chief Executives of the big three flew to Washington on their private jets to beg Congress for money, a scene likened by one commentator to a man in a tuxedo and top hat stepping out of his limo at the front door of a soup kitchen. While most of the blame for Detroit’s problems can be laid square at the feet of the corporate boardrooms of GM and Ford (Chrysler is a private company) , the auto industry lobbyists have been working overtime trying to blame the UAW and other unions for the sorry state of the industry.

Clearly there are forces are lined up attempting to put the death nail in organized labor's coffin. Unfortunately, they have a lot of support among non-unionized Americans who think that the average GM line worker is a coddled relic of history. Does it ever occur to people who argue that Unions “had their place in American history but aren’t necessary now” that one of the reasons why real wages have declined over the last 25 years is a lack of worker’s ability to collectively bargain?

Why is it that the general public doesn’t demand better working conditions, fair pay, health care and pensions for all workers rather than begrudge the workers who actually have them? There is plenty of money out there. Look at CEO pay as a ratio to the average worker’s salary, for one example. Look at how much of the country’s money has been concentrated in the hands of 5% of the population for another.

The reason we somehow find it easier to blame the UAW member rather than the greedy bastard in the corner office is that we have been subjected to capitalist propaganda of the worst sort, since around the end of WWII. Think about your most closely held beliefs about the social structure of this Country. Chances are you consider yourself middle-class. You are encouraged to think this way so that the playing field appears much more level than it is. What is middle class? 25k per year in income? 50? 150?

Who do you resent more, the “poor” who take around 2% of the federal budget or the rich, whose tax breaks and financial chicanery cost the government billions more? Do you believe that income redistribution is un-American? Why? Isn’t social security income redistribution? How about we take all the money from the richest 3% of the population and hand it out to everyone equally?

Unfortunately the dirty little secret of globalization is that rather than raising all boats, the global movement of capitol is creating a race to the bottom for wages. The auto industries that are now coming to Congress with hat in hand have exported millions of jobs overseas in the last 20 years while at the same time lobbying against labor protections for the remainder of their workforce. All this at a time when GM and Ford were making record profits.

What good will bailing out Detroit do if no one has the means to buy more vehicles? If the big 3 get any money at all it should come with hefty strings attached, including a complete re-tooling of the manufacturing process to plug-in hybrids, a strengthening of the UAW and a cap on executive pay at 8:1 the average line worker. If that is too draconian for Congress to swallow, why not raise the cafe standards to 50 mph and let the industry sort it out on its own?

My personal belief is that the current capitalist system is unsustainable without massive government regulation-and not by this current crop of lobbyists currently posing as legislators. If things start to get really bad over the next year or two we could face the specter of an enraged citizenry dragging the rich out of their fancy homes and redistributing the wealth at the point of a gun.


Anonymous said...


I has the pleasure of having as a personal and dear friend a man named Ed Nastuk, two time chairman of the Canadian Auto Workers Union. Sadly, Ed passed away last year having miraculously survived multiple heart attacks. While our conversations tended more toward wine women and song, he reminded us every so often how his members received top pay with unlimited overtime for pushing a broom. Great for the union member, not so great for the consumer. If you think unions are vehicles of altruism for the proletariat, I humbly disagree. They can be not only counterproductive but also destructive. Recall what the UFCW did to Food Lion in the early 90s.
Currently, the CWA in NJ is crippling the tax payers of my wonderful state with payment of benefits unseen by most people who work in the private sector. While I as a productive member of the working class believe in workers rights and fundamentally agree with you that Detroit should take the bus, I would no sooner work/vote for a union than I would for, say, a republican. (Also, take a look at what unions have done to Argentina)

Mark said...

Again, I'd ask why the unions are being blamed for fighting for the rights of workers rather than the owners being blamed for making obscene profits on their backs. I agree, corruption is a big issue, but its mostly the corruption of complacency. Let's get rid of speculation and the stock market and see how that works before gutting labor.

Do you know what the solution to the problem of expensive union healthcare is? Universal healthcare. How come Obama isn't advocating for that. And don't tell me we can't afford it. We can afford two wars and an 800 billion dollar bail-out of wall street. We can afford it, the fat cats just don't want it.

Since 2/3 of the American economy is based on consumption, a decrease in wages to subsistence level means disaster for everyone. Aside from unions, who else advocates for high wages and benefits?