Friday, December 12, 2008

Losing Your Job? Thank Mitch McConnell

(UPDATE, 6:21 a.m.:Countdown has the incriminating memo.)

Let it be carved in stone in a prominent political spot that when the fate of the nation's economy lay in the hands of Senator Mitchell McConnell, he stood before Congress and told Kentucky's 82,000 auto workers and their families to fuck off and die.

Let it be written, also, that he did it not out of principle, not out of a belief that killing the auto industry would help the economy in the long term, not even out of personal animus against Kentuckians who each work harder every day than little mitchie has worked in his entire worthless life.

No, he did it because he'd rather bring on another Great Depression than miss an opportunity to destroy America's unions.

Kevin Drum identifies the idiocy of Senate republicans scuttling an economy-saving bill over a meaningless 18 months.

(More after the jump.)

Apparently Democrats and the UAW had agreed to deep wage cuts and work rule changes, but it still wasn't enough:
The automakers would [] have been required to cut wages and benefits to match the average hourly wage and benefits of Nissan, Toyota and Honda employees based in the United States, and the companies would have to impose equivalent work rules.
It was over this proposal that the talks ultimately deadlocked with Republicans demanding that the automakers meet that goal by a certain date in 2009 and Democrats and the union urging that the deadline wait until 2011 when the U.A.W. contract expires.

This is nuts. If you're just flatly against the bailout, fine. Vote against it. But if the wage cuts, along with the debt-for-equity swap that was also part of the bill, were enough to bring you around, why would you cavil at the cuts happening in 2011 instead of the end of 2009? It's only about an 18 month difference, and cutting wages makes a lot more sense in 2011 than it does in the middle of a massive recession anyway.

Another shining moment in the history of the modern GOP. Ideology uber alles.

Precisely. Repugs don't care about preventing a depression, or improving the U.S. auto industry, or even shrinking big government. They care about three things:

  1. Destroying the only means ordinary Americans have of achieving decent wages and benefits: unions,
  2. Ass-fucking the Democrats every chance they get, and
  3. Making it impossible for President Obama to fix the catastrophe Smirky/Darth and Mitchie created.

Republicans have been trying to eliminate unions from the U.S. economy for more than 70 years, ever since FDR legalized collective bargaining. It's no secret why: unions are the only thing standing between corporations and the feudal economy of slave labor they enjoyed a century ago.

Unions are the only reason we have an 8-hour workday, a five-day workweek, workplace conditions that are slightly less than lethal, bans on child labor, wages that permit workers to put food on the table and benefits that allow a decent family life.

All of those union achievements are anathema to corporations and their republican lackeys. So, as the Nation documents, they are more than willing to sacrifice the heart of American manufacturing on the altar of anti-unionism.

Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, notes that one of the ugliest aspects of the continued debate over the Big Three has been a virulent, thinly cloaked antiworker narrative.

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson recently wrote that a GM bankruptcy could serve as a reminder to all of the "social costs of...overpriced unionized labor." He and other finger-wagging pundits, politicians and free-market adherents have blamed unionized workers (with their solid wages and benefits) for their complicity in the crisis GM is facing.

These arguments falsely vilify working people and stem from a superficial understanding of the modern automotive industry. Historically, the auto industry has provided good middle-class jobs that have come with high wages, impressive healthcare and pension benefits packages, disability and overtime pay--the kinds of jobs that are in too short supply in today's economy.

But in recent decades, much of GM's manufacturing has been moved to nonunion parts plants in the South, allowing the company to drive down labor costs by avoiding United Auto Workers strongholds in the industrial Midwest. This, coupled with last year's agreement by the UAW to swallow concessions on a two-tiered pay scale, has dramatically lowered labor costs for GM. The UAW has also agreed to take over retiree health costs in 2010. These concessions--opposed by many union members for creating a divided workforce--have allowed GM to close the labor cost gap significantly with foreign manufacturers like Toyota. Analysts estimate that the 2007 agreement has saved GM $500 million in labor costs since its signing, and the company is set to save $4 billion annually starting in 2010.

The more unions make wage and benefit concessions in an understanding that by helping the companies they are saving themselves, the more republicans attack them for being "anti-business."

And the more frantic they are now to destroy the unions before January 20, because President-elect Obama is the most pro-union president since FDR.

In the Nation, John Nichols explains why:

Before there was talk of a "transformational presidency," Barack Obama needed a transformational moment. It came in February at a sprawling General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the Illinois senator--trailed by a press corps skeptical about his ability to appeal to white union members--electrified thousands of autoworkers with a populist promise of infrastructure investment, new trade policies and a future for American manufacturing.

His pre-Wisconsin primary vow to defend auto plants offered a lifeline to workers who knew that their industry--battered by years of bad CEO decisions, shortsighted federal energy policies and dysfunctional trade deals--was teetering on the brink of the disaster that unfolded as the year progressed. Days after Obama spoke to them, the autoworkers of Janesville voted in overwhelming numbers to make him the Democratic presidential nominee. It was a critical moment for the candidate, one that he would refer to repeatedly as the campaign progressed toward the November 4 election. Obama and his aides, taking counsel from Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, had picked the right room in the house of labor in which to make their move.

Seventy-three years earlier, United Auto Workers Federal Labor Union No. 19324 met near the plant where Obama spoke, forming a piece of the quilt of local unions that would become the nation's most powerful industrial organization. Today Janesville's UAW members, like their more than 1 million brothers and sisters nationwide, are members of a union that has for decades pushed the labor movement, the Democratic Party and the government to cross lines of racial and regional division in pursuit of social justice, sound yet humane economic principles and international solidarity

It was the UAW that fought for national healthcare and pensions and, when those policy initiatives were blocked by reactionary Congresses, forced corporate America to create a social safety net for workers and retirees that would form the model for union and nonunion workplaces across the country.

It was the UAW that fought government- and corporate-sanctioned racial discrimination, integrating Southern factories, supporting the 1963 March on Washington and bailing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail in Alabama.

It was the UAW that withdrew from the AFL-CIO in the 1960s and '70s rather than take labor's big right turn; the UAW that opposed the Vietnam War; set up a research department that studied the cost of bloated military budgets to domestic progress; opposed apartheid in South Africa with such passion that when Nelson Mandela toured the United States after his release from prison, he insisted on celebrating with Dearborn's UAW Local 600.

And it was the UAW that, three decades ago, scored Detroit for failing to design and produce small fuel-efficient vehicles as a response to rising oil prices and mounting foreign competition.

To a far greater extent than the auto companies, parts suppliers and distribution networks it has organized, the UAW has stood on the side of progress--never perfectly, as union dissidents have noted over the years, but invariably with an eye to providing economic security for working families and a future for communities in every region of the country that are threatened by a severe global economic crisis.

Remarkably, however, it is the UAW that is under attack. Despite the union's sweeping, some argue draconian, concessions to keep the auto giants competitive--lowering company costs to such an extent that a vehicle produced in a UAW plant is now competitive with one produced in a nonunion one--a primary argument for delaying a federal bailout of the auto giants is the union.


The strategy of bankrupting the Big Three to break the UAW will not merely destabilize the auto industry. It will tear the heart out of a bulwark of industrial unionism and weaken a labor movement that economic royalists have attacked for decades as part of a broad campaign to weaken social and economic gains in every region of the United States.

Anyone who think that breaking the UAW will only weaken the circumstances of autoworkers is missing the point of the royalist enterprise, which is to weaken the ability of all American workers to demand fair pay and benefits. As such, almost any bailout would be better than bankruptcy, but the best bailout is one that--perhaps by giving the UAW a piece of the action and placing union representatives on corporate boards, perhaps by giving states a stake--strengthens the hand of the one player in the auto industry that is committed to assuring that federal dollars are spent to defend the interests of workers and retirees while modernizing an industry Obama calls "the backbone of American manufacturing."

Tell ya what, Mitchie: If you survive one 40-hour week on the assembly line at the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, and live for one week on the salary of even the highest-paid worker on that line, then you can say whatever you want about unionized workers.

Until and unless you can do that, shut your fucking piehole.

Cross-posted at They Gave Us A Republic ...