I should have caught this days ago, but didn't:
...In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, [Walter] Reuther, then head of the [UAW] union's General Motors division, came up with a detailed plan for converting auto plants to defense factories more quickly than the industry's leaders did. At the end of the war, he led a strike at GM with a set of demands that included putting union and public representatives on GM's board ...
In 1949, a pamphlet was published that argued that the American auto industry should pursue a different direction. Titled "A Small Car Named Desire," the pamphlet suggested that Detroit not put all its bets on bigness, that a substantial share of American consumers would welcome smaller cars that cost less and burned fuel more efficiently.
The pamphlet's author was the research department of the United Auto Workers ...
The UAW not only built the American middle class but helped engender every movement at the center of American liberalism today -- which is one reason that conservatives have always held the union in particular disdain ...
Now you can believe what Meyerson writes, or you can dismiss him as another pinko lib, but here's the reality of what's going on today:
For the past thirty years, there has been a general philosopy that everybody would be better off if "government got out of the way." If regulations were lightened or, better yet, eliminated.
If market forces were allowed to work their magic and make the country bigger, better, and richer. No need for regulation or any horrid redistribution of wealth. Markets were magical ... and self-correcting.
Republicans believed it. Lots of Democrats believed it.
And here we are.
The financial and economic crash of 2008, the worst in over 75 years, is a major geopolitical setback for the United States and Europe. Over the medium term, Washington and European governments will have neither the resources nor the economic credibility to play the role in global affairs that they otherwise would have played. These weaknesses will eventually be repaired, but in the interim, they will accelerate trends that are shifting the world's center of gravity away from the United States.
A brutal recession is unfolding in the United States, Europe, and probably Japan -- a recession likely to be more harmful than the slump of 1981-82. The current financial crisis has deeply frightened consumers and businesses, and in response they have sharply retrenched. In addition, the usual recovery tools used by governments -- monetary and fiscal stimuli -- will be relatively ineffective under the circumstances ...
So how the hell did we get here? How did it come to this?
There were lots of causes; here are a few of the major drivers of the debacle:
We stripped away the rules that kept banks and investment companies honest. (When the government allows Godlman Sachs to leverage investments 40 to 1, GS is delighted to do it, figuring they're smarter than everybody else, and if things start to head south, they'll get out and let the suckers hold the bag of crap. Didn't exactly work out that way, of course. Goldman Sachs got swept up in the disaster it helped create, and has now converted its businesses so it can receive Federal handouts. Socialism for the Investor Class! Fuck Yeah!)
We allowed the minimum wage to become ludicrously low relative to the purchasing power it had forty years ago.
We undercut unions' abilities to organize newer businesses by non-enforcement of labor laws. Since unions tend to drive wages up, pay rates stagnated.
We provided financial incentives to ship manufacturing offshore, ship service jobs offshore, ship brainpower offshore.
No doubt people will argue about specific causes, whether it was more of this and less of that. What's hard to argue is that we are today in a deep, deep economic hole ... and sizable sections of the American middle class are melting away.
What's also hard to argue is that without a middle class, the "American Standard of Living" will cease to exist, because without a population that has money to buy things and send their children to college and generally make their lives better ... thereby lifting the American economy ... we turn into Mexico, India, or Brazil.
We end up with a wealthy oligarchy that lives well in gate-guarded communities and drives expensive cars, with everyone else eking out their various meager existences in small, rented houses and one-bedroom apartments, eating a lot of meatloaf sandwiches.
But enough sweeping generalizations. Let me boil it down to specifics in this narrow, neck of the woods known as the Animation Industry.
When I rolled in here nineteen years ago, the Animation Guild and the cartoon business were on their mutual keesters. We had about seven hundred active, working members. General unemployment was high. Non-union animation work was everywhere (DIC at the time was huge, paying $500 a week for storyboard work, half the union minimum.)
Over the next few years, through happy accidents, also the efforts of various artists, we ended up signing contracts with a lot of studios and repping about 85% (give or take) of the cartoon business. Plus the business was roaring, and a lot of the cut-rate 'toon factories were forced to raise wages in order to hire people qualified to get needed work done.
Like I say, happy accidents.
And then the business went really crazy, and industry wages went through the roof and then the upper atmosphere, and people said to me:
"Heey now! What do we need union minimums for? I'm earning double the damn minimums! And my best friend's making triple! Hot damn!"
People began thinking it was the natural order of things. And would last forever.
But it wasn't ... and didn't. And now we're paddling along in the year 2008, and nobody thinks high wages are a birthright anymore.
In fact, a lot of people are pretty grim. Scared shitless, in fact. And grateful to have a job, any job. I know, personally, animation professionals bagging groceries and doing secretarial work and laboring as security guards at one-fifth their old salaries.
And every studio I know about, union and non-union, is cutting their labor costs every way they can. The non-union places are below the union minimums that they used to be above, and the union places are hiring at scale. But because a large number of skilled artists still work under union contracts, and we still have critical mass, the overall wage structure hasn't collapsed.
Over in auto-building land, the situation is a little different. The UAW, that long-ago builder of the American Middle Class, hasn't been able to organize foreign auto plants in Tennessee, in Alabama, and a number of other southern states that have "right to work" laws. The slope is just too steep for them to get the Toyota, Honda and Nissan plants organized, and so the foreign companies are happy to match UAW pay rates, even as they lowball benefits. And the UAW gets pretty much nowhere in making those Camry, Accord and Altima factories union.
But Senator Mitch McConnell and company are trying their best to disembowel what's left of the UAW. They've made a nice run at it the last month or so, and for a little while, it looked like they would succeed in taking the Auto Workers out. (Of course, it would have meant the Big Three Auto Makers would have gone bye-bye with the UAW, what's known on the battlefield as "collateral damage," but what the hell. Sometimes you gotta destroy an industry in order to save it.)
Now, happily, President Bush has decided he doesn't want to add "Goodbye to the Big Three" to the rest of his sparkling legacy, and so has overruled his Republican cohorts in the Senate and cut a deal with Chrysler and GM. So the companies will survive ... at least for another few months.
But who knows? Maybe Senator Mitch and those other Sons of the South will yet be successful in driving the UAW over a cliff. Maybe Ford, Chrysler and General Motors will slide into insolvency and oblivion anyway, and the Japanese and German car companies will have the United States all to themselves.
When and if that day comes, I'm reasonably certain the foreign car makers won't be paying wage rates that match UAW's workers, for those workers will be gone. They'll be paying less, probably far less, even though labor costs now are only 10% of a car's costs.
Why? Because the union that kept wages up will be gone, along with one more segment of the American middle class.