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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
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It's All About Paying Workers Less

Comment

Since there's one standard for automakers and another for bankers, the quickest way for GM to pick up some loose change would be to buy a few banks and thus get the company's mitts on some of the Treasury's $700 billion. If insurance companies are doing it, why not GM?

A story on the Bloomberg wire on Nov. 17 told us that four of the world's biggest insurers, including Transamerica and Hartford Financial Services Group, may buy some ailing savings and loans in trouble with the Office of Thrift Supervision for making shifty loans. That way, the insurance giants can join the excited line at the back door of the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program and dip into the moolah. "Hartford's $10 million acquisition of Sanford, Florida-based Federal Trust Corp.," Bloomberg's reporters wrote, "may entitle it to $3.4 billion of U.S. capital. Lincoln National in Philadelphia may win access to $3 billion by taking over Newton County Loan & Savings, which has three full-time employees and $7.3 million of assets."

Whenever the issue is one of giving money to big industrial corporations employing real, live workers, particularly workers in labor unions, the Commentariat hauls up the Double Standard and nails it to the top mast, next to the Jolly Roger.

Last Sunday, I had the usual urge to machine-gun the TV set while listening to the McLaughlin Group, all of whom presumably haul home at least $200,000 a year, as they deplored the unconscionable wages of line workers in Detroit. The same urge flares up when reading the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. As a matter of economic principle, the WSJ's editors have always taken a stern line about letting the weak die in the snow.

When it came to prostrate bankers, the Angel of Mercy descended from heaven and took up residence in the WSJ's editorial suite. On Sept. 27, an editorial approved of the $700 billion banker bailout. Then came GM's crisis. On Nov. 10, the Angel of Mercy quit the Journal's editorial page abruptly: "We hope Messrs. Bush and Paulson just say no. The Tarp was intended to save the financial system from collapse, not to be a honey pot for any industry running short of cash."

You see, shoveling money at Goldman Sachs and the other titans of Wall Street constitutes systemic rescue of the billionaires vital to national well-being and self-esteem.

Stabilizing the remaining core of America's industrial base, particularly a core infested by people with union cards, is quite another matter.

Of course, the target of the WSJ and of the Republicans and DLC Democrats in Congress is organized labor. The WSJ again: "The very success of this U.S. auto industry indicates that highly skilled American workers can profitably churn out cars without being organized by the UAW." The aim is to use the current crisis of GM — a company that in world terms is doing reasonably well — to help it renege yet again on its health obligations to its workers, active and retired, and cheapen the cost of domestic industrial labor.

Auto-parts factories haven't all been shipped to China. In fact, they are flourishing in the Midwest. It's just that they aren't union shops, aren't as dominated by the white and black working class. Rather, they are nonunion, usually antiunion, sweatshop-type factories with few benefits and an increasingly Latino and undocumented workforce. These shops have been springing up and expanding over the past few years, but the workers have had virtually zero bargaining power. Remember also, being mindful of the Nov. 4 benchmark in America's history, that those auto plants really are the last stand for the black industrial working class.

If America loses its auto industry, it means maybe 5 percent of the workforce will be on the street. Finance capital wants it all. The head of the FDIC wants $24 billion to help mortgage holders, and Paulson says no. GM wants $25 billion in loans, and Washington says no. The Democrats had better remember who put them back in power and in the White House.

Obama doesn't need to read histories of FDR's first 100 days to know something elementary. As economist Paul Craig Roberts remarked in CounterPunch recently, "A country that doesn't make anything doesn't need a financial sector as there is nothing to finance."

A country without decent manufacturing jobs doesn't have citizens and immigrants with the money to buy things, hence to keep the economy afloat. A country without a sane housing policy will end up with nothing but palaces and trailer parks. A government seeking a sane manufacturing policy, a sane housing program and a well-considered strategy for investment and recovery cannot hope to move in this direction with Wall Street financiers in the control room.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Comments

3 Comments | Post Comment
I just finished calling my senators and congressman in D.C. and hope you all do the same. These talking points by Mr Cockburn and Roberts are right on. Clearly, the aim is to deunionize this country so as to get more wealth in the hands of the few at the top and to do so by making the rest of us yet poorer. Class warfare? Without doubt.
Comment: #1
Posted by: michael nola
Fri Nov 21, 2008 7:20 AM
Sir;...I live in the wasteland, and I know it would hurt a lot of people if the big three went belly up, but it is the only quick way to revolution, because the govenment couldn't handle the pensions that they are standing behind, and the people would not be able to stand losing their jobs, losing their wages, losing their health insurance, and their pensions, and the ripple would not take long breaking the government -totally...They better make sure they bring an army to Michigan and Ohio, and disarm those guys, because when they run out of dog and deer to eat they will be looking for human flesh, and my bet is that some of those republican Senators, like Shelby, have got big targets on their backs already... Those people worked long and hard for a whole lot of promises. They have done their part, and if they are any behind the Japenese or Koreans or Germans, I can't say it...All I know is that their product is light years ahead of what it was a few years back...And trust me on this: There is no part of an engine, transmission, carburator, or distributer, even a whole car that I have not had my hands on... I can fix it, but what I have from ten or twenty years ago is junk and antique compared to the product they have now...National health insurance would give them a level playing field, and that is mostly what they need...Buiding cars is hard on bodies...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Nov 21, 2008 8:49 PM
Re: michael nola;...The sooner they do that the better...You don't see that is what is happening, but as they have driven down wages and used credit to drain every bit of wealth from the poor to the rich they have also ruined America as a market... We produce little enough, but we cannot buy back a part of it, and if we are gone as a market, so is the rest of the world... Auto workers insurance pays the bills of all who do not, or cannot, pay their hospital bills... What does that tell you if that cost is breaking them??? No union without the power to organize can exist... No number of unions representing roughly ten percent of the population can succeed... It is good for America for people to be well paid so they provide a domestic market... What the rich and the republicans propose, -to trash the union, and union contracts, is more of the problem, and not a bit of the solution... It is the wealth of the rich built upon the poverty of the poor that has tanked this market... Sure, they should have what they want, but only so they have no excuse for being swept away... Like Marx said: every employer wants to pay his workers less, and every employer wants other workers paid more... It is natural, because that creates a strong market, and an easy profit...They have shot their own markets, but they cannot stop beating the workers..Maybe the workers should play possum..Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Nov 21, 2008 9:04 PM
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