Divide and Conquer.
Headlines: Views on Auto Aid Fall on North-South Divide
And on and on it goes. I guess some folks haven't noticed that senators from Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Minnesota, Idaho, Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Alaska, Kansas and South Dakota voted against the bailout. Oklahoma and Texas too but sometimes they get lumped in with us.
Southern Senators plot against UAW and Main Street:
"What this is is the Southern conservative senators trying to destroy the United Auto Workers, trying to destroy unions," said Mike O'Rourke, president of a UAW local at a GM factory in Spring Hill, Tenn., (Senator Bob) Corker's home state. "It's a sad day in America when the senators turn their back on Main Street."
Southern senators are being singled out because many foreign automakers have plants in the south. (There are three foreign plants here in Alabama: Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai). So the senators must have had an ulterior motive for opposing the bailout, right? Protect the foreign companies at the expense of Mom, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet. The problem with that theory is that the failure of the Big Three would harm the entire automotive industry, foreign and domestic. And there's some irony at work here, too. If the UAW were to agree to some of the concessions proposed by Senator Corker, the Big Three would become more competitive and sell more cars, thus cutting into the market share of the foreign companies. At any rate it is outrageous that union leaders and members of Congress, among many others, are accusing these senators of intentionally trying to kill the Big Three and millions of jobs with it. That's a pretty harsh accusation with nothing to back it up. Their motives are being questioned simply because of where they live. Those senators from other parts of the country who also voted no don't seem to be taking quite the heat that southerners are. Why is that?
(Speaking of ulterior motives. Has anyone questioned the motives of the Democrats who voted for the bailout? Since 1990, the United Auto Workers union has contributed almost $25 million to Democrats. During the same period the union gave $180,200 to Republicans. Quite a gap. Of the 35 Nay votes on the cloture motion only 4 were Democrats. One of those was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who voted no in a procedural move. Here is a link to the roll call).
Turning this into a North vs. South issue serves no good purpose. Besides, polls consistently showed a majority of Americans opposed the bailout. This southerner opposed the bailout and never gave one thought to the automakers here in Alabama. Regardless, there are GM, Chrysler and Ford dealers across the state. Many Alabamians work at these dealerships and for companies that supply them. Many more Alabamians drive the cars they sell. If any one of the automakers fails it would affect jobs here.
But I think there's something else at work here. The UAW has long tried to unionize the automobile plants in the South. And has failed miserably:
The southern auto belt from South Carolina to Texas, home to eight German, Japanese, or Korean plants (plus three more under construction), is right-to-work country. In these states, workers can't be compelled to join a union or pay dues, and not many are inclined to sign a union card anyway. The result: The UAW has failed miserably to organize workers. No Mercedes, VW, Honda, Toyota, Hyundai (KIA's parent), BMW, or Nissan plant in the South is unionized.
Unionizing these plants is a top priority for UAW. Come January the union is going to get a little help from its Democratic friends in Washington. The Employee Free Choice Act, commonly referred to as "Card Check" would abolish the secret ballot now used when employees vote on unionization:
The act would effectively strip workers of the protection of secret ballots in union certification elections. Replacing the privacy of the voting booth, workers would be asked to publicly sign cards indicating support for a union, exposing them to harassment and intimidation. Unions could badger workers repeatedly, at work and at home, to sign a card acquiescing to representation and, in most cases, employers would have limited ability to give workers their side of the story.
Thus making it easier, and cheaper, to drag these plants down to Detroit's level and, of course, increase union dues. Barack Obama and congressional Democrats support this legislation (see contribution figures above) and when the new Congress takes over in January it will be a priority (see contribution figures above). The legislation will certainly be opposed by most Republicans, including the ones who voted against the bailout. It serves UAW's purpose to paint the senators as anti-union, anti-little guy, anti-America, possibly gaining sympathy from the voters and intimidating fence-sitters in Congress - although workers in the South might not be intimidated. Kathy Ward works for Nissan in Smyrna, Tennessee:
"Some were wholehearted for the union, I was wholehearted against," she recalled of the last union vote in 2001.
"I don't need anyone to speak my mind for me. And I certainly don't want to pay someone to do it for me."
One could take a look at what's happening today with the Big Three automakers and come to the conclusion Kathy Ward has a point. Bottom line though, UAW wants this legislation passed and has paid big money to get it done. Demonizing those who might stand in the way could serve a greater purpose down the road. And framing the debate as North vs. South could be nothing more than a calculated scheme to further serve that purpose. That would be an ulterior motive.