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Friday, December 12, 2008

Republicans hate unions so much they're willing to see the entire country go bankrupt if it means breaking the UAW
Posted by Jill | 5:49 AM
There is a legitimate debate to be had about unions as they often manifest today. Only the most confirmed corporatist would say that workers should not be able to form groups to fight for better pay and working conditions. And to be sure, being a member of a union is not always an unalloyed joy for union members. My own experience as a member of unions hasn't exactly made me go rah-rah for unions.

In high school, I worked at a supermarket. I was required to join (yes, really) the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen, which was the union representing the entire store. The union wasn't able to protect me from the thugs who regarded the store as their own private playground and decided a 4'10" high school kid was fair game, and when the union went on strike one summer after I went to college, I had to spend my summer sitting out on a picket line or else never be allowed back to work at that store.

Later on, I worked as a marketing assistant in a company in which certain departments were part of the Newspaper Guild. Mine was one of them. After a few years, my supervisor wanted to promote me into a management position, and the union blocked the promotion. Even though I was going to be replaced with someone who would be in the union, the union insisted that I remain in the union. So this was a case in which the union blocked my advancement.

That said, I wonder if there had been a strong union for IT workers, if we would have seen the kind of outsourcing that has made IT a relatively unattractive career option. So from my perspective, unions are a double-edged sword. But there is no doubt that the automobile industry has been the bedrock of American manufacturing, and the UAW is what kept the auto industry from being the equivalent of a sweatshop, and that allowed the middle class to grow and thrive during the years following World War II. Because it is the rare corporation that believes its employees are anything other than interchangeable, expendable, mindless, soulless, parts.

In the decades since Ronald Reagan's election, we've seen a successful effort on the part of the GOP to create class warfare between the middle class and the have-lesses, even as they've done everything possible to eviscerate the middle class. A thriving middle class is antithetical to the GOP's philosophy that plutocracy is the natural order of things. Reaganomics was never about a rising tide lifting all boats, it was about a rising tide allowing the plutocrats to further stuff their pockets and leave the middle and working classes, the poor, and immigrants, treading water and scrambling for an insufficient number of lifejackets. This year we've seen the true face of the GOP, as Wall Street firms were given a blank check, which they then used not to save jobs but to stuff the pockets of their executives with year-end bonuses, and now we've seen the GOP refuse to help the automobile industry.

Richard Shelby, protecting the foreign car makers in his state, gives lip service to the very valid point that giving an industry that has shown it doesn't know how to run its businesses a blank check before they submit a plan may be pouring money down an empty hole. But it is South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint who 'fessed up on All Things Considered on Wednesday about what this is really about:

I'm not trying to get rid of unions, but they appear to be an antiquated concept in today's economy, and if a company cannot be competitive with the union structure that they have, then we have to recognize that. The taxpayers should not be obligated to prop up these union bosses who have put the American car companies against a wall, with these contracts and the threat of strikes over the last several decades, that have essentially put them out of business. And they want the taxpayers to pay for that. And that doesn't make any sense. We have to force this management out, or force some dramatic changes, and we've got to save these companies.


These car companies are in real trouble, and they should have been planning to restructure for a long time. But the political aspect of this is that most of this is being done to protect unions, it's not to protect the workers. And what I want to do is make sure we have jobs for these workers and we have first-class American automobile companies, and we're not going to do it with the barnacles of unionism wrapped around their necks.

"The barnacles of unionism." Now I'm someone for whom union membership WAS a barnacle. But when we look at the kinds of exploitation that have taken place in American manufacturing, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to the conditions endured by immigrant workers in the meatpacking and service industries, it's hard to see that "unionism" is the problem. "Unions" as they are currently structured, in which you essentially work for two sets of management instead of just one, may very well be. But "unionism" is not what has killed the U.S. auto industry, it's the short-sightedness of management, which never, ever put any real effort into making energy-efficient cars, and which continued the short-term strategy of cranking out profitable SUVs, only to find themselves caught with their pants down when fuel prices spiked this year.

It isn't union members who designed the Dodge Aspen and Omni, and the Chevrolet Citation and the Ford Pinto, and the various other dogs that Detroit cranked out until finally finding big bucks in small trucks and SUVs. It isn't union members who decided that the quick hit to be had from the Hummer was worth doing. Union members make what the designers design. So to say that it's the fault of UAW members that automobile industry doesn't make vehicles that are competitive in quality and durability to those made by Honda, Toyota, and Nissan is simply a flat-out lie. Back in the days when Detroit made Dodge Darts and Chevy Novas and Buick Skylarks and other cars that you could drive for 200,000 miles, no one cared that the auto workers were well-paid. So who's fault is it, exactly, that everyone you know who drives an American car has had problems with them? The people who build them? Or those who designed them? The people who build them? Or the executives who saw R&D as just a cost center?

But the GOP's hatred of unions and its advocacy of unfettered corporate power and greed is so strong that they are willing to allow the entire nation's economy to collapse, if it means dismantling the almighty UAW.

As I write this, Dow futures are down 264 points. Thanks, GOP.

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Blogger Unknown said...
So what, you're supporting corporate bailouts now? Anything to preserve the worldview that the GOP is always wrong, I guess.

Blogger TexasCowboy said...
It does not surprise me at the GOP tactics. They are not getting any money out of the deal and we all know the GOP is all about Wall Street and Corporate greed. Nice article.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
And there'll certainly be debauched partying in the snug of The Gross Suckling card-key club in Branson tonight!!

Blogger D. said...
I'm linking to this, no question.

Blogger Bob said...
Unionism is a partisan issue. Unions constitute an organized money/action base for Democrats. But nobody is denying organized unionism needs to change. I belonged to the Teamsters when they had a sweetheart deal with a now-defunct big box retail store. Essentially, I made 25 cents more per hour as a prt timer than non union in other stores, & gave about 20 cents of it back in union dues. I had a similar experience in the musicians union, & The Communication Workers was pretty much an appendage of county Democratic organizations when I belonged to that union.

That said, the wages & benefits received by nonunion American Honda, Toyota, & Nissan workers are kept just high enough to keep those workers from joining the UAW, which means that what the UAW does has a direct bearing on what happens to many many thousands of nonunion employees. So we can see the domino effect that will occur if the UAW uses the standards of nonunion shops, as the Repugs demand. They are trying to break the UAW & push down wages & benefits across the board.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Right on, Bob.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
anytime you get more than 2 people together that group can get royally f-ed up. Its just human nature. Unions are made up of people, so yes they can be royal f-up. OTH, unions vote for their leadership. You can own stock in a corporation, but your vote with that stock is not binding. A company can be run by the biggest jerk around, fall to the ground and he will get huge bonuses (see wall street) and you can do nothing about it. At least in a union you can vote the sob's out.