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February 24, 2014

Senator Corker of Tennessee, a former mayor of Scab City (aka Chattanooga), when workers in a Volkswagen plant in that city were recently readying to vote on whether to be represented by the United Automobile Workers (UAW), went on a campaign of threat and intimidation the likes of which I have never seen nor heard, openly and publicly telling the Volkswagen managers of that plant that if they allowed such a vote to take place and the workforce voted in the UAW Union, then the State of Tennessee and the locality involved might withdraw future financial considerations and even take a look at those being currently distributed to the company. Implicit in such threats were the additional threats to the workers in that plant that if they voted for union representation, they would be persona non grata among their fellow Volunteers and perhaps even lose their jobs. Preposterous! How is a labor election any of his business? Do unions and companies call him up and threaten him his vote in the Senate?
What makes this worse is its history. We have politicians and Chamber of Commerce representatives from all over this country, from hamlets, towns, cities, counties and states who daily parade overseas to beg and cajole foreign companies to come to this country and set up shop in their particular jurisdictions. They come armed with tax holidays, zoning variances, promises of new roads, sewer and water facilities and expanded electrical grids to facilitate the establishment of such plant or plants, and all at zero cost to the foreign corporations being courted, all deals such manufacturers cannot swing at home – either in Nagoya or Munich.
So are these millions of dollars in costs for municipal upgrades free? Hardly. Current citizens pay for them with increased taxes, assessments and/or bonding costs, which sets the old saw that there is no such thing as a free lunch on its head – there is such a thing as a free lunch, and then some – but only if you are a Toyota or Volkswagen manufacturer, for instance. So if you are retired and living in Scab City, all you got out of the deal (when your state and city went to Germany to beg Volkswagen to come to a union-free environment) were increased taxes, increased assessments, increased bonding costs over longer periods, increased traffic, increased crime, increased air pollution – the list is endless. Job? You’re retired; you are not in the market to gain anything but more debt based on all of the above and others too numerous to cite. You, your children and possibly your grandchildren are paying or are liable to pay for the politicians’ promises to foreign manufacturers lured to your turf – big time. What’s in it for you?
That, of course, is not the question. The question is, What’s in it for the Chamber of Commerce and the merchants and others who comprise this group? Paychecks! With millions of new dollars of payroll in town every year, everyone prospers, the story goes, thus justifying the costs of ten or twelve- year freedom from taxes, new roads, sewers, costs of police and fire protection and other goodies given gratis to manufacturers and others lured by your elected representatives and Chamber of Commerce to come to town and make everyone happy.
Really? Who says? Let’s run that fairy tale of coddled foreign corporations and the nirvana they bring to town again, but this time in the real world. With automation and on-time inventory techniques, industrial human payrolls are not that great these days (especially in states such as Tennessee whose right to work and other anti-labor laws severely retard wages paid to labor). There was a lot of human labor and payroll involved when Henry Ford was spewing out Model Ts in automotive history – but that was long before robots performed thousands of routine assembly tasks with minimal human intervention as they do now. So just how big are industrial payrolls these days, and even if substantial, what’s in it for the people who are not working at the Volkswagen plant in Scab City, especially those who may be unemployed or underemployed but still liable to pay more in taxes, assessments and bonding costs for their new and non-paying neighbors from afar to come in and assemble automobiles at cut-rate costs due to taxpayer subsidies which, incidentally, also give them a competitive advantage over American auto assembly companies already here and who are paying full freight. Let’s see now – business extracts money from taxpaying citizens to (largely) make money for (guess who?) business. The C of C gets the money and taxpaying citizens get the bill. Huh? Under the benefit-burden economic theory, those who get the benefit should also get the burden, so if we follow that idea to its dry logical end, then those who stand to benefit (members of the Chamber of Commerce) should take up a collection from their membership to pay off foreign manufacturers to make the local scene and leave those who do not stand to benefit alone. Such innocent citizen-taxpayers, as the kids say these days, do not have any skin in that game.
Far from being a good deal for the citizens of Tennessee and Scab City, to the extent that their politicians have given away the store and made their own citizen-taxpayers (who had no vote on the matter) subsidizers of foreign companies who come into town and unfairly compete with established American companies, it works out to be a good deal for a narrow elite and a bad deal for Tennesseans as well as for Ford, Chrysler and GM, but guess what? It gets worse.
King Corker with his mouth and influence has even roughed up an element of his friends in the “narrow elite.” Local merchants first and foremost want new paychecks in town, and the bigger the better. Big payrolls mean heavier demand for their goods and services in the marketplace and fatter bottom lines. When the labor-hating king successfully threatened both labor and management with consequences if the workforce voted to organize under the UAW, he in the process all but destroyed expectations for better wages since every statistic going shows that union representation results in higher wages – higher wages that could have wound up in the coffers of members of the Chamber of Commerce, his friends and fellow conspirators in this scam of having citizen-taxpayers endure the burden while they enjoy the benefit. The king’s zeal to “keep labor in its place” has gone too far, even under the phony scenario he has (so far) manufactured for public consumption (and in broad daylight). Ideology has trumped reason.
Thus King Corker is hurting both his friends and his enemies. He plainly wants poor citizen taxpayers to shoulder the burden to benefit his friends and even wants to dictate terms of labor contracts workers may have with employers such as Volkswagen, which are none of his business.
Two can play this “threat” game he has initiated. Let’s all back off buying Volkswagen products assembled in Tennessee and agitate for a new election for UAW representation until the king backs off – way off – while at the same time letting Volkswagen dealers and our neighbors know that we are aware of this ongoing travesty.
Finally, I hope the good people of Tennessee will look kindly on his opponent if he files for reelection to the United States Senate. Let him practice his bullying in retirement. GERALD E


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