Solidarity whenever.

Some years ago — too many years ago — we had a running office joke with one of our young staff members, Phyllis. She was a sassy young black woman right out of Central Casting, but very funny. I told her she should be an advice columnist, and together we came up with a name for her column: Don’t Be So Goddamn Stupid. Every letter would start with this order, on the grounds that the busy reader may not have time to read the whole answer, and 90 percent of the cure for the problem could be found by following that advice alone.

I had a point when I started that paragraph, but it seems to have slipped my mind. More coffee, please.

Maybe it was this: Phyllis should be advising the United Auto Workers, who, we’re told, want job security, in return for $50 billion to administer their own health plan. Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Job security! I’m wiping the tears away even as we speak.

My feelings about the UAW and muscular unions in general are not those of a contemptuous libertarian. I think, if we’re perfectly honest about it, those folks created the 20th century middle class, with their shocking idea that owners and managers shouldn’t be the only ones to prosper in a booming industry. The UAW did more for the working class than Ronald Reagan ever did, and they helped elect him, twice. There’s something breathtakingly ballsy in this high-wire act of theirs, throwing GM into the briar patch, but ultimately, they need to listen to Phyllis. This may be little more than face-saving brinksmanship, but please. Just what the world needs — another reason to dismiss union leadership as out of touch with current economic realities.

Of course, you could hardly blame union members if they were baffled at what constitutes economic realities in this or any other business, these days. Right after Delphi filed for Chapter 11, they turned around and gave fat bonuses to the management team, to keep them on board while they went through the ugly process of reorganization. Retention bonuses, these are called. Retain the team that drove the company into bankruptcy, so that they can maybe drive it out. Who wouldn’t scratch their head over that one?

Friends, sorry this is late ‘n’ lame, but I’m not on strike, and in fact, I’ve got a passel of work to do. I leave you with one bit of bloggage: OJ’s girlfriend. Color me astounded. (Hey, check those tan lines!) And discuss, in your inimitable way. I’ll be back in a bit, after seven thousand phone calls and nine interviews.

Posted at 9:41 am in Current events |

25 responses to “Solidarity whenever.”

  1. ie said on September 25, 2007 at 10:16 am

    Hi there. I don’t have a comment on your post (although you are on my list of “must reads”).

    However, since yesterday, the left hand portion of your post is in the dark blue on the left and I’m having a helluvatime trying to decipher the black lettering on the dark blue.

    Is there something up with your site? Is it me? 🙂


    346 chars

  2. alex said on September 25, 2007 at 10:20 am

    I know a fair number of GM employees here in the Fort who make much more money than I do even though I’m a degreed professional. They’re always blowing me crap for buying foreign. They think I should support their ostentatious lifestyles while getting less value for my own hard-earned dollar. If it costs $3,200 more to produce a GM vehicle than a comparable Toyota vehicle, this strike will probably drive that disparity up even further. Next time they razz me, I’m gonna go Phyllis on ’em.

    492 chars

  3. colleen said on September 25, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Thank you Alex.

    If I were making that much money (it’s more than I make now) and had those bennies, I would be quiet and thank my lucky stars.

    Just my opinion, from here in the land of “sorry no raises this year, but your health insurance is going up”.

    258 chars

  4. nancy said on September 25, 2007 at 10:43 am


    Good question. It probably has something to do with the photos yesterday. I’ll reduce them to thumbnails and see if it doesn’t fix your problem. If it continues, let me know.


    187 chars

  5. brian stouder said on September 25, 2007 at 10:47 am

    To work for a massive, worldwide corporation, and report to some particular factory, along with 5,000 other souls every day – I would suppose that one would feel somewhat powerless. When a strike comes, you simply cannot cross the line against your friends; at some point the strike will end, and you will never be able to erase the ‘scab’ label.

    So you go along; hell, you not only ‘go along’, but you play the part and adopt a defiant tone and make the most of it.

    When I was growing up in southeast Fort Wayne, there were lots of Tokheim workers and Fruehauf workers and Falstaff workers and International Harvester workers and ITT and Rea Wire and Magnavox – with fair numbers of white collars of each. People who bought new cars every year or two, and who had trailered speed boats on their driveways.

    I remember that part – but as I became a teenager, and began thinking about what sort of job I wanted, the term “factory job” came to equal images of layoffs and strikes and hard times.

    Could be wrong, but I bet people just 10 years older than me really believed the promise of ‘factory jobs’, and faced real disappointment

    1145 chars

  6. Joe K said on September 25, 2007 at 10:56 am

    My question to you all that think an auto worker makes to much money, is why did YOU not apply for the job. Was it not high brow enough for you? or did you not want to put up with the hard work, and believe me it is hard. I did it for 30.5 yrs, no air conditioning 120 + in the summer, so hot you sweat when you put on your work boots. What ever you Alex or Colleen make per year I wish you made more, I would never tell anyone that they make to much or do not deserve the wage they make. Remember The big three signed those contracts, they knew what is was going to cost them, and they did not plan for the future. Why make the guy or gal on the line pay for there lack of planning. As for the imports costing less to produce, that is true,but remember, the imports went into area’s that never had high paying jobs and found people who had never made more than min-wage or less,just wait a few more years and the story’s of these people having repetative work injury’s start to surffice and the imports will claim no responsability for those people. Then who will pay for there health care???
    Joe K.
    Us Steel Worker

    1131 chars

  7. nancy said on September 25, 2007 at 11:00 am

    I only hope the UAW isn’t as tin-eared as it’s been in the past. Example: The last big strike (1998? Around there) lasted about 40 days or so. Everyone knew that’s exactly how long it would last, having calculated the maximum allowable losses on both sides in this silly dick-measuring contest. My neighbor Dwight, who worked for GM, put money aside and made a long to-do list. The last day of the strike, he crossed the last item off the list. (Bathe the dog, if you’re interested.)

    Others, specifically in Defiance, Ohio (where I read the story in the local paper), were lining up at FOOD BANKS and free school-supply giveaways two weeks into the strike, with their hands out. Many of these were two-career couples, which would put their no-overtime income well into the six figures. You’d think they could go six weeks on their savings, but maybe not. If nothing else, if I’d been in local union management, I’d have been going after those dipshits with a whip. But that’s me.

    I don’t begrudge union workers their wages — it’s difficult work. Factories suck. I wouldn’t want to work there, and the phrase “you couldn’t pay me enough” applies. Their benefits, now, that’s another thing. The union has long been divorced from the idea that health care costs are out of control in this country, and a workforce that large has to do its part to keep costs in line. But they complain bitterly about things the rest of us accepted long ago — rising co-pays, mainly. You should hear some of Alan’s mom’s friends bitch about having to pay $5 for each prescription; why, it used to be nothing! The nerve!

    1607 chars

  8. LA mary said on September 25, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I just got a new quote on what it’s going to cost me to insure myself and my two kids for medical, dental and vision, and it works out to about 3800. per year. I could go HMO and it would be about a third as much, but my assistant, who is sick today, called to get an HMO appointment, and the first one available is 10/30. I don’t want to be in that situation with my kids.

    373 chars

  9. Jason said on September 25, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    I gotta go with Joe on this one, even though I’m a “degreed professional” who doesn’t make GM-level wages.

    Why are the people who build our cars, drive our trains, can our food, and make our paper less valuable to society than people in sit in an office (like me) and punch computer keys all day?

    I could go for some time without the Internet. I’d have a hard time living without transportation, food and toilet paper.

    On the other hand, like Nancy, I’m not sure a strike against GM at this point accomplishes much of anything … and I’m a UAW member. It’s a little like throwing a drowning man both ends of a rope.

    But Ron Gettelfinger isn’t a bomb-throwing leftist radical, and when he says this strike was a last resort, I’m inclined to believe him. (I was surprised and impressed that the union didn’t walk out at Delphi a few years ago. The Delphi situation — including the fat executive bonuses Nancy mentioned — was odorous.)

    Having been through a few steel strikes as a kid, no one wins. The UAW strike fund pays $200 a week. You want to live on $200 a week for a while? I sure as hell don’t. I’d be at the food bank, too.

    Your mileage may vary. (And will probably be higher in a Prius, unfortunately.)

    1234 chars

  10. john c said on September 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Alex, your post hit it on the head. Although I do think there are benefits for all of us in buying American, I don’t quibble with your reasoning when it comes to the “poor” UAW workers. I’m guessing you, like me, are a person who generally leans toward the workers when it comes to disputes between little guys and giant corporations. But it’s pretty freakin’ hard to muster support for guys who cry poor when they are hauling down huge bucks with gold-plated benefits – and anyone who lives in the D knows the bennies are GOLD-plated. Back when the Big Three were trying to impose their will on underpaid, unprotected workers, the UAW made a lot of sense. Now it is the cement boots on the legs of companies that, if they fail, will send our economy into a tailspin. Basically the union guys need to figure out a way to back down without looking like wimps in front of their buddies. Otherwise the jobs will go away. GM is selling more cars overseas as it is. The only reason Honda and Toyota are building plants here is because they don’t have to deal with the union.
    To some of the other posters sticking up for the union guys, I’m not trying to put down the work. But have you toured Ford’s Rouge plant lately? I didn’t see much heavy lifting. and I would urge one and all to read “Rivethead.” It’s written by the auto worker made famous by Michael Moore in Roger and Me. It’s a very funny and strange look inside the auto plants of the 80s.

    1446 chars

  11. MarkH said on September 25, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    John, you took the post right out of my keyboard on “Rivethead”. I had just pulled it off my shelf last night to start re-reading it in light of press covereage of the strike, and recommend it to everyone. For a factory schlep, especially, Ben Hamper is a terrific writer, with some amazingly funny (and some heartbreaking) stories. And yes, having Moore around didn’t hurt the cause.

    From one (former) steelworker union member to another, I’m with Joe K., too, but only because at a young age, I learned factory work was not for me. It was my summer job in high school and college. Even when they called me 3 years after I was out of college to be a shift supervisor at the plant, I said no. It was just an automotive fastener shipping plant, but the work was dull and hard, and looking at the lifers there all the time just made me sad. And these people didn’t make near what traditional steel workers and auto workers made. The work can be miserable, so I guess I’m ok with them earnign whatever the market allows, even if it is rigged by deals with the devil by companies and the union.

    1254 chars

  12. colleen said on September 25, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    But it’s pretty freakin’ hard to muster support for guys who cry poor when they are hauling down huge bucks with gold-plated benefits –

    I guess that’s my sticking point. Cuz they don’t look like “Powerless little guys” any more, at least to me. And yes, I know the major reason for that IS the union.

    I grew up in Fort Wayne in the 80s. When IH left, and the good life that factory work provided went away. THAT’S part of the reason I don’t work in a factory.

    My grandfather was a steelworker. Didn’t get to retire. He died first.

    560 chars

  13. del said on September 25, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I think Joe K is on to something; as is Stouder when he wonders about feelings of worker “powerlessness.” Cf. Emile Durkheim’s “anomie.”
    I’ve noticed that people who suffer a traumatic life-changing workplace indignity (like being down-sized mid-career) tend to react counterintuitively. Instead of gaining sympathy for other workers up against the same system, they tend to react against them when they seek job security, or more vacation time, whatever. So lately I’ve made it a point to not complain about jobs whose workers get generous vacation time or health care benefits. We should all have it so good.

    615 chars

  14. john c said on September 25, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    del … what exactly do you mean by “workers up against the same system”? I think you are missing the point entirely. Very few workers exist in the same system as the UAW, where if you get laid off you don’t have to work … but you still get paid! Very few people know that they will never, ever have to pay a cent for health care, including prescriptions, no matter how much the price of those things goes up, and no matter how long it’s been since they worked at the job that gave them those benefits. The UAW workers are not “powerless,” as you suggest. Strike that, the workers are powerless in the churning waters of globalization. The union is drunk with power.

    668 chars

  15. del said on September 25, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    john c, you’re right. I did miss the point. I was talking of non-union employers. Totally different. (You’re right about the job bank.) I think that 9 out of 10 workers are not in a union and thus have no job security as at-will employees. In the 80’s and 90’s several non-union employees I know were forced to retire prematurely in their 50’s when their careers should have been peaking. As my 96 year old grandmother would always say, “50’s? That’s young!” I hope the union isn’t drunk with power. Hard to say from my vantage point. My late grandfather worked in something called “polishing and buffing” at GM plant in Southwest Detroit for decades and by the time he retired in about 1970 he was fed up with union excesses.

    738 chars

  16. ashley said on September 25, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    You know, I was kinda worried about my job, until one of my employer’s lawyers missed a sentence in this press release.

    “Granting tenure is a guarantee of lifetime employment.”

    Now, I’m golden. Although my health care is as much as everybody elses…

    358 chars

  17. brian stouder said on September 25, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Well, as I steam toward 50 and beyond, I was heartened to see that over-the-road trucking firms snap up guys my age, and pay starts at approximately $50k. (it seems that older guys listen to instruction and follow the rules, and take care of the equipment, and don’t drive like they’re in a race against the world)

    The job I have is a good one – but who knows what tomorrow holds?

    385 chars

  18. Julie Robinson said on September 25, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    I’m sorry to tell you this, Brian, but those jobs are crap, too. One of our good friends loves to drive and travel and took the bait after his divorce. He was miserable. Always tired, never able to eat healthily, never knowing when they would call him in. The company he worked for was supposedly one of the honest ones, but bent all the rules about time on the road. If his shift ended in Indianapolis, that’s the time they used towards when he could drive again. Never mind that he had to get back here before he could sleep. And he had to pay for his own training, too.

    There is no job security anywhere and there are almost no jobs with the kind of benefits the auto workers get. Most of the middle class is going backwards and will never get to fully retire. And we are bankrupting our country in Iraq.

    Yesterday a volunteer where I work told me about her son-in-law, who has been on four tours of duty in Iraq/Afghanistan. Nice guy, devoted to his wife and son. But this last time he came home, they could immediately tell something was wrong. Sure enough, he exploded, picked her up and threw her out of the house. Her arm was hurt but fortunately not broken.

    Now the wife and son (who is 10 and witnessed the whole thing) are living in a FEMA trailer and everyone is going to counseling. How do they fix him? He is broken just the same as if a limb had been blown off. I just want to scream when I hear these tales. Mr. Smug Idiot in the White House is ruining everything.

    1508 chars

  19. MarkH said on September 25, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    And, Julie, those trucks (at least the major companies’) have GPS satellite tracking now, so they always know where the rigs are, and if the drivers are on THEIR schedule. They tout it in their tv commercials as an efficiency thing for transporting your goods, but, of course, it comes at a price for the drivers. (“What are you doing in Tulsa?! You’re supposed to be pulling into Waco right now!!”)

    399 chars

  20. Julie Robinson said on September 25, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Yes, he had a GPS but it didn’t work properly to help guide him, so he had to buy his own. Because he was totally on his own as far as finding his way. In more ways than one.

    176 chars

  21. LA mary said on September 25, 2007 at 7:28 pm

    Very cool, Ashley. I’m envious. We are having a reorganization here at the hospital which has everyone in a crap mood. I don’t know if I’m safe or for how long. I know at least six in my department who aren’t, who will lose their jobs within a year. All of them are very long term employees, all in their fifties.

    313 chars

  22. Colleen said on September 25, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Mary, my mom survived a lot of downsizing at Lincoln National, and she said after awhile it was like surviving a plane crash. It was just a terrible environment for a period of time, and while you’d be glad you made the cut, you’d feel terrible for those who didn’t.

    Actually, both of my parents were retired, rather than retiring when they were ready. Dad’s company (a commerical printer) closed…see ya, sayonara, later, don’t let the door hit ya. Mom got eliminated when LNC moved their HQ. She got a decent, very fair, goodbye package. But that’s not to be expected anymore, I don’t think.

    602 chars

  23. nancy said on September 25, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Or as we sometimes said at the News-Sentinel (where we got no goodbye packages): The living will envy the dead.

    111 chars

  24. alex said on September 25, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    I remember my first downsizing. What was even harder to take than the news was the job search consultant they had us meet with on the way out the door. We were told to go to this woman’s office the next day for tips on résumés and interviewing, a free parting gift.

    The consultant’s advice? Don’t admit to any prospective employer, no matter what, that you’ve been laid off. Lie.

    So not only did we get the bum’s rush but the most bum advice I’ve ever heard.

    467 chars

  25. brian stouder said on September 26, 2007 at 8:24 am

    And hey! – let’s not let those bodacious tan-lines pass by without a remark…

    This odd woman’s name kept giving me a flash-back, and then (thanks to the Google) I found this –

    a fine old movie, which really has nothing at all to do with a moth-like woman drawn to the flames of a piece of human wreckage like OJ…except that ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ sort of echoes with Miss Christie Prody (to me)

    Maybe her eventual tell-all book will be called The Slime of Miss Christie Prody (subtitle – Not a Slut, and Not Yet Slitted by OJ)

    588 chars