Back in the late 1970s, when the now-legendary Lee Iacocca took the reins at Chrysler, he was reputed to have told the union bosses, “Look, boys, I’ve got a shotgun to your head. I’ve got thousands of jobs at seventeen bucks an hour. I’ve got no jobs at twenty.”
And that’s when most Americans would have loved to be making $17 an hour.
Iacocca, of course, had put his money where his mouth was, taking over the ailing corporation for a salary of $1 per year and slashing management pay, while borrowing what today seems like a paltry sum of a couple of billion dollars. By 1983, the company had paid it all back, returning a tidy profit of $350 million to the taxpayer coffers.
Fast forward to 2012. Barack Obama has bailed out Chrysler and General Motors — or, more accurately, bailed out the United Auto Workers (UAW) by handing them ownership of the bonds held by the rightful investors — to the tune of somewhere between $80 billion and $100 billion. Both companies are still struggling, although to hear Obama tell the tale, they are a great American success story, thanks to his largess with our money.
Obama, who has not stopped campaigning since first declaring his candidacy five years ago (in all fairness, it is all the man knows how to do), just happened to be on the road again — in Detroit, of all places — on the very day the legislature was passing and Gov. Rick Snyder was signing historic legislation to make Michigan a right-to-work state. And a month after Obama himself had won the state handily in his own re-election bid, with massive help from the UAW, no less. Who could ever have imagined?
For Michiganders, this was do-or-die time. Detroit, a once-mighty industrial city of 1.8 million people in its heyday, has been reduced to a shell of its former self, gasping along with a population of 800,000, many of them poor and unemployed. Entire sections of the city resemble the worst of parts of the Bronx or bombed-out Beirut in the 1970s. Motor City, as it was once known, is now a ghetto where boarded-up homes can be purchased for $1,000 as entire neighborhoods sit abandoned.
As the city disintegrated before their eyes, it is as though the liberals who ran the place for the last 50 years could not see what was happening. Good jobs, building American cars, went elsewhere. Ford started building some of its products in Mexico. GM increasingly utilized Canadian labor across the northern border. And Lee Iacocca’s beloved Chrysler got passed around from one foreign owner to another (currently the Italian company Fiat).
Meanwhile, German, Japanese and Korean automakers began setting up shop in business-friendly states, paying good wages, with good benefits, for building good cars in places like Indiana, Tennessee and South Carolina, states that do not require a worker to pay dues to a union to get a job. But in Michigan, the UAW continued along as if it were still the 1950s and they were the only people who could build automobiles.
In its post-war glory years, the UAW could dictate contract terms to the management of the “Big Three.” After all, where else could Americans — or anyone else — go to buy a decent car in those days? Europe and Japan were in rubble. Most of Asia, including Korea, was still a backwater. Detroit was Motor City. Not anymore. Despite the nostalgic TV commercials advertising Chrysler (“imported from Detroit”), Motor City has become a social and fiscal basket case, thanks largely to union greed.
It is long past time to break the stranglehold labor unions have had on the public and private sectors. Despite the re-election of Barack Obama, the tide is turning against union thuggery. In Wisconsin, the legislature and the governor curtailed the power of unions last year, with Gov. Scott Walker surviving a recall attempt to emerge more popular than ever. And now Gov. Snyder and the Republican legislature in Michigan have done the unimaginable: they have turned Michigan into a right-to-work state.
Twenty-four down, 26 to go.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at email@example.com and/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.