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December 15, 2008

Could the GOP Southern Strategy Wipe Out the Arsenal of Democracy?


If you were to look at an interactive map that would track shifts in the center of the Republican Party, you would notice it gradually contracting almost entirely to the American south. Today, for instance, New England sends no Republican to the House of Representatives.


Likewise, the Democratic Party picked up wins across the Rust Belt and strengthened its hand in the West – also formerly reliable Republican territory.


Much of the GOP’s strength in the south is attributable to the decades-long Southern Strategy, which sought to strengthen the GOP in the south on the backs of resentment against Democrats for backing Civil Rights legislation. Over the years, that has evolved from making overt use of racism toward other issues like tax cuts, patriotism and religion-related wedge issues.


Over the last several years, as the Southern Strategy was bearing some of its strongest fruit, the GOP’s prospects waned across the rest of the country. In 2006, Democrats made important inroads in what was once another Republican bastion, the West. This year, the GOP’s last remaining member of the House of Representatives from New England, Connecticut moderate Chris Shays, was defeated in the general election.


The Southern Strategy, in fact, has produced the last remaining reliable bastion for the Republican Party, and last week it was from these walls that the GOP launched its latest assault on a reliable Democratic constituency, organized labor.


Back 60 years ago, the Big Three had another name – the Arsenal of Democracy. That’s because the ability of American manufacturing to churn out planes, tanks and ships is what won World War II.


The backbone of that was the American worker, who at the time was part of a labor movement that had just come into its own. But there was a hitch – the labor movement was perceived as being a wing of the Communist Party.


There is some truth to that. There are still elements of that within the labor movement. But, although it remains a very small minority, that hasn’t erased hostility in the South to organized labor as a form of socialism, even communism. Prejudices die hard, and attempts by the United Auto Workers to organize down south have all come to grief.


This prejudice was present last week, when talks over aid for the Big Three collapsed over the UAW’s refusal to agree to a specific date for deep wage concessions. The UAW made concessions in 2007. Contracts to take effect next year require severe wage cuts for new workers, and shift legacy costs to union-run trust funds.


You might have heard something about legacy costs. You might have also heard that the average Big Three auto worker earns $73 an hour. Legacy costs and that notion – a disingenuous one – about pay and benefits are tied.


The $73 includes the costs of taking care of retired UAW workers in addition to the current per-hour labor costs. Factoring in the new contract, slated to take effect in 2010, a UAW worker would earn wages and benefits that compare favorably to his non-unionized counterparts in the south.


This didn’t prevent Senate Republicans from perpetuating the myth in an attempt to force the Big Three into bankruptcy. There, the Big Three could squeeze the UAW even harder, and perhaps simply break it. Senate Republicans insisted on wage concessions they didn’t get, and now the fate of the Big Three rests in the hands of the president.


There is a big risk to that. The Big Three – the Arsenal of Democracy – exist at the center of a very complex hub of suppliers and dealers that stretch across the country. If one fails, all could collapse, indirectly destroying other jobs as a result.


Ultimately, says independent analysis, the estimated cost of the Southern Strategy sinking the Arsenal of Democracy could be as many 3 million lost jobs.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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