Opinion: GM job cuts expose corporate greed

Rashida Tlaib
General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks to reporters after a meeting with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to discuss GM's announcement it would stop making the Chevy Cruze at its Lordstown, Ohio, plant, on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

This past Tuesday, as workers across Metro Detroit prepared for the holidays, it was business as usual for General Motors, which announced another 50 jobs would be eliminated, this time at the Brownstown Battery Plant.

In total, this holiday season GM has announced more than 14,000 layoffs designed to cut $6 billion in costs, a mere decade after federal taxpayers shelled out $51 billion to keep GM afloat. As one resident recently suggested, perhaps Grinch Motors is more fitting.

The public cost of supporting GM and catering to its demands has been staggering.

Less than 40 years ago, more than 1,300 homes, schools, churches, businesses, and hospitals that made up the diverse Poletown neighborhood were seized by the City of Detroit and torn down to build the Detroit-Hamtramck plant - the same plant they now will close, cutting the last 1,500 jobs they offered in exchange for uprooting and paving over an entire community.

Rashida Tlaib, left, Democratic candidate for Congress in Michigan's 13th District, makes phone calls at the Democratic field office in Detroit on Monday.

The people of Poletown saw the GM deal for what it was - a raw power grab by one of the world’s wealthiest corporations, enabled by politicians who didn’t want to listen to the people hurt by their actions. GM’s announced closure is a tragic repeat, a power grab to influence its upcoming contract negotiations with the UAW with people’s lives hanging in the balance as bargaining chips, and not a shred of conscience paid to what GM destroyed to build this plant.

Just a decade ago, taxpayers bailed out GM with a whopping $51 billion - a necessary step to save our economy, but one that you might think would have come with more strings attached, or created a sense of loyalty to American workers within GM. Unfortunately for all of us, it didn’t - GM continues to shift production abroad to Mexico, China, and Poland, where lower labor costs hurt our workers here at home.

When the recent Trump corporate tax giveaways gifted GM billions of dollars, it used the money to buy back stock and increase its share price - doesn’t sound like a company that is struggling to stay profitable, right?

GM certainly isn’t the only wealthy company putting their profits ahead of their workers and the communities they operate in, but this serves as a fresh example that should influence our policymakers to crack down on corporate greed. At the end of the day, corporations will put their profits ahead of all else, and we cannot continue to subsidize their greed with taxpayer dollars and get nothing in return.

I’m going to fight alongside my fellow representatives in Washington, Lansing, and across our region to make GM reconsider these announcements. And I’m going to stand arm-in-arm with my union brothers and sisters in the U.S. and Canada who are mobilizing to fight back. But we can’t keep going through this, we need solutions that will prevent working families from having to face this type of turmoil.

I propose that no public money in any form should be given to wealthy corporations without binding contracts that guarantee local benefits and stipulations for the community - contracts called community benefits agreements.

We need the people, acting in unison with unions and their political representatives, united in the understanding that corporations need us a lot more than we need them, and that we are far more powerful than we sometimes let ourselves believe.

Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, represents Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives.