When the Red State Senators circled the wagons and declared all-out war on the unions, their unrelenting determination to wound the UAW — even if if they had to destroy the entire economy to do so — baffled many. Even George Bush and Dick Cheney were left shaking their heads.
But the southern hostility to unionism has a long history. There’s a great post at the Black Commentator that I’ve linked to before, but it talks about how Southerners came to regard "unions" as organizations that wanted to take jobs away from whites and give them to blacks, especially in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:
Today, with wild and thumping pontification, these same bigoted bosses rail against “agitators” causing “dissension” among the “good working people” who stand to “lose their jobs” if “outsiders” wearing union baseball caps invade the sacred soil of the South.
It all sounds so familiar, especially to the insiders: southern Blacks.
When it no longer became "okay" to be openly racist, those sentiments seeped out in hatred of trade unions:
It was during the heyday of the civil rights movement that collective bargaining among public employees was made illegal in all of the Old Confederacy. This was not a historical coincidence.
Barry Goldwater carried five southern states for the GOP in 1964, running against civil rights and for union-busting legislation. This was the debut of the Republican’s Southern Strategy. Today, a white Democrat businessman is often hard to find in Dixie, while in many districts Blacks make up a solid and even overwhelming majority of the Democratic Party vote.
Republican rule is the reason the South remains entangled in the barbed wire of anti-labor legislation, with new bills passing all the time.
In scuttling the Detroit automakers, the Red State Senators got a twofer — they got to strike a blow against the union, but they also get the chance take good jobs away from African American autoworkers.
The Economic Policy Institute recently released a report on how devastating an auto industry collapse would be to African Americans:
Approximately 118,000 African Americans worked in the auto industry in November 2008, down from 137,000 in December 2007 when the recession began.
African Americans earn much higher wages in auto industry jobs than in other parts of the economy, and the loss of these solid, middle-class jobs would be a devastating blow. Hourly wages for African Americans in the motor vehicle industry averaged $17.08 (excluding fringe benefits) in 2007, versus economy-wide average wages for African American of $15.44 per hour.2 African Americans have been particularly hard hit in this recession. The unemployment rate for blacks increased to 11.2% in November, an increase of 2.8 percentage points over the last year, as shown in today’s EPI Jobs Picture. The consequences of an auto industry collapse—which could eliminate up to 3.3 million U.S. jobs, as shown in the Briefing Paper When Giants Fall—would be nothing less than catastrophic for African Americans.
Why is it that the one thing the Republican caucus demanded — for the "health of the industry," we’re told — was that autoworkers take an immediate pay cut? They absolutely would not compromise. Why did they insist on spreading the debunked claim that autoworkers were making $73 an hour, and promulgate it with such spittle-flecked zeal?
Why did the very idea enrage them so?
Meanwhile, AIG is going to pay 168 of its top employees "retention bonuses" of between $96,000 and $4 million this year, yet there were no impassioned speeches by Richard Shelby in the Senate Press Gallery seething with moral indignation.
No, the outrage is saved for blue collar workers on the Detroit assembly line — who just happen to be disproportionately black — who not only aren’t getting bonuses, they’re told they have to be sin eaters for the banking industry and absorb the financial blow caused by Richard Shelby’s disgraced conservative anti-regulatory ideology by taking a wage cut. If not, they lose their jobs as the entire industry goes under.
GM confirmed today it will shut down most North American assembly plants for 30% of first quarter 2009.
Richard Shelby hates the Detroit automakers. He tries to dress his contempt up as concern for "fiscal responsibility" but that’s just Southern code for "you didn’t stand up to the unions, and you pay black people too much money."
His "fiscal responsibility" was nowhere to be found during George Bush’s 8 year budget bust-out. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what he really means.