Detroit, Mich. — For 30 years, politicians and media pundits in Detroit have urged the Big Three to bite the bullet, reform the entitlement culture of Big Unions, and eschew short-term fixes to put the companies on firm footing for the future. Change you can believe in, you might say.
But this week, when Senate Republicans responsibly demanded reform from domestic automakers in return for their constituents’ dollars, Detroiters reverted to type. Heads went into the sand, fingers pointed, and wagons circled. Denial, as the saying goes, is not just a river in Egypt. Press, pundits, and pols spoke with one voice in condemning, not the United Auto Workers for stubbornly refusing to sign on to fundamental reform, but Senators who prescribed the tough medicine the auto industry needs for its long-term health.
Instead of concluding “Patient, heal thyself.” Detroiters shouted back at Washington: “You owe us!”
“But why are these senators unhappy?” screamed the clueless Detroit Free Press in its front page headline Thursday. Senators like Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) had made crystal clear why all week long. “We are reviewing the auto bailout language from the House, but at first glance it appears to be weak and lacking the. . . conditions a bankruptcy judge might require to ensure that these companies become viable and sustainable into the future,” said Corker in plain English.
But Free Press reporters heard an evil, anti-union conspiracy. “Certainly this defeat was payback for the UAW’s traditional support of Democratic candidates,” wrote columnist Ron Dzwonkowski, echoing Detroit media across the city.
Rep. John Dingell, (D., Mich.), who has bristled at critics’ suggestions that his stance against the Iraq war is unpatriotic, denounced Republicans Friday as traitors. “Senators from states where the international automakers do considerable business unpatriotically blocked a bill,” he thundered.
“Senate Republicans never came to the table,” lied Senator Debbie Stabenow on Friday, after the United Auto Workers single-handedly blew up a Corker compromise that had received support from both sides of the aisle as well as from automakers and bondholders.
Incredibly, the union refused to accept a cut in wages and benefits from $73 to $55 an hour (still higher than the $48-an-hour figure in non-union, foreign-owned U.S. plants) by 2009 instead of 2011 (by contract) which would still have made them among the best-paid hourly workers in America.
Free Press columnist Tom Walsh whined that southern GOP senators should cough up $14 billion in public money because “GM donated $400,000 to the American Red Cross 2005 Hurricane Relief Fund” after Hurricane Katrina — as if a natural disaster and the man-made disaster hitting Detroit are the same thing.
We’re entitled. We’re victims. You owe us.
Just two years ago, Walsh applauded a speech by UAW chief Ron Gettelfinger in which the UAW chief said the world is changing “demanding new and farsighted solutions — and we must be an integral part of developing those solutions.”
“This is revolutionary stuff,” wrote Walsh.
The revolution came knocking this week — and Walsh, Gettelfinger & co. slammed the door and hid under the bed.