Second in a series of discussions with a group of retired autoworkers in Detroit
GERALDINE CAHILL, TRNN: Hi. I’m Geraldine Cahill with The Real News Network. This autoworkers story is a part of a series we are doing to understand the problems and solutions facing people most affected by the economic crisis. But we can only do this work with your financial support. The economic crisis has hit us hard too. Please become a member today so that we can continue bringing you stories like this.
DIANE FEELEY, RETIRED AUTO WORKER: My name’s Diane Feeley, and I worked at the American Axle plant for ten years until I retired four years ago. And we are the plant that went through the 87-day strike and were crushed last year. And our CEO, Dick Dowd, got an $8 million bonus as a result of crushing our strike. For myself, I do live with a little bit of fear. It’s true I’m now 69 years old. I’m a legacy cost—I’m somebody who is isn’t dying fast enough. And I do have Medicare, so that if they do take away my health insurance, I do have something. But I’m a cancer survivor, so I do worry. And I’m somebody who uses dental benefits, and that doesn’t come on Medicare. And it just seems to me that the whole discussion in the media, the government discussion, the discussion of the corporate heads, is all so narrow. It’s framed around how do we save the auto industry, not how do we make sure that working people have jobs and that our communities can survive. And so if you start with that premise, which is a very different premise, it seems to me you have a lot of reorganizing of the society to do. That is, I do think there are too many automobiles that are being made, not just in America but all over the world. And I think we have to face the fact that we don’t need 93 million vehicles a year, even green vehicles a year. But we do need mass transportation. And here we have a manufacturing center that could make buses and light rail and trains. GM used to make buses but doesn’t anymore. So we have a lot of work to be done. And also many of our manufacturing areas are right on the Great Lakes. So we should be involved in building clean energy. I worked at an axle plant. I understand from environmentalists that it’s very simple to change an axle plant into a wind turbine plant. So we should be making wind turbines, water turbines, solar panels. So these are all the things that could keep plants from closing and keep us working at good wages.
JAY: It seems so obvious what you’re saying, so rational. So why do you think it’s not happening?
FEELEY: Because it’s like—why didn’t the Big Three make a middle-sized car? Because they decided they wanted to make the most profitable thing they could, and that turned out to be trucks and SUVs that were rolling off, and each one was producing $10,000 profit. So they let the transplants develop the small cars and the medium cars. They deliberately gave that up. And you can say they had a short-term perspective, but it seems to me that’s the way it is, that the corporate elite are concerned with short-term profitability, not in reinvesting, not in doing research, not in reconversion and retooling. And they didn’t do it during World War II when Walter Reuther had to force the government to say, “Let’s turn the plants over to be making what’s necessary to be making.” I think the same thing should happen now. And I understand that reconversion during World War II was carried out within eight months. If we had done this immediately last fall, we would already start producing the things that we needed.
JAY: So what you have now is a kind of nationalization, but without any change in the model. Like, they’re still seem to be going back to the same old model of—. I saw an interview on Meet the Press. We’ve used it in a couple of our clips. The new president of General Motors says the way they’re going to compete is with more stylish cars.
FEELEY: Yes, and apparently their ads are doing the same kinds of things.
JAY: But what does it do in terms of your thinking about President Obama? ‘Cause when he campaigned, he campaigned with a vision of a green economy. But if there was ever an opportunity to do it, it would have seemed, from what you’re saying, here it is. But where is the plan?
FEELEY: That’s right. I think he’s thinking totally inside the box. I think on March 30 he announced, “We have to save the auto industry.” No. We have to build a transportation and energy industry that is forward-thinking. And if we don’t, if we don’t do it, what’s going to happen is there will be a green energy industry that will develop, but it will be at nine dollars an hour rather than at good union wages. So that’s why it’s necessary for us to challenge the corporate elite. They have a very narrow vision, and it’s really surprising that Obama and all the people around him seem to have that same narrow vision. I would also say that for the—since World War II, we’ve also had a situation where the benefits are tied to your employer. And many people choose the jobs they have not because they like that but because the employer has good benefits—pensions and health-care. Alright. So now that’s an unsustainable system. So what can we—can we look around the world and see what other system we could use? Well, every other industrialized country has a single-payer health-care system. If we just got rid of the insurance industry, we could provide, through a much smaller amount, proportion, single-payer health care for every single person who lived in this country. So that—I mean, what’s the biggest thing you worry about when you lose your job? That within a month you’re going to lose your health care. So we would change that. What a tremendous burden off people’s backs. And I would say the same thing about pensions. It’s clear the next generation is not going to have pensions. So what can we do? Well, we have a Social Security system. It isn’t enough, so let’s change the Social Security system so that it can be something that working people, when we retire, can live on.
STACY CAMP, RETIRED AUTO WORKER: My name’s Stacy Camp, and I’m one of them there GM gypsies. I’ve been to 10 different plants. I retired out of Delphi in Saginaw, Michigan. And I went to Delphi and of course they went bankrupt, so that was a real good pick on my part. But I have the same concerns as everybody here for my children, my grandchildren, all this. But one of the concerns that I have is how the UAW, or any union worker for that matter, is portrayed in the mainstream media so negatively. And one of the things that surprised me is how many American people didn’t really care if the auto industry collapsed and didn’t care, thought we were a bunch of overpaid union workers anyway, and so what? You know. But there’s no counterbalance of how we support our communities, the United Way, funding the charities that we give to, all the community outreach programs that we have. None of that’s being portrayed at all. And our image is tarnished. And I’m just wondering where our leadership is in this respect. Where is the PR campaign or the campaign to counteract all of this negative press? It’s really disheartening to me.
JAY: What do you say to workers who have been making $13, $14, $12 an hour?
CAMP: I say, I’m not overpaid—you’re underpaid. And that’s one of my main things. You deserve to make a living wage. Nobody that works at the auto plants that works a 40-hour week is living large, believe me. If you have a family—. Now, you’ve got people that work 12 hours a day, seven days a week, yeah, they make some good money. They can afford a lot of the extras. But nobody that makes—that works 40 hours with a family of four or five to raise is living large. They don’t have—.
JAY: But do you think there’s been a problem in auto, maybe in steel’s heyday, and some of the other industries where it was unionized and people were getting paid well, was there a bit of I’m All Right Jack and there wasn’t enough worry about all the unorganized workers that weren’t in unions?
CAMP: Yeah. I—. Yeah, absolutely. And there’s still a lot of that. You hear a lot of that, “Hey, I’m looking out for myself.” You know, even fellow union members will say, “Hey, I’m numero Uno,” you know. The problem is is without a collective voice—that’s the only strength we have as working people or as a people is we don’t have the billions of dollars and stuff to give to politicians; we have our strength, and the only strength we have is our numbers. And the only way we’re going to be able to fight this is by organizing, getting together under one umbrella, and taking it to the streets, taking it out just like they did in the ’60s when all the reforms happened. That’s something that we’re going to have to see in this day and age in order to for anything to change, because even Obama said himself, who I’m very disappointed with lately—and I helped campaign for him—is that “You have to make me do it, and if you don’t make noise, you’re not going to get heard.”
JAY: Are you disappointed enough that if something doesn’t change, you wouldn’t vote for him next time, even if the Republicans look like they might win instead?
CAMP: Oh, we’ll see. No, that’s—that’s the hard part about that question, because—.
JAY: I know. That’s why I asked it.
CAMP: Because—no, I would do anything not to have a Republican in there. But I still have to express my disappointment with Obama. I understand that he has to make some hard choices, but it seems to me these bank bailouts were given billions of dollars. We asked for, you know, one-tenth of that, and they acted like, you know, they want our firstborns and our left legs and, you know, two of our grandchildren in order for us to even get a leg up. And it seems like whenever it benefits the workers themselves that it’s always there’s this big debate, and, oh, we have to discuss this and you guys have to open up your contracts. That was the condition. Part of the proposal for this bailout was that we reopen our labor contracts, and then they come out on the news on all the Sunday shows, they show us about the AIG executive pay, saying, well, a contract’s to contract. You know, we can’t—we can’t break into a contract. You know. And I’m, like, oh, and they really think that’s going to fly right now? You know? And it didn’t, luckily. But they still—they—Gartner still came out and said he doesn’t support a cap on executive pay.
Hi, again. I’m Geraldine Cahill with The Real News Network. Over the next few months, we plan to investigate, report, and debate the different proposals for the future of the North American auto industry. Many people are proposing a revitalizing of the sector, making it the engine of a new, green transportation system. We will investigate and debate this idea, as well as report on how autoworkers are getting organized to advance their own solutions to the crisis. We will do all of this without corporate or government funding. This kind of independent programming is only possible if you become a member of The Real News Network with a tax-deductible donation today. The economic crisis has made things difficult for us, as it has for many others. We need your support today if we’re going to produce the kind of uncompromising journalism that people need. Please click on the “donate” button now and become a member. If you are a member, please contribute again. Let us know you want us to continue this work.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.