My guest today is Frank Hammer, a retired General Motors employee of 32 years and former president of United Auto Workers Local 909 in Warren, Michigan. Welcome to OpEdNews, Frank.
JB: You're a Michigander and your state is currently in the news. Did the primary results last night surprise you?
FH: I live in Detroit, which supported Clinton in large numbers. I didn't have much of a sense of How rural Michigan was going to vote, so I had to rely on the polls. The polls got it wrong so, yes, I was surprised.
JB: You're not the only one! How do you explain it, Frank? Have you got any theories for us?
FH: NAFTA is a dirty word in Michigan, and the name Bill Clinton is a synonym. Sanders has been on message and consistent. I saw reports of a poll just a few minutes ago, giving Sanders an 80% trust rating vs. Clinton's 19%. Clinton's lie about Sanders voting against the auto bailout in the end may not have helped her, either.
JB: Now we're getting somewhere. Let's look at what you just said. I always assumed that her husband's coattails would be a big, positive factor for Hillary. You say no. Or at least, not in Michigan. And for many who did not see the Democratic debate in Flint [MI] a few days before the primary, they may not know about Hillary's auto bailout slur. Can you please give us both background and context here?
FH: It's true that autoworkers have a positive association with Bill Clinton because the late nineties was a period of relative prosperity. Bill Clinton was also dubbed the first "black president" due to his charisma. But he also had strikes against him, including championing NAFTA with congressional Republicans in 1993. The general view is that the massive industrial job losses have been linked to NAFTA and the trade agreements made since, many of which had Hillary's support. This is what she had going against her, especially among white autoworkers. It's something that may also explain why the United Auto Workers didn't issue an endorsement which may also have been a factor in her defeat. This less-than-enthusiastic support from auto workers may explain why she brazenly accused Sanders in the March 6th debate in Flint of voting against the auto bailout of 2008-'09. That bailout has of course been a HUGE (to borrow from Sanders) political issue in our state. Mainstream media reported the following day that Clinton was stretching the truth at best. People don't trust her, and I don't think her charge had the desired effect.
JB: You may be right. The debate was held in Flint, which has been plagued by lead in their water supply. That's pretty scary and has a political element as well. How did lead get in the water in the first place and who's doing anything about it? And was it helpful that the debate took place there, in terms of raising awareness and getting some action?
FH: Republican Governor Rick Snyder, via his personally appointed "Emergency Manager" (EM), directed the city of Flint to change its water source from its supplier of 50 years - Detroit - to the Flint River. The change was viewed as temporary in anticipation of changing Flint's water source to a new Karegnondi Water Authority in Genesee County. The temporary switch was supposed to be a cost-saver ($5 million/year). To save an additional $100/day, the EM decided against a federally required additive that would have made the Flint River water safe. The caustic water caused the city's older pipes to leach lead. Snyder's Dept. of Environmental Quality, enabled by the EPA, covered up the contamination for two years, in spite of swelling protests by Flint residents, buttressed by expert documentation. The EM allowed GM to change its water source back to Detroit four months into the change, after GM complained that the Flint water was rusting engine parts on the assembly line.
Emergency measures have been slow and are a story all of their own. Grassroots community and local union rank and file support has been solid. Unlike the Republicans, Sanders and Clinton have both helped to illuminate the crisis - visiting Flint, holding their debate there, and debating it at length. Sanders called for Snyder's resignation early on. Clinton tried to upstage him on March 6th by also supporting his recall.
JB: The water was rusting GM's engine parts? Yikes! That's pretty conclusive vindication of Flint's concerns. Let me make sure that I understand this correctly: GM took a pass while Flint families took a hit. Did GM do or say anything on behalf of Flint residents or were they mostly just looking after themselves? Should we have expected anything more/better from GM?
FH: According to a recent interview with a worker from the GM Flint engine plant (Democracy Now!), GM shut down the water fountains in the factory and replaced them with water coolers. No more than that. To make matters worse, though the story appeared in local media, there was no response from my union. The UAW didn't speak out or act on behalf of Flint's residents. The UAW has remained mum to this day.
JB: How do you explain that disturbing union silence, Frank?
FH: The UAW embarked on a "partnership" with the domestic auto companies dating back to the 1980s. That partnership was elevated to a new level after the bankruptcy bailout of GM (and Chrysler) in 2009. At its 2010 Convention, the UAW conceded to be a provider of skilled labor, more like a labor contractor than a union organization. It has a material incentive: retirees healthcare benefits are partly under union administratorship, but tied to company profits. Thus, it has a conflict of interest, and has been protective of GM ever since.