Death by suicide

Chrysler reports that it’s shutting down minivan production. “Foreman said, ‘These jobs are goin’, boys, and they ain’t comin’ back … to your hometown.” Bruce was right then, and he’d be right to say it now, too, but not for the reasons he thinks.

It’s not because of free trade, or even because folks in other countries are willing to be exploited. It’s not because of gasoline prices or awful automotive design and engineering. It’s not because of a general economic decline.

Those jobs are going, boys, because the structure of American automobile labor arrangements is hopeless — even for the private equity boys who bought Chrysler. Or, maybe, precisely for the private equity boys, who watch dollars and understand what they do better than millions of public shareholders.

They’re watching dollars go into hopelessly out of date union seniority rules, health plans, pensions — the kind of benefits that few credentialed professionals can hope for, much less semi-skilled auto plant labor. And them dollars, boys, they ain’t coming back.

Gas prices will fall, and a lot, in the next year. American cars will continue to get better and better. American factories will continue to put out very good products in the industries in which they’re competitive.

But unless and until the United Auto Workers fundamentally changes itself into something that is culturally, historically and politically it never has been, is not, and probably never can be, they ain’t comin’ back.

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog is Likelihood of Success.

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