Saturday, November 22, 2008

Explain Me This

How come I'm seeing a whole bunch of editorial cartoons about the possible car-makers' bailout including some reference to the UAW as some evil personage?

(Take this Lisa Benson cartoon, for example -- the UAW is a giant gorilla, and "Detroit" is a little man acting like his organ-grinder's monkey. The message seems to be that "Detroit" is utterly in thrall of the UAW, which would be a huge surprise to anyone who's followed the history of labor unions in the last fifty years.)

Didn't we use to think that well-paying blue-collar jobs were a good thing? I completely understand the resentment against investment bankers -- more so, enthusiastically share in it -- but I didn't think that we'd sunk so low as to hate relatively well-paid factory workers.

(There's another cartoon from a few days ago -- I can't find it now -- but it was basically blaming retirees for the carmakers' financial problems. As if, you know, if they'd just died like poor people are supposed to, then GM wouldn't have to pay for their meager old-age cottages.)

Oh, and, yes, I do remember American labor's long history of strong-arm tactics and ties to organized crime -- I'm from New Jersey, remember! -- but these cartoons seem to be about something else, as if paying assembly-line workers a high wage is a stupid, evil idea.

Update: And here's another one, from Glenn Foden. The UAW is a giant anchor holding back the stagecoach of the Big 3 automakers from being pulled by a single donkey (which I guess represents car-buyers; he's not labeled). Leaving aside the inadvertently painful precision of Foden's visual metaphor -- the cartoon itself begs one to ask if the Big 3 aren't in trouble because they're trying to drive a stagecoach -- one still has to ask why the similar stagecoaches of Toyota, Honda, and so for -- not shown in this picture -- aren't being similarly hampered.

Editorial cartoonists, everywhere: think about your metaphors before you dive into them.

Oh, and here's one from the other side, by David Horsey.


Kaz Augustin said...

Watch out, or you're going to be called a commie bastard soon, Andrew!

I think part of the appeal is that the UAW weakened its position by conceding to GM on the issue of pensions. Also, they sold out their own workers by allowing a two-tier system, with the older workers getting perks and the newer workers essentially getting shafted.

A weaker party is always easier to make fun of, no matter that the issue is correct or incorrect. We see this play out in so many spheres it might as well be one of the Universal Truths. UAW has clearly shown it can prostitute itself and work against the wellbeing of its own workers. The logical conclusion? Cartoons such as the one you're referencing. At least the auto-makers have been consistent (however you want to read that). UAW hasn't. Throw 'em to the, cartoonists. Same thing.

Putting my conspiracy theorist hat on for a moment, what is the tie between the media organisations where these cartoons appear and the auto-makers? How is public opinion being manipulated via satire in order to push a particular agenda? (My favourite Justice League character is The Question.) I'm sure I'll manage to work boy-bands in there somewhere! :)

graywave said...

Call me paranoid but it seems to me that trades unionism was effectively crushed during the Reagan-Thatcher years. It has been in a terrible state ever since. If however, as they say, the current global financial crisis marks the end of 'Reaganomics', then we might expect the unions to start rallying (especially when unemployment and then inflation start skyrocketing). Even a venal old media baron could anticipate a trend like this and start revving up his anti-union propaganda machine.

Anonymous said...


I can't speak for the United Kingdom, but unions in the United States had been in decline for decades when Reagan took office; American private-sector unionism had its high-water mark in the 1950s, if memory serves.

Di Francis said...

Well of course the big three are poor, pitiful things and none of this is their fault. They've been persecuted endlessly and it couldn't possibly have anything to do with mismanagement, lack of quality or an exclusionary focus on enormous gas-guzzling vehicles whilst completely ignoring the fact that fossil fuel must inevitably rise. No sir. Couldn't be that. Must be those damned workers. They tricked the Big 3 into giving them all these concessions like decent pay, benefits and insurance and now, NOW when the big 3 can't seem to find the money they KNEW they needed since they PROMISED it, well, the workers should just suck it up, die, or figure out how to grow those money trees. But they should most definitely not expect the big three to honor their commitments. That's asking far too much.

I just don't get why you don't get that Andrew.

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