Autoworkers: “I’m Sticking to the Union… Till the Day I Die”

(Welcome, Corner readers, and thanks to Cornerite Iain Murray for his continuing support. Thanks also to Mickey Kaus for linking, with a permalink no less — sorry about the crack below about the Kausfiles template!)

In an article on Slate, Mickey Kaus explains why the Detroit automakers are in trouble:

There are some obvious culprits: shortsighted American managers, schlocky designers, an insular corporate culture. Here’s another: the very structure of Wagner Act unionism. The problem isn’t so much wages as work rules–internal strictures that make it hard for unionized competitors to constantly adapt and change production processes the way the Japanese do.Now that everyone is criticizing work rules, it’s easy to forget that they don’t represent a perversion of the collective bargaining process–they are the intended result of that process, and were once celebrated as such.

Kaus doesn’t explicitly advocate or oppose bankruptcy in the article. From what I’ve reviewed of his earlier writing, he doesn’t seem to have taken a position one way or another — rather, he has repeatedly pointed out the problems and the flaws with both bankruptcy and a bailout. (That link is to his blog homepage — his archaic “Kausfiles” template has very few permalinks, so you have to just keep scrolling or searching except when he puts up a major article.)

Legacy of the 1935 Wagner Act

But to me, his current article explains vividly why bankruptcy is the only solution for Detroit. He quotes from another writer’s 1983 article:

Under the Wagner Act, management manages. What the union does is complain, and negotiate for a rule limiting management’s right to do what the union doesn’t like. A worker protests that his job should be classified as “drilling special and heavy” instead of “drilling general.” The parties butt heads, a decision is reached, and a new rule is deposited like another layer of sediment. At some GM plants, distinct job categories evolved for each spot on the assembly line (e.g., “headlining installer”). In Japanese auto plants, where they spend their time building cars instead of creating job categories, there is only one nonsupervisory job classification: “production.”

Note that the above was written 25 years ago — the problem already was clear, and now the “layers of sediment” have had another quarter-century to accumulate. Kaus continues, describing the situation today:

Yes, faced with successful Japanese rivals, Detroit and its union have been trying to reduce the number of work rules–but the process has been slow, like pulling teeth, especially because the UAW defers to its locals.

Confessions of a Union Man

I’ve been professionally aligned with “management” for the past quarter century, but before that I briefly was an unpaid, elected union official. (It was the Newspaper Guild, an anemic junior varsity union in a dying industry, but still. I was the head of a roughly 40-person unit at The Home News, a small New Jersey daily. It’s now Home News Tribune Courier News, and the Guild unit didn’t survive the mergers.)

My point, and I do have one, is that I’ve seen enough of the behavior of highly paid top union officials to understand that their focus is not on the best interests of their members. Their focus is on protecting their lucrative jobs, and the only way they know to do that is to be perceived by the members as being willing to fight to the bitter end to protect existing contracts.

But in bankruptcy court, the contracts (theoretically, at least) can be voided. And that’s the level of change that will be required to put the U.S. auto industry on solid competitive footing with foreign automakers.

A Shout-Out to #TCOT

In the past few days, my humble blog has had a welcome flurry of attention because of a post I wrote describing the interaction between Ford’s head of social media, Scott Monty, and a new virtual organization called Top Conservatives on Twitter (TCOT). (What is Twitter, you ask? Here is a primer.) Having voted for Clinton twice I’m still not used to thinking of myself as a conservative, but I’m currently the 655th top conservative on Twitter, according to the group’s list.

I’ve been moving up the ranks as more people sign on to follow my “Tweets” because of the publicity. [Are YOU following me on Twitter?] The original post got linked to from The Corner, sending hundreds of visitors my way and spawning other threads in the conservative blogosphere. I later did a followup post expressing admiration for Monty’s grace under pressure.

The Ford Story

My BFF Scott Monty is working hard to get the public to understand that the auto bailout defeated last week in Congress was not a “Big 3” bailout. As I said in an earlier post,

Interestingly, Ford is not seeking bailout money at this time, but supports the bailout “to address the near-term liquidity issues of GM and Chrysler, as our industry is highly interdependent and a failure of one of our competitors could affect us all.”

Monty argues, convincingly to my mind, that under CEO Alan Mulally — a former Boeing exec who never worked for a car company before two years ago — Ford has gone much further than GM and Chrysler toward adjusting its business model to the emerging realities. TCOT is racing to try to reinforce that story — dozens of volunteers (including, to some degree, me) have mobilized over the weekend for Operation Ford Motor, an effort to help differentiate Ford from the others, while striking a blow for capitalism and the principles of market discipline.

The proposed purpose of Operation Ford Motor is based on the following concepts:

– To recognize Ford Motor Company’s efforts at avoiding accepting government bailout money.

– To provide input to Ford Motor Company on why it is important to remain free-market focused, and not accept government loans.

– Partner with Ford in making its example of a market-based approach the standard for American business without relying on taxpayer dollars.

– Lay the groundwork for a market-based approach to turning around the auto industry, and the economy at large.

This nascent potential partnership is fragile on both sides. Monty has been unfailingly polite, but has cautioned that he can make no commitment on behalf of Ford. He also pointed out, in comments on a blog I just can’t find right now, that the company cannot become too closely aligned with any particular ideology. And TCOT may well bail out of this project if members come to disapprove of Ford’s actions.

I admire Monty and hope he and his company are successful in telling The Ford Story and differentiating Ford from the Big Other Two. Ford has already won some concessions from the UAW, and has refocused its business and avoided a cash crunch — it’s by far the healthiest of the three. But let’s say Chrysler and GM go bankrupt and shrink dramatically, while Ford avoids bankruptcy. Ford could end up at a competitive disadvantage because the other companies are able to put more pressure on the union.

As I said at the beginning of this adventure, way back on Friday morning: “I don’t know what if anything will come of this, but it’s fascinating.”

More Eavesdropping on Ford’s Social Media Guy

(Saturday morning update at the bottom.)

Whatever Ford is paying Scott Monty, they oughta pay him more. He’s been Tweeting all day.

Earlier today I described how Scott, the head of social media for Ford Motor Company, had his feet held to the fire by a recently formed virtual organization called Top Conservatives on Twitter. His day actually started well before the exchange I posted then. Around 9 a.m. he started trying to correct the “Big 3 Bailout” meme by pointing out that Ford, comparatively healthy, was not included in the failed bailout legislation. A Tweeter named 64 had quipped, “Can’t believe Daily News missed chance to run DC TO FORD: DROP DEAD this morning.” Scott replied, “@64 Ford wasn’t part of the proposed bill. See”. Then he was off to the races, and well into the evening he’s still Tweeting — he’s posted more than 140 Tweets today, all while serving as the public face of Ford Motor Company in the Tweetstream.

Some of the conversations might try the patience of a lesser man. Here he explains and defends his practice for handling “DMs” — direct messages, which unlike normal Tweets are private communications between two Tweeple:

Scott (I call him Scott ’cause he’s my BFF, we follow each other on Twitter) has attracted a lot of attention for his pioneering efforts in representing Ford in the world of social media. Just the other day, blogger Noah Mallin at Reprise Media described how Scott defused a mini-controversy:

Ford today sent fansite (dedicated to lovers of their small pick-up trucks) a lawyer’s letter over copyright violations. This sent the dozens of other Ford fan sites, many of which use Ford branded names, into a tizzy over fears that they too would be asked to stop using Ford names in their URL’s and site materials. By the time the story surfaced on major car blogs like Jalopnik and Autoblog the story had been boiled down to Ford’s lawyers asking for $5,000 or the site gets shut down.

It sounds like a clueless corporation alienating its fans, but the reality is more complicated. It turns out the site was offering counterfeit Ford paraphernalia for sale, and that (not the URL) was the reason for the lawyer letter. Scott sent the site owner a polite message of explanation, which is now proudly posted on the site’s forum.

If you’re still craving more information about my BFF Scott Monty, here’s a recent post on his personal blog about his work, which he likens to “fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun.”

Meanwhile, TCOT is gearing up for Operation Ford Motor, along with other Action Projects. Watch this space for more updates in the days ahead.

Update (Saturday, noonish): I notified Scott by DM when I posted the above last night, and joked that I’m trying to get him a raise. He has given me permission to print his DM back to me:

ScottMonty Thanks. But no raises in 2009. Search for “merit pay” on

He points out that the announcement of no merit pay in the release he links is from Nov. 7, before there was any widespread discussion of an auto bailout.

In re-reading this and my other post from yesterday, I don’t think think I’ve made it clear enough why Scott Monty’s efforts are such a big deal. I spent nearly 20 years working in PR/communications for huge companies, either as an employee or a consultant. Huge companies are risk-averse by nature, and communications pros at big companies tend to be even MORE risk-averse — having had their heads handed to them multiple times for small or imaginary gaffes.

Scott is a breath of fresh air — and a braver man than I. After I posted last night saying he had Tweeted 140 times that day, he came back on with 20 more Tweets after midnight, and he’s made another 50 this (Saturday) morning. Virtually all of his messages are in response to individuals, some of whom are unfriendly — but what he says is out there for anyone to see. I’m amazed not so much by the sheer volume as by the fact that he clearly has a corporate mandate to fly solo. More than 200 Tweets in the last 28 hours — ain’t no way he’s running them by the Legal department, Government Relations, two EVPs, etc.

Lobbying in Plain Sight: The Auto Bailout on Twitter

Welcome, Twitterers, Diggers, Cornerites, readers from Social Media Today, Dalton’s Briefs, Northwest Indiana Politics, Kicking Over My Traces and others. If you enjoy this post, I hope you’ll take a look around the site. In addition to the auto bailout, I post a lot about the adventures of a red voter in a blue state, and on Iraq, the financial crisis, capitalism and more. Original post follows, more updates at the bottom.


I don’t know what if anything will come of this, but it’s fascinating — beginning at about 10:30 a.m. today, Scott Monty, the head of social media for Ford (yes, there is such a function now), began a Twitter conversation with Michael P. Leahy, head of a new Twitter-powered conservative group called Top Conservatives on Twitter (#TCOT).

Even if you don’t have a Twitter account, I believe you should be able to follow this search link, which currently shows the “Tweet” below as the first result:

If you click “Show Conversation” at the bottom of the Tweet, you’ll get a screen that looks in part like this:

Leahy has appointed a #TCOT Project Servant-Leader (defined here) to review what Monty described as Ford’s “well thought-out plan” for the future of Ford in the American auto industry. Since all of this is happening in Internet time, Leahy promises to finish the review today, and report back, “then u and i talk with CEO.” Monty says he can’t promise the CEO will take advice from #TCOT — “We have a board.”

Interestingly, Ford is not seeking bailout money at this time, but supports the bailout “to address the near-term liquidity issues of GM and Chrysler, as our industry is highly interdependent and a failure of one of our competitors could affect us all.”

As I said, I’m not sure anything will come of it, but I’ll report back when I know more. For now it looks like the bailout is dead in Congress, but the Bush administration is looking at repurposing some of the $700 billion financial bailout for the auto industry.

Update: Operation Ford Motor now has its own hash tag, #OFM, if you want to follow the action today.

1:50 pm – The Corner post was the traffic champ until a few minutes ago, sending about five readers per minute. Now all of a sudden Digg has taken control. Scott Monty, good sport that he is, asked his followers to Diggit.

Saturday: Follow-up post is here

The Perils of Participatory Democracy

Over at, the President-elect’s transition website, the incoming administration is continuing its efforts to tap the power of social media. Yesterday this took the form of an “Open for Questions” tool that encouraged readers to submit questions and issues they believe the new president should address.

Participation in Open for Questions outpaced our expectations, and we’re looking forward to rolling it out again next week. We’re tremendously excited about the promise of tools like this that offer Americans a level of access that has historically been hard to come by. By voting questions up, users have been able to convey to our team which major issues — like the auto industry, health care, ethical standards, and others — are the most important to this community.

Yes, those are certainly weighty and important issues. I might throw in Iraq, Afghanistan, national security, etc., but that’s just me. So… which of these subjects received the most votes as the most pressing issue facing the nation?

“Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?”

Nicely phrased as an economic imperative, and the libertarian in me favors legalization, although my personal interest in this issue has long since passed. But I’m picturing a scene in college dorm rooms across the country, a smoky bong next to the laptop, as America’s newest voters engage in political discourse to shape the nation’s agenda: “Dude! Now you log in and vote!”

"We simply cannot ask the American taxpayer to subsidize failure"

You go, Mitch McConnell! Here’s hoping enough GOP Senators stay in line to filibuster the auto industry bailout. From another MM:

The so-called “Wall Street bailout” was different — rather than being focused on particular companies, it actually was a rescue of the entire economy. (Ask somebody from Lehman Brothers if they feel “bailed out.”) Somebody aptly described the financial system as being like a utility — and the government would never allow the electric grid to go down because ConEd or PSE&G ran out of money.

But the problems with the auto industry are tailor-made for a bankruptcy workout. The McConnell speech I linked to above describes why, and is worth reading in full, if you have any interest in the topic. (And hey, a month ago nobody would have suspected that I even cared about the auto industry.)

Eloquent Economic Commentary from Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, my hero, sings the praises of open markets in a tightly edited, 6-minute video on the Templeton Foundation site, part of a series of discussions about “big questions” such as “Does the free market corrode moral character?

English is at least her fourth language — she was born in Saudi Arabia, came of age in Kenya, won election to Parliament in Holland, then fled to the United States in the face of Islamic death threats — and yet the 39-year-old Ali provides one of the most powerful descriptions of the virtues of capitalism that I’ve heard anywhere. A remarkable person.

Obama Silver Lining Watch (Gitmo Edition)

“The single best thing about the election of Obama may be that we now have a chance to view the terror threat without the distorting lens of Bush hatred.”

So says Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush Administration, as quoted in a William McGurn column in today’s WSJ. The topic of the column is Guantanamo, and McGurn describes reports that Obama may tread cautiously despite his campaign promise to close the prison camp and move the remaining 250 detainees.

During the campaign, of course, both John McCain and Barack Obama vowed to close Gitmo down. But a President Obama will likely find it easier to do the prudent thing. As a Republican hawk charged by his opponent with representing a third Bush term, Mr. McCain would have been under immense pressure to prove that he wasn’t George W. Bush. And a hasty closing of Guantanamo would have been a high-profile way to do it.

Fortunately, Mr. Obama is under no such pressure. …

Yes, it’s a double standard. But it could turn out to be a good thing for the nation. What the American people need today is a sensible policy that recognizes three facts: that terrorists present a unique challenge to our rules of war; that capturing and holding terrorists is different from capturing and holding criminals or prisoners of war; and that the men and women who set up Guantanamo did so not because they were out to shred the Constitution but because, faced with some very imperfect choices, this was thought to be the best way to protect the American people.

Six weeks from today, Barack Obama becomes commander-in-chief of the global war against Islamic fascism, as well as the active combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama won the Democratic nomination on a platform of surrender in the Iraqi theater, but events overtook him — it’s now too late to surrender there, as the war in Iraq has largely been won.

By retaining the Secretary of Defense who oversaw the turnaround in Iraq, Obama has signaled that he will take seriously his duty to protect American interests. Caution on Guantanamo is a similar signal. Sometime in 2009, I fully expect Obama to begin explaining why America’s best interests are served by a stable democracy in Iraq — rather than chaos in the wake of a too-hasty withdrawal. And because the explanation will no longer be coming from the hated Bush, both of America’s major political parties will begin to have a stake in the success of the war effort.

That’s why this McCain voter sees yet another silver lining in Obama’s electoral victory. (Wait a minute… silver lining? Are you calling Obama a “dark raincloud”? Don’t even go there.)

Revisiting “What’s the Matter With Islam?”

Commenter McDaddyo caught me in a bit of bloggish sloppiness in my recent post titled “What’s the Matter With Islam?” In that post I quoted Phyllis Chesler:

Have the Princes of Saudi Arabia, the mullahs of Iran, the imams of Cairo, Baghdad, and London, the various Palestinian factions condemned the carnage? Did I miss it?

I missed it too.

Turns out I missed it because I didn’t look for it — I accepted without challenge a widespread meme. As McDaddyo noted in the comments:

You openly confess that you are not aware of Muslims condemning the violence by radicals. Yet such condemnations are easily found in three minutes via Google.

Oops. Multiple examples available. There’s even a useful compendium of Muslim condemnations of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, although it’s not up to date. So I’ll eat some humble pie and apologize to the brave Muslims who have spoken out against terrorism.

I have to say, however, that I stand behind the rest of the post. In particular:

I want to make very clear what I am not saying here. I am not saying Muslims are inherently evil. I am not saying there are no good Muslims, or that Islam has nothing positive to offer humanity. I most certainly am not condoning random violence or discrimination against Muslims. Every individual Muslim on the planet is a child of God and a sinner, traits they share with me. I am eager to treat them as brothers and sisters if they will do the same.

What I am saying, and the reason I express these sentiments with some passion, is that it is dangerous to ignore the elephant in the room. We must stop hiding behind euphemisms like the “war on terror.” “Terror” is not the enemy, any more than V-1 bombs were the enemy in World War II. Terror is a weapon, and it’s being wielded against America and against civilization by theocrats and fascists who fly the flag of Islam.

Islam may not be the enemy, but the enemy is Islamic. It is not atheists or Buddhists or Quakers or Catholics or fundamentalist Christians who have committed virtually every major act of terrorism (except Oklahoma City) in the past three decades. From an earlier post:

Militant Islamists declared war on America in November 1979 by taking hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. This was followed by 1983 attacks on the U.S. embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut; the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie in 1988; the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993; the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996; the simultaneous 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000; along with smaller atrocities too numerous to list.

And all of that is before 9/11. Since then there have been major attacks by Islamic terrorists in London, Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as smaller attacks throughout the world.

You can find an extensive yet incomplete list of such attacks at I hesitated before linking to them, because they employ a gleefully mocking tone that I find distasteful. But they perform essential work by compiling and listing attacks large and small by Islamic terrorists — at this writing, more than 12,000 such attacks since 9/11. They are careful to distinguish between Islam and individual Muslims: “Don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam and don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know. ” But they make it clear, starting with the name of their site, that they consider Islam itself to be the root of the problem, and they document the dozens of verses of the Qur’an that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers.

I’ll close this by quoting a heroic Muslim, the author of Infidel, one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Ayaan Hirsi Ali escaped from a traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya to become a member of the Dutch Parliament. Her searing indictments of Islam and Islamic culture led to the 2004 murder of her filmmaker colleague Theo van Gogh, and she lives under armed guard.

She declares (p. 282) that Islam needs to undergo an Enlightenment similar to the process that purged Christian culture in Europe of the worst of its dogmatic excesses. Although she now rejects the faith of her childhood, she saves her harshest criticism for the culture into which it was born (p. 347-348, emphasis added):

I first encountered the full strength of Islam as a young child in Saudi Arabia… Saudi Arabia is the source of Islam and its quintessence. It is the place where the Muslim religion is practiced in its purest form, and it is the origin of much of the fundamentalist vision that has, in my lifetime, spread far beyond its borders. In Saudi Arabia, every breath, every step we took, was infused with concepts of purity or sinning, and with fear. Wishful thinking about the peaceful tolerance of Islam cannot interpret away this reality: hands are still cut off, women still stoned and enslaved, just as the Prophet Muhammad decided centuries ago.

The kind of thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia, and among the Muslim Brotherhood in Kenya and Somalia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves a feudal mind-set based on tribal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypocrisy, and double standards. It relies on the technological advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam.

It is always difficult to make the transition to a modern world. … Having made that journey, I know that one of those worlds is simply better than the other. Not because of its flashy gadgets, but fundamentally, because of its values. The message of this book, if it must have a message, is that we in the West would be wrong to prolong the pain of that transition unnecessarily, by elevating cultures full of bigotry and hatred toward women to the stature of respectable alternative ways of life.

America and the West face an implacable global enemy — an enemy motivated by a perverse ideology that inspires them to commit evil in the name of Allah and Muhammad. Any individual Muslim who observes Islam in a peaceful manner is entitled to respect. But we disregard the driving force behind the enemy at our peril.

To McDaddyo and others, if you feel I still overstate my case, I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Congress May Have a Spine on Auto Bailout

Here’s why Congress ought to hold the line and refuse to bail out the automakers (emphasis added):

Requiring car companies to meet corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards forces them to lose money on small cars that people don’t want so they can sell big cars that people do want, at least until gas prices soar out of sight. Proof positive came last month, when the Toyota Sequoia and Honda Pilot SUVs posted big gains while sales of most other cars plunged. The obvious reason: gasoline prices plunged too.

The reason Europe has fuel-efficient cars is high gas prices, not CAFE laws. What’s more, the only times that Americans have switched to smaller cars is 1973, 1979 and the spring of 2008, when gas prices here were high. So the time has come for Congress to stop pretending that fuel-economy can be legislated and to put market forces to work. That means raising gasoline taxes — offset by cuts in income taxes and by gas vouchers for needy people. These measures would succeed at raising fuel economy and in reducing automotive emissions where the CAFE law has failed.

The Rube Goldberg system of intricate, loophole-ridden fuel efficiency standards has been tried (in the U.S.) and failed. The simple expedient of high gas taxes has been tried (in Europe) and succeeded. Q.E.D.

What do the CAFE standards have to do with the bailout? In the Rube Goldberg link above. Holman Jenkins describes how the CAFE standards help entrench the unions. Refusing to bail out the automakers would address the union issue from the other direction — by giving automakers the ability to renegotiate existing labor (and dealer) contracts in bankruptcy court.

But the more powerful link between the two is reliance on the magic of capitalism. Market forces are more powerful and more reliable than complicated legislation, but the market forces have to be allowed to do their job, and the proper incentives have to be in place. That means that companies that make bad decisions over a period of decades have to be allowed to fail.

There is reason to hope that Congress may do the right thing — because they’re hearing from their constituents (emphasis added):

Congressional leaders are concerned that public opinion has turned strongly against help for the automakers. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll of nearly 1,100 Americans conducted earlier this week found 61% oppose a bailout, while only 36% support it. Even in the Midwest, home to most of the automakers’ remaining plants, 53% of those polled opposed federal help.

That was a stunning reversal of polls taken before the CEOs last trip to Capitol Hill. A poll Nov. 11 and 12 conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found 55% supported federal assistance for automakers at that time, and only 30% who believed they should not get federal help.

On the last trip to DC, of course, the auto executives caught a lot of heat for arriving on their separate corporate jets, and presumably that symbolism is fueling the shift in public opinion. (This time, they arrived in hybrid cars and vehicles.) The cost of the corporate jets are a round-off error compared to the automakers’ overall expenses. But populist indignation may help Congress do the right thing on the bailout, because they can be seen as “punishing” the executives as well as the unions.