Friday, December 12, 2008

Have we lost Detroit?

Gil Scott-Heron once penned a song, "We Almost Lost Detroit," which spotlighted a dangerous accident at a nuclear power plant in Monroe, Michigan. It didn't get as much publicity as the Three Mile Island incident, maybe the Motor City after all is nothing more than an once-powerful major U.S. city, now just a desolate piece of land mostly occupied by Black folk.

If Scott-Heron wanted to do a remake, he easily could sing, "GOP did lose Detroit."

A proposed $14 billion plan to rescue the U.S. auto industry failed to get through the U.S. Senate Thursday. Ever since it was proposed, lawmakers decried it.

The Big Three didn't deserve a bailout. Not unlike the Wall Street robber barons, who got their federal "come and get it" handout without any condition imposed.

But not Detroit --- they had to make deep concessions in order to get not a bailout, but a "bridge" loan.

No such demands placed on greedy Wall Street financiers who make outrageous loans that came back to bite them squarely in the butt. But instead auto workers, who already made big concessions both in 2005 and 2007 to help keep the auto industry alive, including no pay raises in their current contract, to again dig deep in their pockets and lose some more.

While they sit in their corner offices and take three-hour martini lunches, real workers are risking their lives to make cars.

I know. I once worked in a Chrysler plant. Eight to ten hours a day, during tedious work. Dirty. Grimly. Dangerous.

Yet we workers had pride in our work, on our line. There was a sense of accomplishment, albeit weary and tired, at the end of our shift.

But yet the Senate want these workers to again sacrifice their wages in order to save their jobs.

Clearly, Wall Street is more important than Jefferson Avenue. White collars are more important than blue collars.

"We cannot let a cornerstone of the American economy got into bankruptcy," said U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) on Wednesday. The House approved the same measure that the Senate voted down.

Ellison quoted estimates from the Economic Policy Institute that if even one of the three automakers go bankrupt, at least three million jobs could be lost in 2009. "We can assist the auto industry in their recovery and help to reshape it in a way that makes sense economically, or we can watch the devastating impact bankruptcy would have on hard-working American families," the congressman added.

Furthermore, it will put Detroit in a further depressed state: it leads the nation in foreclosures. Downtown has been a ghost town for years. The existing tax base has been eroding ever since the auto industry first came into peril back in the 1970s.

I agree that the Big Three should have made changes at least two decades ago. Their stubbornness not to retool and produce more fuel efficient cars, which in result, would produce more affordable automobiles.

But it isn't the workers' fault. Nor is it President-elect Barack Obama's.

Instead, the current responsibility to help the automakers fail clearly on the current President: George Bush's lackadaisical approach to this, unlike his coming forward to help the AIGs of the world, is just another sad notch on his sad legacy.

Meanwhile, the White House stands on the sidelines, keeping their white collars clean of this current financial mess: "We believe that the economy is in such a weakened state right now that -- another possible loss of 1 million jobs is just something our economy cannot sustain," spokeswoman Dana Perino said Thursday.

Such tough talk from a lame duck administration.

We almost lost Detroit three decades ago. Unless something is done quick, a search party soon will be needed to find the Motor City because it will be gone.

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