Wall Street analysts are praising GM's decision to close a dozen North American
plants, cut 30,000 jobs, and trim health care and other benefits. But if GM is
a symbol of the American industrial golden age, its decline (from half of U.S.
car sales thirty years ago to a only quarter recently) is a sign of the destruction
of the American social contract. No more pensions, family-supporting wages, or
hardworking, blue-collar membership in the middle class. Instead, we are living
in the era of Wal-Mart wages, food stamps and Medicare for the children of the
working class, and a disappearing American Dream. That shift may be good for General
Motors shareholders, but it is killing America.
National Review editor Rich Lowry blames the UAW for GM's troubles: If only
the union hadn't selfishly demanded good benefits and high wages for line workers,
the company's troubles would not have come to this, he says in an opinion piece
claiming GM was "sabotaged from within." As if management had no leverage
at the bargaining table.
But "good benefits, especially good quality health care, don't bring down
any decent company," says Tim Yeager, a UAW negotiator who has represented
The Progressive's employees, among many other UAW-affiliated workers. "There
are countries in the world where everyone has a right to decent health care
and they're less wealthy than GM," Yeager points out. (GM's budget exceeds
the gross domestic product of about half the world's nations).
The late, great UAW president Walter Reuther, who first negotiated the society-altering
health-care benefits, pensions, and cost-of-living wages enjoyed by American
auto workers after World War II, long ago advised GM to make smaller, economical,
fuel-efficient cars, Yeager notes. The company ignored him. Likewise, GM was
slow to take any interest in hybrid technology. In perhaps the unkindest cut,
the China Post online, blamed GM's penchant for manufacturing "boring vehicles"
Americans don't want for the companies defeat by foreign competition, especially
Toyota, maker of the hybrid Prius.
If any good is to come of the demise of good corporate employers like GM, it
could be that Americans see the need to push for a national solution to the
"I think GM ought to get on Congress and push for health-care reform,"
says Yeager. "Instead of blaming the UAW, let's talk about national health
Rightwingers like Lowry think good pay and benefits for factory workers are
a cumbersome relic of the past. But there are still enough Americans who have
a vision of a large, secure middle class that there is time to push for a future
in which we are not divided into the few, isolated "New Economy" millionaires,
and a vast population of underpaid, uninsured workers with no power to improve