Saturday, December 13, 2008

Senate Republicans First Shot Against Organized Labor

Countdown discussed a memo entitled "Action Alert - Auto Bailout," which was sent to Senate Republicans Wednesday morning and states:

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. This rush to judgment is the same thing that happened with the TARP. Members did not have an opportunity to read or digest the legislation and therefore could not understand the consequences of it. We should not rush to pass this because Detroit says the sky is falling.

But didn’t many of the same Senate Republicans who filibustered the auto bailout bill vote for TARP? Jonathan Chait notes a little irony in how these Senate Republicans played their hand:

if the White House follows through on its suggestion that it might use TARP funds to stave off bankruptcy, the GOP maneuver will have been a total disaster. Remember, the Republicans have leverage because they still have 49 Senate seats and the auto companies need their loans right away.And, indeed, Republicans have used their leverage to force wage concessions and not force the auto companies to start producing low-emissions vehicles. But if they've overplayed their hand to the point where the White House floats a loan until January, then the GOP's leverage will nearly collapse. When the new Senate and White House convene, the Democrats will cut a much better deal for themselves, with fewer or no wage cuts for workers and tougher environmental standards.

In other words, their ploy may have failed and now we know their true motivations was to let millions of workers lose their jobs for raw partisan purposes.


Anonymous said...

The lead paragraph from the NY Time's article concerning the "stand off" between the Republican bloc and the UAW:
"DETROIT — For more than 70 years, the United Automobile Workers union has known who its adversaries were: company executives, foreign automakers and right-to-work advocates who fought its organizing drives."

I'm curious as to the origins of the use of that quaint term "right-to-work." Does that refer to an individual's right to work for lower wages? Might it have originated as a description of the right to join a union and have organized bargaining rights at work? Certainly it couldn't mean that people have the right to work at the mercy of an ownership class?
Possibly it refers to the rights of Chinese laborers to find work as it is exported from the southern areas of the USA. The right-to-work, a peculiar choice of a term to describe the rights of management to pay less for equal work.

It strikes me that the right-to-work concept is similar to the other Republican concept of pay parity, in its current iteration. They want the unions to accept the wage scales of their non-unionized
bretheren. That seems to be a parody of the origins of the concept of parity. I can remember when NYC fire fighters wanted parity with NYC police officers. It was referred to as uniformed services pay parity. Interesting how the language can be twisted to fit any rationale. Now pay parity
is defined as working for as little as those who are willilng to work for less. This brings us full circle back to the concept of the right to work with union organization, which was born out of the need to fight the concept of working for the lowest wage that
someone was willing to accept. Maybe Detroit ar makers should set up factories in China. Then the south-east factories would have to accept "cooly" wages as they compete to keep their jobs from being shipped out to the far east.
I like the old and hackneyed concept of "what goes around, comes aroound." What would Senator Corker think of that?

Bruce Webb said...

Jack it is easier to understand if you think of 'right-to-work' in terms of craft unions like the Carpenters than in trade unions like the UAW.

In a craft union typically there are more members in the local at any given time than job slots because after all not everyone wants to work everyday. But it does mean that when you do want to work you have to wait your turn on the list. In that sense you don't have the 'right-to-work', not if you want to share the union pay and benefit package of your union brothers and sisters. This is particularly true if your union has multiple lists based on seniority. For example around here the Longshoremen have an A, B, C, & D list with each group only getting the jobs turned down by people in the higher list. This means that even in times of full employment D listers are going to get the least desireable shifts, think weekend graveyard working the docks in December. These systems are not inherently unfair, done right it is what allows people who operate machinery to have a nice house and send their kids to college, you just have to put in your time working your way up the lists. (Of course at various times and places this has been done wrong. I have a friend who was the very first Mexican American to be admitted to the Pipefitters in our area (in 1969). And there are other unions where right through the sixties if you weren't a white male you were not getting in.)

The idea behind 'right to work' is that every worker should be free to apply for every opening, that you don't need to wait on the list, or put in your time building seniority. If you want to work for less and not have to pay union dues well why not?

Well there are a lot of reasons why not. But it requires looking back at history, across geographical boundaries to compare average wages, and a look forward to see where you are going to be in twenty or thirty years. If instead you are a rugged individualist who really believes people always and everywhere get paid what they deserve (and never actually looked at a history book) you might well buy into the notion that union shops are simply a barrier to your Right to Work.

Of course as a practical matter 'Right to Work' does end up meaning "Right to work at the mercy of an ownership class'. The trick is to get workers to see where their actual economic interests are served. Which I would argue are in a clean union. (Jimmy Hoffa Sr. didn't do us a bunch of favors here).

Jack said...

"Of course as a practical matter 'Right to Work' does end up meaning "Right to work at the mercy of an ownership class'"

Obviously my comment wasn't as clearly a play on words, phrases in thhis example, as I had intended. Your comment quoted above is the gist of my point. As I was writing out the comment it became more obvious to me that there were more than two ways to interpret the phrase and I simply followed that line.

When elected officials begin pulling out the old and the hackneyed we should expect that they have no good interpretation of their words to offer working people, even their constituents. As noted in my first comment, it one begins to see the necessity for organized labor representation when so-called worker rights are offered in such a way that the right is to work for less. That's not so much a right as an adversity that was common in economies with lilttle or no union presence.

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Indiana in the late 40s and 50s, I heard the term "right-to-work" as long as I can remember.

AFAIK, it was coined by anti-union folks as the standard union-busting language. It was supposed to suggest the idea that those nasty unions forced workers to pay union dues to get a job, whereas the nice union-free employers gave everyone the "right to work" even if they didn't want to join a union.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Senate Republicans' motivation was grandstanding without consequences since they expected the Bush Administration to use the TARP funds.

Bruce Webb said...

Two points Anon. First of all its called "A first shot across the bow". It is not grandstanding if you mean to follow the warning shot with a broadside. Second the Bush Administration seems to be balking a little. Bush is pretty much saying publically that the TARP bailout is under active consideration and that bankruptcy is not an option without actually committing the Administration to action and certainly not on a time table certain. Granted it is just Monday and he was fresh back from being targetted by some deadly shoes, but I am not sure the Republican game of chicken has run its total course here.

Anonymous said...

First of all, beware of Republicans preaching Rights. As in the idea that we must have the Right to CHOOSE our health insurance. What we obviously don't have is the Right to buy any that doesn't have hefty marketing/lobbying expenses, golden parachutes, and profits hidden in it, or the Right to find any that is both affordable and adequate.

As for Bush and the TARP, the man has made it clear for years that he doesn't like timetables. I was impressed by how artfully he dodged those shoes, though. A man in his element.