Leo W. Gerard
By Leo W. Gerard
President Bush took to the TV Friday to announce that he wouldn’t walk past the financial crash of America’s Big Three automakers and do nothing to save their lives.
Refusing resuscitation, Bush said, would be irresponsible during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
A week earlier, 31 GOP Senators, mostly from Southern states, voted to avert their eyes and allow American auto companies to die. They opposed $14 billion in federal loans for GM and Chrysler, revealing that their loyalty lies not with America, not even with their own states, but with South Korea and Germany and Japan.
They are Toyota Republicans.
Toyota has non-union manufacturing plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas – states whose senators led the GOP quest to slay the Big Three American auto manufacturers – Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and John Cornyn, R-Tx. Here’s the Republican from Mississippi, Sen. Thad Cochran, explaining why he’d vote against the loans, “Things have changed. It’s not just the Big Three anymore,” he said, pointing out that Nissan and Toyota employ more Mississippians than General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. But, he said, the foreign companies would not share “in the benefits of that automobile bailout program.”
No. But Mississippi did give Nissan and Toyota more than $650 million to entice them to locate in the state. GM, Ford and Chrysler didn’t share in those benefits, Sen. Cochran.
The Toyota Republicans are all for helping the rich with tax breaks and shelters, and they’re all for aiding foreign auto manufacturers with billions worth of tax forgiveness and government-paid infrastructure improvements.
But their disdain for the working class couldn’t be clearer as they organized defeat of loans to the Big Three under this command: “Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor.”
They haven’t gotten the message sent out by the electorate in November. Voters rejected politicians prolonging the same old policy of protecting themselves and the rich. The nation’s voters want selfless leaders who will perform in the best interests of the entire country. They want change.
Clearly the allegiance of the 31 Republicans who opposed the loan to save GM and Chrysler is not with the United States of America, which would lose 900,000 jobs if just GM closed, and more than 2.1 million if the Big Three did. Those job losses would occur during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. In November, the 11th consecutive month of job losses, another 533,000 people were thrown out of work, swelling the pool of unemployed to 10.3 million. The Toyota Republicans were willing to increase that.
They voted against the interests of their own states as well. Consider what would happen in a few of those Southern States whose senators led the charge against preserving the Big Three. If just GM collapsed, Kentucky would lose 20,000 jobs; Alabama, 21,000; Georgia, 23,000, and Tennessee, 29,400, according to calculations by the Economic Policy Institute.
Sen. Cochran just didn’t think it was right for the U.S. government to aid its auto industry. But apparently he’s fine with foreign governments providing subsidies to the transplant automakers in his state. And, apparently, he’s okay with spending state and federal money to help foreign automakers locate manufacturing plants in the U.S.
Korean and Japanese automakers – including Nissan and Toyota with plants in Cochran’s Mississippi – benefit from manipulation of currencies by their governments, a factor that, according to EPI estimates, reduces their costs by between 10 and 20 percent. In addition, nationalized health care in countries such as Japan and Germany serves as a subsidy.
Also, the Toyota Republican opposed federal money for American companies but supported state and federal money for foreign auto makers estimated at $3.6 billion.
Shelby, for example, got $3 million in federal funds to improve roads near the Hyundai plant in Alabama after the state gave $250 million to the Korean automaker.
Shelby opposed loaning one federal cent to the U.S. automakers, though, telling “Face the Nation” that they should die: “Companies fail every day and others take their place. . . There’s not a bank in this country that would loan a dollar to these companies.”
But for foreign auto companies, his home state of Alabama couldn’t provide enough taxpayer cash – more than three quarters of a billion. In addition to the quarter billion it gave the Korean automaker, it handed another quarter billion to German Daimler for a Mercedes-Benz plant, nearly a quarter billion to Japanese Honda and $29 million to Japanese Toyota.
Similarly, Jim DeMint, another senator who led the Toyota Repubicans’ rebellion against the loans to GM and Chrysler, told the “National Review” recently, “Government should not be in the auto industry.” Yet, his state, South Carolina, got into the auto industry with nearly a quarter billion — $230 million – in gifts to a German auto company – BMW.
The same is true in Kentucky, home of Sen. Mitch McConnell, who said of loans for the Big Three, “Government help is not the only option. It’s not even the best option.” But government help was fine when Kentucky was providing grants for Toyota, which got $371 million from taxpayers since 1986.
It’s clear that the real problem was not a philosophical one. All of these lawmakers were willing to flick free market capitalism out the car window like a cigarette butt if their states could use taxpayer dollars to buy a foreign auto plant. No, what really gags them about the Big Three is that they pay good, middle class wages and benefits as a result of contracts with the United Autoworkers.
Repeatedly, the Toyota Republicans insisted that UAW members bear the brunt of the cost of the bailout. The senators insisted that UAW wages be lowered to match those of non-union auto workers at foreign-owned manufacturers. Toyota Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, wrote an amendment to the bailout bill that would have required UAW members to accept pay cuts by a specific date in 2009. When Republicans defeated the bailout, DeMint blamed that on the union, saying, “It sounds like the UAW blew up the deal.”
The Toyota Republicans then conferred the American auto industry to bankruptcy. They said they favored bankruptcy because it would enable the Big Three to break pledges made in labor contracts and promises for health care and pensions made to retirees. The Toyota Republicans want the wages of American workers pulled down. To them, UAW members making an average of $28 an hour, accounting for less than 10 percent of the cost of a car, are earning just too much money.
The Toyota Republicans did not, however, make that claim about the white collar workers on Wall Street who got this country into the financial fiasco that led to the dire circumstances for automakers. And not just for American ones. Domestic car sales declined by 40 percent last month, but Asian producers’ sales dropped too – by 35 percent.
The average salary of white collar, Wall Street employees — workers in “securities, commodity contracts and investments” — is four times that of those laboring in the rest of the economy. Remember, these are the guys who are so smart that they took down Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, AIG and Lehman Brothers – in less than a year – and ultimately required $700 billion from taxpayers to bail them out.
The top executives of Wall Street banks receive billions of dollars in year-end bonuses. The New York Times detailed those at Merrill Lynch in a story Dec. 17 entitled “On Wall Street, Bonuses, Not Profits Were Real.” In 2006, the firm gave its top executives between $5 billion and $6 billion in bonuses, which means, for example, a trader earning $180,000 a year got a $5 million bonus.
Merrill’s $7.6 billion earnings that year turned out to be bogus. The company’s losses now have exceeded all of the profits it earned over the previous 20 years. To prevent collapse, it sold itself to Bank of America in September. But then, Bank of America took $15 billion of that $700 billion in bailout money. Despite the gift of taxpayer dollars, the CEO of Bank of American has not publicly announced that he will decline a bonus, and Bank of America plans to tell Merrill Lynch workers the amounts of their bonuses beginning Friday, the New York Times reported Thursday.
When those Toyota Republicans voted in favor of providing $700 billion for Wall Street — including both of Tennessee’s senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander; Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell; Georgia’s Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson; South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, and Texas’ Kay Bailey Hutchinson and John Cornyn – none asked for high-paid white collar workers to take pay cuts or give up their million dollar bonuses. There was a feeble attempt to limit the pay of chief executives, but that applied only to firms that received federal money under one particular method, and the treasury decided not to hand out the $700 billion that way.
And no lawmaker asked white collar workers or executives who got billions in bonuses based on false profits to return them.
But those Toyota Republicans want middle class, blue collar workers who don’t get year end bonuses, who don’t celebrate with five-figure dinners, to take wage cuts. They want autoworker pensioners to lose the monthly benefits they earned with a lifetime of labor.
And at no time did those Toyota Republicans suggest that they should cut their own salary or top-notch, government-paid health benefits or pensions. Like the reckless speculators on Wall Street, Congress bears responsibility for the crisis condition of the American economy because it deregulated financial markets.
In 2002, during a downturn in Japan, the House of Councillors reduced the pay of Diet lawmakers by 10 percent, and ended the transportation allowance, portrait-painting and pension given senior lawmakers.
If the Toyota Republicans believe the Japanese way of pay is so great for autoworkers, they should first impose it on themselves.