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Labor unions decline in the US and so goes the economy

Labor unions decline in the US and so goes the economy

The declining middle class and rising unemployment have eroded consumer buying power and will eventually effect the profit margins and income to the top 1%. Labor unions have consistently made concessions to corporations that effectively make it impossible for US workers to afford the very products they produce. Despite a culture that presents high wages as unsustainable and pushes the inevitability of working more for less, it is possible to pay good wages and still be successful as proven by the comparison of German auto manufacturers and their US based factories.

But the case of German automakers — BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen — tells a different story. Each company produces vehicles not only in Germany, but also in “transplant” factories in the U.S. The former are characterized by high wages and high union membership; the U.S. plants pay lower wages and are located in so-called “right-to-work” (anti-union) states.

It turns out that “inevitability” has nothing to do with the differing conditions; the salient difference is that, in Germany, the automakers operate within an environment that precludes a race to the bottom; in the U.S., they operate within an environment that encourages such a race.

Sales and profitability

In 2010, over 5.5 million cars were produced in Germany, twice the 2.7 million built in the United States. Average compensation (a figure including wages and employer-paid benefits) for autoworkers in Germany was 48.97 Euros per hour ($67.14 US), while compensation for auto work in the United States averaged $33.77 per hour, or about half as much as in Germany, all according to 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Germany-based auto producers, the U.S. is a low-wage country.

Despite German companies’ relatively high labor costs in their home markets, these firms are quite profitable. An examination of the latest publically available financial statements of BMW, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz cars), and Volkswagen reveals strong sales and profits even in the midst of the currently weak consumer markets in Europe and the U.S. In 2010, for example, BMW, produced 1.48 million cars (63 percent of them in Germany), and earned a before-tax profit from its automotive division of 3.88 billion Euros. The Mercedes-Benz car division of Daimler, likewise produced 1.35 million cars (72.4 percent in Germany) in 2010, and earned a before-tax profit of 4.65 billion Euros.

Even government sector unions make concessions and in a recent memo from Commissioner Bob Main he thanks the unions. “I applaud the unions that have settled their contracts with very minimal raises…” As labor accepts less and less pay their buying power diminishes and so to the local and national economy.

Faultlines highlights the story of Boeing’s decisions to move manufacturing from the unionized Washington to the right-to-work South Carolina. Coos Bay resident and Boeing VP, Jim Albaugh is quoted in the video below.

A new battle has emerged in 2011 as Republican governors have taken on public sector unions, in some cases stripping them of rights that have been in place for 50 years. It is part of a trend that is happening in key swing states and may weaken democratic voting strength in next year’s presidential election.

But organised labour has fought back hard. In Wisconsin, unions occupied the state capitol as 100,000 protesters took to the streets. In Ohio, voters overturned a law that was intended to greatly reduce the right that unions have in that state to bargain collectively.

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About magix

When my oldest son, a Marine, left for war and crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq in March 2003 I started writing my conscience. After two tours that young combat veteran’s mother is now an ardent peace activist and advocate for social, environmental and economic justice. MGx has matured since those early vents and ramblings and now covers relevant and important local and regional matters in addition to national and global affairs.


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One Response to "Labor unions decline in the US and so goes the economy"

  1. Gary A Mickelson.  January 20, 2012 at 8:38 AM

    It just keeps getting worse Mary. I cant believe out County Govt. is getting out of control. I worked in the woods Industry for about 14 years and we gave up many pay raises to help the cause. I also put 23 years into the County Road Dept. And we gave up many pay raises to help out. It makes me sad and pisses me off to see what they are doing now. Pardon my English. They are so out of control It makes me feel sick. I have a number of friends still there with the Road Dept. I feel so bad for them. I wish I was still there and fighting with them. Thanks for all the updates as I read your column every chance I get. Thank you for being there for everybody. I really appreciate the work that you put into this for our community. Thanks. Gary


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