unions and bailouts

During the first half of the twentieth century, unions played a central role in ending the abuses of laissez-faire capitalism and securing rights for workers. Unions became an important part of the American economy, giving workers a voice. However, the economy has changed since then. Manufacturing jobs which formed the base of union membership have become harder and harder to come by, replaced by a “service” economy in which unions play no role.

As someone who spent – gah! – ten years working for a particular fast food chain - *cough* McDonald’s *cough* - and having absolutely nothing to show for it, I was never able to sympathize with the demands of unionized workers. Like retailers Wal-Mart, Kmart, and others, the fast food industry has ensured that its workers are unable to organize, and so it has always treated them like crap. I was a witness to that; despite the myths, a substantial portion of fast-food workers (and their compatriots in other industries) are not high-school kids on their way to better things; they are adults, often with families, trying to make ends meet in local economies that offer no alternatives. The UAW never spoke up on our benefit, so I couldn’t have given a damn about them.

Nevertheless, even as I met the demands of presently unionized workers with resentment, I recognized the need for unionization, and that need has only become more profound in the current economic climate. If a company has no reason to fear its workers, then it will never provide them with anything even approaching decency; countless recent examples prove that to be true.

Which brings us to the auto industry. The Big Three American auto makers – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler – have asked for a portion of the $700 billion Wall Street giveaway. The Republicans in Congress – and their lockstep supporters – are opposed to such a handout; they have actually taken the position that the auto industry be allowed to collapse. They don’t care about how many people are hurt by such a collapse, or its effects on the economy as secondary industries dependent upon it go down like dominoes. No, they are willing to see this happen for one reason and one reason only: to break the back of the United Auto Workers union.

Although most of the Republican platform has been taken over by religious nutjobs, there is still a faction loyal to the demands of big business and the ultra-wealthy. Unions stand in the way of unrestrained greed and rapacity on the part of corporate sociopaths, and the CEOpaths lust for their destruction. The Republicans are always quick to do their masters’ bidding, and the masters see this as an opportunity to get rid of that unionized thorn in their side.

Indeed, it was largely to break the power of the unions that the US economy was reorganized in the eighties to become a “service” economy. The propaganda was that others would do the dirty work, and Americans would oversee it all. That, of course, was bullshit: under the rule of the exalted senile Ronald Reagan, unionized American workers lot their jobs, and Chinese slave laborers snatched them all up. In that sand, the foundation of our contemporary economic woes was laid. Unions disappeared in the eighties; the standard of the newly dominant service industry was minimum wage and no benefits.

Remember that, when Republicans talk about the “American dream”, they don’t mean what you think they mean.

Of course, the American auto industry is not in trouble because of the UAW’s unreasonable demands. It would not surprise me if the total wages of every single UAW member put together failed to match that of a single General Motors CEO. The auto industry is in trouble for the same reason that the banks were in trouble: the people at the top took advantage of the gift of deregulation, and pushed things past the breaking point. Moreover, they clung to an outmoded business model based more on myth than reality: big, gas-guzzling vehicles that were simultaneously ugly, unreliable, and user-unfriendly, but which they convinced themselves Americans still wanted, even as those same buyers turned more and more to foreign options.

I was in opposition to the Wall Street free-for-all giveaway, because I knew it would neither help those who really needed help, nor do anything to help the economy overall. The money would disappear into a corporate black hole, spent on golden parachutes, luxury spa trips, and the proverbial ivory backscratchers. I have not been proven wrong. It is for the same reason that I oppose a giveaway to the auto industry: it won’t actually help the auto industry; just the CEOpaths at the top. Technically, I wind up in agreement with the Republicans, but for very different reasons.

Post-crisis, it is not the power of the unions that I desire to see broken, but the power of the antisocial bastards at the top.