Survival is Job One

    North American car manufacturing is now ruled by the Big Six, the
    original Big Three of GM, Ford and Chrysler having been joined by
    foreigners Toyota, Honda and Nissan.

    This week, Ford announced drastic measures, as GM did earlier, to
    ensure that it would not be a contributor toward making that pantheon
    the Big Five. Faced with declining North American sales and market
    share and increasing losses, Ford announced a brutal downsizing in work
    force and capacity.

    Between now and 2012, it plans to close 14
    factories, eliminate up to 30,000 blue-collar jobs, 4,000 white-collar
    jobs and 12 percent of its corporate officers. The targeted
    white-collar employees are to be gone by the end of March.

    The
    White House insists “the job market is hot” and that it will provide a
    safety net and help finding new jobs for the laid-off workers, but it’s
    a safe bet they won’t be at the same level of pay and benefits. And
    that’s where the problem lay: Free from foreign competition and prodded
    by a powerful union, domestic automakers in the booming decades
    following World War II built up generous levels of pay and health and
    pension benefits that could not be sustained in the face of
    globalization.

    GM earlier announced it would close 12 plants and
    lay off 30,000, but even so there are still ominous rumbles about
    Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Chrysler has been bought by German automaker
    Daimler. By one count, the Big Three have cut 140,000 jobs, one-third
    of their North American work force, since 2000.

    But auto
    manufacturing is hardly moribund. This year, foreign carmakers will be
    operating 28 plants employing about 60,000 in North America, but these
    are nonunion jobs and the sites are generally far from the traditional
    auto-making centers.

    That Ford should be undergoing this
    convulsion is a matter of some irony, because founder Henry Ford
    pioneered affordable cars and the means of mass-producing them.

    The loss of these plants with their huge payrolls will be devastating
    to their communities. But also being lost is an industrial way of life:
    a promise of lifetime employment to multiple generations of workers,
    comprehensive health care and an early _ 30 and out _ and well-funded
    retirement.

    Globalization and economic realities may have made
    this jettisoning of workers and plants necessary, even inevitable, but
    it’s not pretty.

    (Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)