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Frank Hammer: Romney’s fiction about the Jeep plant moving to China has distracted from the real jobs headed to China and loss of jobs due to investment in robotics

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Hammer Report, which is a regular report on the auto industry in Detroit with Frank Hammer. Frank’s a retired GM worker of 32 years. He was the president of the United Auto Workers Local 909. He also worked in the GM department of the United Auto Workers. And he’s now a labor and community activist. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So what’s the sort of big story in the auto industry this week?

HAMMER: Well, it seemed that the story, the big story, was all the brouhaha about the work going to China and all the lies that Romney was spilling out in the air. He—it seems to me that Romney is getting so desperate that he disregarded collateral damage from the bombs that he put out there in the form of responses from General Motors and from Chrysler, telling Romney that he’s living in a parallel universe. So I thought—it shows, I think, Romney’s recklessness with the truth, which he was called on.

JAY: And this was about the Jeep plant, which he said had been given bailout money, and that the jobs in fact were being shipped to China anyway.

HAMMER: Correct. And what the truth was is that the Jeep work is staying in Toledo, and there is an expansion of Jeep sales planned for China. So for the time being, the work that will be done in China building Jeeps will be done for a Chinese market. We don’t know what that will be down the line, but right now that’s what’s planned.

JAY: Now—yeah, go ahead, Frank.

HAMMER: Yeah. And so Romney tried to characterize that as, oh, here’s all these taxpayers coming to the aid of the U.S. industry, and oh my gosh, the GM and Chrysler, they’re going ahead and taking this support and going to China with the jobs. So that was the way he was trying to come back at Obama, and I think it’s failed miserably. I’ve talked to somebody at the Jeep plant in Toledo, and he told me that one of the workers is so angry about the lies that Romney was telling that he actually upped his donation to Obama by another $100 and told me that in the Jeep plant, 15-to-1 is for Obama. So I think that it’s backfired.

JAY: Now, but there is another side to this story, though, and we talked a bit about this in another interview. During the Democratic Party convention, there was this—one of the speakers referred to a worker at the Jeep plant that he talked to, and that the guy—the worker had told this speaker—I think it was a governor; I’m not entirely sure—but the worker had said, “I eat, I sleep, and I Jeep,” and the guy’s working 60 hours a week, lots of overtime. And this was a success story, that somebody is working 60 hours a week. What do you make of this, and also the whole issue of, you know, what’s happened with wages, for example, at Jeep?

HAMMER: Well, I think that the story at this juncture is that while Romney and Obama are, you know, focused on the assembly plants, the assembly operations, for example, in Toledo in Jeep—and by the way, I want to talk about that a little bit. There is an incredible amount of investment that Chrysler or Fiat is making in the Jeep plant in Toledo. One of the upshots of that is that whereas they have 175 robots there currently, I’m understanding now that with the investment, that’s going to be raised to over 900 robots. So the job creation has to be taken with a little bit of—you know, a grain of salt here, because in reality the more and more automation that the automakers introduce in these plants, the fewer and fewer workers there are. And the ones that—you’re right: the ones that are there, that remain, will be working a lot of excessive number of hours, especially if they want to try to keep up—especially the workers in the second tier who are trying to keep up with their brethren in the first tier.

JAY: Right. One would hope such increases in productivity through technology would benefit the people who were working there. But we know that’s not what happens.

HAMMER: Yes. I mean, the legitimate demand of the labor movement, and certainly of the UAW, would be to shorten the hours for the same pay, because we are being so much incredibly more productive these days in these factories than we were many years ago. But nobody is raising that we are entitled to some of the share of the fruits of that productivity.

JAY: And what’s happening in some of the parts suppliers?

HAMMER: Well, I think that this focus on the status of Jeep going to China or not going to China hides what is in fact going on, and that is that the entire parts industry of the U.S. is going to China and to other places. But many, many, many, many parts are going to—being produced in China for export to the U.S. market, and nowhere is this more glaring than in this struggle that’s being waged right now in what’s called—well, it’s Freeport, but it’s been renamed Bainport, because you have one of the companies that’s owned by Bain, connected to Romney, that is closing up shop, laying off 170 workers, and the workers are going to be relocated in China. And that’s the real—that’s one of the most real phenomena that’s going on in the auto industry.

I have some figures for you, just to give you a sense, between—in this last decade, we’ve lost 45 percent of all U.S. parts manufacturing, even though sales, auto sales are up 29 percent since 2009. This has not translated into a turnaround for the parts industry. In fact, the parts industry has only added 60,000 jobs, whereas in the past decade it lost 400,000 jobs. And that’s where all the job losses are going on. And Romney, for obvious reasons, and Obama, neither one of them are speaking of even addressing this or doing something about it. Auto sales since the depth of the recession have increased more than twice as fast as employment and auto parts. So the real story is that GM and Chrysler can talk about, oh, yeah, we’re really rebounding, but they’re not bringing auto workers with them, for sure. They’re abandoning the auto workers and sending the work to China.

JAY: Right. I thought—go ahead, Frank.

HAMMER: No, I’m just saying I think that’s the real story that’s being concealed by all this commotion about whether the Jeep work is going to China or not.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Frank.

HAMMER: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Frank Hammer is a member of the Real News Network Board of Directors, and has been a social justice activist for nearly 50 years. He spent the last 40 years in the labor movement as an autoworker and a member, elected officer, staff representative, and now retiree of the United Auto Workers. Frank was the former president of the Greenacres Woodward Civic Association in Detroit, and he currently represents the association as a member of the Michigan State Fairgrounds Advisory Committee. He is a lecturer in the Labor Studies Programs at Wayne State and Indiana Universities. He’s a board member of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights, an activist with South East Michigan Jobs with Justice, the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW-UAW), and the Autoworker Caravan.