Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And poor General Motors?

As regular readers know, I grew up in "GM Country." Everyone around us worked for General Motors and things were good.

The cars were good and the workers made good money which they in turn spent like there was no tomorrow.

Turns out they were right - only tomorrow was a while in coming.

In the time I lived in Michigan, I saw a GM car go from being the best of the best (don't know much about Fords) to the worst of the worst. As I wasn't in general paying particular attention, I don't know exactly when this started to happen. I suspect it was in the early to mid-1970s.

I never worked in an automobile factory ("the shop"), but I knew a few people of my age who did.

They were not happy campers.

Do unhappy campers make good cars? I think not.

Sure, they made lots of money, had the best medical insurance money could buy, had vacation days up the wazoo and more personal days than I'd bet any of us others got.

But there was something in the culture of the shop that made them feel ... inadequate. I'll get back to that in a minute.

By the time I got out of college and returned to Flint, the only place people my age wanted to work was the shop. Short of being a doctor or lawyer, it was the place to go to make a lot of money.

It was already becoming rather difficult to get in, unless you knew someone. I had a female friend and a boyfriend who got in because their fathers got them in.

My female friend, EA, worked in receiving. She told me herself all the did was sit on her butt all day and read books. Her (now ex-) husband once severed a finger because he was so high he couldn't operate the machine on which he worked.

My ex-boyfriend went into the skilled trades and became a welder. He, too, took a book to work with him. GM gave him an appreciation of reading which he had not enjoyed previously. His cousin, failed at becoming a park ranger (his aspiration), also went into the shop thanks to boyfriend's father. At some later date, he poured boiling water down his legs so he could go on (I think 80%) disability.

EA also ended up leaving on a disability claim. She had a nice house filled with antiques, nice clothes, and lots of leisure.

I don't know what happened to the others. I'm guessing now that boyfriend is retired.

The culture of General Motors was lots of money for little work. I'm not saying no one worked hard. Perhaps it was when the Baby Boomers came on board that things started to slide.

Or maybe I'm just being far too simplistic.

All I know is, when I was a kid we used to have some Chevys and Buicks that ran for years and years. They were built like tanks. Of course, they had 8-cylinder engines and ate gas like nobody's business.

There are some interesting posts about the automaker bailouts on Flint Expatriates and in the New York Times, and I'm sure lots of other places.

One other thing I'll say - living in a car-centric state sure made for good roads. Lots and lots of smooth, pothole-free highway bending and twisting between auto plants on the south side and those on the north.


Ari Herzog said...

As a GM gal, you'll enjoy watching this video released by the company earlier this week that displays information about the ripple effect if the government refuses to bail out Detroit:


Mary said...

Interesting commentary. You're wrong about the roads. They suck. I bought tire insurance for the Saturn I'm leasing. Flushing Road is one long patched and repatched pothole.

Gillian Swart said...

Thanks, Ari. And thanks Mary from Michigan (as opposed to the Mary here). Of course, I have not been back to Michigan for years ... I should not have written without certain knowledge! Then again, you haven't seen the roads out here ... (you're still right).