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Racing to the Bottom December 4, 2008

Posted by Kate Ryan in Economy, National Politics.
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Did you happen to catch Countdown with Keith Olbermann  last night?  Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore appeared in the countdown to discuss the auto bail-out (you can watch the clip here).  Moore led off with an excellent description of the absolutely disrespectful way the industry executives were treated by Congress in light of the way financial industry execs were treated only one month earlier.  As Moore stated, this is not something that’s been lost on the people in the midwest who actually are employed in the industry.  Congress has insinuated by its actions that blue-collar jobs and workers are somehow not worthy of government help.

Now the UAW is on television saying that they will agree to more concessions and GM’s master plan is to get rid of 21,000 workers, several plants, and entire product lines.  UAW President Ron Gettlefinger looked absolutely beleaguered and bewildered as he talked about concessions and his members having to “race to the bottom” to keep their jobs.  Even in dire times, GM and the rest of the big three are rubbing their hands in glee because they are pushing the UAW to the breaking point once again. 

In the mean time, our representatives in Congress are pointing to a CNN poll showing that 60% of Americans oppose the bail-out as a reason to vote “no” and force the automakers into bankruptcy.  Of course people oppose this.  Most of us are sitting here trying to make ends meet and are angry that the government isn’t just writing all of us a check.  Duh!  But just because we’re pissed off and against something doesn’t mean that doing nothing is the right move for the economy, the country, or even our individual pocketbooks.  Most of us can’t see the big picture beyond our own personal economic pain.  That’s what we have government for.

Michael Moore is right that the government MUST demand a return for its investment.  And that return must include a guarantee that jobs will be preserved and protected.  For $34 billion, the government should own the automakers – and should be directing their business for the foreseeable future.  The government should demand that by 2012 only 35% of autos coming off the line can be gasoline-only, but they must get a minimum 40 mpg.  Another 50% should be flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles.  Finally, the remaining 15% of vehicles must be plug-in electric vehicles that are available for under $30,000.  As Moore said, in 1942, Roosevelt ordered car makers to convert to war production.  By 1943, the U.S. was unparalleled in its ability to turn out tanks, airplanes, and ships.  There is no reason that we can not achieve this goal in three years. 

What we as citizens have to realize is that the United States must maintain an American industrial base.  It is not good enough to say that Toyota can buy out GM and people will keep working.  If manufacturing had no value, the Chinese and other emerging economies would not fight so hard to develop a maufacturing base.  We need to understand this and place a higher value on manufacturing jobs and industries – and fight to keep them. 

It wasn’t that long ago that a guy with a high-school diploma could get a good job as an autoworker.  He purchased homes and cars, wash machines and vacations.  For many people of color, an auto industry job meant the way out of poverty; it meant a way that you could get your children out of failing schools and into college.  Today, that same guy is lucky if he can find a job paying minimum wage – and forget benefits.  He is competing against third-world workers making fifty cents a day.  He is competing against slave and child labor.  And instead of writing regulations and laws that preserve his (and our) American standard of living, we are forcing all of our citizens to race each other to the bottom to see how poor we can become so that we can be “competitive”. 

How sad for us.  How sad for America.

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