Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Remember the Southern Pols Who Opposed the US Auto Bailout?

Today's Atlanta Journal's headlines include "Georgia Auto Parts Plant Hiring 100 Workers." It goes on to report that the Kia parts supplier will pay these lucky workers between nine and eleven dollars an hour. In these tough times that pay will help feed a family along with the welfare check, because it does not raise a family beyond poverty level.

Southern politicians have long opposed labor unions and have recently gleefully looked on as the American automakers have hovered near the brink. The pols want Detroit to fail, because the Japanese and Koreans have settled in the south to avoid the unions. Kia is building a plant in western Georgia, and this parts supplier is gearing up to provide support. I'm sure that there will be long lines at the recruiting tables as those who are hurting financially line up to get what little money is offered.

Eleven dollars an hour equates to just under $17,000 per year. Better than nothing, but not much. Those workers are at the mercy of the company with no protection and probably little in the way of benefits. Yet the folks who are lucky enough to get one of these jobs will feel like they have died and gone to heaven. They will be getting a paycheck.

Republicans have worked long and hard to fight the unions and ensure that workers have little in the way of retirement and benefits. They fight health insurance reform, give tax breaks to industry, fight for companies to avoid paying taxes, and generally ensure that they make big bucks on the backs of those who do the real work. Here in the south those Republicans, who are now in control, will continue to attract foreign companies with the promise of big tax breaks and no labor unions. Wages will continue to be lower, but workers will think they have a great deal and a great future.

My father hated labor unions. He actually carried a pistol at work when organizers came around. Yet he retired with next to nothing (I think they called it "profit sharing.") and lived his last days on social security. He thought he had a great deal. His father, on the other hand, was a miner and a member of the miners union. He knew how the mining companies treated their workers and the high price they paid for the money they were paid.

I felt the same way as my dad about labor unions for many years. However, in recent times as I have seen companies dissolving retirement funds and throwing workers who are nearing retirement onto the streets, I have changed my mind. Those people in the early years of the twentieth century knew the hardships of low wages for hard work and long hours and harsh treatment at the hands of big corporations. They fought and in some cases gave their lives so that future generations of workers would have it better.

Now we are going in the opposite direction. I wonder what the future holds. Will our younger generations have to fight all over again to regain those rights their great grandfathers fought so hard to achieve? Are we more progressive now? Will big business look after its workers better or will the bottom line still be gained at the expense of those who produce the product?

Most "retirement plans" are based upon 401k's these days. We see what happens to those, when the economy sours as it inevitably does. However, the pols and the companies with the assistance of Wall Street have all convinced us that we should have "control" over our future. The companies love this. It costs them much less and they can use the extra money to pay their CEO's the big bucks. In the meantime the retired worker goes back to work to make ends meet and tries to make enough to supplement the dwindling retirement fund and social security.

When the nursing home beckons, the government gets what little is left and the old worker gets to sit in his wheelchair and reminisce about the great job that he had. His retirement was good, but the president wrecked the economy and he ended up with nothing.

No comments: