Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

GOP and the Detroit Auto Big 3: Class Warfare

When G.W. Bush and Hank Paulson asked for 700 BILLION to bailout the financial markets and banks, Congress gave it up without much of a fight. (Some House Republicans fought it.)  No one asked the Wall Street tycoons how they got to D.C.  No one asked for conditions or a better business plan. After insurance giant AIG was bailed out, they spent millions on a luxury conference!  When Citi-group was bailed out (over a weekend without any discussion), they continued to spend several million to get a stadium named after them(!) and are a corporate sponsor of the ROSE BOWL!  The bailout was justified by saying that the banks needed to free up capital for payrolls,  to extend capital to businesses, large and small, help mortgages, etc.  Instead, they have largely sat on the money–with very little outrage from GOP Senators who claimed that the ONLY reason they were going against their “free market principles” to bailout Wall St. was to help ordinary people and prevent the next Great Depression.

Then, the 3 Detroit automakers came to D.C. asking for loans that added up to a small fraction of the amount given to others.  Now, let it be understood that I have often been a critic of the Big 3: I stopped “buying American” in the ’90s when they all seemed to specialize in luxury cars and the horrible planet-hating SUVs.  For decades, Detroit automakers have resisted innovation, fuel efficiency, green technology, and sound business practices.  But they had begun to change their ways. Once, GM killed off its own electric car. Now, it is building the Volt, hybrid-electric. Ford expects to have the greenest auto fleet in the world by 2012.  But the Big 3 were sent away to justify their request for a loan–which they could not get from banks because the banks were sitting on the capital they were supposed to be using!

They came back in their hybrid vehicles.  They took their salaries down to $1 per year. They showed plans for change.  The members of the United AutoWorkers union (UAW), which had 3 times in 5 years renegotiated contracts with major concessions in order to help the Big 3 were willing to do so, again. But Democrats had to put through a bill that the president would sign. Then the Republicans, 18 of them, decided to kill the bill anyway–putting 3 million jobs at risk in a time of severe recession.

Class warfare:  As the president of United Steelworkers put it, “Those who take a shower before work were treated by a different standard than those who must shower AFTER work!” 

The proof that the GOP senators were really trying to kill the union, is found in this internal memo circulated among Senate Republicans days before the bill was killed on Thurs.  The memo reads in part:

This is the democrats first opportunity to payoff 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.

Republicans claimed later that the UAW killed the bill by not compromising, but this was false.  UAW president Gettlefinger held a press conference that said the UAW had agreed EVEN to cutting wages by 20% or more (in a recession!)–if management would do the same. Before any management types could comment, Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) walked out of the “negotiations.”  They had to destroy labor and keep blue collar wages low, but any suggestion that management sacrifice is treated as Communism and Heresy! This is class warfare.

The hypocrisy of the 18 GOP Senators who voted FOR the financial (Wall Street) bailout, but AGAINST the much smaller aid to the big 3 auto makers is found in their own words, here.

Fortunately (and it feels weird to type this), President George W. Bush does not want to put this many people out of work just before Christmas and possibly kill off one or more automaker as the last part of his legacy. On Monday, he is expected to unveil bailout money from the Treasury.  Ironically, even VP Cheney, not known for his empathy with the working classes, told Senate Republicans that if they killed off the auto companies and deepened the recession, Republicans would “be known as the Herbert Hoover party forever.”  Quick history refresher:  Herbert Hoover was the newly-elected U.S. president when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. He was a Republican and self-made millionaire.  He did not cause the crash.  It was not his fault. What was his fault was his reaction.  At first, because he was a true believer in laissez-faire economics (no government interference in the marketplace, period), he did nothing. This turned the recession into a depression. Then, Hoover did things that made the Depression worse:  In a time which needed massive economic stimulus by government spending, he cut spending and balanced the budget.  Then, he went to the shacks that were popping up everywhere (Hoovervilles, they were called) and announced that nothing could be done about it because it was wrong to interfere in the market.

Hoover’s presidency almost ended both capitalism and democracy in the USA.  In light of the huge economic turmoil (re-read The Grapes of Wrath for an idea of what things were like), both Communist and Fascist movements made progress both globally and in the U.S.  In 1933, after 4 years of Hooverism, a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, pronounced a New Deal and began to help get the U.S. out of the Depression.  As a result of Hoover, the Republican Party became a small minority party for a generation and a half.  Cheney was warning his fellow Republicans that if they acted like Hoover, it could happen again.  Despite the fact that voters had just rejected the Republicans in 2 back-to-back election cyles (’06 and ’08) in large numbers, and the economy played a major role, his fellow GOP Senators turned a deaf ear.  They’d rather use the moment to try to further hurt organized Labor.

(The modern conservative movement among the GOP has always hated Labor.  Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), “Mr. Conservative,” ran for president in ’64 in part to oppose the power of labor unions.  His protege,  Ronald Reagan (R-CA), first an actor, then Gov. of CA, then U.S. President, began his presidency in 1981 by breaking the Air Traffic Controllers union.  Labor has been on the defensive ever since.

Unions, like any other institution, can have flaws, blind spots, corruption, etc. I know, because of my night job, I am a Teamster, which has a very corrupt past.  But Labor, collective barganing, keeps capitalism from becoming the wage slavery of Marxist doctrine. Labor brought us weekends, bathroom breaks, lunchbreaks, the end of child labor, safer working conditions, paid vacations, retirement pensions, and better wages.  And, because, the U.S. does not have universal non-profit healthcare (like every other industrial democracy!), only union jobs have brought healthcare benefits. All this and more have sometimes been adopted for non-union shops–sometimes to keep them from being unionized. Labor benefits people whether they participate or not.

But Republicans, committed to low wages, dangerous working conditions, etc. for blue-collar workers, want to destroy the unions.  And this time, they were willing to take the entire U.S. economy with them.

This is class warfare–and of a particularly stupid kind.

I believe in nonviolence and in reconciliation.  But I also believe in nonviolent struggle for justice–without which any reconciliation is simply papering over injustice with a lie.  So, I am not neutral. I have chosen sides. I stand with the workers and any politician, of any party, who attempts to harm them I will expose.  I will help organize opposition. I will write and march and lobby–and I work to defeat ALL 18 of the GOP hypocrites who voted FOR the Wall Street Bailout and AGAINST the Big 3.

P.S.:  This also shows why we need single-payer universal healthcare. If General Moters were a Canadian company, even if all the bad management, etc., had been the same, it wouldn’t have needed any loan from Washington, D.C. or anywhere else.  The savings for labor costs of not needing to provide healthcare benefits for active workers and retirees would have resulted in approximately $22 BILLION.

PPS:  All nations except the U.S. which have auto companies, subsidize them.  When the Senate failed to do its duty Thursday night, Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, South Korea, and Japan all quickly pumped large amounts of cash into their auto companies to prevent a “ripple effect” from the possible collapse of one or more of the Detroit 3.  And, let no Southern GOP Senator fool you, the U.S., through the state governments, subsidizes the foreign companies that build there:  through free land, huge tax breaks, guarantees of “right to work” (laws that make it harder for unions to organize), etc.

PPPS: I have never been a “Buy American” type. I have owned American and foreign cars. I currently have a VW Jetta. I gave up on the Big 3 in the ’90s. But I have signed up for a GM Volt in advance and hope GM survives to bring this to market in 2010.  In light of the GOP attack on the Big 3 (and the unions) and the recession, I am changing my ways. Until the recession is OVER and until Ford, GM, and Chrysler have Five (5) profitable years in a row, I will only buy American cars. I will buy the most fuel-efficient, and the greenest–and will keep pushing for better standards in this regard. But, I will buy no foreign cars until the last major part of American manufacturing is saved. (Yes, I still will take public transportation as often as possible, as I do now).  And, whenever I have a choice (and I will keep working for such a choice everywhere), I will never again buy anything that is non-union produced.

The U.S. class war is in full swing. This Ph.D. has chosen to stand with the laborers–and to struggle nonviolently with them for full justice until everyone can earn a decent living (1 salary supporting a family of four) in safe conditions, reasonable hours, etc.  In the words of that great Labor organizer of another generation, Mary “Mother” Jones, it’s time to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”


December 13, 2008 - Posted by | economic justice


  1. YES.

    Comment by Gene | December 13, 2008

  2. Thanks Michael!

    I especially appreciate notice of the memo. How shoddy this is.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | December 13, 2008

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