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Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Jim Leyland is pretty wise himselfVia Dan Shaughnessy, the Tigers' skipper talks about how the GM bankruptcy affects the Tigers:
"We actually had a team meeting about it," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio, where he had a job cutting windshields for GM cars. "I told the guys, 'This is not a year to not run out ground balls.' We get a check every two weeks, and there are people who just found out they ain't getting a check. We've got to pinch ourselves and realize how lucky we are."
The GM bankruptcy doesn't impact me directly. I don't have any family of friends who work there and anyone I care about deeply left Detroit years ago. To the extent I'm affected, it's the same way most people are affected: indirectly via macroeconomic forces.
But there are some random strands of my DNA that are tied up in the domestic auto industry, and they're making all of this rather difficult for me. My great grandfather came to this country from Romania at the turn of the last century and struggled like hell to feed his family until the day he got a job finishing woodwork for the dashboards on Cadillacs. My dad grew up in Dearborn, Michigan, which in those days was like on campus housing for the Ford Motor Company. The Ford family, with the help of their toadie, Mayor-for-life Orville Hubbard, did everything they could to make life miserable for any non-white, non-Christians who dared move to Dearborn back then, but most folks in Dearborn loved Ford like a boy loves his momma. Though neither of my parents worked for GM, I lived the first eleven years of my life in Flint, the most GM-dominated town there ever was. Yes, malaise was just over the horizon, but when I was in Flint salaries were still high and unemployment was still low. Everyone on my block worked at the Chevy Truck and Bus plant at the corner of Bristol and Van Slyke, and they lived very, very well all things considered.
Intellectually I realize what happened to the U.S. auto industry. Complacency, inefficiency, laziness and a business model that only made sense if the rest of the world was reduced to rubble (which it was, by the way, when the business model was conceived) meant that life as we knew it in southeastern Michigan in the mid-to-late 20th century was utterly unsustainable. There was no way that GM was ever going to avoid bankruptcy and, truth be told, it probably should have gone that way a hell of lot longer ago than it did. As an institution, I am more than happy to say good riddance to the domestic auto industry as we knew it.
But institutions are abstractions. People are not. Whatever the reasons and whoever is to blame, the people in Michigan are hurting like hell today, and based on my upbringing, I have a bit clearer a picture of what those people look like than some people do (hint: the popular caricature of the obnoxious UAW worker with an overactive sense of entitlement is about as prevalent as any other caricature created by idiots with an agenda).
I think those people are strong enough to tolerate Gerald Laird dogging it down to first on a grounder once in a while, but it's nice of Jim Leyland to be able to put himself in the fans' shoes and, like Baker in the previous item, say something his audience needs to hear.
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 4:13pm
Excellent article and commentary. Rather than go into a 5000 word essay on my personal experiences I’ll thank you for the thoughtful interpretation as all I could add would be comments authenticating your veracity.
Posted 06/03 at 05:03 PM
I appreciate your perspective, and with a family that lives in northern Indiana and an uncle who may very well have lost his job at a GM dealership (we don’t talk much), I suppose I should be more worked up about this. But honestly? I’m 23 years old. I grew up post- Roger & Me. I have never been alive when GM didn’t make absolute garbage cars. I have long rolled my eyes at the huge truck craze. I drove a hand-me-down Saturn that, while not awful, wasn’t exactly great either. I have never been cognizant of GM as a positive influence on our society in the here and now. Maybe that makes me an effete liberal Easterner. I certainly have my moments of that.
In short, I think this was a long time coming, and wish it could’ve happened without all this government intervention, and I hope the UAW isn’t the scapegoat for this. GM was already dead. I hope whatever’s left is successful, but I have no tears for the GM I knew in my lifetime.
Posted 06/03 at 06:29 PM
My last two “absolute garbage cars” got over 250,000 miles. It’s always nice to see people echo cliched generalizations to fit their preconceived notions.
Posted 06/03 at 07:27 PM
mike in brooklyn said...
It ain’t about some nebulous concept contained in the letters “GM”, Grant. It is about a whole lot of people who are going to sleep terrified for themselves, their family, their future. I live in the city. I’ve never even owned a car. And I have also rolled my eyes at the huge truck craze. But I’m still a member of the human race and have something known as empathy.
And, while I can’t speak for you being effete or liberal, I can assure you that if you live in Indiana, you ain’t no easterner.
Posted 06/03 at 07:37 PM
unbelievable that in this day and age, someone would still think like that. i bet he pines for the days when women and non-whites couldnt vote. having been a rust-belter for all of my 44 years, i have seen the steel industry, the rubber industry and now the auto industry leave. how many times do we need to reinvent ourselves just to feed our families?
Posted 06/03 at 07:47 PM
Aaron Moreno said...
I’ve been relatively happy with the GM vehicles in my life. However, it doesn’t matter how good a car GM made. It mattered that they lose money on each vehicle they sell.
Posted 06/03 at 07:48 PM
Do the union and those that run it share any responsibility for GM and Chrysler’s current states?
Posted 06/04 at 08:40 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Sure they do. As do the companies themselves. And previous union and company leadership. And state and local governments that long maintained an incentive structure that rewarded inefficiency and poor decisions. External factors—everything from materials costs, tariffs foriegn and domestic, foreign competition, foreign governments, etc. etc. It’s a rich tapestry of suck, and to lay blame on any single party is overly simplistic.
But blame isn’t the point here (at least not my point). Whatever the cause, there are a lot of people’s lives and livelihoods that have been ruined as a result of this mess, and I have sympathy for them.
Posted 06/04 at 08:45 AM
I always see the comments that the Union(s) have ruined this industry or another. What about all the top heavy management and all the bonus’ and perks the give themselves. All one has to do is look at another Top heavy institution in this country the U.S. Postal Service. Don’t blame the NALC or the APW, and despite any media spins, blame the top heavy management that creates more jobs to chase letter carriers and clerks.
Posted 06/04 at 09:21 AM
I generally agree with the theory that, in similar situations, spreads blame among the many rather than directs it at one. And I share your sympathy for those negatively impacted.
Posted 06/04 at 09:40 AM
Craig, great post. I think it stinks that we’ve poured so much taxpayer money into GM (I’ve seen one estimate that the billions invested equal out to over $450k per worker so far). But that shouldn’t make us blind to the human factor here of people losing their jobs and wondering what comes next.
I’m not sure what Grant said that was offrensive—unfortunately, it may have been largely speaking the truth. With regard to assigning blame, it’s shared by any number of parties. Management for kicking the can down the road and not dealing with the problems of an unsustainable business model. The UAW for choosing to win what will soon be empty promises at the bargaining table to set legacy costs that made it impossible for GM to make a profit on anything other than large cars. The government for imposing regulations that cut into GM’s ability to make a profit, and for protecting constiuencies like the unions and the dealer networks, hamstringing the company’s ability to change. And the American consumer, perhaps, for doing what the free market gives us the right to do—drive something else.
The first car I remember riding in was my Dad’s 1971 Chevy Nova. I drove more than one GM product during high school and college. In 1999, I bought my first car from an automaker other than GM—a Honda Accord. I haven’t purchased a GM product since—my family has cars made by automakers in Germany and Japan, and I don’t recall the last time I felt a desire to buy a car from a U.S. automaker.
I see Chuck’s comment and feel sympathy, while knowing that this is the world in which we live today. Unlike generations past and regardless of industry, you’re probably not going to settle into a job with one employer and be able to diligently work at that job until retirement. We’re constantly going to be forced to re-invent ourselves and obtain new skills to remain relevant in a global market where the competition for a good job is much more intense than it used to be. On an intellectual level, that’s somewhat exciting… but on the whole, it’s also unsettling at best and terrifying at worst. As a devotee of the free market, I think competition always produces a better product and eventually a better standard of living for all. But it leads to a lot of sadness and pain.
Posted 06/04 at 11:01 AM