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The Troll Under the Bridge Loans: Corporate Profit-Taking and Executive Compensation

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The Big 3 Automakers may get some sort of assistance to keep afloat. It looks like that assistance will be far less than was requested. Reemerging along the path to this "bridge loan" has been the multitude of reports on how it is auto workers that make the U.S. industry "uncompetitive." This is more lies and misdirections as I wrote back in May 2007 in Shame on You CBS. In fact, CBS has been hawking the same propaganda.

Just this last week in one of my classes, the "auto workers get paid $70 an hour" came up again. I patiently tried debunking this propaganda - for the umpteenth time. The $70 an hour includes the costs of all benefits for existing workers - and for retired workers and their families or survivors. Those pension plans are already paid for by the workers who have retired. They are not being paid for by current workers - they are paying into their own benefit plans. Keith Olbermann did a nice job of confronting the inflated pay claims.

There is no clearer evidence that corporations control the messages we receive than the bogus claims of "outrageous" wages (and benefits), and the "huge" burden of "legacy" costs.

The propagandistic nature of these claims were revealed in a 2008 report by Schultz and Francis in the Wall Street Journal - "Companies Run Up Big IOUs, Mostly Obscured, to Grant Bosses a Lucrative Benefit. In fact, GM alone had $9 billion more in its workers pension fund than it needed, but a $1.4 billion liability for its executive benefits.

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The auto industry is not alone in its claims of "legacy costs" as a way to divert those monies somewhere else. In 2003, Schultz and Theo did another investigation for the Wall Street Journal - "Executive Pensions Often Secured First. This was written at the time that corporations were bailing out of their obligations and throwing the retirement obligation to the U.S. tax payer. In fact, it is not even illegal for corporations to under-fund, or even bail out on, their obligation to workers while dumping big bucks into their executive plans. Shows you who is writing the legislation doesn't it?

The corporate media has done an excellent job of turning workers against workers. The fact that the so-called "public" can be outraged at $70 an hour (which is a lie anyway) tells us how far we have fallen. While many have been angered at the $700 billion Wall Street bailout while the executive suite continues to collect multi-million dollar bonuses, little has been made of what Wall Street employees make. In fact, that figure has hardly been reported. According to a report in the Boston Globe, the average Goldman Sachs employee makes $622,000 a year (including bonuses and benefits). To break that down, that equals $299 an hour - over 3 times more than the inflated autoworker $70 an hour.

Of course, the $622,000 is overinflated as well because it includes what "top traders and investment bankers" made as well. But regardless, there is no drumbeat of worker extortion for these well paid white collar workers.

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So how much do those autoworkers make? According to the United Auto Workers (UAW):

In 2006 a typical UAW-represented assembler at GM earned $27.81 per hour of straight-time labor. A typical UAW-represented skilled-trades worker at GM earned $32.32 per hour of straight-time labor. Between 2003 and 2006, the wages of a typical UAW assembler have grown at about the same rate as wages in the private sector as a whole - roughly 9 percent. Part of that growth is due to cost-of-living adjustments that have helped prevent inflation from eroding the purchasing power of workers' wages. (Starting wage is $14 and hour)

Of course, that $27.81 looks good when the average wage in the U.S. was $19.56 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Further, there is a difference between the wages of Union and Non-Union workers as well - part of the success of turning workers against workers. In private industry, for example, the average Union worker made $818 ($20.45/hr) a week compared to $651 ($16.28/hr) for non-Union (BLS, 2008). Even these wages look good to those at the Federal minimum wage of $6.65 an hour.

Regardless, even while the CEO's of the Big Three are forced to beg for a bridge loan while the Financial Sector pulls trucks up to the Treasury and the Fed no questions asked, the attack on workers - and the average person - continues. The Big Three want their money, but apparently they don't want to undermine their decades long attack on Unions in the process.

I swear if I hear the Wall Street - Main Street claptrap again I am going to scream. The money isn't getting to those who are bleeding - workers and those who are still housed (however precariously). It definitely is not getting to those who have lost their jobs and their homes. And this is where a the ongoing brainwashing of the people is clearly reflected. Those who are losing their homes have been depicted as losers who should have never gotten loans in the first place. While there were "risky" loans that were made, 60% of those who received sub-prime loans were actually qualified for prime mortgages. Regardless, homeowners and renters are losing their homes. Apartment dwellers are losing their homes. People in the "service sector" are losing jobs and so are public employees. This is not a case of "deserving" and "undeserving." What has happened is the bilking of the people by those at the top. Further, those at the top are making out like bandits, They ARE bandits!

We have seen decades of the corporate spin on everything, and we've been sold that this is "truth." The "public" - even much of the "informed" public - has swallowed the propaganda hook, line, and sinker. It was the propaganda that sold us NAFTA and GATT. It caused the gleeful attack on the poor resulting in so-called "welfare reform." It is a strategy that has been effective in turning us against ourselves in a feeding frenzy of self righteous rage while the "Big Boys" sit in their boardrooms laughing at us and counting their phony profits.

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I am deeply troubled by the haunting similarity in the portrayal of those facing foreclosure with those who were the "undeserving poor" living on the "welfare". The outrage at the modest wages of autoworkers carries the same emotional tenor as the manufactured outrage at "illegal" immigrants. We are pointed at each other like the creatures heartlessly released on each other by cheering jeering dogfight enthusiasts. And like those hapless dogs, we rip and kill each other while massive wagers (called derivatives) are made on the outcome. I am sickened by the whole debacle.

We balk at helping those in foreclosure the same way we balk at giving money to those receiving assistance. We don't trust them to spend it right. Yet we seemingly are comfortable giving billions to those who have already stolen everything we have. This makes no rational sense, but it does reflect that the corporate perspective has been accepted as the definition of the world as it is.

Despite all of this, I support saving the auto industry. I support it because the auto industry is the backbone of our industrial sector and we have lost far too much of our industrial capacity already. Likewise, I believe that we should be putting in place controls on the sale of property to non-residents of the United States. Right now house hunting tours are being sold to Chinese tourists. I believe that special loans need to be made available to farmers so that they don't go belly-up while banks refuse to advance them the money for the coming year's crops.

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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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