UAW Activist Gregg Shotwell on Democracy Now - 12/19/08 (Part 1 of 2)
GREGG SHOTWELL- If they let these auto companies go bankrupt, its going to turn this recession into a depression. Im shocked that theyre even contemplating this. Theres no such thing as an orderly bankruptcy. You know, millions of people would be affected. I dont mean directly. You know that General Motors only employs 73,000 UAW members. But its all the suppliers, and those suppliers are going to be affected today. Its going to start with Chrysler, you know, shutting down for the next thirty days. Anybody that supplies them in any way is out of work, and theyre not getting SUB payment, and these people wont even get unemployment. And then General Motors is shutting down all these plants now, too.
The only people who are not at fault in this are the workers. The workers show up every day. They do their jobs. They do them well. They do them diligently. And theyre the only people who should not have to make any concessions. And, in fact, they already have made concessions. And I dont just mean UAW members. Wages have been falling in the United States since 1973. People cannot keep up.
Delphi has been in bankruptcy since October of 2005, and they are still in bankruptcy. It took them almost three years to renegotiate their contracts. And Delphi is not a tenth the size of the General Motors octopus. General Motors and Chrysler, they would be in courts for years. The only people who would make money on this would be attorneys.
The danger of this that I see, as well, is that, you know, in the 90s, when the auto companies were making billions of dollars, they were taking profits out of North America and investing them overseas in Europe, South America and Asia. So theres been a huge transfer of assets overseas. Now, those assets would remain protected in bankruptcy. So what, in effect, theyve done is undermined the manufacturing base in the United States so that they could become a major importer to the United States. You see, they already have fuel-efficient—small fuel-efficient cars that theyre making in Europe and in Asia and in South America. Theyre ready for import. And they would like to be like Toyota. Yes, Toyota has plants in the United States, but Toyota imports about 46 percent of all the cars it sells in the United States. Thats what General Motors is setting itself up to do, and theyre going to use this capitalist disaster to help them wipe out the dealerships and close the plants. And Congress is just going to help them strong-arm the unions into giving up any job security or gains.
Also, youre right about the bankruptcy. And this is one of their goals, is to wipe out the legacy costs. You know, the people who earned a pension and earned healthcare and retirement in the past, they would take that away. To me, its like a thirty-year mortgage. I paid my mortgage every week, and I paid it off. Now that house is mine. Now they want to say, well, were going to take it back.
The real difference is in what they owe the retirees, what they call the legacy costs. Now, youll hear in the media, theyll say GM workers get $73 an hour, and Toyota workers only get $45 an hour. They arrive at that $73 an hour by tacking on the cost of all the retirees onto the active worker. This is fraudulent bookkeeping. This is essentially a Ponzi scheme, wherein the old investors are paid off by the new investors. In other words, the older investors, the retirees, their pay—their pension and healthcare—comes from the new investors, the workers. I heard Keith Olbermann compare it to saying the average wage in America, and then you would add on everybody whos collecting Social Security or pensions. Its really preposterous.
On top of that, I want to emphasize this. I earned my pension while I was working, not [inaudible] somebody else. The guy working today isnt earning my pension. I already earned that. General Motors should have taken that money, set it aside, put it in a trust. If they didnt do that, then theyve committed a malfeasance. Thats their responsibility. Also, when I was working, they charged the customer more money based on the fact, based on their excuse that we have to pay more for this worker because of healthcare and pension and his retirement, so we have to charge the customer more. Whether that was 1980 or 1990, they raised those prices. What did they do with that money? They apparently didnt put it in a trust. But they did—and this is a fact—theyve invested largely overseas. General Motors and Ford, they have more plants overseas than they have in the United States. Theyre ready to become major importers to the United States and dump all their responsibilities to the people who made those profits.