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Save the U.S. Auto Industry?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Rowan Wolf     Permalink    (# of views)   4 comments

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I am no fan of the U.S. automakers. They have fought every safety and environmental improvement. They have colluded to disenfranchise the country of functional mass transportation. They have colluded with big oil to make and grow oil demand. They have inserted themselves as major players in governmental policies and agencies. They have supported the global warming denial "movement." They have created demand for huge vehicles, and then blamed their lack of change on consumers. They have been profligate spenders, and not provided the innovation the nation and the world needs.

The list of egregious behavior could go on and on. They are the epitome of "bad actors.' However, I still believe that we cannot risk their failure. There are three reasons I feel we need to hold onto the U.S. auto industry: workers, economy, and maintaining an industrial base.

The table at the end of this article is from the U.S. Census Bureau 2002 manufacturing center reports. While the "Big Three" do not make up all of the motor vehicle sector in the United States, they are a healthy chunk of it. The loss of these corporations would likely result in an overall job loss well in excess of 2 million people. That does not include those in the steel or glass industries. Nor does it count those losses in auto dealerships, repairs and parts sales. Nor does it look at the loss of jobs in service industries (restaurant, retail, etc.) Nor does it count the hit on specific cities and regions of the country.

All of these losses would hit an economy already on the skids, and already hemorrhaging jobs at a horrendous rate. The failure of the major U.S. automotive industries would be a tsunami on an already drowning economy.

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But perhaps the biggest long term loss would be the decimation of the manufacturing sector. The United States has already lost most of its manufacturing and industrial capacity due to the processes of outsourcing and off-shoring. We have sent it to Mexico, China, India, Eastern Europe, and other places. In the 1980s, as we made the shift from a manufacturing to a "service" economy, we sold off, and parted out, significant portions of out manufacturing capability. This included electronics, textiles, and heavy industry. Our manufacturing sector is a fading shadow of itself. As we have sold off capacity to make "real" things, we have become increasingly dependent on those who do.

There is a lot of talk about the impacts of our dependence on "foreign" oil, but virtually none on our dependence on "foreign" manufacturing. Why is that? Largely because the transnational corporations profit significantly from moving manufacturing out of the United States. The country has not profited. The tax burden has shifted more and more to the people. The people trying to earn a living (all of us) have not profited. In fact, we have seen an erosion of wages and benefits, and increasing personal indebtedness. But big media and big business are the same entities and we get the corporate view of the world. "We the people" rarely figure into that drama.

The "Big Three" are a significant part of our dwindling manufacturing capacity. Having that disappear, or be sold into the hands of international businesses, places us even further in jeopardy than we already are. It undermines our sovereignty and security. This is exactly the same situation that a number of nations are in where U.S. (and "rich" nation) manufacturing and extraction have control. The process undermines any nation's sovereignty and security. It is one of the major arguments against globalization as it has been structured. Now the United States could find itself in the same situation as Guatemala, or the Philippines, or a hundred other struggling nations.

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Of course, one of the unmentionables is that one of the "Big Three" is not a U.S. company any longer. Chrysler is now owned by the German company Daimler. So part of the "bridge loan" - should it occur - will be going to bail out a German manufacturer. If Ford and GM also hit the tubes, it is likely that their loss will be filled by China, or Japan, or India, (or Dubai or the Saudis). Then, if they run into problems, they too may come hat in hand to the Congress for a bailout. But then that is perhaps the long term plan.

In a world increasingly structured around the corporation rather than the nation and people, perhaps our roles in the future will be to directly funnel tax dollars into the global corporate maw.

So, I argue, keep the behemoths alive and put big chains on the public support they receive. It is clear that the U.S. automakers have not been operating in either the public or national interest. On so many levels, there is just too much at stake, the consequences of their failure too high, to not act to keep them operating.

U.S. Census Bureau Manufacturing sub-sector Motor Vehicle Manufacturing (2002)

SectorVehicle ManufactureBody & TrailersPartsTotal
Sales Value (x1,000)241,284,70424,373,366204,110,290469,768,360
Payroll (x1,000)82,067,8524,192,32432,130,831118,391,007
Paid Workers1,676,198127,099728,1342,531,431

Data from U.S Census Bureau - 2002 Census. click here target="_blank">Manufacturing - by subsector (drill down N336)


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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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