Even More than Race, the South Is About Exploiting Workers March 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: anti-union, auto industry, blue collar workers, card check non-union, cheap labor, cio, corker, dixiecrats, eastland, exploitation, free choice act, George Bush, jim crow, joseph atkins, labor, labour, mitch mcconnell, oligarchy, roger hollander, senate, sharecropping, shelby, south, south history, southern conservatism, southern economy, southern republicans, thurmond, uaw, union wages, united auto workers, wage cuts, Wall Street bailout, workers
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Cheap labor. Even more than race, it’s the thread that connects all of Southern history—from the ante-bellum South of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis to Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and the other anti-union Southerners in today’s U.S. Senate.
It’s at the epicenter of a sad class divide between a desperate, poorly educated workforce and a demagogic oligarchy, and it has been a demarcation line stronger than the Mason-Dixon in separating the region from the rest of the nation.
The recent spectacle of Corker, Shelby and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky leading the GOP attack on the proposed $14 billion loan to the domestic auto industry—with 11 other Southern senators marching dutifully behind—made it crystal clear. The heart of Southern conservatism is the preservation of a status quo that serves elite interests.
Expect these same senators and their colleagues in the US House to wage a similar war in the coming months against the proposed Employee Free Choice Act authorizing so-called “card check” union elections nationwide.
“Dinosaurs,” Shelby of Alabama called General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler as he maneuvered to bolster the nonunion Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai and other foreign-owned plants in his home state by sabotaging as many as three million jobs nationwide.
Corker, a multi-millionaire who won his seat in a mud-slinging, race-tinged election in 2006, was fairly transparent in his goal to expunge what he considers the real evil in the Big Three and US industry in general: unions. When the concession-weary United Auto Workers balked at GOP demands for a near-immediate reduction in worker wages and benefits, Corker urged President Bush to force-feed wage cuts to UAW workers in any White House-sponsored bailout.
If Shelby, Corker, and McConnell figured they were helping the Japanese, German and Korean-owned plants in their home states, they were seriously misguided. The failure of the domestic auto industry would inflict a deep wound on the same supplier-dealer network that the foreign plants use. The already existing woes of the foreign-owned industry were clearly demonstrated in December when Toyota announced its decision to put on indefinite hold the opening of its $1.3 billion plant near Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi.
The Southern Republicans are full of contradictions. Downright hypocrisy might be a better description. Shelby staunchly opposes universal health care—a major factor in the Big Three’s financial troubles since they operate company plans—yet the foreign automakers he defends benefit greatly from the government-run health care programs in their countries.
These same senators gave their blessing to hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the foreign automakers to open plants in their states, yet they were willing to let the US auto industry fall into bankruptcy.
In their zeal to destroy unions and their hard-fought wage-and-benefits packages, the Southern senators could not care less that workers in their home states are among the lowest paid in the nation. Ever wonder why the South remains the nation’s poorest region despite generations of seniority-laden senators and representatives in Congress?
Why weren’t these same senators protesting the high salaries in the financial sector when the Congress approved the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? Why pick on blue-collar workers at the Big Three who last year agreed to huge concessions expected to save the companies an estimated $4 billion a year by 2010? These concessions have already helped lower union wages to non-union levels at some auto plants.
The idea of working people joining together to have a united voice across the table from management scares most Southern politicians to death. After all, they go to the same country clubs as management. When Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker warned of Democratic opponent Ronnie Musgrove’s ties to the “Big Labor Bosses” in this year’s US Senate race, he was protecting the “Big Corporate Bosses” who are his benefactors.
The South today may be more racially enlightened than ever in its history. However, it is still a society in which the ruling class—the chambers of commerce that have taken over from yesterday’s plantation owners and textile barons—uses politics to maintain control over a vast, jobs-hungry workforce. After the oligarchy lost its war for slavery—the cheapest labor of all—it secured the next best thing in Jim Crow and the indentured servitude known as sharecropping and tenant farming. It still sees cheap, pliable, docile labor as the linchpin of the Southern economy.
In 1948, when the so-called “Dixiecrats” rebelled against the national Democratic Party, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina declared war on “the radicals, subversives, and the Reds” who want to upset the Southern way of life.
Seven years later, Mississippi’s political godfather, the late US Sen. James O. Eastland, told other prominent Southern pols during a meeting at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis that the South will “fight the CIO” (Congress of Industrial Organizations) and unionism with just as much vehemence and determination as it fights racial integration.
Eastland, Thurmond and their friends lost the integration battle. Their successors are still fighting the other enemy.
Joseph B. Atkins is a veteran journalist, professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi and author of Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press (University Press of Mississippi, 2008), a book that details the Southern labor movement and its treatment in the press. A version of this column appeared in the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American and the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger.
Crippling the Auto Union Is Just a Warm-Up December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: afl-cio, auto industry, automakers, Bear Stearns, benefits, conservatives, delay, detroit, Economic Crisis, economy, George Bush, jpmorgan, labor, marie cocco, nlrb, Obama, patco, reagan, recession, republicans, roger hollander, scabs, strikebreakers, uaw, union-busting, unions, wages, Wall Street, workers
Dec 15, 2008
By Marie Cocco
I must admit that when the danger of a global financial implosion became apparent in March with the taxpayer-backed takeover of Bear Stearns by banking giant JPMorgan Chase, I did not understand how all those worthless Wall Street credit swaps really could be the fault of an overpaid union welder at an auto plant somewhere in Michigan.
Heck. Despite having once listened as Republican leader Tom DeLay gave a House speech blaming the 1999 Columbine High School shootings on mothers who use birth control and the teaching of evolution in schools, I still underestimate the peculiar genius that conservative Republicans show in exploiting dire, even tragic, situations to wield a partisan cudgel.
Senate Republicans’ effort to break the United Auto Workers union as the pound of flesh they wanted in exchange for loans to teetering automakers—companies that are on the brink because of a credit crisis they did not cause—was over the top, even drawing objections from the Bush White House. The administration is now rushing to find money for Detroit somewhere in the huge pot of financial-industry bailouts, lest the automakers go down and take what’s left of the economy with them.
Understand that the conservative assault on the UAW is just a warm-up act.
The main event for these contemporary Pinkertons will come after Barack Obama is sworn in as president and Democrats seek to pass a measure that would make it easier for workers to organize unions. It is the Employee Free Choice Act, and its intent is to push back—at least a bit—on the multimillion-dollar union-busting business that has become institutionalized since the political assault on labor was juiced up with President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 mass firing of air traffic controllers. When Reagan supplanted the striking controllers with “replacement workers” (previously known as strikebreakers or scabs), business got the message: It was perfectly acceptable, if not advantageous, to bust unions or to keep them from being organized. From there, it was a small step toward the widespread use of unethical, and sometimes illegal, tactics.
“When it comes to workers’ right to form unions, loophole-ridden laws, paralyzing delays and feeble enforcement have created a culture of impunity in many areas of U.S. labor law and practice,” according to a 2005 report by Human Rights Watch. In the 1950s, a few hundred workers each year suffered reprisals for union organizing. By the early part of this decade, according to the report, about 20,000 workers a year suffered a reprisal serious enough for the National Labor Relations Board to order back pay or take other steps.
Academic research has demonstrated that much of the illicit anti-union activity is conducted after employees have signed cards indicating they want a union, but before a formal election is held. This is what the “free choice act” aims to eliminate: a waiting period during which three-quarters of companies hire consultants to thwart the organizing drive and engage in a variety of pressure tactics to keep employees from ultimately voting “yes.” About half of companies threaten to close the plant if the union wins the election, according to research by Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell University.
No wonder then that in a memo from which the author’s name was removed—but which is believed to have been circulated among Republicans last week during the auto industry imbroglio—lawmakers were told, “This is the Democrats’ first opportunity to pay off organized labor after the election. This is a precursor to card check and other items. … Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it.”
But the blows of this economy have been harshest on average workers. Before the current recession began, paychecks still had not recovered from the 2001 recession. Wages and benefits have been eroding. One way to stanch the trend is to tip the scale—now tilted so heavily in favor of Wall Street and wealth—back the other way. Otherwise, when the economy recovers, the fruits will again trickle up to the executive suite.
“If workers are going to benefit from this recovery, they are going to have to have the ability to bargain for higher wages and higher benefits. We can’t depend on employers on their own to deliver the benefits of this recovery to workers,” says Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO. “We have to change the equation here.”
That is the kind of change conservatives just don’t believe in.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group
Bailout backlash December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: auto industry, bailout, banks, bernanke, Bloomberg, brent budowsky, ceo's, congress, Economic Crisis, fdic, Federal Reserve, govenment, ponzi, roger hollander, sec, taxpayers, treasury, trickle down
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|Posted: 12/16/08 05:17 PM [ET]
|Americans have begun an angry backlash against bailouts that could become a national revolt in 2009.
The Federal Reserve has cut interest rates by some 500 basis points. Government agencies have poured close to $8 trillion into banking bailouts. The Treasury secretary has promoted massive government support of troubled, failed and corrupted institutions.
This program is a 100 percent top-down exercise involving the largest amount of money in history.
Virtually none of this money directly helps average Americans. Virtually none of it trickles down to the people who suffer the most and pay for the program.
After $8 trillion we are still debating whether any money should be used to directly help average Americans.
The Fed has cut rates dramatically. It is shameful that after all of these rate cuts and all of these bailouts, banks continue raising credit card interest rates, lowering credit lines, refusing to lend to creditworthy businesses and allowing the Grapes of Wrath-like foreclosure crisis to continue with minimal effort to address it.
The banks don’t trust the banks. The banks don’t trust their customers. Business does not trust the banks or the government. Taxpayers don’t trust anyone.
The only trust is from the Fed and the Treasury Department that transfer huge sums of money to the large institutions that caused the problem, often in secret, often involving complicated financial derivatives that neither Congress nor many CEOs understand, based on trust that these institutions will use this money wisely, which often they have not.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is discredited. The Federal Reserve has failed in its duty as banking regulator. Congress has failed in its duty of oversight. The most wise and citizen-friendly regulator, Sheila Bair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, is treated with contempt by the Treasury secretary.
The public backlash is only beginning. It will rise with every new scandal and Ponzi scheme and every new increase in credit card rates. It has already infected good judgment in the auto case, where major support is needed, tied to major plans for industry renewal.
I do not oppose bailouts, I oppose bailouts managed with banana-republic standards of secrecy and incompetence in which recipients of massive taxpayer largesse work against those who pay for this largesse.
Today the Federal Reserve Board refuses to disclose information regarding some $2 trillion provided to financial institutions. Bloomberg business news has filed a historic freedom-of-information case seeking disclosure. Congress and the president-elect should support it.
Bailout money is not a private account that belongs to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, Fed governors, the Treasury secretary or the banks. It is the people’s money. It should be used to benefit the people. It should be monitored through the checks and balances of the democratic process.
Secrecy is the enemy of equity, integrity and common sense. Secrecy is the friend of negligence, misjudgment and corruption. There are probably selected instances where the Fed should not disclose, but show me $2 trillion of secretly spent money and I will show you trouble.
In the coming days I will be writing about the Bloomberg case and offering specific bailout proposals on The Hill’s Pundits Blog. The backlash is coming. Time is short. The dangers are extreme.
America needs new thinking and an informed national consensus — and we need it now.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be reached at email@example.com and read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog.
Unions Aren’t the Problem December 9, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: anti-unionism, auto industry, bailout, banks, benefits, capitalists, cars, congress, credit crisis, deregulation, detroit, Economic Crisis, economy, energy, income, insurance, labor, labour, main street, marie cocco, middle class, money, roger hollander, taxpayer, trickle down, unions, wages, Wall Street, workers
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Posted on Dec 9, 2008
By Marie Cocco
As Congress and the White House lurch toward possible approval of a loan package for the crippled auto industry, we are undoubtedly in store for more union-bashing. Note well that we did not hear any such tirades when vastly larger sums of taxpayer money—with fewer strings attached—were lavished upon the banks and financial industry wizards who created the credit crisis.
Put aside for a moment the misinformation and outright untruths that characterize conservative attacks on the autoworkers’ unions. No one should be allowed to cast blame on workers who want nothing more than to maintain a middle-class life.
Unions aren’t the problem. They are the solution.
Creating a viable middle class has been the goal of organized labor since labor first became organized. And it is this goal that was abandoned outright by American political and business leaders as they did all they could over the past three decades to encourage a relentless race to the bottom in wages and benefits.
Strip away the financial mumbo jumbo and the credit crisis comes down to this: For decades, as wages and benefits for working and middle-class people stagnated or fell, the only way for them to purchase the goods that make the economy hum was through credit. This was true whether the item purchased was a home, a car—or all the unnecessary gizmos that retailers have been more than happy to tell consumers were the must-haves of the day. Until we understand that we are in the midst of two crises—one the short-term credit crisis and one the longer-term crisis in the failure to pay workers what they need to sustain themselves—we are doomed to repeat this horror.
“If you are a man with only a high school education … your chances of making a wage or salary as good as what your father was making in the late 1970s are not good,” says Gary Gerstle, a Vanderbilt University historian. “We are looking at a deterioration in their life opportunities and living standards, at the same time that an enormous amount of wealth has accumulated at the top of the income ladder.”
It is true that some individuals were reckless in taking on debt. But it is equally valid that American workers simply haven’t been paid what it takes for them to spend enough to keep the American economy growing. “The economy needed levels of expenditure and consumption that most Americans literally could not afford,” Gerstle says.
What do unions have to do with this? To start with, unionized workers make about $200 more per week than do nonunion workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The great expansion of the American middle class and an unprecedented rise in living standards occurred between the end of World War II and the 1970s—when unions were far more common and powerful than they are today. Beginning in the 1980s, an ideology of deregulation and anti-unionism took hold, with free-market capitalists arguing that no intervention in the markets—including labor’s intervention—was ever beneficial.
“The promise of deregulation was that this would create so much energy and dynamism at the top that it would all trickle down,” Gerstle says. “Not only would people on Wall Street make all kinds of money, but people on Main Street would find that there would be more dynamism in their lives, more opportunity, more wages.”
Well, people on Wall Street did make all kinds of money. People on Main Street got depressed wages, the demise of guaranteed pensions and 401(k)s that crashed with the stock market. They got health insurance that is barely affordable, if they’ve got insurance at all.
We are engulfed by an economic morass that holds the prospect of being the deepest and broadest downturn of the post-World War II era. It is no coincidence that the percentage of private-sector workers in unions—about 7 percent—is roughly the same as what it was before the Great Depression. Historically, Gerstle says, social movements have needed direct and often unsettling action to capture the public’s imagination and take hold.
This is why we can only hope that events such as the unfolding peaceful occupation of a Chicago window factory by its newly laid-off workers is the start of something much, much bigger.
Marie Cocco’s e-mail address is mariecocco(at)washpost.com.
Poll: 61% Oppose Auto Bailout December 4, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: auto industry, auto sales, bailout, bailout unfair, bankruptcy, ben rooney, big three, chrysler, congress, Economic Crisis, economy, ford, general motors, gm, roger hollander, taxpayers
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Survey shows that Americans think federal aid for the Big Three is unfair and won’t help the economy.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — A majority of Americans oppose a bailout of the troubled U.S. auto industry, according to a poll released Wednesday.
The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, conducted by telephone on Dec. 1-2 with nearly 1,100 people, showed that 61% of those surveyed oppose government assistance for the major U.S. automakers.
The poll comes at a critical time for the American auto industry. Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500), General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) and Chrysler LLC are requesting up to $34 billion in emergency loans from the government amid the weakest auto sales in 25 years and persistently tight credit.
General Motors and Chrysler, burning through billions of dollars in cash, are the most imperiled. All three companies submitted plans to Congress on Tuesday that made their case for funding, and industry executives are set to testify Thursday and Friday as lawmakers debate whether to take emergency action.
But Wednesday’s poll suggests that Americans believe bailing out the Big Three is a bad idea.
A full 70% of respondents indicated that a bailout is unfair to taxpayers.
In addition to being unfair, the poll showed that a majority of those surveyed think a bailout would not help the economy.
Sandeep Dahiya, a professor of finance at Georgetown University, said the poll results were “quite surprising.” The large percentage of those opposed to the bailout “tells you much about how what is good for GM is not good for America.”
But the disapproval reflected in the poll may not result in the kind of public backlash that occurred in response to the $700 billion bailout package Congress passed in October, Dahiya said.
“The numbers are a lot smaller and there’s more apathy,” in the public following a string of other bailouts in recent months, Dahiya said. Still, public resentment is “festering” and an auto industry bailout is “not going to be an easy sell,” he added.
Despite being opposed to federal support of the industry, the possibility of a bankruptcy among one or more of the Big Three automakers is a concern for a significant number of poll respondents.
While only 15% of those polled think a bankruptcy in the auto industry would have an immediate impact on their families, 43% think a bankruptcy would eventually have an effect on them.
Dahiya pointed out that a bankruptcy does not necessarily mean an automaker will stop making cars. “Ideally, a bankruptcy leads to a fresh start,” he said.