About Detroit, first comes envy. . . then comes Schadenfreude; a $5.00 word that translates as glee when “he gets his.”
Word is out that GM and Chrysler claim they need more. This missive is prompted by that word.
To one degree or another, at various times, everyone takes private delight in the misfortunes of others.
No? When you’ve been waiting for what seems an interminable slow grind of minutes, waiting in the grocery market checkout line, a clerk suddenly opens an adjacent register and the shopper behind you recklessly races over to grab that spot in the new line, and the clerk’s scanner doesn’t recognize one of that customer’s items, and the need for a “price-check on Register 3” leaves that oh-so-eager-beaver abruptly mired in a retail twilight zone . . . you’re going to tell me that you don’t smile inwardly?
You’re lying, and you know it.
Not the lying part, the smiling part: that’s Schadenfreude. And there’s been an awful lot of it lately, as it relates to the plight of the American autoworker.
There are so many principles working here, principles of equal weight, that I’m going to raise them in no order of preference. They’re all equal.
As background, my now-deceased father worked for a few years at GM’s Warren Tech Center as a designer. Later, he secured a similar position with Ford, only a handful of minutes from our home and for better money. He worked for Ford until he retired. He was not in the UAW, he was white collar. And until their deaths, both he and my mother enjoyed full benefits: a generous retirement package, and 100% medical that included dental, vision, and hearing.
Following my Army discharge at Fort Carson, Colorado, I motored north on I-25 to Denver. For a year I worked in the GM warehouse just west of old Stapleton Airport. I was in the UAW. When in the summer of ’68 that I moved back to Michigan, to enter college, ‘prior to’ I worked on GM’s Willow Run assembly line, about ten miles westerly along I-94 from Ann Arbor.
My job on the line: assembling the loose and constantly in revolt wires that were to compose a car-seat frame. Anybody think that’s easy? Tell you what, I’ll take three wire clothes hangars, cut the hook ends off, then let’s see how well you do — configuring the gathered into a cube . . . as the intended assemblage moves before your station, down a conveyor belt. I quit after four and one-half days! That summer of ‘68 was also the last time I was in anyone’s union.
While I was in the Army, Cliff Ford, my next door neighbor while I was growing up, worked in one of the slit-pits, installing transmissions at the Cadillac assembly line in Detroit. You may think you’ve done hard work at some time in your life. Lemme tell you: You ain’t done nothing harder than spending one-third of a day, day-in, day-out, in the dark, dank and gloom of a slit-pit, lifting transmissions into place. Cliff was in the UAW. He made enough to support himself in dignity. And he earned every cent.
“Unions: they’ve ruined this country.” As have you, I’ve heard that more times than I can count. Perhaps, unlike you, every time I’ve heard it, for two reasons, it makes me as angry as anything else can.
The first is because it demonstrates what must be the near total ignorance of the speaker. “Ruined” is an adjective, an absolute, connoting the object has been damaged beyond repair; “beyond repair.” When something has been so completely damaged, the only thing left to do with it is to toss it on the trash heap.
You either love this country, or you don’t; no middle ground. My request to those who feel it has been ruined absolutely beyond repair, is to just get the hell out . . . NOW! We don’t need your ignorance and we don’t need your attitude. Both bring us down.
The second reason is because it just is not so, that the unions have wrought anything damaging. Rather, whether you’re a retail clerk or an engineer in a high-tech company, every employment benefit you enjoy — from vacation time, to overtime pay, some minimum wage floor, to fully-paid or some employer-contribution medical insurance, to defined-benefit or defined-contribution retirement — is a benefit you did not earn. A union, and most especially the UAW, won that for you in battles with hard-as-nails employers who relaxed their absolute strangleholds only grudgingly.
The most pertinent question each of us must ask ourselves is whether we feel an American should be expected to toil long and hard, yet not be able to provide the basics necessary to support him- or herself and a family; shelter, food, clothing, etc., whether he or she should be expected to toil long and hard, yet still have to live with a parent, and receive some government assistance?