Ransom and retribution

December 13, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Posted in U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

To widepread despair, efforts to pass a bailout of the US carmaking industry collapsed in the Senate yesterday. Whilst the negotiations were long and complex, it’s generally accepted that the main sticking point was the refusal of autoworkers unions to allow their members’ pay to be cut.

Here we can see a fairly transparent attempt to hold organised labour to ransom; either they allow their wages to be eroded in an age of mounting bills and where credit is a scarce commodity, or the Republicans will allow the auto industry – and all those companies which rely on its existence – to collapse. Since the consequence would be a deepening of the recession and would plunge Detroit into what can only be called a new great depression, it’s no surprise that the White House is stepping in to provide some temporary relief.

There are certainly non-malicious reasons for the GOP to take this stance; it goes against conservative, free-market principles to save failing businesses, and it’s therefore ideologically consistent to insist that any bailout is met with efficiency savings on the part of manufacturers. Problem is, whirring in the background of this sound (if irritating) rhetoric are the mechanisations of political malice. MSNBC’s Countdown obtained a strategy memo written for Republican Senators, stating the reasons they should maintain opposition to the bailout.

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.

To which your first response would be a profanity, but it’s heartening that the autoworkers unions held their nerve in this Mexican standoff, as similar resolve will be required in the months ahead. For unions, arguably the most longed-for piece of legislation is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would give workers the ability to organise without fearing for their jobs and has the potential to drive up wages, expand pension & healthcare provision, and improve standards in the workplace. For pro-worker Democrats, this legislation is sacrosanct; for Republicans, it is an anathema. This is why both sides have begun to lobby, publicise and organise support ahead of its possible inclusion in President Obama’s fiscal stimulus package.

For both sides, the stakes could not be higher, nor the margin for victory any narrower. Given that the Democrats’ Senate majority is not filibuster-proof, they will need one or two (depending on the results of the Minnesota recount) votes to pass the measure, which puts the decisions of Republican moderates like Arlen Specter in the position of being dealmakers. Whilst the EFCA’s passage still seems very possible, it will require some Republicans to defy the wishes of a party leadership which seems bent on post-election retribution.

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