American Auto Industry, RIP

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Unions are so much like big government it's creepy. I've lived in metro Detroit and rubbed elbows with automakers all my life. My dad was a toolmaker for Chrysler for 25 years. My brothers refer to employment at General Motors as 'golden handcuffs,' because the pay and benefits are impossible to walk away from no matter how miserable you might be there. Unions have been hailed as the working man's salvation, but here in Detroit they have, naturally, gone far beyond any usefulness and become the demise of the automotive industry. Forming an unholy alliance with the strong arm of government was the beginning of the end. Let's take a look under the hood.

My husband's uncle belonged to the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) for almost 20 years until he died of alcoholism. Uncle Al often went on month-long benders with a case of beer next to his bed. At the end of each one, he'd go to his doctor complaining of feeling ill. I'm sure he was. Each time, his doctor wrote him an excuse so that he could return to work. His job was never in jeopardy because he belonged to the union. After he died, his wife collected his pension and still does some 20 years later. This is called 'How to get paid to drink.'

Landing an engineering job at GM used to be considered the pinnacle of success around these parts. One sad, young fellow I know hates working there. Best I can tell it is a combination of boredom, futility and suffocating bureaucracy. It was so painful to be stuck in his job, that in his twenties he started drinking heavily and eventually started using crack. (Not everyone can afford crack, but UAW workers make good wages.)

After several years, even though no one at GM seemed to notice his addiction problem, his family insisted on 'Brad' going into treatment. After his first dry-out he told me he was never going back to General Motors no matter what his parents or his wife said or did. He said he would relapse before he'd ever go back. (This was his second marriage to a woman who was self-employed and basically married Brad for the free health insurance. 'How to get paid to get wed.')

Brad was as good as his word, and relapsed a number of times. However, because he is in the UAW, this man still has a job. He's in his thirties now and has been in and out of treatment programs a number of times. ('How to get paid to get high.') Inpatient treatment costs about a grand a day, all completely paid for by his generous health care coverage. A restrictive hospital environment is apparently more palatable than working at GM, for Brad, at least. His second marriage didn't last long ' they are separated. It seems doubtful that she'll divorce him, though. How can you give up those generous benefits?

Brad's mother-in-law was also self-employed and needed free health insurance. Late in life she married her second husband 'Joe' and won the benefit jackpot. 'Joe' was retired from the UAW. He didn't work in an auto plant. He was a paper pusher for the UAW office itself. They get to set themselves up with the best insurance policies that other people's money can buy.

Joe's wife actually bragged to me one time that because of her second husband's former job in the UAW, she gets free massage for life. My dearly departed father would turn over in his grave if he knew. This white, upper middle class, professional woman - and how many like her? ' who have never worked in a factory a day in their life, gets free massage therapy until the day she dies, all paid for by men and women sweating in automobile factories. I don't think she should be bragging about this. She should be ashamed of herself. What a travesty this is; but it is business as usual down at the UAW. ('How to get paid to unwind.')

Whose life is the UAW improving? I'd say principally their own, just like politicians. At one time the UAW had over a million workers paying union dues. They're like the government, they have to spend all that money somewhere. And it's ever so easy to spend it frivolously on yourself when it's not yours.

This reminds me of the town in which I live; it could be Any Town, USA . My kids ask me why the city sends men around paving unnecessary things. I tell them about the boon to city coffers that the housing bubble has sparked. The fiscal year is near its end and they have to spend the big piles of tax money that are sitting around or the next year they might ' gasp! - have their budgets cut.

I have known many people who worked for 'Generous Motors.' I've never heard a single one say that he or she liked working there. I've heard many stories of misery. One frustrated manager I know orders the parts he needs secretly. The bureaucracy involved in going through the proper channels would make the on-time completion of his assignment impossible. Only after finally obtaining the long awaited approval of his purchase order does he reveal the already present materials. ('How to get fired for actually working.)

Now let me introduce you to the 'Job Bank.' That has a nice ring to it, no? It sounds like a bank of jobs, where you can just go and withdraw one when you need it. It isn't, though. The name is just another deceptive example of Orwellian double-speak for a group of thousands of UAW members who receive full time pay and benefits for not working. I'm not talking about unemployment insurance. That's a different kind of pay for not working. The Job Bank is a special benefit obtained exclusively by the UAW. (And finally, 'How to get paid for not working at all.')

My Dad always said, 'the bigger they come, the harder they fall.' This is a tiny glimpse into the world of mega bureaucracy, and a few of the reasons why American cars cost so much, deliver much less than imports and have poor resale value. It's easy to see why jobs leave Michigan for Asia , and all the fingers are pointing at the UAW. It has positioned itself, with the backing of the strong arm of government, to obstruct and destroy the natural working of the marketplace in the auto industry, and in the process set up the entire industry for a monumental collapse.

'Here lies the American auto industry. It was killed by the UAW. May it rest in peace.'

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.