The fiercest opposition to the loan proposal — and nearly a third of the 35 votes against ending debate on the deal — came from Southern Republicans, and the ringleaders of the opposition all come from states with a major foreign auto presence. Not coincidentally, nearly all of those states — except Kentucky — are also “right-to-work” states, which means no union contracts for most of the employees at the foreign plants. The Detroit bailout fell victim to a nasty confluence of home-state economic interests and anti-union sentiment among Republicans.
This week Southern Republicans had a chance to go to bat for foreign automakers while simultaneously busting a union. At a hearing last week, Corker explained that his constituents “have a tough time thinking about us loaning money to companies that are paying way, way above industry standard to workers.” Which may explain why his proposed alternative to the loan agreement between Congress and the White House would have required the United Auto Workers to agree to significant wage cuts next year, based on a spurious claim that union workers earn significantly more than non-union workers.
Even George W. Bush’s White House didn’t push to crush the UAW the way Corker and his buddies did, say Democrats involved in the negotiations with the administration. “It was all about the unions,” one senior Democratic aide said. “This is political payback for lots of things, and probably even more to come.” Labor officials expect Republicans to keep taking shots at unions whenever they can. “This cynical stance they took last night — they’re willing to jeopardize 3 million jobs so they could gain some advantage in their war against unions — is appalling,” said Bill Samuel, the chief lobbyist for the AFL-CIO.
As the Republican Party consolidates in the South, the fight this week could turn out to be a preview of many battles to come over Barack Obama’s economic plans. If those plans involve the domestic auto industry, the GOP pushback will come from somewhere down I-65, the new auto corridor that runs from Kentucky south to Alabama. Expect to hear more not just from the very vocal Bob Corker, but from the rest of a core group of Southern senators whose bread is buttered by the Japanese, Germans and Koreans.
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