Car talk: whats wrong, whos to blame?

President Obama’s auto task force is giving Chrysler 30 days to finalize a merger with Fiat, and General Motors 60 days to further consolidate brands, reduce debt and show additional plans to produce fuel efficient “green” cars. If they fail to comply, bankruptcy is left as the option.

The president’s declaration that the auto companies’ problems are “not the fault of the workers” is correct.

GM and Chrysler, as well as Ford, have exported jobs and fought government fuel efficiency standards that would have made their products more competitive. The U.S. and Canada have the lowest fuel efficiency standards in the industrialized world! Interestingly, regulation helped make GM’s operations successful … in Europe. Meanwhile, GM is a major player in the National Association of Manufacturers, which is leading the fight against the Employee Free Choice Act. Auto manufacturing in our country is now heavily non-union.

Autoworkers have repeatedly given concessions demanded by the auto CEOs. Now the workers’ employer-based health and pension plans are being put in jeopardy. Health care and pensions should not be bargaining chips. It’s another reason why we need national health care and a beefed-up Social Security system.

Three and a half million auto and auto-related jobs are at risk. Their loss will have a horrible impact on working people, with a particularly devastating effect on the racially oppressed. With so many lives and livelihoods at stake, it’s essential that the workers’ union, the United Auto Workers, be added to the task force.

While autoworkers are losing jobs and life-and-death benefits, cities throughout the country have multi-year waiting lists for mass transit vehicles — because so few are domestically built. The task force should mandate retooling of closed plants to build such vehicles, along with wind turbines, solar panels and other green energy products.

Before additional money is given to the auto companies, we ought to know how that money will be spent. At one point GM tried to spend stimulus money on projects in Brazil!

To help working families, as we believe the president wants to do, we cannot keep cutting their pay and benefits. Their purchasing power is key to stimulating the economy. Autoworkers have agreed to many concessions while wealthy bondholders have refused to budge, thereby moving GM closer to bankruptcy. There’s something very wrong with this picture.