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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ron Walters: The Big Three and White Nationalism's Last (?) Stand

Ron Walters does an analysis of the continuation of the Civil War as it was played out by the right wing Southern Republican Senators in their obstruction of the loan to the America’s Big Three automakers. Their defeat of a congressional solution to this immediate crisis was nothing more than a union busting tactic that placed the nation’s economy in further peril. That the UAW supported Obama was not lost as a part of their planning. Also, as Walters points out, neither was the fact that it was “their blacks” who left debt peonage for the industrial sector. For these Senators their opposition was nothing less than the revenge of a white nationalism lost. RGN

The Radical Right Rides Again
By Ron Walters

Think about it. A group of Southern, right wing, Republican Senators have stopped the Senate from approving a package of financial assistance to the big three auto companies who employ directly over 150,000 workers, but affects 3 million including the suppliers, dealers and etc. This kind of cold blooded action on their part strikes me as just the kind of narrowly conservative, mean-spirited and reckless decision making that the nation voted against in electing Barack Obama.

The issue was that in the Senate negotiations over the $14 billion package for Chrysler, Ford and General Motors, Republicans, led by Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, developed a four point plan wherein three of the four major concessions were to be made by auto workers. It directed the United Auto Workers to agree that their wages would be brought in line with those of Nissan and Volkswagen; take half of their $23 billion Voluntary Benefit Association fund in stock options; and to eliminate payments to workers receiving nearly full salaries up to four years after retirement. Some of these proposals had previously been made by the corporate auto heads, so Corker was doing their bidding as well. The UAW that had already given up billions of dollars to the auto industries to keep them solvent, said no.
Nevertheless, Corker and his party had lots of political interests here. Ron Gettlefinger, head of the UAW, charged Corker with trying to break the union and bring it into line with non-union auto makers in his own state. Second, the UAW was also a target because of its role as a strong constituency of the Democratic party. Then, in Tennessee, Nissan and Volkswagen have plants and the latter’s headquarters is in Nashville and another Republican leader, Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, has argued that the companies should face bankruptcy. He has foreign auto makers in his state such as Toyota, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai that he may be defending.

To come clean, I drive a Toyota because of its reputation for dependability, but I am also aware of the strides American manufacturers have made with respect to quality. In fact, what constitutes an “American car” today is questionable because of the substantial integration of auto parts from foreign countries into American cars. American cars cost about $2,000 more to make, largely because of factors such as health care, retirement, and dealership structure, but the governments of foreign auto makers absorb most of these costs. However, American elected officials who follow the pure capitalist model while other countries support their industries in a globalized world, contribute to the reason why we are losing out in a number of industries. The big exception is agriculture where government subsidizes corporate farmers. But no one demanded that corporations which received some of the $700 billion in funds to cut the salaries of their workers, or return benefits.

What these Southern Senators seem to be saying is that they don’t care whether there is a viable American auto industry. The auto industry helped African Americans to escape the oppression of the Southern oligarchy and by unionization, to earn a decent living that could support their families for the first time. And because of the historical resentment by the oligarchy for this fact, they have waged an unrelenting and brutal war against the unionization of agricultural labor in the South that would help liberate labor in that region. Under the peonage system, for a good part of the 20th century, whites paid black laborers little, very often nothing and were resistant to government social services or corporate wages that competed with wages in their region. A low wages economy has unified Republican corporate leaders and Southern barons.

I still have this image in my mind of House Republican leaders marching lock-step to Impeach Bill Clinton for a minor offense, while his favorable ratings in surveys of the American people was at 85%, clearly suggesting they did not want Impeachment to occur. But the radical Right didn’t care because their narrow ideology was more important. No doubt, when Barack Obama recalled many of these kind of events, it created the rationale for his statement that America should “turn the page.”

Dr. Ron Walters is the Distinguished Leadership Scholar, Director of the African American Leadership Center and Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland College Park. His latest book is: The Price of Racial Reconciliation (University of Michigan Press)

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