Saving GM from itself in order to save America’s last remaining industrial base raises many questions, not the least of which is who should bear the burden, or at least a share of it. Many eyes have turned to the United Auto Workers, the union that has been so successful over the decades in achieving good wages and benefits for its members, but now eyed for having done its job too well.
What does the UAW have to say? From the Detroit Free Press :
When asked last week if she and other UAW members should sacrifice more now to save GM from bankruptcy, she has a simple answer: No.
“I think we’ve given enough,” said O’Neill, 39, of Goodrich, an assembler at GM’s Lake Orion plant, where she builds the Chevy Malibu and Pontiac G6. “Everybody wants to come down hard on the workers. Nobody knows what we do inside there but the people who work there. It’s hard. It is not an easy job.”
Well, that clears it up. It’s not that auto workers are suffering. In fact, they remains a remarkably well-paid group, to the extent that they still have jobs or will have them in the near future. Newer autoworkers, of course, aren’t paid like those who’ve “paid their dues,” but it still beats flipping burgers.
The AP reports :
United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Saturday that the problem is not the union’s contract with the automakers and that getting the automakers back on their feet means figuring out a way to turn around the slumping economy.
“The focus has to be on the economy as a whole as opposed to a UAW contract,” Gettelfinger told reporters on a conference call, noting the labor costs now make up 8 percent to 10 percent of the cost of a vehicle.
It’s certainly not in the best interest of UAW members for Gettlefinger to blink. No one will appreciate it later, and any giveback now means a fight to recapture it when the feeling passes. Bottom line is why should autoworkers suffer more than anyone else? The answer, of course, is that they benefited more than the rest of us. But does that matter?
Americans want the United Auto Workers to eat their contractual benefits because it reduces the burden on the rest of us, unless the Americans happen to be autoworkers. This doesn’t make the UAW the villain, but the archetype. This is what every interest group has to say today, loudly and clearly.
As government budget cutters are sharpening their knives, each group is busy lobbying to keep its piece of the pie intact. Educators are screaming, “don’t balance the budget on the back of kindergarteners.” Medical groups complain, “don’t abandon the sick and helpless.” But teachers could always take a pay cut. Insurance companies could always blow off their executive bonuses and a spa vacation or two. Neither will.
This is America, the land of me.
We are 100% in favor of belt tightening, provided it’s not our belt.
Any reasonably articulate person can mount a valid rhetorical defense against any particular interest group taking the weight of the financial crisis. Some are more valid than others, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the argument doesn’t sound awfully good and “resonate” with politicians or the public.
The upshot, of course, is that no one wants to see their income cut, their pet project junked or their favorite cause neglected. That’s America.
And the first reasonable person who, in the spirit of doing what’s best for all of us, is willing to voluntarily tighten his belt is going to get royally screwed when no one else follows his lead. That’s America.
I don’t blame the UAW for American automakers’ inability to produce cars people want to buy at competitive prices. That’s not the UAW’s job, even though it remains in its interest to keep the automakers alive so that its members have a place to go every morning. But as long as a federal bailout is in the works, why should they agree to anything?
For many years, one of the most effective arguments used to sell American cars has been “Buy American.” This appeal to patriotism, to keep our cash at home, to support our brothers and sisters in Michigan and elsewhere, struck a cord with working people.
Where’s the patriotism now that we’re all heading for the bunkers? Kinda makes idealists look like a bunch of fools, doesn’t it?
Update: This from ScrappleFace :
With bailout talk swirling around GM and Ford, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today offered some much-needed help to the U.S. auto industry during a news conference on Capitol Hill.
“Here’s my proposal to rescue U.S. automakers,” said Rep. Pelosi.
“Memo to Detroit: Make better cars.”
H/T Todd Zywicki at VC.