Benefits Without Friends

GM logoIn all the coverage of GM’s woes, there’s a common theme. Workers are the problem. GM is handicapped, hobbled, hampered, hamstrung, hindered, and held back by the promises made to union members who built GM. I’m sick of this meme. It is true that the ballooning costs of insuring workers and retired workers is, and will continue to be, a big chunk of change for the automakers. Just as it is for all of us. Maybe, though, the problem is the health care-industrial complex, rather than the auto workers themselves. Perhaps if big businesses of all stripes in this country had lobbied long and hard for a sustainable health system we wouldn’t be in this mess. But they didn’t because it was more fun to offer benefits that would have to be paid for far in the future. Then, the almighty corporation didn’t have to offer a straight salary, it could pretend health care is somehow just compensation for labor, and, when that proved too expensive, the company could blame the workers. Neat trick.

So, I’d like to see a lot less of this:

Automakers worldwide are struggling as the global recession has reduced demand for new vehicles. But GM and Chrysler have been particularly hobbled by promises to cover the health and pension costs of tens of thousands of unionized retirees”

and a lot more of this:

I am sure companies known for excellent brand management, like Procter & Gamble (PG) and S.C. Johnson, can’t believe how GM ran Pontiac into the ground through mismanagement and not understanding its customer base. Recently, GM tried to market Pontiac like an foreign brand with exotic names, not the heritage-inspired classic model names many Americans grew up with. Japanese manufacturers wish they had the heritage that GM discarded. After all, when people visit classic car shows, what do they see? Mostly, it is American cars. Indeed, GM’s marketing is one of its weaknesses.”

That last was written by a car fan/Business Week reader, who is taking a look at where things really went wrong for GM: management. When are we going to start hearing about how those executives proved too expensive in the long run? How they don’t deserve the fat pensions they were promised? I don’t think you have to be anti-business to write fairly about workers and their benefits. I do think you have to be willing to challenge the status quo and I wish more business journalists would do it. There’d be no profits without laborers, let’s stop pretending they don’t deserve what they worked for. If that’s such a problem, maybe the system needs questioning. Is that too much work?

One Comment

  1. IBXer

    May 28, 2009 at 9:48 am

    If we implement enough regulations on all forms of industry to effectively run them out of business and just let the government take care of all of us we would all be better off.