“The Bush administration took a lot of pride that homeownership had reached historic highs,” Mr. Snow said in an interview. “But what we forgot in the process was that it has to be done in the context of people being able to afford their house. We now realize there was a high cost.”
The question as to why people can't afford homes is one that is seldom asked in the context of the bailout. Lately people have been attacking the United Auto Workers (UAW) as if they were the reason why the major USA-based automakers are failing. In fact, UAW labor comprises aproximately 8% of the cost of a car according to Frank Hammer of La Prensa - San Diego in his excellent 12/19/2008 artice Don’t Let Them Destroy Our Union . The UAW itself has a FAQ on The truth about UAW members and the U.S. auto industry.
So why is the Heritage Foundation arguing in their 11/19/2008 article by James Sherk that the Auto Bailout Ignores Excessive Labor Costs? Because of their class perspective. Their analysis represents the thinking of those who would continue the slide in real wages that is one of the major reasons working people can't pay their mortgages today. The Heritage Foundation, and those whose thinking it represents, don't like the fact UAW workers can retire with decent benefits, have seven weeks vacation, have what Sherk characterizes as "Gold Plated" health care, and so forth.
While the distribution of wealth gets more and more lopsided in this country, and the wealthiest 1% of the country has seen its share of the wealth grow from 10% in 1979 to 21.8% in 2005, the Heritage Foundation demands yet more concessions and give backs, any wage or benefit being ripe for attack from those who only think of stock price and dividends and for whom wages are merely a cost to be contained rather than a family building a life.
When people live on credit because their wages are not meeting expenses, when families no longer have the money to buy the stuff they need for day to day living and are making choices between food and medications, or children can no longer attend college because there is no money available for savings and college costs continue to grow beyond the reach of most of working families, something is structurally wrong, and the priorities of the economic and political system need to be reevaluated in favor of working people and putting people before profits.
As the New York Times article indicated:
Today, millions of Americans are facing foreclosure, homeownership rates are virtually no higher than when Mr. Bush took office, Fannie and Freddie are in a government conservatorship, and the bailout cost to taxpayers could run in the trillions.
The solution to the financial crisis must go beyond bailouts to a struggle to protect and expand labor's right to organize starting with winning the Employee Free Choice Act, to the redistribution of wealth to make our society more economically just, and a commitment by all segments of the society to building a world where working families are not under constant attack for trying to meet their needs. A healthy family life requires vacation, quality affordable health care, lifetime access to affordable education, housing, and a healthy environment. Working families should be able to meet these needs through their labor regardless of the desires of the rich to get yet richer.
The Heritage Foundation says that
UAW workers understandably want to preserve the standard of living to which they have become accustomed, but that standard is not sustainable in a competitive economy. Congress should not tax all Americans in order to maintain UAW workers' affluent lifestyles.
Today the working people of the United States through our tax code and economic structures are maintaining the affluent lifestyles of the wealthiest 1% at levels beyond anything a UAW member has ever dreamed of achieving. According to The Forbes 400 the richest 400 people in the United States have $1.57 trillion -- yes, that is trillion dollars. The richest 400 people alone have more than double the money that is proposed by President-elect Obama for creating 3 million new jobs. You might want to read that again and think about its implications next time you hear that union members need to give up their vacations and health care.
The answer to the financial crisis does not lie in making workers more productive, cutting wages, cutting government services, or layoffs. The answer to the financial crisis lies in increasing the democratic nature of our economic system, redistributing the wealth through tax changes, guaranteeing a living wage that will support working families in a healthy life, providing quality affordable health care and housing for all, and in an age of rapid change providing access to lifelong education for all. Peace is a prerequisite for all of this, along with a green economy, infrastructure that supports the needs of the current population, an end to all forms of racism, and policies that are pro-immigrant regardless of legal status.