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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

"Strike"? Isn't That Bowling Terminology?

TUESDAY

9 AM

Coupla things...

First, Lee Bollinger. Here s a New York Times account of the Columbia University president s welcome to a man who is deservedly among the world s most loathed:

Mr. Bollinger, who was under intense attack for the invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, opened the event with a 10-minute verbal assault, the Times reported.

He said, Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator, adding, You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

The Iranian president, who was seated 10 feet away from him on the stage, wore a frozen smile. The anti-Ahmadinejad portion of the audience, which looked to be about 70 percent of it, cheered and chortled.

Mr. Bollinger praised himself and Columbia for showing they believed in freedom of speech by inviting the Iranian president, then continued his attack. He said it was well documented that Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism, accused Iran of fighting a proxy war against the United States in Iraq and questioned why Iran has refused to adhere to the international standards of disclosure for its nuclear program.

I doubt, Mr. Bollinger concluded, that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions.

Mr. Ahmadinejad did not directly answer the questions, but he did address them. Before doing so though, he said pointedly:

In Iran, tradition requires when you invite a person to be a speaker, we actually respect our students enough to allow them to make their own judgment, and don t think it s necessary before the speech is even given to come in with a series of complaints to provide vaccination to the students and faculty.

At the risk of being misunderstood in any way as an Ahmadinejad supporter, I have to say I rather agree with the Iranian leader: His reception by Mr. Bollinger was appalling. Sure, the university president had some face-saving to do after the controversy volcano erupted, but c mon. Stand up, intro the guy, and then stand back to let Ahmadinejad hang himself. Trust me, that wouldn t have taken long.

No homosexuals in Iran? The Holocaust should be treated as theory ? Iran is a friend to Jews?

No, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad needed none of Lee Bollinger s petty help to scuttle his own ship. (And I m sure the Bollingers taught their Li l Lee better manners than that )

*** *** *** *** ***

Second, the UAW strike.

Think back first, however, to the year the U.S. invaded Cambodia. To the year of the Kent State shootings. The year when James Taylor got famous singing Fire and Rain, while Karen Carpenter warbled about being Close to You. It was the year of Love Story.

It was 1970 the last time the UAW called a national strike against GM. Back then, the average new car cost some $3,500. A gallon of gas sold for about .36 cents.

This strike feels every bit as anachronistic as would driving around town in a 1970 Chevy Vega (if you even remember them).

Job security?

As too many American workers would say: Um, excuse me, but what s that? I suspect the sad truth is that there s not nearly the same level of public sympathy for striking UAW workers these days are there was back in the day.

How many other companies, for example, can sustain themselves in the face of such things as job banks nifty mechanisms by which laid-off GM workers are still paid and covered by benefits while not working.

There was a time when workers who didn t receive such largesse might still have said Right on! to the GM workers who did. But solidarity among workers has been chipped away by economic anxieties. What s seems to be left is a landscape littered with individuals who glance frantically over their shoulders, trying to gauge just who and/or what is about to overtake them.

No, I don t think many workers these days these days being a time of foreclosure crisis, debt overload, savings deficits, and earning-power declines have much sympathy for the autoworker, whose good benefits and pay make them seem less like a benchmark and more like a dinosaur headed toward the tar pit

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger says the rank-and-file have given up p-l-e-n-t-y in recent years, and he s absolutely right. They gave in on a retiree health-care deal. They sucked it up and accepted widespread buyouts and endured plant closings. And then there was the whole issue of how much the UAW agreed to help out bankrupt Delphi Corp.

No doubt about it: Were I a member of the United Auto Workers (as I once was, actually), I think I d be feeling mighty put upon right about now. But blame cannot be put on the automakers doorstep alone (no matter how sluggishly the industry has reacted to market trends).

It is, like it or not, a new world order out there. That s not to say workers should just take it all lying down but it is to say that changed and changing economic realities have yet to be sorted out.

Wall Street, as I understand it, fully expected the UAW to lie down yet again in negotiations with GM. But instead of nodding quietly to wage and health-care concessions worth billions, the union tried to force the issue of job security. It tried, in other words, to stem the outflow of jobs to other countries with lower labor costs.

A national autoworkers strike?

It feels anachronistic and historic all at the same time, this old-school tactic in an era when U.S. workers have their backs to the wall in ways unprecedented.



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