The recent fight over the auto industry rescue package wasn’t what it seemed; there was an undercurrent to the conflict that represented a major political fight to come.
The Republicans turned the fight over the rescue legislation into a proxy war with the UAW. They blamed the UAW for the collapse of the auto industry, ignoring the role of rich executives in driving the big three into the ground. Conservatives used creative math to claim auto workers were overpaid, and they demanded U.S. auto workers accept parity with foreign auto companies (even though those same foreign auto companies are also struggling). Plus, Republicans weren’t demanding pay cuts when it was wealthy Wall Street bankers being bailed out.
Why go after the UAW, though? Why try to portray the problems of the industry–and the big price tag for bailing them out–as the fault of unionized workers?
Because this isn’t about reigning in government spending or preserving free markets. It’s not even about the auto industry. The Republican attack on the UAW was the first shot in a coming fight between Republicans, Democrats and unionized labor over the Employee Free Choice Act.
EFCA is somewhat complicated, and you can read all about it here. Basically, it’s a package of regulations that will make it easier for employees to form unions. Right now, a certain number of employees indicate they want to join a union. Usually, then, the management demands an election, and–if the election is successful–the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) certifies the union.
Unfortunately, the election part of that process allows management to intimidate, threaten, and coerce employees trying to unionize. And even if a union is created, there’s no requirement that a new contract be negotiated between management and the union, allowing management to continue compensating employees in accord with the contract passed before a union was formed.
Basically, if necessary, EFCA removes the management as a middleman. If a certain percentage of employees sign cards saying they want to form a union, the NLRB is required to certify that union’s existence without an election (but employees can still hold an election if they choose to). EFCA allows the union to call for new contract negotiations and provides for federal arbitration if a new contract can’t be agreed upon. It also contains new regulations that will penalize companies who engage in intimidation and union-busting.
In other words, EFCA will allow millions of Americans the opportunity to form a union without having to face intimidation, threats or coercion by their employers.
That would be very bad for Republicans, because unionized workers tend to become Democratic voters. Democrats and labor tend to find themselves on the same side of many battless–fighting for better wages, better benefits, safer and cleaner workplaces, etc.
Plus, Republicans often find themselves on the side of management, weakening the regulation and regulatory agencies that ensure employees get paid fair wages, get decent benefits, have the right to safe, clean workplaces, uphold workplace safety laws, etc. Basically, Republicans want to kill EFCA because it could very well convert millions of working Americans into Democrats.
Remember, labor used to be the backbone of the Democratic Party, similar to how Christian conservatives are the backbone of the Republican Party now. The GOP spent decades trying to weaken unions in order to eliminate the Democratic Party’s middle-class power base; once there was little economic incentive left to be Democrats, Republicans used divisive social issues to drive those low-income voters into the GOP.
So that’s what the attacks on the UAW are about–Republicans want to foster hostility toward unions which will stop the EFCA, thus preventing the GOP from losing working-class voters to the Democratic Party. For Republicans, this is a war for power, and Republicans will allow millions of American workers to suffer in order to desperately cling to whatever political power they have left.