This sudden fixation on competitiveness is a sham. Contrary to widely circulated claims that UAW members make an average of $73 per hour, union wages are, in fact, already in line with nonunion salaries at foreign-owned US plants. In 2007 the average UAW member made about $28 per hour, while the average American Honda or Toyota worker made $20 to $26 per hour; a new UAW hire earns as little as $14 per hour. It's UAW wages and benefits that built the American middle class, and cutting what's left of them risks plunging the country deeper into recession.
The concentration on workers' wages is not matched by outrage over executive salaries in the financial industry, recipient of a much larger bailout:
Where was the devotion to fiscal rectitude when Congress passed a $700 billion bailout for the financial sector? ...While the average CEO of a large US corporation makes about $12 million a year in salary, bonuses and stock options, his Japanese equivalent carts home a lean $1.3 million. If Congress is serious about making failed industries globally "competitive," let's start with a 90 percent pay cut for corporate executives. Don't hold your breath waiting for one.
Despite their rhetoric about "trickle down" economics, the Republicans are not interested in workers becoming part of the middle class. Instead, their goal is to make non-union salaries the standard. If all auto workers earned the same, the United Auto Workers would be irrelevant. The conclusion of the editorial is right on target:
For all the talk from Senate Republicans (and some Democrats) about fiscal responsibility, the reluctance to rescue autoworkers isn't based on economic principles of even the conservative sort. It's political and class warfare, pure and simple. "Crisis is when good things happen," Corker said during the bailout negotiations, "when you make people do things." What Senate Republicans wanted, however, was not to retool the ailing auto industry but rather, as one of their internal memos put it, to "take their first shot against organized labor, instead of taking their first blow from it."
Note the smug satisfaction of Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee at the prospect of making the workers "do things." He'd love for unionized laborers at American plants to earn no more than non-unionized workers at foreign-owned plants. The CEOs at the Nissan plant in his state would love it, too.