Union Discussion (1)

I’m probably going to get myself in trouble with this one. I would like to address the concept of unions in this country. I believe in putting the bottom line up front. That way there is no guessing my point of view. I am not a fan of labor unions. Now, that is my point of view.

Early unions or guilds in America played important parts in the struggle for independence. Just one example is that the “hosts” at the Boston Tea Party were members of the carpenters union. It is natural for us here in America to equate unions with independence.

There are few people who have studied American history would argue that the organized labor movement back in the early to mid 19th century was necessary. Early factories were a hold-over from the sweat-shops of England. Child labor laws and safety regulations were non-existent. In the late 19th century the general attitude was that labor had no rights at all. Anytime there was a strike, it was a mere rubber-stamp exercise to get a federal court injunction to end a strike. If the strike did not end, federal troops were called in to break it.

In 1902, the anthracite coal miners as members of the United Mine Workers struck and closed down all coal mining for the entire summer. The only reason the strike lasted as long as it did was because the mine owners refused to agree to arbitration. President Roosevelt intervened by appointing a board of arbitration. The strike was over in five days.

In those early days, there was no attitude of commonality of effort between labor and management. Management failed to understand that without labor, there was no company. Labor failed to understand that without a profitable business there would be no wages. The battle-lines were drawn and they were inviolate.

Those attitudes, at least on the side of management, have changed. Fifty years ago, I remember my dad, who was a trucking executive tell me of some of the early days of Teamsters organization in the 1940’s. Many of the smaller trucking companies would allow drivers to use company vehicles to and from home. After the Teamsters came in, that perk was not written into the labor contract and the members suffered for it. The trucking company owners/managers had been more like co-workers that bosses. The union forced an antagonistic relationship on all parties.

Looking at unions of today, they are losing membership at unprecedented rates. There are a number of reasons for this, but probably the most significant one is that they have been too successful. The large salaries the unions have negotiated for their members force the retail of those goods produced by union members to become unaffordable to the average purchaser. With extraordinarily high salaries, entire industries are finding it much more cost effective to move manufacturing out of the country, thereby depriving American workers of any salary.

When you go to the department store, or the mega-stores, it is nearly impossible to find American made products. Wal-Mart, which used to pride itself on selling American products, has given up and now sells a very large percentage of merchandise from China, India, and Indonesia because the same American made products just cost too much for their customers.

The United States used to have the corner on the high-tech manufacturing market. This is no longer the case. How many of you have called a Dell Computer representative and spoken to a native American-English speaking technician? If you have, it was a long time ago.

Now the big three auto makers are going to Congress with their collective hands out because they are in serious danger of going under. What are they planning to use the money for, reorganizing, re-tooling, or propping up their union obligations? The extreme success that the unions have had in negotiating wages and retirement benefits has forced the big three to a position of unsupportability. That is not to say the big three front offices have not made their share of mistakes. In addition to routinely caving to the unions, not having the ability to quickly switch manufacturing emphasis based on existing conditions has a devastating effect on profitability.

Staying with the auto industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is so powerful and has such a strangle hold on the industry that the front office boys have to go to Congress with their hands out because the UAW wants to make sure their flow of cash continues unabated. Now, Congress is going to give billions of our dollars to the big three and we will be saddled with this enormous debt for the rest of our lives and probably for the rest of my grandchildren’s lives. To paraphrase Everett Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about real money.”

Well friends, we are way past real money here. It is time the unions play by real world rules and not rules for children who have to have everything handed to them. I have been haranguing on the UAW, but that is not the only union in great need of a wake-up call.

Probably the most powerful union in the United States is the National Education Association (NEA). This union has such a strangle hold on the education of our children that parents have little or no say over what goes on in the classroom. However, that is a subject for another posting.

As always, your comments and discussion are welcome.


Our Uncontrollable Debt

We are in the middle of an economic crisis. Wow! Is that a shock to any of you? Let me start off by saying that I am no economist. I’m just an average guy who is trying to look at this situation in the most logical way possible.

Here is the way I see it. In the mid ‘60s, President Johnson brought about the Great Society which, among other things, sought to alleviate the “crushing weight of poverty.” He wanted to solve these problems with a new form of “creative federalism.” Those of you who regularly read this column will remember my posting of 21 Oct of this year:

So, what did Johnson mean by “creative federalism?” In his speech, he urged the audience to “join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty…. To join in the battle to build the Great Society, to prove that our material progress is only the foundation on which we will build a richer life of mind and spirit.” These are wonderful thoughts and goals; no one will debate that. However, Johnson’s intent was to make those goals achievable through government action, not through the sweat and perseverance of the individual. As a result, the welfare rolls jumped drastically as government agencies tried to “distribute the wealth”….

The slippery slope was firmly set in place.

Let’s fast forward now. Under President Carter, the Community Reinvestment Act was passed. This was a law that forced lenders to violate good commercial practices by making loans that were, at best, questionable and at worst, unsupportable. The slippery slope had just developed a more pronounced down-angle.

Once again, let’s fast forward. Under President Clinton, even more disadvantaged borrowers were able to take out mortgages to achieve the “American Dream,” irrespective of their ability to support that dream. President Clinton “encouraged” lenders to even further violate good business practices and make more money available to these disadvantaged borrowers. Remember the mantra that there are more homeowners in America than ever before? Did anyone in Washington ever bother to look to see whether these homeowners could afford the “American Dream” they had achieved?

One of the great joys in my life has been the accomplishment of a goal through hard work. When I want something enough to work for it, the satisfaction that comes through achievement makes all the effort worth it. The message sent by the federal government to the so-called “disadvantaged” was that it did not want them to feel left out; therefore serious shortcuts were made available to them. Nobody bothered to tell them that they had to work to support their dream.

Once again, let’s fast forward to today. We have had the collapse of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, and a host of others. The way I see it, there are two culprits in this debacle. The first is the federal government which had the arrogance to interfere with the free market system. This was wrong for many reasons. The Founders were wise enough to keep the federal government out of the free market. I am no constitutional scholar, but I am aware of only one situation where the Constitution allows the federal government to get involved in commerce within the US, and that is when there is a dispute between the States (some of you scholars can correct me on that one).

The other culprit is business and industry allowing the federal government to get away with their meddling. Truly astute business professionals should have been able to foresee the coming economic collapse caused by the meddling of the federal government and stopped it.

Now we are soon to be saddled with over one trillion dollars worth of debt that could have been avoided with the foresight of a sophomore economics student. What makes this situation even worse is that both the Republicans and the Democrats are fighting each other to see who can give which industry more of our money. The latest polls show that the overwhelming majority of Americans bitterly object to the bail-outs taking place, but Congress seems to be made up of people whose wisdom is so superior that they do not need to listen to their constituents.

There are a few brave Congressmen and Senators who have attempted to stand up against this tax against our future, but not enough. We have about a year to put together a slate of candidates that will decisively overturn this rampant growth of our debt, debt that is a direct result of government interference in the marketplace.

This interference in the marketplace is not limited to the front office; it extends down to the union halls and the massive corruption and power flexing that exists in the union hierarchy. That will be the subject of my next posting.

As always, I welcome your comments and discussion.


The New Administration

We have a new administration due to take charge on 20 January. For those of us of the Conservative persuasion, it was a disappointing election season. A large number of people were disenchanted with the Republican ticket that was foisted on us by the main-stream-media. Many of these people stayed at home instead of voting for the “lesser of two evils.” Because of this, we may deserve what we will have to endure for at least the next two years.

There is a fairly wide variety of opinions on how we Conservatives are to approach the new regime. Numerous pundits have advocated sitting by and give the new administration and their Congressional Stooges a chance; that they may surprise us (oops, did I give myself away?). I am not cut from that cloth. I firmly believe that it is our responsibility to hold their collective feet to the fire. Obama made a lot of very liberal and socialistic claims during the campaign but now that he has been elected he seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. He is keeping Gates as SECDEF, but his choice for attorney general, Eric Holder, is an avowed gun grabber.

When you step back and examine where he came from you have to realize that his political roots are definitely not conservative but are they truly liberal? They may be best described as opportunistic. The political machine that spawned Obama, Chicago, is opportunistic to the extreme. Looking at the “auctioning off” of Obama’s Senate seat, this should not shock the astute political observer. I was gratified to see that Obama’s organization took on the investigation of how much contact his people had with Governor Blagojevich concerning the auction. On the surface, the fast reaction of the Obama organization is laudable; do I believe any findings they will “uncover,” unlikely. (Refer back to the second sentence of this paragraph.)

I do not intend to give the Obama administration a “pass” for one instant. I urge all Conservatives to adopt the same attitude.

As always, I welcome comments/discussion.

The Increasing Terrorist Threat

Over the last several days the world has witnessed incredible carnage in the name of religion. Fox News reports “Indian police said Sunday that the only surviving gunman told them he belongs to the Pakistani militant group Lakshkar-e-Taiba. The group is seen as a creation of the Pakistani intelligence to help fight India in the disputed Kashmir region. Another group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has also operated in Kashmir. Both are reported to be linked to Al Qaeda.” In that part of the world, religion is inextricably linked to politics and foreign policy.

We are also hearing reports that Muslims across the Middle East are condemning the violence which has killed more than 170 people. These “conscientious Muslims” are afraid that the violence will tarnish the image the world has of Muslims. I find this attitude astounding to the point of hilarity. Palestinians have been shelling Israeli settlements for years. The only reason they have not amassed the kill rate of the Lakshkar-e-Taibi is because they are so inept. They keep shooting small rockets into the Israeli settlements with no idea where they will land.

When you compare the average Muslim extremist attack with that undertaken in Mumbai last week, it is like comparing the bush league with the majors.

The BBC reported that the planning for the Mumbai attacks was extensive. At least one ship was hijacked and used as a mother ship to transport the attackers close to shore. They then went ashore in dinghies in two to four-man teams to conduct their attacks. The targets were preselected. All indications are that the attacks were rehearsed and well choreographed. The attackers were very well armed for the selected targets to affect maximum casualties. While a large number of people were killed, it doesn’t look like those killed were completely random victims. The attackers were specifically looking for people with American and British passports. They also specifically targeted the residence of an Israeli priest who had frequent Israeli guests.

This attack shows a high degree of planning and coordination, possibly with the complicity of elements of Pakistani Intelligence.

On the other hand, looking at the average Muslim extremist; young Muslims, mostly young men, are more than willing to strap on bomb vests and blow themselves up along with anyone who happens to be close by. But this is in the name of – well, I don’t know what they are trying to accomplish – I guess they are trying in some perverted way to advance Muslim principles. In my view this is a prime example of cowardice, not on the part of the suicide bombers, but on their handlers. If it is so glorious to die for Allah, why are they recruiting the young, passionate believers? Why do they not prove their devotion and blow themselves into the arms of their 72 virgins?

While fanatics can and often do create havoc, they are not the major concern for America; rather, it is the calculating and organized groups that may or may not be affiliated with Al Qaeda. However, certainly Al Qaeda has been an inspirational influence in the world of Islamic terrorism. The planning that took place before the Mumbai attacks reflect the thoroughness of the planning and execution of the 9/11 attacks. I’m sure the planning did not take nearly as long, but it was certainly as thorough. This shows that the enemy is still willing and capable to undertake the requisite planning for a successful attack.

What really worries me is that the exact same scenario can be used right here on American shores with only a few alterations to the plans. These highly coordinated groups would like nothing better than to conduct a successful attack against a high profile event.

With a change in administration and a change in national emphasis the next couple of years will tell how the world of terrorism views the United States. If we are viewed as ineffective or uncommitted to the war on terror we can expect renewed targeting of US assets, if not on US soil itself. Vigilance and pressure on the terrorists is the only thing that will keep their attacks from our soil.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments. This posting can also be viewed at: http://carpentersmate.blogspot.com.