Thursday, November 13, 2008

Look on their works, ye mighty, and despair.

First up for today: My layman's read of Henry Paulson's latest tweak of the shape-shifting $700 billion bailout package passed last month by Congress is that it basically just hands a significant portion of the money to major banks, and potentially other corporate entities, with far fewer strings than the original version of the plan. And if I'm wrong about that, and any economists out there are reading this and shaking their heads, please enlighten us.

Gee, am I too cynical in wondering how much of the money will
end up being used for this or that boondoggle, or diverted to lavish compensation as top executives design golden parachutes/handshakes for themselves before deserting their sinking ships?

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Speaking of sinking ships, the news from Detroit, as we used to call it, is grim.
Ford lost $129 million in the third quarterho-hum, another fiscal quarter, another $129 mill. Ford's woes sound good only by comparison to GM's $2.5 billion worth of red ink in 3Q'08, which brings its losses for the year to roughly $20 billion. That's 20,000,000,000, for the record. With a full business quarter left to go.

This is GM we're talking about, folks, as in General Effin' Motors. When I see GM's stock trading at $3.08 a share, yesterday's close, I think of my Dad. And I wonder what he would've made of that. In my father's day, when you invoked GM, you were invoking God, or the closest thing to it here in America. It was GM, the steel industry, and baseball
.* Two of the three are dead or dying. (Even baseball isn't what it used to be, despite its popularity. But that's a topic for another season. And the Rays do give me reason to hope.)

If you haven't been following the automotive scene too closely, you may be wondering, What about Chrysler? How's Chrysler doing? Don't ask. You don't want to know. Let's just say that Lee Iacocca was a long, long time ago. For those of you just now in college, that's Eye-uh-COKE-uh, and he once agreed to run Chrysler for $1-a year, and...it's a long story. But an inspiring story. At least for a while there, once upon a time.


But hey, if nothing else, home sales slumped even worse than expected in September (4.6 percent), the unemployment rate is at a 14-year high (6.5 percent), and 85,000 more homes were foreclosed in October.


Good luck, Barack. You're gonna need it. That glib routine about a black man getting the worst job in America is sounding less and less like a joke. He may want to refer to that copy of The Secret Oprah gave him way back when...

Getting back to Detroit, I'm torn about this. And I guess this is where my conservative underpinnings kick in (at least in a fiscal sense; I think I've always been socially progressive). There are many reasons why the U.S. auto industry is in the pickle it's in, and some ar
e simply atmospheric: Detroit hasn't been doing so swell in the first place, so it stands to reason that when the economy tanks, credit dries up, and people stop trading their cars as often as A-list celebs trade their spouses, things are gonna get real bad, real fast. But there's an elephant in this room. It's an elephant that's particularly native to Detroit, and that almost no one talks about. Or at least no one has talked about it to this point, because amid the heat of campaigning, Joe the Plumber was The Man, and the Middle Class reigned supreme, and nobody dared say anything that might sound like a slap in the face of blue-collar America.

The simple fact is this: Unionism has played a major role in devastating the U.S. auto industry, just as it has played a major role in devastating just about every other form of heavy manufacturing in America. By tying American industry to labor rules, practices and costs that are woefully uncompetitive in a global marketplace, the unions have helped seal Detroit'
s fate. The writing went up on the wall 40 years ago when the auto industry globalized and Detroit was forced to compete against other nations where unions are nonexistent and the pay scales (and perks) are far less lavish. From that moment on, when Americans began tentatively buying those first-generation, silly-looking Toyotas and then Hondas, it was only a matter of time. From that moment on, American labor's expectations could no longer be viewed in a vacuum, but we continued to act as if they could be. For decades we continued negotiating new collective-bargaining agreements that guaranteed another round of higher hourly wages and all sorts of lush bennies and retirement plans, and it didn't matter that such concessions shrank the so-called Big 3's profit margins and/or made American cars lousy values compared to their foreign alternatives.

This has happened in other industries as well.
(What do you think was partially behind America's stunning migration to a service economy over the past 20 years?) There was a time when the U.S. ruled the world in steel production. Remember the line from Godfather 2? "Michael...we're bigger than U.S. Steel." It's one of the very few moments in that brilliant film that sounds dated now. I live about 10 miles from the dessicated carcass of what was once majestic Bethlehem Steel. It is a sad sightan American Ozymandiasthe rusted hulls of an ancient steel-making colossus, the drooping, lifeless cranes, other machinery that looks as if it was shut off and abandoned in mid-shift. The whole scene has become even sadder recently, by the way, because the casino/hotel/shopping complex that was being salvaged from the wreckagewhich would've at least put a happy face on the entombed steel-worksis now on hold as well. The economy claims another victim.

In the end, I think one of the analysts on ABC's World News the other night raised the most pertinent question: If we bail out the U.S. auto industry...what then? What's going to change, necessarily? This isn't like housing. Not only do people need houses, but they need for those houses to be where they want to live, which is here in the U.S., preferably close to where they live and work already. You pretty much have to buy a U.S. house, built by U.S. people. Not so, cars. Bailing out the auto industry is not, in and of itself, going to make GM's cars any more competitive in an environment in which foreign players increasingly rule the roost. At Detroit's current burn rate, the $25 billion that is often bandied about in discussions of an industry bailout would sustain America's carmakers for maybe 18 months
at the end of which Detroit's cars may not be any more appealing to U.S. consumers than they are now. Assuming anyone has the money to buy a new car 18 months from now.

Maybe we're better off letting the natural consolidations take place, letting the skeletal remains of Detroit's Big 3 crumble into one remaining carmaking goliath. Then we figure out how we're going to help the estimated 2 million people (at least) who'd be put out of work by the move. I don't know. Anybody have any better ideas?

* Kind of like that Chevy ad: baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet, or however it goes.

34 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, while the union mentality has certainly crippled the US auto industry's potential for competitiveness, it was only one of many factors. First of all, we have to remember that the unions were able to form and grow so powerful in the first place because there were no controls in place to ensure that workers were being treated fairly. These controls - in the form of realistic industry regulations - were not even given real consideration because the politicians and their parties were literally controlled by industry leaders and their dollars. Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself, what with the erosion of even rudimentary policing of industry practices (and not just the auto industry, obviously).

What began as a movement to ensure the basic rights of workers evolved into a mechanism whereby an attitude of entitlement was encouraged. Workers not only "deserved" safe working conditions and adequate compensation, they came to "deserve" perks equivalent to those enjoyed by top executives. As the attitude of entitlement swelled beyond reason for the execs, so did it also for the labor force. After all, if a CEO can demand $40 million a year in salary and bonuses, it seemed only reasonable that the guy who swept the factory floor deserved $30 an hour, paid insurance, and a guaranteed pension. Unfortunately, company profits simply couldn't rise at the same rate as did the compensation expectations of employees, from top to bottom.

Another prime factor in the demise of the auto industry is that, while the post-war Japanese learned and implemented the wisdom of engineers such as Deming in structuring their manufacturing processes, the US manufacturing industry arrogantly assumed that domestic implementation of such efforts toward greater efficiency were unnecessary. After all, we were GN, Ford, US Steel, and the like. Such monoliths had no need for such quaint concepts as efficiency. Over the last couple of decades, we have seen the result of such folly, but the ingrained culture that so long dominated our manufacturing industry simply wouldn't allow a course change sufficient to bring our industry back into a position of competitiveness, much less dominance.

Perhaps with a move toward realistic, effective regulation of industry practices, we may be able to reassert ourselves and remain competitive in a global industry. The trick will be to balance the needs of all parties, so that the industries can remain profitable, while employees can have a reasonable expectation of security. While we certainly don't want to blur the lines between the private sector and government, ala Japan, Inc., we need to realize that in a global market that is dominated by government-subsidized industries, it is essential that our government maintain some greater role in the private sector than it has in the past. While some might bemoan such a role as the erosion of democracy by socialism, we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to be starving purists, rather than face the realities of functioning in a global economy that doesn't share our obsession with ideologies. It's a tough call, but one we have to make, and soon.

Anonymous said...

"Workers not only "deserved" safe working conditions and adequate compensation, they came to "deserve" perks equivalent to those enjoyed by top executives. As the attitude of entitlement swelled beyond reason for the execs, so did it also for the labor force. After all, if a CEO can demand $40 million a year in salary and bonuses, it seemed only reasonable that the guy who swept the factory floor deserved $30 an hour, paid insurance, and a guaranteed pension."

No, we wouldn't want floor-sweepers get decent pay, insurance and pension. Let's save those perks for those who really deserve them, the executives. And screw the unions. They messed up a good thing. If it wasn't for the unions, the floor-sweepers would work 80 hours a week, make 30 cents a hour, and kiss the CEOs hand each day just for the privilege of being employed by him. Bad unions, bad.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon (and to some extent Ron), before you tee off on me as The Enemy of the People, please reconsider the context in which I'm writing this. I'm saying that in 2008, the year of Change and Joe Six-Pack and Joe the Plumber and the Forgotten Middle Class and all that, it has been highly impolitic--if not actual political suicide--to even mention that American workers, in the form of their labor unions, may have contributed to the downfall of American industry. I am not "blaming" the unions for the entire problem (as my past posts on Big Bidness make clear. In fact it wasn't long ago that some were accusing me of being Karl Marx reincarnated). I am saying, basically, that there's plenty of blame to go around, and that you can't expect to have your wages and benefits and vacation perks endlessly spiral upward when your industry is competing against workers in Kyoto or Bangladesh who make 50 cents an hour for 14-hour workdays. And in saying that, I'm NOT arguing that American workers need to work 14-hour workdays or accept 50 cents an hour as wages! I'm simply saying that the American business model in heavy industry is no longer viable, and yet for too long we've pretended that it is. That is part of the reason why, for example, Bethlehem Steel workers lost jobs, pensions and "lifelong" medical benefits--not all of it, but part of it. There was simply no money left. And as harsh as it may sound, the workers themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, helped make that tragic outcome inevitable.

roger o'keefe said...

Finally something I can agree with wholeheartedly. That probably won't surprise you. My only correction would be that unions are a much bigger part of the picture, when it comes to the downfall of American industry, than you're willing to admit in your disclaimer comment of 12:11.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I don't see any conflict between our perspectives. IMO, the "union mentality" began as a necessity, but has evolved into - and merged with - the "entitlement mentality" we erroneously ascribe only to the greediest CEOs, executives, and stockholders.

The first anon apparently got stuck on only a narrow part of my comment, and failed to comprehend that the problem we face is multi-faceted, with plenty of "blame" for everyone involved. As I've previously pointed out, the myopic approach to any problem - blaming the "other guy" while allowing other participants in a process to avoid any degree of responsibility for their actions - ensures that the problem will not only remain, but will grow worse. Solutions require responsibility, not blame, and the unions share responsibility with all other parties in the downfall of American industry.

By the same token, we need to keep in mind that a union is not an autonomous entity, but rather an organization comprised of many individuals, each with his or her agenda and motivation. We have seen plenty of evidence that those individual agendas have in many cases been much less than noble, borne of greed rather than a concern for the collective (union membership, company, industry, or nation). Attempting to solve the global problems while insisting upon the exclusion of - or sole focus upon - any of the participants has always been an exercise in futility. We need to ask ourselves whether we are truly committed to solving our problems or merely to perpetuating a positive image for a narrow agenda. The two are, without a doubt, mutually exclusive.

RevRon's Rants said...

I should have added that during the course of my career, I have been a journeyman carpenter / cabinetmnaker, a construction manager for residential and large-scale commercial projects, and a mid-level corporate manager in the manufacturing industry. As such, I have had the benefit of dealing first-hand with both unions and corporate executives. My assessment is based upon those experiences, as well as a significant amount of research into industry practices.

Akhetnu said...

From what I understand, though, GM at its height was known for its largess given to its workers. Perhaps the business model became less viable as time wore on, although the refusal of GM to make cars that people wanted also played a role. Ultimately, people chose Honda and Toyota not only for cost, but also for fuel economy and reliability.

It should be noted, however, that Japanese auto makers have much less of a gap between the bottom and top wage levels. Paying people on the floor $30 an hour may certainly be a drain, but then paying your CEO 30 million certainly makes a dent on its own.

Steve Salerno said...

Paying people on the floor $30 an hour may certainly be a drain, but then paying your CEO 30 million certainly makes a dent on its own.

No question about it, Ak'nu. I have my quibbles with Michael Moore's classic film, Roger & Me, but he made a lot of good points along those lines.

Cal said...

Can we afford to let them fail? Especially on the heels of the decision to let Lehman go bankrupt and the havoc it has done on the economy.

I agree with many of the points about how the unions have helped to cause the fate. But I'm afraid of the economic consequences of Ford and GM bankruptcies at this particular point in time. I save them, but use the court system to try to get out of these onerous contracts.

I know that Hank Paulson tried to answer the question of moral hazard in letting Lehman fail. But it blew up in his face. Economic activity has fallen off of a cliff since then. This quarter may have a GDP of -5% by some economists. John McCain's self-admitted lack of knowledge about the economy really did him in. Because McCain, or his advisers, should have told Bush that Paulson had to keep Lehman afloat -- especially so close to an election.

Steve is right in his comment about Obama. I told someone that I am happy that he one for all the historical reasons. But I am sad because he his coming into a mess that is looking more like Great Depression 2.0. And I really don't think Obama is any kind of economic guru. I hope his economic appointees (who are basically just Bill Clinton's people) are able to pull this economy up. Because if doesn't materially improve by 2010, the Dems will probably lose their House and Senate majorites.

I read where Hillary felt more at home with McCain than Obama. I see why when it looks like Obama appointments will basically form a cabinet that could be called Bill Clinton's third term.

Cal said...

I forgot to say it was: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget the American auto makers were not thinking ahead, like their European and Japanese counterparts. I will never buy an American car, because I have never encountered an Amercian car as good as a German or Japanese one.

American automakers did not invest in hybrid vehicles early on, even though they knew oil was not forever. The American car makers were selling SUVs and eight valve trucks! The American auto industry is far too shortsighted to sustain itself.

People will buy a quality product, but the American auto industry is not on that page.

Steve Salerno said...

That's right, Cal. How could I forget the hot dogs! (Personally I prefer hamburgers, but that doesn't fit the meter of the jingle.)

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 4:14: Yes, but it's a mistake to assume that Detroit's quality problems and its union problems are two different things. There are many entrenched union protocols that have conspired to play at least a supporting role in America's car-making mediocrity.

RevRon's Rants said...

"There are many entrenched union protocols that have conspired to play at least a supporting role in America's car-making mediocrity."

I agree wholeheartedly, Steve. But those protocols didn't grow in a vacuum. Many have come to represent the same greed that gave rise to the need for labor to organize in the first place, and the labor versus management struggle has deteriorated into a battle of entitlements. If we are to restore American industry to a position of viability in a global marketplace, we have to address the core elements of greed and entitlement, rather than merely punish either party. That is why I feel the need to re-implement some degree of regulation over the actions of both the corporations and the labor organizations. Neither can honestly claim that their actions have been devoid of the malfeasance that has crippled the competitiveness of American industry. And even the adoption of the most virtuous practices by one faction can be effective without similar action by the other factions.

It has long since become obvious that neither "side" is willing to - or perhaps capable of - self-policing, as they will always find the means to justify whatever actions they deem to be most beneficial to them.

If we could count on individuals' - much less, organizations' - integrity and commitment to the common good, there would be no need for laws, and communism would be the most viable form of governance. And we all know how well that works in the real world.

verification word: bulst :-)

Anonymous said...

"Anon 4:14: Yes, but it's a mistake to assume that Detroit's quality problems and its union problems are two different things. There are many entrenched union protocols that have conspired to play at least a supporting role in America's car-making mediocrity."

I don't understand this reasoning. Are you saying the unions kept American auto makers from making quality vehicles? Was there some union contract that mandated "no hybrid vehicles" and "no new technology." Europe and Japan are very strict with their workers' rights, but they are building what the consumers want to buy. American automakers cannot say the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Cal, I disagree with Lehman Brothers. Actually, we should have let more investment banks fail. It is a painful process, but it's akin to shutting down the bar and not letting an alcoholic drink. Look at what AIG did with their tax money. If these companies don't have the common sense to handle money, why should we keep giving it to them?

Do you know how much modern art Lehman Brothers had in its offices? They had a staggering art collection was auctioned off by Christie's.

Yes, it is painful to go through this economic times, but we have to learn from them and not keep enabling bad and unethical business practices.

Mike Cane said...

Dumping the blame on labor is just breathtaking. It wipes away all the treatment workers were forced to endure to put food in their bellies pre-union.

And those assembly-line workers were only told to put together what the people in white shirts and ties TOLD them to put together.

Want to save the auto industry? Fire every goddammed bastard in a white shirt and tie. They didn't listen to W. Edwards Deming, Japan did, and they deserve to starve in the street -- not the workers.

Steve Salerno said...

Mike, I am very familiar with Deming, having written extensively about TQM theory, and--for about the third time here--I am not "dumping all the blame on the workers." I am saying that the Poor Working Stiff, who became something of a legendary heroic figure during this past campaign, is not quite as blameless as made out to be. Blue-collar America in particular must shoulder its share of the responsibility.

That gives me a nice segue to the question raised by Anon 6:39 (who I assume is also Anon 4:14). Let me just throw one factor out there: For many years in this country it was all but impossible to fire a UAW worker unless maybe he pulled a gun on his boss (and even then, he'd probably get counseling and a three-week paid furlough in the Bahamas to help him destress, first). The policies built into CBAs* encouraged laziness, with guaranteed work-shifts and hours, and actually discouraged initiative and hyper-productivity. If ever the cynical axiom "work fills all space" applied anywhere, it applied in Detroit of the post-War years, heading right up through the 80s.

* collective-bargaining agreements.

RevRon's Rants said...

C'mon, Steve... Why do you insist on dumping all the blame on the workers? :-)

Having been both a card-carrying union member and a manager charged with supervising a union labor force, I can attest to the fact that the unions literally forced inefficiency upon the workplace. I can remember early on, feeling so good about being able to meet and exceed my production quota, only to be informed by the shop steward that I had to slow down, lest I cause the standards to be raised, thus causing other workers to increase their production.

I can remember being contracted to finish out a jewelry store in New York, and having their local business agent threaten to shut down the job if I used the (non-union) labor pool guys to unload the truck and only 2 journeyman carpenters to help with the job. Oh yeah... they also wanted me to buy (from them) and wear white coveralls. The company that had sent me had given me only enough money to pay the guys I had, and no clothing allowance. I told the BA that I'd go back to my hotel & call my office, and he should go back to his hall, and let the 2 locals work out the details, then to meet me back at the store at 9 the next morning. The BA and 2 journeymen left, and I had the 2 labor pool guys help me install showcases. At 9 the next morning, I was at 30,000 feet, flying back to Houston. By 10, the NY & Houston locals were having a shouting match. Since my install was the last effort to complete the store, there was no jobsite to shut down. Cest la vie!

And don't even get me started on what it takes to fire even the most incompetent, unmotivated union employee. It would be easier and cheaper to just have the guy whacked!

That's not to imply that the unions were the sole - or even primary - source of industry's problems, but they damn sure played (and play) their part.

Anonymous said...

I find it ironic to have a bunch of comfortable middle-class white-collar men with enough time during the day for blogging to gripe about people who fight for their mere survival every day.

You have no idea what goes on in American factories, do you, what backbreaking labor in dehumanizing conditions is. I advise you acquaint yourself with reality, and perhaps make it your next journalistic assignment to explore this area of life. Then get back to us with your comfy chair criticisms of the unions, but only then.

Anonymous said...

"Dumping the blame on labor is just breathtaking."

Indeed. Enough said.

Steve Salerno said...

See, again here, I continue to be struck by the fact that so many people are so ill-equipped to have a legitimate sociopolitical discussion without taking the low road and making it personal.

First of all, "comfortable middle-class white-collar men"? You know nothing, really, about my circumstances (or the Rev's) and what we've been through in life that brought us to this point. Nor do you have any true idea of the degree to which we're "comfy" today. I could be a billionaire or I could be on food stamps. You have no clue either way. In point of fact, I have more in common with the person on food stamps than with the billionaire.

Secondly, during the course of this past election cycle in particular, I've written literally dozens of posts that were critical of the management class, and white-collar America, and capitalism at its upper levels. So what are you saying, that there's no room for even one post that spreads the blame around a little? That we can't even "go down that road" without somebody acting as if we spit on the Virgin Mary or some such? This is the very attitude that makes meaningful dialog impossible in today's America.

Third, I "have no idea what goes on in American factories"? Sez who? You? And why, because I've never actually belonged to a union? (Which is true, btw, but you had no way of knowing that, either.) I've been to factories and put on my hard-hat and taken the grand tours, and walked the floors and interviewed the workers and their union reps (and later their Washington front men), and crunched the numbers of various CBAs and what they meant for a given worker and his family and his company. I've written about all this at some length. My dad was a union man for a time, as was my late brother-in-law. So please don't go holier-than-thou until/unless you know what you're talking about. If you have a criticism, stick to the facts and make your case.

RevRon's Rants said...

"You have no idea what goes on in American factories, do you... I advise you acquaint yourself with reality,..."

I can well remember a time when I was a warehouseman in a factory, the working conditions terrible. The guys on the floor blamed the a**holes in the office (or the good-for-nothing night shift) for all the problems we had. Then, I got promoted to a supervisory role - the most miserable position available in a union shop. I had to enforce the dictates of "the man" we all despised. After some time, I got promoted to a managerial position, and suddenly, I was one of "them" - the guys who caused all the problems for the guys on the shop floor. I had to justify the labor expenses and explain the cost %age of sales, as well as negotiate with the shop steward who had always been my friend. And I had to jump through all kinds of hoops just to terminate a couple of people who refused to work. Seems they were in tight with the local's BA, and felt that they were immune to anything resembling company rules or objectives. And I was on the hot seat to restore some semblance of productivity, while dealing with a union that seemed to believe that business' primary function was to meet their demands, regardless of whether doing so allowed the company to make a profit.

I ultimately got sick of trying to play referee between two sides, neither of which was willing to work with the other, and I left. A couple of years later, corporate shut down the subsidiary, which had lost money for several years. The guys who had worked their tails off were out of a job, just like the guys who refused to work. Naturally, the floor workers blamed "the man" for taking away their livelihood. Corporate just said it was a profitability issue.

I might be prone to laugh at anyone who says I don't know what it's like, but then I remember my mindset as a warehouseman. I shared the same attitude anon expresses now. It was only after seeing the issue from both sides that I came to realize that there was plenty of "blame" to go around, and that blaming "the man" for all the problems I saw was a product of my own ignorance.

It is perhaps our nature to assign responsibility for all our problems to someone else, whose situation and mindset are unknown to us. What I ultimately learned was that there were very few actual bad guys in the process; merely folks with different perspectives and different objectives. None were evil, but most were myopic in their observation of the situation, so focused upon their own part of it that they couldn't wrap their minds around anything beyond that small part. And until there is a comprehensive and objective effort to fix the situation - sans any untouchable holy men - the conflict will remain, and the manufacturing industry as we know it will continue its slide into oblivion.

Some folks bemoan the intrusion of government into business practices, crying that regulation of industry would cost businesses too much. I would counter that argument by suggesting they compare the cost of reasonable regulation with the cost of inefficiency. And to those who feel that workers would be lost without their union, I'd suggest that they have a look at the union's books, at how much they are paying in dues, and what the union is really doing for them. And keep in mind that the union is a business, and a very profitable one, at that. At least, it is for the union's version of "the man."

Akhetnu said...

I think the main issue arises when unions become and end in themselves and not a means to an end.

Japanese auto makers certainly give their blue collar workers a wage and benefits they can live off of, but at the same time would never tolerate laziness that American unions seem to promote. If anything, the desire for power, wealth and clout makes some unions just as much 'the man' they formed to fight against. We can believe in benefits and a living wage for those who make the wheels of industry turn, but that does not mean we give license for outlandish behavior that would get anyone else canned.

I remember working at an Indian Casino as a security guard. The pay and benefits were easily the best available for the position, and I enjoyed my time there. The cheap buffet in the break room (a scaled down version of the huge one on the floor) was a nice perk as well.

Although all of this was done without a union, because the culture of the casino encouraged managers and workers to communicate. No one was 'the man'...the manager was just the guy in charge. The large revenues of any casino probably played a part as well, of course.

Mike Cane said...

Well, this is an issue I left a comment about many moons ago here: The rise of a "professional" managerial class that drove a wedge between worker advancement at companies.

And yes, Steve, there is more than enough blame to go around, but I don't forget what workers went through that caused unions to form. Once formed, of course, the thieves and looters struck (hello, Hoffa, wherever you are rotting).

That said, now show me the oppression all the Suits went through.

Steve Salerno said...

That said, now show me the oppression all the Suits went through.

Are you kidding, Mike? Why, I personally know three top execs who are considering having to trade down from their 40-foot yachts. Two of them are in therapy over it, as we speak.

Seriously, point taken.

RevRon's Rants said...

Hell... a little jail time here and there will do 'em good. Oh, times is hard on mahogany row! :-)

Seriously, the union movement, like pretty much all movements, began as something noble and necessary. Almost immediately, however, the same kind of opportunists that made unions necessary in the first place found their way into the unions, and you had "the man" sitting on both sides of the bargaining table. Perhaps if the heads of the locals were paid no more than the highest going rate for a journeyman member, it would weed out the ones who get into the position to satisfy their own greed.

Here in Houston, the carpenter's union (at least) has long since abandoned the responsibility for representing members, and is 100% in the tank for the companies.

Anonymous said...

At least you guys don't have the Unions going into politics like here in Britain. Unions here - from all different industries as well as the Universities are wanting to impose an academic sanction on Israel barring Britain from all involvment with any Israeli institution.

WTF does that have to do with their remit to secure good working conditions for their members?

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: We don't have unions going into politics? You're joking, right?

Elizabeth said...

Unions are politics. How can it be otherwise?

Unions becoming adamantly political is what brought Communism down in Europe. Specifically the Polish union of shipyard workers, "Solidarity," with its leader Lech Walesa, a future Polish president and Nobel Peace laureate.

(Contrary to American myths, the fall of Communism did not have much to do with Reagan's posturing on the Berlin Wall and elsewhere).

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: You mean that when Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear...down...that...wall," it didn't leave the Russkies quaking in their boots, thus motivating them to comply? ;)

Elizabeth said...

Sorry, Steve, I know it's heartbreaking ;), but nope, the Russkies are not that easy to intimidate. Especially by political stunts for propaganda purposes. They are tough SOBs, really. When you threaten them (or demand things from them) they tend to dig in their heels and respond in kind. So the recent admonitions by Rice, McCain and others directed at Russia (re: conflict with Georgia) have had the exact opposite effect. Threatening Russians in any form is guaranteed to backfire as a political strategy for negotiation (unless one wants to accomplish the escalation of hostility and resentment -- which, to think of it, may just be the political goal of these gestures).

Now see this blurb on Anna Walentynowicz, the true leader and hero of the "Solidarity" movement (she was more important than Walesa in her role as the union leader and catalyst of change -- kind of a Polish Rosa Parks). Many believe that Walesa robbed her of her well-deserved recognition and respect (the man was/is described by many as an ambitious publicity seeker) and that she should have been the face of the political changes in Eastern Europe:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Walentynowicz

Anonymous said...

Solidarity got heavy coverage in the UK throughout the eighties. I don't remember this lass being mentioned, though.

Elizabeth said...

You know, Anon, many Poles have never heard of Walentynowicz. I lived in Poland in 1980's, and I only learned about her and her role in "Solidarity" after I came to the US.