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The GM Strike and the Goddam South

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The United Auto Workers has convened a meeting of the leaders of all its General Motors locals today to go over the deal that it has reached with GM. If the local leaders give it the OK, it will be sent to the union’s nearly 50,000 GM workers for an up-or-down vote.

One crucial point about GM’s position during the negotiations was that the company didn’t emphasize the need to keep costs down due to foreign competition. Rather, it said it couldn’t raise its costs—by, for instance, making its permanent temp workers actual employees, entitled to full pay—because of the competition it faced from foreign automakers’ factories here in the United States—specifically, in the South.

Sad to say, when companies that are unionized in their home countries—Volkswagen, Mercedes, Nissan, and the like—open factories in the USA, they put them in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, and the handful of other states that have a centuries-long history of opposition to paid labor (decently paid, or paid at all). Those four states are among the only six in the United States that have never passed minimum-wage laws of their own. A German union official who served on the board of one such company (thanks to codetermination) once told me that in locating its overseas plants, the choice often came down to whether China or the U.S. South would cost less when all costs were factored in. Frequently, the South won.

In essence, what the UAW is confronted with, and is trying to overcome, is the same dilemma that Franklin Roosevelt tried to address by raising Southern living standards with the TVA. It’s confronted with the same house-divided economy that the North and Abraham Lincoln once tried to extirpate. It’s confronted with the same economy that the benighted white Southern leadership has fought to keep low-wage since 1619.

Where’s Sherman’s army when we need it?

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