I don’t mean to be snide-okay, I do mean to be snide-but does anyone else share my concern that the leaders of the Big Three Automakers have yet to figure out how best to travel to Washington D.C. in early December to fall on their knees and offer Congress a plan for the survival of the domestic auto industry in exchange for the $25 billion the companies need to keep the lights on.
While the three CEOs and their PR staffs have, apparently, grasped the incongruity and just plain stupidity of flying to Washington to beg for money in private jets that cost millions to buy and tens of thousands to operate, they haven’t yet embraced the idea of traveling to the nation’s capital via a convoy of their best vehicles, accompanied by the workers who built them, as suggested by an unnamed PR flack quoted on NPR last week.
That’s a no-brainer that any first year marketing or communications student would understand. Here’s how it should work: the CEO’s, UAW officials, and UAW rank and filers and their families jump in a couple hundred of Detroit’s most appealing SUVs, hybrids, sub-compacts, minivans, and crossovers, and drive cross country to D.C. Along the way they stop their mobile auto show in every possible media market, show off the vehicles at press conferences, grab a box of McNuggets and some fries at Micky Ds, and get back on the road.
The exercise would provide endless hours of press coverage, free advertising for their products, and may even convince a skeptical public that the Big Three might actually be able to do something constructive with the funds they’re requesting.
Better yet, the CEOs should adopt the idea floated facetiously on last week’s Saturday Night Live: they should make the trip in a Ford Fiesta, just to show that they know what one looks like and that the car can make the trip.
Such a caravan would also do one more thing: it would put a very human face on the all-but forgotten element of the tottering industry: the working-class families who have dedicated their lives to producing American cars-and whose lives depend on the viability of the now not so big Three.
Unfortunately, until now workers have been discussed only in the abstract, only as a number: 3,000,000 jobs that would be lost if the industry goes toes up. The time has come, indeed the time has passed, for the CEOs and the UAW to feature the real people whose real lives will be destroyed if Congress doesn’t act.
With all due respect to Ron Gettlefinger, as long as he is the person being interrogated by skeptics, , the conversation about the proposed bailout will continue to focus on minutiae like the job bank, vacation time, and the cost of health care benefits and pensions. To effectively counter the attacks launched by critics such as Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who clearly relishes serving in the role as Lord High Executioner of the Big Three and those commies at the UAW, who vociferously contend that bankruptcy is the only option, Congress and the American public need to see and hear from the members of the working class who will lose their homes and their hard won share of the American Dream if the Big Three are not resurrected.
Moving away from the abstract will also focus attention on one other issue that is too often ignored during discussions of the auto bailout, the financial sector bailout, or the possible provisions of an Obama-conceived stimulus package: the need to revive hope and opportunity amid the working class by creating millions of good jobs to replace the ones the Big Three and other industries stupidly erased over the past three decades as they cavalierly went about firing millions of their best and most reliable customers.
For if there is anything more scary or confidence eroding than the automakers’ inability to understand how to get to Washington on December 8, it is their apparent bewilderment at how their industry and the American economy as a whole got to this point in the first place.
If they truly do not grasp the fact that purposely eroding the standard of living of millions of working-class families would eventually stagnate the nation’s economy, it won’t matter how the CEOs get to Washington because no amount of money, be it 25 cents, 25 billion, or 25 trillion, will save them.
On the other hand, if the Big Three, Congress, and the Obama administration recognize that the only way to stimulate the economy now and for decades to come is to reinvigorate the working class by investing hundreds of billions of dollars in domestic job creation programs, education, and health care, then the ride to D.C. in the Fiesta might just be worth the CEOs’ and all Americans’ time and effort.
Here’s hoping they enjoy the ride.
Jennings is a political consultant who has worked with the Center for Working-Class Studies on research about working-class voters