Pride, anger mix as Chrysler workers watch plants shut down

FENTON, Mo. — As the crowd swells and hundreds of UAW members line the entrance to the Chrysler North and South Assembly plants here today, I can’t help but think of my grandfather. He gave over 30 years to Chrysler.

On average, the union brothers and sisters here have given 15 to 20 years of their life to a company that has turned its back on the community.

Evidence of the betrayal is apparent in the stilled, lifeless plants, in the lost wages and benefits, in deferred college applications and missed mortgage payments. In addition, the school district has lost its biggest source of tax revenue. And the United Auto Workers union hall, once a center for community activism, will eventually have to close its doors.

As the rally builds, cars and trucks fill the lot. Chants fill the air as a thousand-plus union members, their families and friends walk around with their heads held high. It's almost ironic. The background is filled with steel and metal, towering but silent, while the foreground is alive and vibrant, hopeful. Full of pride.

It really says a lot about working class folks. How they still manage to smile and connect with friends and former coworkers in spite of the situation. But then again, workers have always been able to make the best out of a bad situation.

My grandmother receives UAW-negotiated survivor’s benefits now that my grandfather is gone. Like her, thousands of other Chrysler retirees are loosing their dental and vision coverage due to the bankruptcy. I wonder how many of the thousand-plus workers here and their families won't have health care soon.

Adding injury to insult, over $12 billion in taxpayer dollars was given to Chrysler. They called it a bailout. The workers here call it a scam. Eight plants in the U.S. are being closed, while Chrysler plants in Mexico and Canada increase production.

The first speaker on the podium yells, 'This is about using American tax dollars for American jobs.' The crowd erupts into chants of 'Keep it made in America.'

Joe Shields, president of UAW Local 110, motions back to the plants and says, 'Look at these factories. They're idle. Look at how Chrysler treats us.'

State Rep. Sam Komo tells everybody to 'keep fighting.' He says, 'We've been in this battle before. We've seen economic hard times. But, you know what, brothers and sisters, it’s our friendships that have kept us going. And we're going to keep fighting.'

State Rep. Joe Fallert adds, 'Americans should be mad as hell. We paid $1.5 billion per plant that closed.'

As cars and trucks drive by and blow their horns in support, it’s easy to see how everybody is connected to everybody here in this small Midwestern town. Chuck Bank, Jefferson County executive, says, 'Twenty-five percent of all jobs here are tied to the auto industry.'

State Rep. Tim Meadows, a 30-year Teamster member, hits the nail on the head when he says, 'Corporate America has been feeding at the trough. Enough is enough is enough.'

He's right, enough is enough.

tonypec @ cpusa.org