The fact that Republican senators made their beef with the UAW the foundation of their opposition to the auto bailout bill illustrates two important facts about them.
First, Senate Republicans have both short-term and long-term interests in tarnishing the public's perception of organized labor. They know that the Employee Free Choice Act is on Democrats' agenda for 2009, when a progressive Democrat will occupy the White House and worker-friendly Democratic majorities in Congress will be bigger and stronger. Both sides, Democrats/Labor and Republicans/Management, talk as though passage of the EFCA--which would make it easier for workers to create unions and would put some teeth into existing labor law--would significantly alter the political landscape for a long time to come. And both sides are pouring tons of resources into the fight.
Democrats/Labor recently got a lot of positive attention when laid-off union workers refused to leave their Chicago factory until they were payed the money the company owed them. Combine the public's positive attitude toward unions with some actual success stories about workplace activism and you start building momentum that Republicans/Management can not allow to continue. It would be tremendously helpful for Republicans if they could generate some negative press about unions before the coming EFCA debate.
In a smoke-filled room somewhere in DC, you can bet a scene like this probably played out recently:
"Hmm, any ideas boys?"
"Hey! We could make a big push to blame the auto industry's problems on the UAW! That let's us use the bailout bill's 'industry restructuring' to crush the union and sets us up nicely for the EFCA next year."
"Good idea. How 'bout another glass of Cristal?"Second, the financial conservatives who wear the pants in the Republican Party are philosophically bothered by the very existence of solid, middle-class, blue-collar jobs. I have no way to quantify this. It's just the impression I get from everything they say and do. I believe it seems unnatural to them that folks who aren't "from money," who didn't go to their elite schools, who don't live in their gated communities are able to stand with both feet firmly on the ground and speak out about the direction of this country. I mean, the gall!
Congressional Republicans and their financial-conservative clients would prefer that jobs like those of the unionized autoworkers did not exist. They know that they can't just make the middle class and poor disappear--who would do all the work? So, instead they try to Wal-Martize our economy and hand us all McJobs. And that's the direction nearly all of their proposals are aiming for.
Everyone laughed because they knew exactly what he meant and knew that it was true. Today's national Republicans, especially the senators, are primarily emissaries of the investor class. They operate mostly from the narrow, conservative perspective of great wealth and privilege, their interests primarily about protecting and expanding large fortunes. You can see how the UAW might seem to them like a threat and how they might wish it would just go away.
These are just a few things to keep in mind about where the other side (the haves and have-mores, the elite, Bush's base) is coming from in the auto bailout talks and why they've chosen to make the UAW a boogeyman.
More to follow on some of the specific proposals that are--or should be--on the table.