Saturday, August 14, 2010

While GM Brags About Its Comeback, Auto Workers Go Begging

Articles in the New York Times (Detroit Goes From Gloom to Economic Bright Spot), and the Economist (GM prepares its getaway), praise GM's recovery, but the truth is, GM chose to retreat, rather than to fight to recover lost ground in terms of market share, salaries, or wages. In other words, they favored shareholders and executives over hourly workers, the people who actually earn the profits GM is so eager to brag about.

The auto industry shed 330,000 US jobs since 2008. And how many did they shed back in the eighties and nineties? And how many supplier jobs were lost that aren’t counted here?. I live in the suburbs of Detroit, and I can drive for miles past shuttered tool and die shops, and manufacturing plants. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a guy who had a well paid, skilled union job, and now he’s retired at fifty, or swinging a hammer for a living with no benefits. And these are the guys who actually know how to build things. Their fathers and grandfathers built our manufacturing base, and without their skills we’ll never re-build it. And if we don’t rebuild it, we’ll never have a real rebound in our economy that yields broad prosperity. We’ll just continue to get what we’ve been getting, a narrowing band of wealth at the top, and vast legions of un- or under-employed, under-skilled poor.

And now the big three brag they trimmed wages (starting wage in an American UAW plant is around $14). Adjusted for inflation, I bet that's less than the $5 a day Henry Ford offered workers when he reasoned that employees won't be consumers if you don't pay them a decent, livable wage.

The new CEO, GM board member, Dan Akerson, has worked recently for the Carlyle Group, the bottom feeding private equity firm that has spent the last twenty years burying US manufacturing firms in debt, and then selling off the firm's assets (asset stripping) for pennies on the dollar, to yield healthy profits for Carlyle's well-heeled, capitalized investors, and a decimated manufacturing base for the rest of us. What sort of future for GM's domestic employment does that portend?

So what does the average, hourly-wage, taxpayer get for their bailout of GM? More competition for fewer jobs at a lower wage. And who gains besides shareholders and executives? A skeleton crew of engineering and management staff who glance over their shoulders every day, with the grim expectation that their job has been outsourced to someone in India earning 1/100 as much.

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