Stickin' It To The Unions

by digby

There's a lot of discussion about what to do about the auto companies and none of the options are very palatable. In today's New York Times there is an article analyzing the bailout vs bankruptcy talk that's starting to emerge. I don't have an opinion on that except to the extent this is used as an excuse to destroy the unions. And that is certainly the theme that's emerging from the right. Here's economic expert Michelle Malkin:

Didn’t have time to post an alert beforehand, but I did a brief segment on Fox & Friends this morning on the mega-auto bailout. Reader Alan e-mailed about his experience in the industry:

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for taking the time to read my comments. I worked in the Automotive Industry for most of my career as a supplier to GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda of America, Toyota, Nissan, and BMW.

You were exactly right with your comments on Fox & Friends this morning. The UAW has handcuffed GM, Ford, and Chrysler with unreasonable and unrealistic burdens. Their balance sheets will never improve until they shed this weight.
I suspect this is going to become a drumbeat. I'm reminded of this rant by alleged liberal Wall Street screamer Jim Cramer during the short lived GM strike a couple of years ago:

MATTHEWS: How can you say that, Jim, if you‘re taking the jobs out of America?

JIM CRAMER, HOST, “MAD MONEY”: Well, I got to tell you something.

First of all, you have got this issue all framed wrong, Chris.

This is about breaking the union. You break the union, you save the company. Do you know that, in 1992, Caterpillar broke the union, same union? Caterpillar‘s stock was at $5. Now it‘s at $76.

You know, the same month that they broke the union, GM‘s stock an was at $34. Where is today? Thirty-four. If GM wants to be a competitive company in the world marketplace, like Caterpillar is, the number-one maker of earth-moving equipment in the world, it‘s got to break the union.

MATTHEWS: Well, you know, Charles Wilson, head of GM once said, what‘s good for GM is good for America.

You can see the YouTube here.

As I said, I don't have any insight in to the economics of this. It sounds as if there's no easy answer. But the politics of this are equally complicated and it could be the kind of thing that brings the bi-partisan slumber party to an end before its even started.

The Democrats have an obligation to try to keep the recession from getting worse and they must support the unions --- bankruptcy will potentially void all the union contracts. On the other hand, bailing out these companies is unpopular and Republicans are starting to see some wedges forming. The Democrats are going to have to be very agile and clever to get something done that won't give the other side a powerful weapon.

It would be nice if Republicans really did put Country First, but they don't. And they have none other than Tom Friedman helping them make the case that this mess is all the fault of the unions and the Democrats:

The blame for this travesty not only belongs to the auto executives, but must be shared equally with the entire Michigan delegation in the House and Senate, virtually all of whom, year after year, voted however the Detroit automakers and unions instructed them to vote.
It's not that he doesn't have a point. It's that he is feeding into a meme that unions are to equally culpable for trying to get their workers decent wages and health care (the latter of which wouldn't be necessary if we lived in a real first world country.) The politicians might pay a price for all this by being voted out of office and the executives might suffer by not being able to keep their vacation homes. Union members pay by losing their communities, their livelihoods, their health and their kids' futures when those jobs go away.

Friedman goes on to endorse the idea that a bailout should include the right to "tear up" union contracts. (He also thinks Steve Jobs should be hired cuz he's a magic he-man super-duper fixer of everything which is just what the doctor ordered.)

Bailing out the auto companies is unpopular and Friedman and Cramer and their ilk are already busily turning it into a blood match between unions and Real America. The Democrats are going to be caught between a rock and hard place on this one and it's going to take some very deft maneuvering if they plan to keep the political base that got them where they are:

* Union voters supported President-elect Barack Obama 67 percent to 30 percent over Sen. John McCain. In the top-tier battleground states the difference was even more stark, with union members going for Obama 69 to 28—a 41-point margin.

* While McCain won among voters ages 65 and up, active and retired union members older than 65 went for Obama by a 46-point margin.

* While McCain won among veterans, union veterans went for Obama by a 25-point margin.

* Working America members, concentrated in key states, supported Obama by 67 percent to 30 percent.

* 60 percent of union members and 56 percent of Working America members said the economy was a top issue.

* Union members got a lot of contact from their unions about the election, with more than 80 percent receiving union mail, more than 80 percent receiving union publications, 59 percent getting live phone calls and 32 percent getting worksite fliers.

In union-heavy Midwestern states, where Bush had come close and McCain campaigned hard, the efforts of union volunteers helped put them solidly in Obama’s column. Obama won by 13 points in Wisconsin, 16 points in Michigan, 10 points in Minnesota and 11 points in Pennsylvania
Unions have put themselves out there time and again for Democrats. When the economy goes south, they don't expect to be told to "suck on this" by a Democratic majority.