Tuesday, September 25, 2007


What would you do?

We saw this little electric car (the Volt) at the Detroit auto show in January, and of course it was my favorite. I dragged Don out into the frigid cold to downtown Detroit because I wanted to see cars with alternative fuel sources, I thought it would be a big year for cars like this in the news. (And I had the East Lansing Daily Photo blog to keep going.)

Well this little guy is one of the reasons the GM United Auto Workers union has gone on national strike for the first time in 37 years: They want GM to build this car in the US, not in Asia. They want job security: 73,000 workers nationally, over 5,000 locally here around Lansing.

So many issues! I've been supporting foreign cars for years because the quality is better. (However I currently drive a Chevy Aveo.) But I don't want 73,000 American workers out of work. I have to see "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and get angrier at the auto company executives for killing the technology of this alternative car energy in the 1970s.

Yes, auto execs at GM asked that their salary be halved earlier this year to help the struggling auto company (or at least to help how they look). Only $2.5 million for the CEO Rick Wagoner, not $5 million. And no bonuses this year. But their compensation packages still doubled! (Stocks, etc.)

Even auto workers are finally disgusted with auto execs and the choices they've made in the past few decades. Detroit could have been, should have been, the leader in alternative fuel-burning car development! Detroit could have been Paris by now. This could have been the Riviera. But no, they let Japan take the lead in developing hybrid cars. Our execs were greedy for the high price tags and profits of SUVs. Don't misunderstand me, I want all countries, all economies to do well. I'm not waving the American flag for dominance, believe me. I just want this powerful country of ours to take a lead IN THE RIGHT THINGS.
This also raises the question of unions. We recently watched the folksinger Woody Guthrie's story in the film "Bound for Glory" which is also about the start of unions in the US. Back in the 1930s, unions were an important way for poor workers to obtain and maintain their rights. Wiki has a history of the United Auto Workers. And here is a UAW timeline.

But what do unions do for many of us now? I don't belong to a union, but Don does. But because his is for public school employees, it's against the law to strike. So what power do they have for the $800 per annum they pay per person? And auto plant workers make $26 an hour now. How times have changed.

So many questions, so little time.

Anyway, if you were the CEO of GM, what would you do?


Anonymous said...

Hi Ruth,

I think there should be unions for jobs paying $6 an hour; not $26! If I were the CEO of GM, I would invest in marketing smaller and more efficient cars that benefit the environment. There are purposes for trucks and SUVs, but those purposes are not carting around 2.5 kids to soccer and ballet practice. I'll forward your post to Chris. He may have something to say. He's very irritated with the U.S. auto industry right now.

Anonymous said...

I share your frustrations, Ruth. I run biodiesel in my car and E85 most of the time in my truck (even though E85 is inefficient and a feeble attempt to ween us off gasoline). Also I don't like the idea of gas/electric hybrids; I am more a fan of a diesel/electric hybrid. Biodiesel has nearly the same energy as dino diesel and is really where we should be focusing our attention since can be made from locally grown cropa. All we can do is let our voices be heard through where we spend our money.

Loring Wirbel said...

I have a tale of woe to tell. A very good friend (not a nationalist-unionist, but a thoughtful Swedenborgian-philosopher UAW activist) insists I should have waited for the Volt, but I went ahead and got a Prius and love it to death. (I also seriously doubt whether Detroit could work out the bugs in a true zero-emission, plug-in vehicle in a decent amount of time, no matter where it was produced.) I told him I do not practice corporate loyalty for a particular nation, since neither Japanese nor U.S. companies (nor any other transnationals on the planet) give the workers themselves any loyalty for saying meaningless slogans like "Buy American." I also told him I don't expect him to support U.S.-based journalism as it slowly dies. If I was working for Newsweek and he told me he was only reading The Economist because U.S. newsweeklies were all moronic, I would say, "You're absolutely right! Good for you!" Nevertheless, he's no longer speaking to me because the UAW's concept of brand loyalty doesn't jive with my own sense that all corporations such separately and equally. I feel really sad that I lost a friend because I drive a Prius today instead of waiting for a Volt tomorrow. But his attitude seems a throwback to the days when UAW members used to take a sledgehammer to Datsuns. Heavy sigh.

Loring Wirbel said...

oops, that one line was supposed to be "all corporations suck, separately and equally."

Ruth said...

Heather, my stomach turns every time I see one of those pearl-colored Cadillac Escalades drive by with one person, the driver, a suburban mom.

I know, I'm a stereotype, but I just can't stannit.

Ruth said...

Chris, saw some biodiesel cars at the auto show, these seemed to be the best options there. If you can afford one of those cars, it's the way to go and give the message. Michigan is getting more desperate by the hour, maybe the remnants of previous governors, mayors and auto execs. People are leaving in droves. What is there for them to do here, well, there are lots of IT jobs in Lansing and not enough workers.

Ruth said...

Loring, that's painful, your friend's loyalty to a mindset and not to a friend. That hurts. Toyota has bought the market on hybrids, they beat everyone to the punch. You can't wait around forever for Detroit to do the right thing, and as Chris says, how good are these Volts now, when they hold a charge for a few hours. My sister Ginnie bought a Civic the first year they came out with a hybrid, and she's been thrilled with it and subsequent models.

Ruth said...

Oh, and my Chevy Aveo, it was built in Korea (Kia).

Theresa said...

It is a definite catch 22. Unions allow safe working conditions, allow for overtime hours so people are not working 12+ hour days, allow workers to have health insurance so their kids can get the proper health care.
The down side is all that raises the price of the car. But you would think with America treating their workers better the workers would take more pride in their work to build better cars!
I could debate for both sides.

Loring Wirbel said...

Oh, Theresa, I'm not anti-union by any means, though way too many people are starting to treat unions as a moldy old anomaly. I just think UAW needs to think really hard about its relations with GM, Ford, etc.

Ruth said...

UPDATE: The strike is over, GM workers will go back today on the afternoon shift. UAW agreed to a VEBA (voluntary employee benefit association), a trust that GM invests in, and the UAW will oversee coverage of benefits for current GM employees and retirees. Other companies, such as Bethlehem Steel, have followed this type of plan to help themselves get out of debt. Of course GM promises that this will help keep jobs in the US, but there has been talk of 30,000 layoffs in the coming year/s. There will be discussion about this VEBA before the agreement is signed, but at least for now, the workers are back at work.

Ruth said...

Theresa, yes, there are still benefits from unions, I agree with you. And yep, they get stodgy and mess things up for some.

rachel said...

I would click my heals three times and say, "There's no place like home..." When I awoke to the thankful reality that I had not indeed murdered Stanley Meyer, that it was just a nightmare, or maybe the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future trying to teach me a lesson, I would run to Stanley's home!!!

"Stanley, thank you so much for your commitment to living in the light of wisdom, for creating this beautiful technology that brings us closer to walking on this Earth in accordance with nature!" I would throw my arms around this man and do the happy dance.

I would start plans to recycle the steel from all of the cars that fill our junkyards enough times over to make enough hydrogen powered cars for everyone in the world!

I would boast the errors of my ways, explaining that this morning it was as if I had awoken from a terrible dream, and I would ask for everyone's support in making this dream a reality.

I would do what I love, leading with my heart, and not worry about the money. Transforming the world would be payment enough.

I would allow people the opportunity to "build their own cars." If people were actually involved in the process of building their cars, chances are, they would be capable of repairing them!

My cars would be available to everyone by love donations.

Ginnie said...

I must say, Ruth, that I was a very happy camper to drive 1033 miles back-n-forth to see Auntie Sue on 2 tanks of gas (12 gallons each)...and just a hair over. I averaged 43.5 mpg, which for a hybrid car (my Honda Civic Hybrid is 5+ years old) is lower on the highway than city miles. I do think Toyota has oneupmanship over Honda these days when it comes to hybrids, so I might even change allegiance, it it comes to that. But I'm guessing my little car will last me several more years at the rate I'm driving it now (very little).

Good questions, though. We of all people should have definitely figured it out by now!

Ruth said...

Rachel, who's Stanley Meyer??

It's the saddest thing to me at this moment that people with hearts for people don't generally become CEOs of corporations.

Ruth said...

Boots, I know how much it meant to you to take that trip and know you were not burning more gas. You've always had the right mindset, even when it wasn't the trend. Just like Dad.

Those miles were full of love for Auntie Sue, that rock of a woman who keeps living and living and tickling us with her witty ways. Bless you for that.

Loring Wirbel said...

Regarding CEOs, the awful truth that Brian Santo mentioned in my Adam Smith post is that we as a society value zero-sum ruthless types as CEOs. Not just the investors, but the customers, and yes, even many of the employees like the type of executives that say, "I only win if all of you lose." And that's a societal sickness that goes a lot deeper than specific CEOs. Or specific presidents.

Raw Kale said...

Stanley is one of the folks who claims to have used water to fuel a vehicle. He is not the only one. But like others, he is dead and his work confiscated.

It is impossible to know the truth of these things as big corps, oil companies and gov't do a really good job of hiding the truth about what's really going on, and whether his death was a murder, is not known.

He is a poster child for people who have invented cutting-edge technology- but are no where to be found and neither is their work.

Raw Kale said...

Also, I agree about the sickness. You can see the people in their huge jacked up trucks and SUVs that seem to enjoy running people off the road- sick! A lot of people in Phoenix thrive on this energy.

Rauf said...

i grew up seeing things my father used with 'made in USA' written on it. i don't see them any more.
'made in USA' was superior quality and built to last. it had respect. i think USA missed taking advantage of respect its products had. i remember a ride in a huge Buick taxi for 30 miles, it was so comfortable that i fell asleep
This was 50 years ago.

i remember we avoided things made in England and Germany.
Made in Japan was considered cheap and of poor quality.

Except for guns and weapons of mass destruction, perhaps nothing else is purely American. Components of American products come from Asian countries, which may make the product cheaper but at the cost of the quality.

Indians have no respect for things made in India. They always wanted American products, now we are after Japan or Korean products.
Very good quality things are made in India, only poor and middle class like me buy them. the elite display 'foreign goods' It is a status symbol.

Rauf said...

Tricky situation Ruth,
US cannot slap a ban on imports when it is twisting the arms of smaller nations not to do so.
Farmers farmhands going jobless and comitting suicides for the same reason in India.

People's interst is not a high priority in the US. It is forcing other countries to do the same. Globalisation and Freedom of choce throws millions of people out of work. Few multi nationals make all the money resulting in unemployment and misery. This is not freedom.
Freedom means nothing to those who are thrown out of their houses for no payment of mortgages, for those who cannot afford to educate their children, for those who cannot afford to go to a doctor, for those who cannot afford one square meal.

A country should protect the interst of its people first, this includes US.

Ruth said...

rauf, I couldn't agree more. Economics, our "interests," are the priority of this administration and others before it. That's why we went to war in Iraq. Went to war to protect our economic interests in the region. Pure and simple.

If we will go to war for this, then of course we will also do many other ruthless things to improve our own bottom line. If we can kill how many innocent civilians how many times in how many arenas, for our own power and authority, out of our own arrogance, we will not mind putting poor farmers out of work.

I say "we" and it shames me. This is my country, and I am deeply ashamed. Freedom and democracy are empty terms used freely to make doing what we want sound fine. Some are fooled, but not as many as used to be. I do what I can to fight it. As I wrote you yesterday, I wish I could get away from a place where I am so severely misrepresented.

We don't do things for the right reasons.

I have seen some products from India, beautiful quality. I wear them proudly. People will always buy items for status, such silliness, and avoid what is under their noses.

Thank you, rauf, I know it isn't easy to criticize the US when you are leaving a comment on an American blog. Thank you. I could go on and on.

Ruth said...

RK, I seem to have missed a lot about this Stanley. Thank you so much for the explanation.

Ruth said...

rauf, I think you sent me off on my own tangent. You were talking about manufacturing and exports, etc., and I got off on a slightly more violent subject.

"Except for guns and weapons of mass destruction, perhaps nothing else is purely American." This is our export to the world.

Rauf said...

Ruth, after much thought i titled my environment series as SPEED.
Speed is most damaging Ruth. We are dealing with giant multinationals who want to make huge money very fast. These giants are running their country. The only way they can make very fast money is war, Defence contracts, lowering the quality of products by cheap imports, sending thousands of people jobless. They are insensitive to the sentiments of their own people and partiotism is not found in their dictionary.
i also say that partiotism clouds our judgement. Such people will not hesitate to do anything. They create reasons for plunging the country into a war. War is fast money.

No government is perfect Ruth. India is literally run by thugs, and astrologers, though some respectable people are occupying important chairs. These giant multinationals deal with same thugs in every country. Citizens are the sufferers in the end. They work so hard for so little that they can hardly meet their needs.

Ruth said...

I wonder if there is an end to it, rauf.

Here in the US, this system is kept going by Americans who want to get everything for the lowest price. This attitude drives it, plus the trade markets and the need for best return. Fair trade has helped a little, but because the farmers themselves are little educated about their rights and how the system works, they succumb to the ruthless measures of sharks. The poor producers get their money once a year, can you imagine? And if they fear they won't get what is coming to them in time for all their expenses, they might sell early to sharks who will rip them off, but they at least have their cash. I complain about the cost of gas or milk, but I still afford it.

As you say over and over on your blog, the day is going to come when we'll all be forced to deal with these things out of necessity. The world will change, and we will all be in survival mode. Maybe not in my lifetime or yours, but the day will come.

sex said...