20 January 2009

The U.S. ... our new Mexico?

Since the advent of agreements such as NAFTA and the WTO, and the rush to "free" trade generally, Canadian workers have worried about having to compete with workers in low-wage countries such as Mexico and China. Who would have thought the threat to auto workers would come from the United States? Industry Minister Tony Clement has said General Motors and Chrysler must reduce their labour costs to U.S. levels if they want to participate in the $4-billion federal bailout. Canadian auto workers could see their wages and benefits cut by $15 to $20 an hour.

The idea is to match the tough demands of the Bush administration bailout that require American-owned plants to get their compensation in line with Japanese-owned plants. That the industry must not just lower wages and benefits but must conform to the non-union Japanese plants suggests the goal is union-busting as much as economy-saving. (Our government's attempt to limit the right to strike for civil servants suggests that might be part of the goal here as well.) One can say with confidence that without union plants setting the standard, the Japanese plants wouldn't even be paying the wages they are now, particularly keeping in mind that a number of the Japanese plants are in the Deep South, where exploiting labour is a tradition. Now, with weakened unions ... well, the bottom's the limit.

It is reasonable to ask workers to make a sacrifice if an industry is accepting welfare. But the U.S., pride of the free market, serving as the excuse for lowering wages is a bit of a comedown. How the mighty have fallen ... and continue to fall.

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