Friday, December 5, 2008

Auto Industry Bailouts

A letter that I sent to the New York Times and my representatives in Congress:

Re: New York Times
Back on Capitol Hill, Auto Executives Still Find Skeptics
Published: December 4, 2008

It is unfortunate that Congress and, according to polls, the rest of the nation are willing to let the auto industry wither and die. Of course, the execs have mismanaged the business. That’s what American business has done for the last forty years in the pursuit of unrealistic short-term profits. The tragedy is that the execs will, as always, walk away with piles of cash to sustain them while they search for new prey to bleed dry. It’s the assembly line crews I worry about. I live in Detroit (well, one mile north) and I worked in the automotive industry (engineering & management) long enough to understand the hyper-conservative, me-first attitude of management that prevents the great ideas of engineering peons from becoming great products. But if you visit an assembly plant, you will meet men and women who work hard every day -- I mean with their arms, legs, and backs -- and know the manufacturing process as well as anyone and are eager to help wayward engineers find answers.

When I visited plants, the thought I always came away with is that my cushy salary was carried on the backs of these folks. Assembly line workers procured union benefits through long and violent battles with management. Perhaps union leaders overreached, but to let the auto industry wither and further undercut unions would roll American labor relations back to the brutal first days of the industrial revolution.

There are lots of ways the engineers and assembly line workers could be productive, Congress just needs to be imaginative. Detroit is a vast repository of industrial know-how, a national asset we can not afford to lose. Save the auto industry today, and if they still can’t sell cars tomorrow, put these smart people to work building the windmills, photovoltaics, and public transportation of the future. We put a man on the moon; we can put men and women to work building a sustainable and proud future for this country.

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