Opinion: GM should fight for workers, not profits

Gary Jones
Unifor Canada posted this photo on social media Wednesday showing signs saying 'GM betrayed Canadian Taxpayers' and 'Save Oshawa GM,' positioned across the river from GM's headquarters.

Visit Hamtramck these days and you’ll feel a thick sense of resentment in the air. A feeling of unfairness and having been abandoned permeates, and reasonably so: because workers at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant were given a raw deal. And so was the surrounding community.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, General Motors announced its decision to stop production at the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, idling thousands of workers and laying a blow to thousands of supplier jobs and supporting businesses.

For Hamtramck, the announcement means 1,500 plus jobs lost. But it also means a community that gave up a big chunk of who and what it was 40 years ago, did it for nothing.

Its complicated history goes back to 1980, when General Motors wanted to build a plant and made the decision to locate its 300-acre site in a Polish neighborhood called Poletown.

With approximately 4,000 residents, the neighborhood was bulldozed, displacing thousands of people, closing businesses, leveling six churches and a hospital to create that assembly plant. Closing that plant all these years later -- so that GM can invest somewhere else in new manufacturing facilities -- is a slap in the face of everyone who counted on what the sacrifice would eventually build and create.

Unless we all come together to ensure those plants don’t close.

Since the announcement, the UAW has lodged a formal objection opposing GM’s plan to close the four American auto plants in 2019 citing the collectively bargained contract between the UAW and General Motors.

The practice of circumventing American labor in favor of moving production to nations that tolerate wages less than half of what our American brothers and sisters make, must stop. And we must step away from the idea that a corporation can disrupt a community; demolish it … and then, when it gets a more profitable opportunity, walk away.

The same people who will suffer due to the plant closings are part of the US taxpayer base that supported GM in hard times. Also, during this time employees made concessions they could ill afford -- all to keep GM going. Rather than investing back into the communities which helped them survive, GM is just walking away. And, for no good reason.

The company’s decision is not about product sales: it is about profits.

A major importer of their own brands from China, Canada and Mexico GM produced 726,000 vehicles in Mexico with most of those vehicles shipped to the U.S. for sales.

Hamtramck is not a victim of changing consumer demand. It is a victim of an already profitable GM’s decisions to load up their Mexican plants for even larger profits.

We call upon our elected leaders to join with us and understand that relying on corporations to do the right thing does not work. We need tax and trade laws that reward U.S. investment and hold companies accountable.

We also call upon GM to reconsider its decision to idle these plants.

UAW members across this country are committed to using every means available to us on behalf of our members at Lordstown, Hamtramck, Baltimore and Warren, Michigan.

UAW members and U.S. taxpayers invested in GM during their darkest days.

Now it is time for GM to invest again in the U.S.

Gary Jones is president of UAW International Union.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.