With GM plants threatened, don’t sell workers false hope


The following editorial appeared in the Dec. 31 edition of Automobile News | tomobile.org.

It’s like a Rust Belt reality show.

Three General Motors plants — Lordstown, Detroit-Hamtramck and Oshawa — and their tribes, lobbying and scheming, working their alliances in Washington. Can they outwit Mary Barra? Can they outlast the sedan? Which one will escape the GM ax?

On the next “Factory Survivor.”

Neat concept, except that it’s possible all of them will lose, that this reality show could be pre-empted by actual reality, where Wall Street serves as the jury, and a factory in Mexico can clinch a win in the Tribal Council without even competing.

The three communities fighting like mad to save their GM plants should remember the lessons of Janesville, Wis., where the last GM vehicle rolled off the line 10 years ago. For years, residents and local officials desperately kept vigil for a GM return, figuring they could beg or negotiate their way back. For some of them, it took a demolition of the plant to finally snuff out their hopes and signal that it’s time to move on.

It would be unwise to dismiss GM’s Nov. 26 restructuring announcement as a negotiating ploy, or an opening bid. If GM wanted to stake out an extreme position for the sake of spirited bargaining, it could have put more plants on the table, including ones in Michigan and Kansas that also run well below capacity.

It would be equally unwise to assume that GM will be vulnerable to political shaming by President Donald Trump, Ohio’s Sen. Sherrod Brown or Unifor’s Jerry Dias. Politically speaking, these figures have far more at risk in the outcome than GM does, and far less power to impose their will.

We’re not suggesting that anyone in Michigan or Ohio or Ontario stand down from the challenge.

By all means, represent your constituents and aim for victory. Factory jobs and their economic benefits are worth fighting for.

But for the sake of those constituents, understand when it’s time to stop posturing, face reality and move on. The industry’s skilled workers and their communities shouldn’t be sold false hope.

And at a time of tight labor markets, they have much to gain by adapting to new economic realities and proving their resiliency.

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