Friday, December 12, 2008

Capitalism and the Auto Bailout

The US Senate failed to approve the congressional bailout of the auto industry today. The bailout didn’t pass largely because Republicans wanted the UAW workers to take significant pay and benefit cut to bring them in line with non-unionised workers in the same sector. The right has been continually suggesting that the failure of the US auto industry is almost exclusively the cause of auto-worker greed. And this is a common refrain of many people. Somehow capitalists and right-wing elements in the media have convinced people that workers are greedy and think of nothing but increasing their wealth. They have convinced people of this despite the fact that most worker’s strikes are not motivated by pay issues but by working conditions.

And here is the sixty-four thousand dollar question: why are people so willing to condemn worker greed and so unwilling to look to the unbridled greed of the market and upper management? Companies like Nortel can be pushed into bankruptcy simply because their ‘projections’ for profit are not sufficient for investors! They are still making a profit you understand, just not a high enough rate of profit. Meanwhile, in the auto-sector for example, upper-level managers can make multi-million dollar salaries.

When workers struggle for a few more dollars or a couple of extra sick days, they are just trying to carve out a slightly better life for themselves. They want better lives for their children, an occasional vacation, homes that are not in a constant state of disrepair. That is not greed. Meanwhile in some industries managers are flying in private jets and buying homes with cash.

If the north-American auto industry fails, or the US economy in general goes into recession, it will not be because of worker greed. It will be because capitalists have fashioned an economy that is driven by a market that requires greater and greater rates of profit for public companies to stay afloat, by companies that have no conception or concern for the public good, and by managers whose rates of pay increase to outrageous levels even when the companies they control are going bankrupt. Of course, this is not an unusual occurrence in history. Before the French Revolution as the French economy began to sink, the aristocracy was so out of touch with reality that it was not uncommon for them to complain of the laziness of the peasants as a cause for their nations troubles. All this while most of the poor ate bread that was made with as much sawdust as wheat.

The next time you ate worried about the economy or your daily struggles, don’t blame your bus driver or the guy who assembled your car. Blame those who make millions of dollars while producing nothing for society.

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