Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UAW strikes General Motors: Assembly-line workers make $28 an hour in base wages, but GM says benefits, including those for retirees, overtime and night-shift differentials raise the total hourly compensation to $73. The Center for Automotive Research estimates that Toyota pays U.S. workers $45 an hour in wages and benefits.

Workers at GM's plant in Janesville, Wis., started picketing outside the massive facility a few minutes after 10, halting work on assembly lines that build large sport-utility vehicles like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.

"If they think I'm going to take a wage cut and pay more for health care, they're dreaming," said Dave Van Fossen, a 48-year-old worker at the plant. "My utilities just went up 14 percent and everything else is going up. Why would I accept a pay cut?"

Someone might want to say that unskilled workers making $28 per hour along with benefits really aren't in a position to strike. They might be right, but does General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner really deserve the millions of dollars a year that he makes?

No one, not Wagoner nor Van Fossen, truly deserves the money they make, of course. Value is determined subjectively by the party that pays and the party that is paid. Nothing and no one is objectively worth a particular amount. Wagoner, like Paris Hilton or Rex Grossman, makes as much money as someone is willing to pay him. It may be myopic and it may be socially irresponsible of them to do so, they do so out of self-interest.

Workers at General Motors, in trying to extract as much money as possible from modest skills, are really no different than anyone else in a free market. They are playing the same game as those in upper classes by the same rules. They do not deserve anything but what General Motors is willing to pay, and whatever General Motors is willing to pay is what they deserve.

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