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Call automaker bailout rejection what it is — worker bashing

Submitted by on Friday, 12 December 2008 No Comment

It’s been a bad week to be a worker — if you still even have a job.

  • In Chicago, workers staged a sit-in after their plant closed and they were told they wouldn’t receive even as much as accrued vacation pay. Bank of America, the beneficiary of $25 billion in bank bailout money between the amounts it and Merrill Lynch received, had cut off the company’s credit. The bank finally agreed to a loan.
  • Also in Chicago – and Los Angeles and Baltimore and elsewhere – journalists are facing a huge hit on their pensions after “Grave Dancer” Sam Zell’s The Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy. Zell had financed part of the purchase by borrowing against the pension fund. Bank of America was one of the chief loan arrangers.
  • In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate killed an auto industry bailout, not because union workers weren’t making concessions, but because they weren’t making them quickly enough.
  • The very same day, the very same Senate agreed to give businesses a reprieve on replenishing pension funds that have suffered losses this year.

The auto-industry bailout was the perplexing one, blocked as it was by Republicans with a sudden hankering for details.

Details are good. It’s too bad no one asked for them in October, when Congress was writing a $700 billion check to banks. You know, the kind of details that were overlooked and resulted in Bank of America throwing $7 billion at a Chinese bank just weeks after it received $15 billion in bailout money.

Sen. Mitch McConnell didn’t worry back then, but this week he’s been all about crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.

The sticking point: Exactly when the United Auto Workers would say “uncle.”

The union has been making concessions for two years and already had agreed this month to cut a controversial layoff program. Congressional negotiators wanted more — pay slashed to nonunion levels. Democrats agreed to that as well, then Republicans insisted that it happen sooner. Hence the death of the bill.

It’s a strange world when Republicans let big businesses go down the drain, when people like McConnell, who was willing to scatter money to the winds just months ago, balk at a buyout at less than 5 percent of the value of the bank deal.

Ay, but the financial sector has contributed $4.3 million to McConnell campaigns over the years. The UAW’s not a big fan.

There’s only one other context that makes the Kentucky Republican’s about-face make sense, and that’s a cynical scenario that says a long enough delay will force the automakers into bankruptcy before an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress can stop it. And bankruptcy means another chance to do what McConnell couldn’t this week: blow up union contracts.

It’s a macabre joke on most of us, these demands that rank-and-file workers tighten their belts for the sake of the company’s survival. It’s also an easy demand for companies to make in these times, as workers fear they’ll be the next headed for unemployment.

It’s not as if those being asked to share the pain of the recovery benefited from the boom. The average family remained cinched in like Scarlett O’Hara during Bush years.

The country’s poverty rate climbed from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.5 percent in 2007 — the years of the alleged economic expansion, according to an analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. At the same time, the median income for working-age households fell $1,001, yet incomes rose 9 percent for the wealthiest Americans.

Yet, for want of a quick-enough union capitulation, Chrysler and GM might be lost.

Because heaven knows all our economic problems are the fault of those greedy workers gouging the company for everything they can get.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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