June 22 – Retired autoworkers in Detroit speak to TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay in this series of videos about the automobile crisis. The retirees discuss the concessions made by the UAW that have deepened the economic crisis for the retired and active autoworker; the need and capability in Detroit to produce mass transportation and green energy from the old plants; and the negative image of the unionized autoworker in the media.
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.
Retired auto workers have their say Pt5
JUDY MCREAVY, WIFE OF RETIRED AUTOWORKER: I have a son that’s 36 years old. He has a wife and two children. He would give almost anything to have the same kind of care that Canada has. He is an electrician. He works for the union, Local 58 out of Detroit. He’s worked six months out of the last two years. He lost his insurance. And he has a wife and two children to take care of and no way to take care of it. He would give anything that he could give to have health care for his family like the Canadians have.
AL BENCHICH, RETIRED AUTOWORKER: You know, we’re talking about thinking out of the box. And I think if you look at what’s happened, we—I mean, I’ve lived through an extraordinarily transforming time. I mean we’ve—I had black-and-white TV when I was a kid, you know, and didn’t know what a cell phone was, you know, because there weren’t cell phones. So we’ve lived through a transforming period of time that’s transformed so quickly, but yet we’re still living under the same economic system that we’ve had when we were making, you know, horse and buggies, basically. As jobs that went away, as they’ve been mechanized, as we’ve saturated a market with products, it becomes obvious that if we want full employment, then maybe we need to think of things like reducing the work week and, you know, doing things that allows more people to work but also allows more people to enjoy the advances that we’ve made as a society. And that’s where I don’t see any creative thinking. And I blame my union as much as I do the corporations and the government. As was stated earlier, Walter Reuther would have had, for, you know, any differences I have with him, he would have been out with a ten-point plan of how to re-industrialize the country and reopen the plants. And we don’t have that kind of mission. We are talking about spending $50 billion to put into GM, and the result would be a smaller corporation, fewer jobs, less pay, less benefits. I don’t see how that benefits society.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Right. It reminds me of—what’s the name of that movie? Back to the Future or something like that?
AMY BROMSEN, RETIRED AUTOWORKER: Hi. My name is Amy Bromsen. I retired from Chrysler last fall. And I thought that retirement meant I didn’t have to work. Well, I retired with a 15-year pension, which is about half of what 30-year retiree get, and it’s certainly not the case. I’m fortunate my husband still works for Chrysler. I told him he can never retire, and then we’ll be okay. I think that what’s happened in the union movement in this country is even bigger than what we’ve been talking about here. I think the UAW was present at the birth of industrial unionism, and I think what we’re seeing now in terms of unions is the end of industrial unionism, that you cannot have industrial unionism, equal pay for equal work, when the person working across the line from you is making half of what you’re making without any benefits. And that’s what industrial union is all about—unionism—and it’s gone. And if we look back, I guess, to where you asked about the Canadian system, to where we diverge from Canada, if you look back to the 1980s, the UAW placed this big emphasis on income security, a sub job bank. You can be laid off. That’s okay, as long as you get your income. And the Canadian autoworkers, when they split from the UAW, one of their big issues was they were in it for job security, what they call the onesies and twosies in every community. And it wasn’t so much that attach it was not okay to lay people off, even if they got the same amount of money. Our union went the way of saying that it was our job to keep the corporation profitable. And the minute that you say that, there is no concession too big to be made in order to keep the corporation profitable. In any case, even before this current downtime, I went back at one point and looked at all the COLA diversions, just for health care, where a certain amount of COLA, instead of being folded into my pay, was given back to the company.
JAY: Not everybody knows what COLA is.
BROMSEN: Cost of living allowance. And that instead of it coming to me as pay at the end of the contract as my base pay, it was given back to the corporation because—to help cover the cost of health care. And I believe that before this contract, before the 2007 contract, we had already given back what is now the equivalent of $4,000 a year in COLA diversions alone, pegged for health care.
JAY: Per worker.
BRONSON: Per worker per year. And that the idea that we are not paying for health care is ludicrous. In any case, when we come to the table to bargain as a union, some of the money goes to base pay, some goes to retirees, some goes to health care. Okay? And one of the things that we should be having is—we for years took lower base pay and took that money and put it into benefits. That was our money then. It’s easy to see, if you look at the construction locals, right on each paycheck, on each pay stub, it says this much is coming to you in base pay, this much is being put into your health care, this much is being put into your retirement. But it’s all theirs. Somehow this country has gotten the idea that just because we bargained for health care and pensions and gave up bargaining for the rest of the income for current workers, that that doesn’t belong to us. It certainly does belong to us.
JAY: Now that the union is a shareholder, does that even exacerbate—?
BROMSEN: Well, let me just try to make it a little bit clearer on what it means to be a shareholder. And I’ll try to keep the language polite. Okay? The union and the government owns a controlling share in Chrysler. Now, I don’t know how we got the stock to go in the VEBA, ’cause Chrysler doesn’t have stock, and therefore it’s worth about that much. But with us holding a controlling share, with the US government paying all of your money, your tax money, to go into this deal, okay, when we look at the result, eight plants in the—Chrysler is closing eight plants in the United States, no plants in Canada, and no plants in Mexico. Now, there’s something very wrong with this picture if it’s our money that’s bailing out the corporation. You see, globalization isn’t about —.
JAY: Well, just to be fair, there’s some Canadian bailout money too. There’s a few billion Canadian.
BROMSEN: They can have two of the closed plants. I think the problem is we’ve forgotten what globalization is really about. It’s not import and export and counting cars coming and going; it’s about the free, unfettered movement of capital, of money, from one country to another, where Chrysler doesn’t think anything about closing a plant here and keeping a plant in Mexico open, because what it’s all about is moving money around the world.
JAY: But why are they not closing plants in Canada and they are here? I mean, Mexico the labor is cheaper—I understand it. But why in Canada?
BROMSEN: Well, for a start, when they announced they were going to close a plant, a GM plant in Canada, GM workers marched into the headquarters, took everybody and everything hostage, and they say, no we’re not going to close the plant in Canada. Now, we know what works and we know what doesn’t work, and we’re continuing to do what doesn’t work.
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.