Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

GM, Healthcare, Trade, It's All Related

June 10th, 2009 | Jonathan Tasini

As I noted yesterday in connection with the bankruptcy of General Motors, I am in favor of spending money on trying to save peoples’ jobs–we are talking about the survival of communities and the lives of thousands of people. But, having now spent the morning reading various media reports about the GM bankruptcy, it’s startling how little, if any, of the dialogue makes broader connections to other parts of the economic system. Put another way, it’s great to spend money to address a crisis but if you don’t see the crisis in a broader way, the money will be wasted. Here is what I mean.

GM, and the rest of the U.S.-based auto industry, arrives at this crisis because of at least four problems. One is mismanagement. So, you have to ask the question–why isn’t there an entire housecleaning, removing every top manager and executive who has had significant role in running the company into the ground? Why would we turn over billions in taxpayer money to people who have shown they are thoroughly incompetent?

Second problem–which would lead me to be a tad less vocal on the first problem. Part of the crisis that led GM to the brink is a worldwide collapse of auto sales brought on by the general economic crisis. So, not to at all excuse the performance among the ranks of pathetically incompetent managers, you can also give a Bronx cheer for this sad situation to the leaders of the financial system (Robert Rubin, please take a bow).

But, you know, the above two problems pale in comparison to my other two points. First, and this is a point I have made countless times over the past number of months when I’ve played the role of TV pundit-talking-head-defender of labor, the crying shame is that we could have avoided the auto industry collapse if we had had a single-payer, “Medicare for All” health care system which would have relieved the auto companies of tens of billions of dollars of costs that have dragged down their balance sheets. Here we have the most prominent example I can think of where stupid ideology (“We can’t have a government-run health care system, that’s socialism”) has triumphed over sound economics. If we don’t learn from that mistake, the GM money goes to waste.

And, finally, if an auto industry job was, thanks to the UAW, a ticket to the “middle-class” or, at least, some promise that you could retire with some dignity, then, you would think someone would say: whoa, so now the auto companies are seeing their future in moving more jobs to Mexico and other countries. Wonder why they are doing that? Huh–could that be because of lower wages? Nah, that’s just “protectionist” talk. Point being: sure, we should be fine with our tax dollars helping people save their jobs BUT where are the leaders who are ready to rethink a trade policy that put us precisely where we are: a world where competition is based on the lowest wage possible.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

This article originally appeared in Working Life on June 3, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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