Big 3 Bailout
I was recently contacted by a Baltimore Sun reporter who wanted my opinion of all the rhetoric in the news and on TV about the Big 3 bailout. Just when I thought I was finally getting over my obsession of watching and reading everything about the presidential elections, I’m now inundated with the Wall Street and Banking crisis that has spilled over into the auto industry in which I’ve spent thirty two years of my career in as an autoworker.
“Yes Mr. Reporter, I do have an opinion.” I proceeded to tell him I was for congress bailing out the Big 3, but I am not for CEOs and corporate executives getting bonuses or golden parachutes and absolutely no money from the bailout should be spent overseas. We also talked about the practicality of gas guzzling vehicles the Big 3 build and the lessons no one seems to have learned from the oil embargo of the seventies, including transplants Toyota, Honda and Nissan who also build large gas guzzling pickups and SUVs.
He then asked, “What do you say to those who question if autoworkers are worth $28.00 an hour.” I told him I would love to put them on the assembly line for a week and then have them tell me we don’t earn what we make. Assembly line work cannot get any leaner and meaner than it is today. The average autoworker humps the line from buzzer to buzzer and goes home with aches and pains in their fingers, hands, wrist, elbows and shoulders; or their backs and knees if their job requires them to get in and out of 10 to 60 vehicles an hour. And if for no other reason, we need our health care to numb the pain or to medicate and repair the damage done to our bodies during and after thirty grueling years of humping the line. As for our pensions, we earned them too. The Big 3 and the UAW contractually promised us a pension when we were hired. Be it sixty years ago or ten, a promise is a promise. It’s usually the clueless ones whose opinions get all the air time and not the autoworkers on the line, go figure.
As with most reporters, they cherry pick sentences or catch phrases and discard the rest when filing their stories and I understand that because of time and space restraints. However, what irritated me about this story was the reporter published a few facts about our salaries and benefits, but he didn’t publish the salaries of the Big 3 CEOs. I emailed him and thanked him for not vilifying autoworkers in his article, which is usually the case in most media coverage of the auto industry, but I also told him I was irritated he didn’t publish the salary and benefits of the CEOs. He understood my concern and apologized for the oversight. Okay, all is forgiven, but that doesn’t excuse the fact his peers in the press and electronic media are having a field day blaming autoworkers for the distressed condition of the auto industry, never mind it being the fault of CEOs, or some would say the Bush GOP and friends orchestrated sup prime mortgage banking Wall Street Treasury Department scam.
As an autoworker I’m sick and tired of being the scapegoat for all the automakers woes. Even if the current economic crises didn’t hit, they’d still be in the pickle their in. CEOs had their hands out in September, a month before the current crises and got $25 billion in low interest loans, half of what they asked for, which is to be used to retool plants to produce more fuel efficient vehicles, something they should have been doing on their own since the oil embargo. Instead they chose to close plants here, build plants and invest overseas, spin off their parts divisions, build gas guzzling vehicles and kill the electric cars of the eighties that they didn’t promote, all of which they did without any input whatsoever from autoworkers
Now the Big 3 CEOs are standing in line again with their hands out and they didn’t even have a plan to save themselves. Congress sent them home with egg on their faces, in the three corporate jets they flew in on, and told them to come back with a plan. House Speaker Pelosi said, “Until they show us the plan, we cannot show them the money.” And on 11.24.08, President elect Obama said, “I’m surprised they didn’t have a better thought out proposal.” This makes me wonder if the Big 3 really wants a bailout. There are autoworkers who believe as I do, and that is the Big 3 wants to file bankruptcy so they can dump our pensions on the Government, screw the UAW out of its multi-billion dollar VEBA obligations, reduce all wages to second tier status and then begin anew like Caterpillar.
During an 11.20.08 press conference on MSNBC, UAW President Gettelfinger said, “Inaction is simply not an option. Without immediate assistance, we could see – and I stress could see – a collapse of one or more of the domestic automakers by the end of this year.” I couldn’t help shake my head in disgust as he champions the dire position the Big 3 put themselves in. As he was speaking, an info blurb appeared stating Gettelfinger was elected in 2002. That’s not the way I remember it. Gettelfinger was appointed by his predecessor and then reappointed himself in 2006. MSNBC is clueless about the inner workings of the UAW. A few days later Gettelfinger appeared on the same network’s Rachel Maddow Show and again he was championing the automakers plight more than he was his own memberships’. How embarrassing.
I understand Gettelfinger speaking up in behalf of automakers because retired and active members will lose big time if any of the Big 3 go belly up, but surely he must also be aware that if the Big 3 do get a $25 billion bailout/low interest loans, the government is going to demand concessions all around, especially from autoworkers. One CEO offered to work a year for a $1. Small sacrifice considering he probably made $100 million in the last five years. And Gettelfinger makes about five times that of his average member, not counting new hires, which puts him at ten times what they make. In the end, Gettelfinger and the CEO’s concessions won’t be anywhere near as significant or as life altering and threatening as autoworkers’.
We have a Corporate American Wall Street manufactured economic crisis that bought and paid for politicians in both parties are sanctioning at the expense of American tax payers for generations. America’s middle class is being destroyed right before our eyes and our Labor Leaders, who should be at the forefront of this class war, are either championing for Corporate America or they’re nowhere to be found. Where’s the AFL-CIO’s Sweeney, or the Teamster’s Hoffa, or CTW’s Stern or any of our other so called Labor Leaders during this crises? If the autoworkers lose all that is rightfully theirs in this struggle, rest assured all union and non-union workers across the country will be next.
While there may be a few talking heads, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her counterpart Keith Olbermann, who do a better job of defending autoworkers than our own union’s president, we need to come to the realization that we are on our own. Some corporate, government and union officials were going to stage a caravan to DC on December 8th to show support for automakers, but when the idea took on a life of its own and autoworkers and non union workers were planning to caravan to DC too, the wonks with the power to make the caravan happen decided to cancel it and send a small contingent instead. God forbid blue the collar workers steal the spotlight from Corporate America.
Despite the futility of it, I called and emailed all my Government Reps and urged them to support the bailout of the auto industry, but no executive bonuses, no money spent overseas, get rid of CEOs and don’t give them golden parachutes on the way out the door. And I selfishly and rightfully added that they should also leave retiree pensions and active workers wages and benefits alone because it’s the Big 3 CEO’s fault we’re in this mess, not ours. Besides, what’s a paltry $25 billion for blue collar workers compared to the $700 billion for Wall Street’s white collar workers? How the Government handles this double standard that borders on class discrimination remains to be seen.
In the meantime, I think we should go forward with a plan to caravan to DC. Brother Frank Hammer, a retired International UAW Rep, recently wrote an article titled ‘Don’t Let Them Destroy Our Union,” in it Brother Hammer concluded with, “Perhaps the leadership should contemplate organizing a car caravan around the headquarters of the Detroit 3, or with the help of the AFL-CIO, organizing a caravan to Washington, DC or even Wall St. There's no guarantee to what we could achieve, but we should nevertheless proclaim, “Not without a fight!” We are running out of time. Wouldn't having UAW members out in the streets be a good way to let everybody know that we’re not dead?”
I don’t think our Labor Leaders are going to respond to Brother Hammer’s call to action. They have a multi-million member army at their disposal, yet they choose to send a contingent instead? Duh. We can figure out how to deal with them at our next conventions, or not. Meanwhile Brothers and Sisters, union and non-union alike, are we going to sit by and allow them to dump retiree pensions on the government, eliminate our health care and reduce active members’ wages and benefits without a fight? This is literally an injury to one is an injury to all crises. We should all answer Brother Hammer’s call to action. Let’s caravan to DC on December 8th. The clock is ticking.
Contact Your Senator Here.
Contact Your Congressman Here.
Use UAW Website To Contact Them, Here.
In Solidarity, Doug Hanscom
The Factory Rat
Soldiers Of Solidarity