It is by now clear that the Senate Republicans killed the auto bailout deal for one reason only: to give organized labor a bloody nose. For sure, there are many complicated issues with this proposed bailout including the sustainability of the business model, mushrooming unemployment and the devastation of local economies, contagion across other sectors and the broad-based demand slump, the relationship to energy policy and the need to make more energy-efficient vehicles etc. But the Senate Republicans were simply out for a fight with the unions, the United Autoworkers in particular. Despite the union agreeing to major concessions, and despite the fact that the average hourly wages barely differs among union and non-union auto plants, this was the line in the sand.
An internal Republican memo says as much, calling on its caucus to “stand firm and take their first shot against organized labor.” This is an ideological battle, driven by a southern interest group (and the Republican party is now a largely a southern white party) protecting the interests of their anti-union so-called “right to work” states (and often receiving large contributions from anti-union employers). This serves to reduce the bargaining power of labor, a key concern of Catholic social teaching since Leo XIII. As the Compendium summarizes, “The Magisterium recognizes the fundamental role played by labour unions, whose existence is connected with the right to form associations or unions to defend the vital interests of workers employed in the various professions.” As I said, a line in the sand.