Massive GM plant closings put lie to Trump’s promises
When GM built its Hamtramck plant decades ago it wanted to tear down a Jewish cemetery on the land it had bought because the cemetery would remain in the middle of the new plant.. The auto giant lost that battle and the cemetery survives within the plant until today, sitting in the midst of a busy workplace that employs the living as it honors the dead. Now the plant surrounding that cemetery will, due to GM's drive for higher and higher profits, join the inhabitants of that cemetery in death. | Carlos Osorio/AP

DETROIT—When GOP President Donald Trump and Congress’ ruling Republicans jammed through the $1.2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the rich almost exactly a year ago, they promised it would put money in taxpayers’ pockets while prompting companies – with the money they would get — to create or repatriate thousands of new U.S. jobs.

“At last, our country finally has a tax system that is pro-jobs, pro-worker, pro-family, and pro-American,” Trump said in late July, celebrating the six-month anniversary of his tax cut.

Somebody tell that to the unionized workers at GM. They just got hit, on Nov. 26, with firings at five U.S. plants, plus a big one in Oshawa, Ont. At least 14,000 workers will be let go, most of them in the U.S., but also including thousands in Oshawa.

The Oshawa workers didn’t wait around to see who would get canned or when, especially since Canadians didn’t benefit from Trump’s tax cut, though GM did. The Oshawa workers put down their tools and walked off the production line at 9 a.m. Eastern time when the news came through.

GM decided to close the auto production plants in Oshawa, Lordstown, Ohio (1,600 jobs) and Hamtramck, Mich. (1,500 jobs).  It’s also closing a propulsion plant in Baltimore and transmission plants in Brownstown and Warren. Mich. Job cuts for those three were unavailable.

The high number of workers slated to lose their jobs as a result of the shutdown do not include many more who work in associated parts and stamping plants and thousands who work at jobs in communities serving the many thousands who will lose their jobs at GM and its related plants.

CEO Mary Barra said GM needed to close those plants as it shifts more towards hiring highly skilled workers to produce electric and self-driving vehicles. But other workers, in Mexico and China, will make gasoline-powered autos the plants now produce for the U.S. market. Those models – including the Chevy Blazer and the Cadillac GT6 – will be discontinued here at the end of 2019, Barra said.

And Barra said the closures will save GM $6 billion by 2020, three-fourths of it in capital spending. That also defies Trump’s prediction his tax cut would prompt more capital spending by firms.

It’s that $6 billion forecast that pissed off the United Auto Workers, who represent the workers at the five U.S. GM plants. GM’s move “will not go unchallenged…The UAW and our members will confront this decision by GM through every legal, contractual and collective bargaining avenue open to our membership,” the union said.

“This callous decision by GM to reduce or cease operations in American plants, while opening or increasing production in Mexico and China plants for sales to American consumers, is, in its implementation, profoundly damaging to our American workforce,” Terry Dittes, the union vice president and director of its GM department, said in the UAW statement.

“GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days. These decisions are a slap in the face to the memory and recall of that historical American made bailout.”

When workers at this plant heard of the impending shutdown, they immediately walked off the job, charging GM with violation of its contract with them. | Canadian Press via AP

“We must step away from the anti-worker thinking of seeking simply the lowest labor cost on the planet,” union President Gary Jones added in the statement. “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. More importantly, we must understand these companies, including GM, are no longer in trouble. They are recording annual profits in the tens of billions.”

The Oshawa workers, represented by the Canadian Auto Workers/Unifor Local 222, didn’t wait. They walked, Canadian media reported.

The city’s retiring mayor, John Henry, had heard increasing rumors of the closure the day before and drove to the plant late that afternoon. “Utterly heartbroken,” he stayed there most of the day and into the night, since, as he put it in a tweet, everybody in Oshawa works at the plant or has a father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle or family friend who does.

“I know many of our families will get little sleep tonight,” he tweeted on Sunday evening, Nov. 25. “That includes members of my family. No one in Oshawa or our…Greater Toronto region is unaffected by these reports and the devastating announcement we hear is coming tomorrow morning.”

Unifor told the Canadian Press – Canada’s equivalent of the AP – that it would meet Nov. 26 with GM on “complete details of the overall announcement,” but that it learned the day before no cars will be assembled in Oshawa after December 2019.

“Based on commitments made during 2016 contract negotiations, Unifor does not accept this announcement and is immediately calling on GM to live up to the spirit of that agreement,” the union statement read. The two sides start bargaining a new pact in 2020.

The $6 billion in savings from the closures Barra disclosed is on top of the windfall GM got from the Trump-GOP tax cut. The Bloomberg-Bureau of National Affairs hired independent tax consultants who calculated GM alone reaped $330 million in just the first quarter of this year from the tax cut. But they also determined GM would lose more — $493 million in that quarter — from paying Trump’s tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, and cars from Canada.

And in lobbying for the tax cut, GM CEO Barra didn’t promise to create any new jobs. “We’re very supportive of tax reform, and generally the bills before Congress move in the right direction,” she told the Washington Post at the time lawmakers debated it.

UAW has another idea for countering the closures: It told consumers how to identify U.S.-made GM cars. “Examination of the driver-side window near the dashboard displays the Vehicle Identification Number plate (VIN) that identifies where the vehicle was assembled. VIN numbers beginning with ‘1’, ‘4’ or ‘5’ were assembled in the U.S., ‘2’ were assembled in Canada, ‘3’ were assembled in Mexico. If it begins with the letters J-R, it was assembled in Asia.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.