There is no advance guidance from Team Kasich on which one of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s multiple personalities—mean, off-putting jerk, teary eyed compassionate or bored and impatient know-it-all—will be on display when he meets with a top German diplomat Thursday in Columbus.
Reports say that the German ambassador to the U.S., Peter Wittig, is scheduled to speak Thursday afternoon at a Columbus Metropolitan Club event. Organizers say he will talk about “the ongoing importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship in the face of an increasingly volatile international landscape.” Prior to his speaking event, Wittig is slated to meet with the governor, and with German companies doing business in Ohio. Gov. Kasich and ambassador Wittig are not strangers since they met about two years ago.
It’s doubtful the conversation with Gov. Kasich will touch on labor issues central to Germany’s economy, including the big role labor unions play in company decisions that are essentially foreign to American relations between management and labor. It’s no secret, and a well-briefed ambassador will know this, that Gov. Kasich is no fan of unions, not now and not over his nearly four decades as an elected politician.
A new report out today by Pew Research Center say Germans give U.S. President Barack Obama high marks for his management of the U.S.-German relationship. Despite their disagreements at the time over the Iraq War and U.S. National Security Agency spying, Pew says, Americans and Germans view each other as reliable allies.
The governor’s cruelest brush with trying to further weaken labor came in the form of SB 5, a bill Gov. Kasich signed into law in 2011 that essentially gutted collective bargaining for public union workers. Throwing all he could in resources to help keep the law in effect, Gov. Kasich instead got brushed back big time when Buckeye voters nullified the bad bill by nearly a 2-1 margin. Mr. Kasich got his feathers clipped as voters told him in no uncertain terms to stop trying to hurt workers and families, many of whom are either unions members or know union members.
In his book, “Only One Thing Can Save Us,” Thomas Geoghegan argues that even as organized labor seems to be crumbling, a revived but different labor movement is the only way to stabilize the economy and save the middle class. Geoghegan is a practicing labor attorney who counts Chicago teachers and nurses among his ardent followers. In his book published last year, Mr. Geoghegan talks specifically about Germany, its strong labor unions, the impressive wages German union workers earn compared to their American counterparts, and how the German economy, one of the best in the world, remains that way due to active and prominent labor union participation in how companies are managed and guided.
In Germany, the author writes, workers at BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen make an average of $66 an hour with wages and benefits. For American auto workers, the difference was $33-an-hour lower. Gov. Kasich loves to talk about being competitive, which to him means lower income tax rates and paying workers low wages, all so corporate boards of directors here can invest their profits not in workers but in stock buybacks, for example, or keeping their profits overseas, away from domestic taxes. But Geoghegan asks which country, Germany or the United States, is more competitive? Germany it seems turned out 5.1 cars four years ago compared to 2.9 million in America. “How can German workers be getting so much more,” he asks?
Invest In Workers, Labor Represented On Corporate Boards
The simple answer, the author says, is to attribute it to unions. “But it’s not so simple. It’s also because [unions] they’re directors of these companies. Because of the works councils and co-determined boards, they have real positions of power.” Their high wages are not solely the result of union clout, but having earned those high wages. The real difference, Geoghegan observes, is that “in Germany, unlike the United States, they [unions] can set things up so that they do deserve it. In Germany, unlike here, the people on the shop floor can force or prod or push a BMW, a Mercedes, or a VW to train them, to turn them into superstars, so they can get the wages of superstars. That’s the clout that the German middle class has an ours does not.”
In Germany, high skilled workers are a big plus. In American low-skilled workers on the shop floor are paid low wages because they’re seen as easily replaceable, whereas in Germany high-paid workers are what make their economy work as efficiently and powerfully as it does. Some Republicans have gone across the pond to “see what we can learn,” he writes. “Governor John Kasich from Ohio took such a trip. So did Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan. I bet even Governor Scott Walker from Wisconsin went over. And they all talk about the same thing: some institute or educational center that the German government had recently set up.” Geoghegan reflects on comments his friends make that Germany and its economy is toast. “The wages are too high,” they say, noting that Republican governors like Kasich go look and see and come back having learned nothing.
In his book, the author writes about the difference with Germany. It’s not that a few government-backed institute promote job training but that there’s so little of it. “Germany has a small high education sector but a massive amount of job training that the companies themselves provide. And the companies keep doing more. In America, innovation flows from the to down. In Germany, innovation comes from the bottom, because working people over there ‘really know what they are doing.”
The rest of the world is going one way while we go another, he says, adding, “As long as we’re the one country where you can fire anyone at any time, for the color of your tie or the color of your tattoo, or for no reason at all, it is hard to see how the really serious job training we cry out for will ever occur.” Investing in workers and having labor unions represented on corporate boards are lessons hard-right austerity backers like Gov. Kasich have yet to learn. “If workers can’t easily be fired, then there is more reason to invest in them over time.”
In large German companies, Geoghegan notes, workers can elect directly half of the directors on the corporate boards, a system called “co-determination. “Too many presidents and pundits keeping telling us that we need higher and higher skills to serve a corporate model that keeps pushing us lower and lower and denying dignity to our work.
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