Thursday, December 25, 2008

Good People Worked Down There

G.M. shut down its factory in Janesville, Wisconsin on Tuesday, it had been in service for 90 years employing generation after generation of local workers. As with any other job, the employees here became lifelong friends, not colleagues. Job security had been high for decades, as this factory was responsible for manufacturing S.U.V.s (Chevy Tahoes), at a clip of 20,000 a month, producing over 3.7 million since the early ‘90s. With a 40 percent drop in S.U.V. sales nationally, G.M. decided it couldn’t sustain this production, it had starved it off as long as possible. 5,000 workers, who had various jobs in that factory, good paying jobs, jobs they knew how to do better than anything else they did in life, we’re taken away.

Most of the plant’s 1,100 remaining workers were not scheduled to work the final day, but many showed up for an emotional closing ceremony. Dan Doubleday, who had 22 years on the job, broke down in the plant’s snowy parking lot afterward.  “I was a fork lift driver,” he said, glancing at his watch through welling tears. “Until about seven minutes ago.”…

“It’s been a good ride, man,” said Frank Hereford, a body shop worker, as he left the plant with a microwave oven that heated up countless lunches during many of his 38 years with G.M. “Good people worked down here.”

Its hard for a majority of young people (millennials) to imagine what that feels like. There are many arguments on both sides of whether these companies deserve to be helped by the government. Free market advocates are outraged at government spending to ‘bailout’ mis-managed corporations that were passive to innovation and adaptation in changes within the global automobile industry. But every analysis and decision needs both sides of the argument to be heard without bias. Letting these companies fail, falling into bankruptcy would erase debts (payables) of the GM's, Ford's, and Chrysler's to thousands of suppliers who employee even more people just like those in Janesville, that took those supplier’s parts and put the S.U.V.s together. It’s a domino effect that starts on the showroom floor, trickles down to the production line, which trickles down to the sheet metal factory. These factories are the epitomes of these towns; they become the social and economic foundations of the thousands of Janesville’s across the country.

So that same domino effect within the auto industry begins to filtrate in the Janesville’s of our nation. The family that doesn’t have a paycheck coming in Friday anymore doesn’t shop at the corner store or dine at the diner anymore. The franchisee or local entrepreneur won’t start that new small business downtown anymore.

The Janesville plant once employed more than 5,000 workers and turned out 20,000 Tahoes, Yukons and Suburbans each month. With its closing, residents worried about the future of this city of 64,000 people, about 75 miles southwest of Milwaukee. “Janesville will lose a lot,” said Patti Homan, as she finished a strawberry-topped waffle at the nearby Eagle Inn restaurant. “I expect my electricity to go up, water rates to go up, property taxes to go up, and the value of my home to go down.”

These are the ruins recessions procure and they are a dynamic and a contagious force in so many aspects of communities and lifestyles. While the drama of this bailout brings hyped congressional hearings, over blown transistions from private jet travel to photo-op hybrid roadtrips, and the endless loop of elitist speaker panels, to the people of Janesville it’s a lot simpler than that…they just want a place to show up to next year.