[Marxism] Mickey Kaus urges attack on UAW

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 11 07:31:21 MST 2008

(This, the latest entry on Mickey Kaus's blog, urges Obama to stick it 
to the UAW. Kaus is a DLC-type Democrat, so his advice would seem to be 
in sync with the current agenda in Washington.)


PATCO in Reverse?
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

An early version of the New York Times story on the auto bailout deal said

           [T]he bill seemed likely to stop short of authorizing the 
broad powers that some lawmakers had urged to allow what could have 
amounted to an out-of-court bankruptcy proceeding, in which the 
automakers’ creditors could be forced to accept reduced payments, labor 
contracts could be rewritten and executives could be summarily 
dismissed. [E.A.]

Hmm. Why shouldn't the bailout deal include an explicit reopening of 
labor contracts? If the new "auto czar" can order the companies to 
restructure, tell them to build smaller cars and veto any expenditure 
over $25 million, shouldn't he or she be able to require the UAW to give 
up the precious work rules that have rendered the domestically-owned 
industry inflexible and inefficient for decades? To be really effective, 
the bailout deal would have to "restructure" the UAW itself, so that 
union locals don't have an effective veto over productive labor 
practices proven in, say, the GM-Toyota NUMMI joint venture in San Jose, 

I don't know what the actual deal contains (later NYT and other stories 
are vague), but this seems like a useful** bright line for opponents of 
corporatist bailout-creep to draw: If the taxpayers are going to foot 
the bill, then the goal has to be a successful industry in the long 
run--not a Congressional fix designed to protect the UAW from what it 
would face in a normal bankruptcy. That means rewritten contracts. If 
the UAW members didn't want that, they shouldn't have let their firms go 
broke--that is, they should have made the concessions they're making 
now, and more, years ago, when it would have made the difference.

Requiring painful, bankruptcy-style reopening would set a cautionary 
precedent. Just as Rick Wagoner's removal will warn timid management, it 
would warn unions that their function isn't to squeeze the absolute 
maximum possible from their companies every moment. They need to leave 
enough of a margin of error so that in a downturn their industry doesn't 
have to come running to the taxpayers.

It would also be a useful precedent for Obama. Does he really want to 
have to bailout every slow-adapting union that's contributed to the 
Democratic party's victory? When Reagan came into office, he was lucky 
enough to be presented with the air traffic controllers' (PATCO) strike. 
It was a lucky chance to demonstrate dramatically--at relatively little 
economic or human cost--that labor doesn't automatically win every 
strike. (In the PATCO case, the union not only lost, it ceased to 
exist--an even more effective precedent.) If Obama lets his fellow 
Democrats structure a deal that saves the inefficiencies in the UAW 
contracts, it will be PATCO in reverse--a signal to the Democrats labor 
backers that under Obama they can't lose. Even if they bankrupt their 
industry. ...

P.S.: I'm heavily influenced in these views by this article. Now if only 
the type were big enough to read. ...

**--By "useful" I mean sound policy. But wringing a big concession from 
the union (as well as management) would also be sound political theater, 
given the public opposition to the bailout deal. If you're a GOP senator 
sitting on the fence, don't you want to loudly and successfully demand a 
painful concession at this point? Then you'll have cover for a "yes" 
vote when it counts. ...  2:50 A.M.

About Mickey Kaus

* Mickey Kaus is the author of The End of Equality.

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