Fred Barnes compares the noble and non-union automakers of the South with the bloated slackers of Detroit:
The southern auto industry mocks Detroit. The transplants make money and aren’t asking for help from Washington.
They aren’t asking for help from Washington because they are getting it from the states. For example, we learned recently that “Alabama has given more in tax subsidies per job for non-union jobs at foreign automakers plants in Alabama than Detroit is asking to save union jobs for American auto manufacturers.” The states are also making critical environmental and other concessions to the foreign auto makers.
Some argue that doesn’t count:
Embarrassed by the success of the foreigners, the Big 3 carmakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) claim the tax and other “incentives” the transplants get from state and local governments in the South are no different from the subsidies they’re seeking in Washington. But that’s not quite true. “There’s a big difference between a subsidy and an incentive,” says Michael Randle, president of Southern Business and Development and an expert on the southern auto industry. “A subsidy pays to keep jobs. An incentive pays to bring them. If you’re paying to keep them, it means somebody wants to leave.”
I’d say in both cases companies are asking for government help to keep costs down and remain competitive, so IMO it’s a meaningless distinction.
Barnes concedes that the foreign manufacturers pay decent wages because of the unions. However …
The UAW, of course, is partly responsible for lofty non-union wages, though the threat of a successful UAW organizing drive is remote. A union workforce doesn’t fit the business model pursued by the transplants. They dislike inflexible union work rules, grievances, an adversarial relationship between management and labor, indeed any intermediary between plant managers and workers at all. And they especially hate strikes.
Does he think unions are organized by management? Does he think the Detroit automakers like unions and wouldn’t abolish unions in a heartbeat if they had the power to do so? That’s just weird.
If the non-union workers in the southern plants, who are getting good wages because there are unions, choose not to organize unions that’s their business, but the fact remains that they benefit for free from the union dues being paid by GM workers in Detroit. And of course state laws in some places make it damn hard to organize unions.
But may I also say that I am leery of elites like Fred Barnes, or Mickey Kaus, or anyone whose employment doesn’t involve getting dirt under their nails, speaking for the happy workers of Tennessee or Kentucky or Japan.
I don’t think unions are perfect. They’ve suffered from corruption and stupidity like any other human institution. But without them, the U.S. would be a third-world backwater today.