John Colson: Hit and Run
Aspen Times Weekly
Did you hear that loud WHUMP just now?
That was the financial house of the United States collapsing into the garage where the nation’s shiny new car was sitting.
As I write this, the U.S. Senate had torpedoed a $14 billion or $15 billion bailout package for the Big Three automakers, in a blatant move to undermine the power of the United Auto Workers union and roll even further back the already weakened position of organized labor in this country.
A bunch of Republican senators from southern states even said as much, in so many words, by demanding that the unionized autoworkers take a pay cut to the level of non-unionized autoworkers in foreign-owned plants ” whatever that means.
The fact that unions have been allowing their corporate bosses to whittle away at their hard-fought gains in recent years in many ways seemed not to matter to these fat cat politicians, who sure as hell aren’t taking a pay cut themselves. These same senators also balked at demanding that the guys in charge drop their salaries and bonus packages, as the head of Chrysler did voluntarily in a desperate bid to win congressional support.
But the idea that it’s the unions’ fault that these car companies are teetering on the edge of ruin is ludicrous on its face. Foreign car companies, many of which have long enjoyed government supports of various kinds, have modeled many of their ideas for worker compensation and benefits directly from the gains won by unions in this country, thereby eliminating the necessity for their workers to unionize.
But in this country, every time a company gets in trouble it tries to blame it on the workers, a symptom of an anti-worker sentiment that has been around since bosses first got the idea they should be paid 10 times what everyone else earns or more, even those bosses who steadfastly refused to acknowledge the fact that the world needed smaller, more fuel-efficient cars much more than Hummers and SUVs.
Oh, hell, I know the unions have a bad rep around the nation, and I understand that unions have in many ways made their own beds in terms of public perception by allowing themselves to become the fiefdoms of corrupt, violent thugs, who certainly could use an occasional public spanking to keep them in line.
But if you read your labor history, you’ll see that unions have, on the whole, made things better for the American worker, and by extension, even some workers in certain other countries.
But still the union busters and enemies of the working classes are caterwauling and wailing their way to their offshore banking havens.
I am reminded of the old Donovan song, “Season of the Witch,” a lamentation of strange bewitchments swirling through the air and in the minds of those
watching the unfolding and highly confusing drama of life.
That’s what we’re doing right now, y’know, watching a monstrously confusing drama unfold.
I’ve been trying to work out in my head where this drama got its start, and as far as I can tell it was a two-fold thing. The first start was back in the late 1800s, when U.S. corporations, probably lead by the oil and railroad barons, got the idea of selling stocks to raise cash and so began the rush to turn Wall Street into the center of the universe.
A couple of minor adjustments ” the crash of 1929, the Great Depression, World War II ” caused a few growing pains, but by the 1950s and the rise of the previously unknown “middle class,” this country was well on its way to switching from a nation that makes things and innovates to a nation that manages wealth.
And that is the house of cards that, as we all have seen, is in the process of collapsing around our ears.
I don’t like the car companies any more than any right-thinking observer of world affairs, but it sure seems to me that $15 billion or so to help out an industry that actually makes something, as opposed to $700 billion or more for a bunch of money changers, hustlers and card sharks who make NOTHING, is an easy choice to make.
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