So the proposed bailout of the auto industry is off the table. . . at least until after the Christmas recess, which, given the grave condition of the industry, could be a death sentence. The Republican Senate killed the proposal. Now we all get to wait around and see what happens next. General Motors has already announced that without the injection of needed cash, it will very possibly face bankruptcy, and Chrysler could be close behind.
The real reason Senate Republicans were so committed to wrecking any rescue plan for the Big Three automakers, despite what they preached, had little to do with their concern for the American taxpayer. Obviously, their continued willingness to support the unconscionably expensive and wasteful Iraq war, and to say yes to every new-fangled weapons system that comes down the pike, shows what they think about assigning financial burdens to the American taxpayer.
No, this defeat had little to do with fiduciary integrity. Rather, the Republicans’ torpedoing of this proposal was done because they despise labor unions. They despise everything unions stand for. Southern Republicans despise organized labor for the same reason Southern Republicans despised the civil rights legislation of the 1960s—because it interferes with their “right to choose.”
For Southern Republicans in the 1960s, being required to hire a qualified African American employee, or to allow African American students to attend white schools, or to permit African Americans to drink from the same water fountain as white people was seen as an infringement of their God-given right to remain “free.”
And these southern right-to-work states regard unions in much the same way. Even though unions offer, demonstrably, higher wages, better benefits and superior working conditions, they don’t want any part of worker “collectivism.” These senators don’t want unions to ride on the back of the bus; they don’t want them anywhere close to the bus. Period.
The other reason Republicans resent organized labor is purely political. It derives from the fact that, in their view, labor’s donations have, historically, been responsible for Democratic candidates winning elections. While there’s some truth to that premise (even though, recently, organized labor has given generously to both parties), the record will show that, despite sizeable contributions, labor unions have received precious little support in return from squeamish Democrats. (But that’s another story.)
The blame for the collapse of this bailout deal is being pinned on the UAW (United Auto Workers), whose president, Ron Gettlefinger, rejected Republican demands that the union slash wages right now, instantly—before the current contract expires in 2011. Of course, this attempt to blame the union was totally insincere; the Republicans’ so-called “demand” to slash wages was bogus from the outset.
First, the Republicans know that the hourly wages of Detroit’s autoworkers aren’t responsible for the problems the Big Three is facing; that little fact has already been made clear to everyone. Indeed, some of the foreign automakers in other regions of the United States (including southern states) actually make significantly higher hourly wages than UAW members in Michigan.
Second, they knew that their demand would never be agreed to. Slashing wages was a red flag, purposely waved in front of the UAW. How could the union legitimately slash contractual wages—especially after having already acceded to several staggering concessions? How could it punish its members in this manner and still be considered a union? The average Detroit worker makes $55,000 a year. The new hires, under a deadly two-tier wage agreement made years ago, earn half that.
Of course, the Republican senators knew that their last, best and final offer would be rejected, just as the Bush administration knew that its so-called “proposal” to Saddam Hussein, that the U.S. wouldn’t invade Iraq if he agreed, within 48 hours, to relinquish his power and leave the country. The Republicans goal is to cripple organized labor. This demolishment of the proposed rescue plan was the first step.
DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright (“Borneo Bob,” “Junk Bonds”) and writer, was a former labor union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org