Jim P. was the hardest working man I have ever known and the UAW made sure he paid a price for it. Jim was not an educated man. In fact, he only made it to 7th grade. Then he had to drop out of school to work the coal mines in Kentucky to help support his family. When he came north to Cincinnati and got a job at the Sharonville Transmission Plant he thought he had died and went to heaven.

At Ford Jim made three times as much as he had ever made in his life. He wanted to give his family things he had never had. Like nice clothes, a television, a nice house to live in, and a good education. So he worked as much overtime as he could get. The trouble was, what “work” meant  to Jim was not what “work” meant to the UAW.

“Work” to Jim meant you bust your hump until the quitting bell rings. But that was not how the UAW jobs were designed. The jobs had an eight hour standard. Most of them were machine paced. You would work, and then wait, and then work, and then wait. Sometimes you waited more than you worked. If the machine ran well, you might make your 8 hour standard in 6 hours. Then you did not have to do anything for two hours, because you had made your work standard. You got paid, even though you were not working. This was a concept that Jim could not grasp. His thinking was “if Ford is paying me, I should be working.”

Jim was a repair welder on the toque converter line. When the automatic welder failed to weld properly, the torque converters were shunted to Jim’s repair booth, and he manually welded them. But there were times when no converters were shunted to Jim for, sometimes, three hours. The other repair welders slept, read magazines, or sat with their feet propped up. This did not seem natural to Jim. He was a worker. He was getting paid very well. Yet for hours each day he had no work to do.  I was Jim’s boss . He came to me and asked for additonal work to do when no torque converters were being shunted to his repair booth.

I provided Jim with plenty of work, and he seemed happy. But his co workers were not happy at all. Their thinking was if Jim works when there are no shunts, then the boss will want us to work. They had a friendly chat with Jim. But Jim was not convinced that he should not be working if he was getting paid and there was work to do. So he continued on with the extra work I had provided.

The next chat his co workers had with him was not so friendly. If fact, there was shouting, gesturing, name calling, and veiled threats. Jim continued to do the extra work. That was when two UAW committeemen showed up to explain the facts of life to Jim. He was not to work unless he had converters that needed manual repair shunted to his repair booth. Jim came to me and asked who was his boss, me, or the UAW. I told Jim that I was his boss. He went back to work on the additional work that I had given him.

At the end of the shift Jim went to the parking lot and found all four of his tires flattened and his radio aerial broken. The next day he said his wife had gotten threatening phone calls at home, telling her that her kids and home “may not be safe” if her husband continued to be a “scab” at work. When he opened his lunch box he found that someone had deficated on top of his lunch.

After that Jim only repaired the converters that were shunted to him. He did no extra work the many hours when he had no converters to repair. Jim had learned his lesson. He was not very happy, but the UAW was happy, and Jim’s co workers were happy. He had learned that “work” means different things to different people, and that the work ethic that he had learned from a hard life in rural Kentucky was not valuable at all in an auto plant.

Advertisements

Ever wonder how health care costs got so high in the auto industry? Take a look at how the UAW mined the Medical Mothelode at Ford in the 70s. Back then we worked seven days a week, many of them 12 hour days. It was forced overtime. Not like you had a choice. We worked Easter Sunday, July 4th, Thanksgiving. Christmas was just another working day where we got paid a lot of money instead of regular pay.

But one out was the “doctor’s slip” strategy. If you were off work all you had to do was get a doctor’s slip. Ford could not argue with a doctor’s slip. Which gave birth to a whole new revenue stream for doctors located near auto plants. True, most doctor’s had the integrity to give you a slip to excuse you from work only if you were legitimately ill. But at least three doctor’s had a doctor slip mill going. You would make an appointement, tell the doctor that you needed to be off work and for $25 he would write you a slip with explicit instructions “this patient cannot return to work until….” and you told him how long you needed to be off.

At Sharonville we had virtual epidemics during deer season. It was simply amazing how many strong, healthy men developed illnesses. It got to the point that Ford said it would not recognize slips from certain doctors, and if you were ill you had to go to a doctor approved by Ford. This went over like a lead baloon. Men went to their attorneys. Letters were written to Ford, threatening lawsuits. The whole thing about only accepting slips from “Ford Approved” doctors was dropped, and everything returned to normal.  

Everybody knew who the deer hunters were. The ones that worked for me gave me a little hint. “Yeh, Bob. I got this pain in my back. Believe I’ll have to go see a doctor.” He would walk away with a wry smile. It was his way of telling me that it was deer season, he was outta there, and I had better plan on getting some overtime coverage.

Then there were the drunks. When they came to work too drunk to run their machine I would send them home with a warning. When their addiction became so great that their jobs were jeprodized they would bring in the standard doctor’s slip, go home and dry out for a few days, and then return to begin the cycle all over again.

Abuse of the extremely liberal medical benefits was so common that it was hard for a foreman to distinguish between the game players and employees who had legitimate medical problems. I remember the case of Bill P. Bill was an excellent employee. In fact, he went years without missing a day. Then one day he did not come in. Didn’t come in the next day, either, or the next.

Ford’s policy in cases like this was to send a “Five Day Quit” telegram to the man’s home, advising him that he has been off work for five days, with no doctor’s slip, and if he did not return in five more working days, he would be terminated via a “Ten Day Quit telegram.”

After 10 days Bill did not show up for work, and I was required to send him a 10 day quit telegram.  A few days later his wife called me. Bill had died. She received the 5 day quit when he was on his death bed and the family was gathered. She received the 10 day quit telegram the day Bill was buried. This distressed me greatly, since Bill was one of my best employees. With great sadness I informed my boss that Bill had died. He looked at me like I was wasting his time with information like this and said “So borrow another nig… from the labor pool and  and post the job. Why would I give a damn? People die all the time.” 

Family stress created by the working atmosphere also created a lot of work for doctors, hospitals, family counselors, and addition counselors. Much of the legacy costs of medical benefits that burden the auto industry today originated in the auto plants.

The Big Three whine about foreign competition, and shift blame for their collapse onto the UAW. Yet the Big 3 created both the UAW and the foreign competition. Let us look first at how the Big Three created the UAW.

In the early days of the auto industry, when workers had no representation and no power whatsoever to control their own lives, Henry Ford treated them like slaves. Even though he paid the highest factory wages in history, labor turnover was in the 70% range. A lot of money can compensate for horrible working conditions, but only up to a point. Lets look at some of the working conditions that resulted in the creation of the United Auto Workers.

Ford  hired thugs to “handle employee problems.” Many of them were World War I vets, and some of them were ex-convicts. Henry Ford ran Detroit like Al Capone ran Chicago. Every cop, judge, and government official was in his back pocket. He had an elaborate system of industrial spies, much like the secret police in the old Soviet Union, that reported on the personal lives of employees.  Ford did not approve of alcohol, and employees who drank ended up on a list of undesirables. After the Bolshivik Revolution in Russia, Lenin was so impressed by how Henry Ford controlled employees by shear intimidation that he sent a team of NKVD (secret police) to Detroit to study Ford’s methods, and later incorporated those methods into the communist system of people control. 

Ford was so paranoid about labor unions that if an employee was even suspected of supporting a union, he would be terminated, and lucky if he did not receive a physical beating from Ford’s thugs, which he euphemistically called his “Service Department.” Talking on the job at the Ford plant was forbidden, and employees devised a method of speaking out of the sides of their mouths to workers to their left or right. This became known as “Ford Talk.”

I met a man at the Sharonville Plant who was a kid during the Depression, and his Dad worked at Ford. One of the snitches reported that he had stolen tools. Thugs from the Service Department forced their way into the home one night and demanded to know where the stolen tools were. But of course their were no stolen tools. Snitches often reported misdeeds to strengthen their postion at the Ford plant. Henry Ford rewarded eyes and ears that he felt was on his side.

The thugs beat the man’s father unconscious, in front of him (age 8) and his mother. When his father collapsed in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, the thugs ransacked the house, searching for nonexistent stolen tools. The next day the man was terminated, on the strength of a snitch’s lie, even though no tools were found. The family nearly starved, because when you were fired at Ford, you never got another job anywhere near Detroit. That man carried a hatred of Ford with him for the rest of his life. When I met him he had 28 years at Ford, and told me that every single day he made Ford pay for what they had done to his father. Sabotage, high absenteeism, holding back production, and purposely running defective parts were his weapons of revenge.

Many American corporations treated their employees badly during those turbulent decades when a working man was looked at as stupid and controllable. All of these kinds of companies eventually unionized. They did so as a self preservation mechanism, and to be treated with human dignity. They needed an organization with enough power to counter balance corporate tyranny.  Yet many companies never did face an organized labor revolt. These were the companies that treated employees with dignity and respect, and listened to them. Employees that felt their employers would listen to their complaints seldom felt the need to unionize. But the coal, steel, railroad, and auto industries created the unions which they would later blame for their demise.

Now lets look at how the Big 3 created the competition that beat them at their own game on their own turf. In the late 1960s and early 70s Toyota was a weak, undercapitalized, inexperienced company that few had even heard of. Everything coming out of Japan was considered junk, as in junk ashtrays and knicknacks sold in gaudy souvenir shops on Times Square. It would still be that way today if Detroit had not literally opened the doors and invited Toyota and others onto the American playing field.

Someone in Detroit came up with a brilliant idea called “planned obselescence.” It involved engineering cars to last shorter periods of time. Parts that would fail first were embedded deep in the engines, transmissions, and electrical systems. The parts that failed were not that expensive. But the entire car had to be ripped apart to replace the failed parts. The rationale was that people would tire of spending so much on repairs, dump the cars, and buy new ones. That would increase sales without the need to increase the number of people buying cars.

But the low quality produced by Detroit in the 70s was only partially rooted in planned obselescence.  Larger parts were played by pushing vendors to cut costs, and running machines until they literally fell apart. At the Sharonville Plant incoming components from vendors deteriorated so badly in quality that additonal people had to be assigned to cull out the junk before it got into the transmission. Machines were never repaired properly. Makeshift repairs were made to get the machine back on line, whether the parts it made were good or bad. I was so shocked by the quality standards that I started a collection of defective parts that were routinely assembled into Ford transmissions, and put them in boxes in my garage, along with the specification sheets for those parts, so they could be checked with a micrometer and compared to the spec sheets. By 1979 I had eight large cardboard boxes of defective parts sitting in my garage. At the Sharonville Plant one of the machines in my department would wobble so badly that the operator had to put the back of a pack of paper matches between the slides to make the machine run “acceptable” parts. Another operator brought in a large rubber band everyday to loop around the arm of a machine, or it would not run. Ford’s answer: keep a supply of large rubber bands at the foreman’s desk and keep running the machine.

While all of this was going on, and while Ford was building transmissions that would result in the largest recall in automotive history, and building Pintos that burned people alive, Toyota was quietly increasing market share by building high quality, reliable cars that eventually drove demand through the roof. By 1979 Ford dealer’s lots were packed full of cars that no one was buying. But at Toyota there was a two month waiting list, and they had no cars on their lots. All of them had been sold. Chrysler paid $50 to anyone who would test drive a Chrysler and bought a new car, no matter which brand. People test drove Chryslers, bought Toyotas, and applied for a $50 Chrysler rebate. The auto industries response to the explosion of demand for better quality foreign cars, and the abandonment of cars made by the Big 3 was a series of “Import bashings.”  Auto workers would smash Toyotas and Hondas with sledge hammers in front of TV cameras, while a large picture of the attack on Pearl Harbor was shone in the backgound.

So the U.S. auto industry created the UAW, and then blamed the UAW for its failure. It created immense demand for foreign made cars by producing junk for 20 years, and then whined that the “foreign devils” were responsible for the collapse of Detroit. Sounds more like a spoiled child than the largest industry in the United States.

A lot of guys that I worked with at Ford’s Sharonville Transmission Plant have bought my book, read it, and then came back and wanted to know why didn’t I tell this or that. So I decided to do a blog on some of these experiences, since they shed further light on how Ford operated in the 1970s when they made, very possibly, the worst vehicles ever produced in America.

Lets start with Fords 75th anniversary celebration. Sharonville had an open house, as did all the Ford plants. We were going to give a souvenir to every one who attended. That souvenir was an ashtray that was stamped with “Ford Motor Company 75th Anniversary.” We got the die for the press room and started to run the ash trays. Then a rumor spread through the plant like a viral epidemic.

That rumor was that the ashtrays would become valuable collectables, and we were scheduled to run a limited number of them. After about four hours the foreman checked the count on ashtrays. There should have been about 2,000. The counter, in fact, said 1873. But the bin into which the ash trays were dropping out of the press was nearly empty. The foreman wanted to know where all the ash trays were.

The press operator shook his head and said “everybody and his brother is coming over, grabbing a handful of ashtrays and running like hell. I ain’t no policeman. I’m a press operator.” This information was immediately passed on to the Zone 3 superintendent, who instructed the foreman to stand by that press and “write up any son of a b#$%*& that even looks like he is going to steal an ashtray.” He then called in foremen from the next shift, on overtime, to stand guard over the ash trays. The ash trays were to be guarded, by foremen, 24 hours a day until the open house.

When I was called in early to stand guard, I got my cup of coffee, sat on a chair, and guarded the ash trays like a marine guard on the president’s helicopter. I did notice that periodically the press operator would pick up a couple ash trays, “check them for quality” and then stick them into his lunch pail. I said nothing, because I intended to check some of those ashtrays my self and just to be sure they were good, stick them in my lunch pail. That was when the superintendent showed up on his orange golf cart.

On the back of the cart he had a cardboard box. He nodded approvingly at the ash tray count, and the fact that I was vigilent in my guard responsibities. Then he scooped up enough ash trays to fill the cardboard box, mumbled something about doing quality checks, and sped off toward the parking lot. I abandoned my post, stalking him through the plant. I watched him carry the box of ashtrays to the trunk of his car.

Then there was the General Foreman who, in a burst of anger, punched a foreman. It was not much of a punch. More like a slap. The foreman fell to the floor, moaned, yelled “my back, my back, I can’t move. Oh my God, who turned out the lights? I can’t see. I can’t hear.” He was taken to the emergency room, where doctors could find nothing wrong with him. Nevertheless he insisted he was in agonizing pain, could not see, and could not hear. Four months later he was still on medical leave, drawing full salary. Then Ford made an undisclosed, but allegedly large, cash settlement, and the foreman “resigned.” A couple days later I saw him at the YMCA playing basketball.

Of course I will never forget the guy who tried to stab me. We had worked for 5 weeks without a day off. Everyone was totally stressed out and exhausted. Thanksgiving was coming up, and everyone knew we would be scheduled to work. But the day before the holiday my General Foreman informed me that we would be off for Thanksgiving. I cheerfully told each man in Department 258, and morale improved immensely. This would be the first holiday we had not been scheduled to work during 1977.

But then a half hour before the shift ended, my boss came out and said “Schedule your people to work Thanksgiving. Livonia can’t make the transmissions they were supposed to make, so we have to make them.” I went to each man and gave him the unwecome news. Some cursed. Some shook their heads. One man was eating an apple. he had a pen knife and was cutting slices off and eating each slice. When I told him he was scheduled to work on Thanksgiving the blood drained out of his face. His lips started to quiver. Then he said “You lousy, no good, scum sucking son of a b^&(%$ and lunged at me with the knife. I sidestepped it and he went right past me. It only took security a few minutes to show up and escort him off Ford property.

He was terminated by Ford. Then the UAW grievance process kicked in. I was taken to the personnel office and grilled by the UAW and by Ford. How long was the knife? Did he actually stab you, or just threaten you? How do you know he was trying to stab you? How do you know he didn’t just slip on the floor and fall toward you? How much fat do you have on your belly? Isn’t it true that if he had stabbed you the knife was not long enough to penetrate the fat? Why are you lying? Who else can verify that he actually tried to stab you? Isn’t it true that you are just trying to get a feather in your cap by getting a man fired?

After more than three months the UAW succeeded in getting the man reinstated, and the disciplinary form pulled from his files. Then I was called into the office. My boss handed me a check. It was for the man who tried to stab me. It was full pay for all the time he was off, plus the estimated overtime that he would have worked had he not been fired. Since I was the man’s foreman, I was instructed to hand him the check. The man man laughed hysterically when I handed him the check, and thanked me for four months off with full pay. He said he had spent it in Florida, fishing. Now he was refreshed and ready to go back to work.

A brief look at A3 management – Toyota Process, vs the “Lets Talk” program at the Sharonville Transmission Plant sheds light on why Toyota is now the world’s top auto company and Ford is hanging on by its fingernails. First lets look at the Deming cycle, or Deming Wheel.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming , considered to be the father of modern quality control, advised the Japanese on how to build quality products, and did so very successfully. After the war Japan was known for making and selling cheap junk ashtrays. Dr. Deming went to Japan and taught them to manufacture the finest quality products in the world. Dr. Deming also consulted with major American companies, including Xerox, IBM, Westinghouse, and many others. He also consulted with Ford Motor Company.

Dr. Deming’s experience consulting with Ford is covered in a book entitled “The Man Who Discovered Quality” by Andrea Gabor. Deming found the upper management of Ford to be the most incompetent he had ever encountered, and so states in the book. He felt that they were like warring street gangs, with each executive having a personal empire, which he jealously guarded, and viewed any change as a threat to his power within the organization. After weeks of frustration Dr. Deming gathered up his stuff and walked out of Dearborn headquarters because Ford was run in an autocratic style, much like Henry Ford had run the organization. Deming was able to work with defeated Japanese executives, many of which hated and distrusted him. But he could not work with Ford Motor Company. 

Demings model for quality improvement involves PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) known as the Deming Cycle, or Deming Wheel. The concept of PDCA comes out of the “Scientific Method” which was developed from the work of Francis Bacon, and can be summarized as “hypothesis” – “experiment” – “evaluation” or Plan, Do, and Check. It is a rather simple, logical concept, and is widely used at Toyota, IBM, Procter and Gamble, and other progressive corporations.

When I worked at Ford in the 70s, and quality was so bad that Toyota, Honda, and VW were taking sales at an alarming rate, Ford devised the “Let’s Talk” program. When 33 states passed legislation to protect car buyers from the products coming out of Detroit, Ford knew that something had to be done to improve  quality. A letter was sent to the home of every Ford employee. It stated that Ford wanted the participation of everyone, and invited every employee to submit written suggestions. If a suggestion had merit, and Ford adopted the suggestion, the employee would would be financially compensated.

At first the program received wide support and enthusiasm. Employees clustered in groups, debating how to improve this process and that process, and how to improve quality and productivity. The suggestions piled up on the desks of General Foremen, who made the first evaluation of whether the idea was a good one or a bad one. Unfortunately, few suggestions got beyond the General Foreman.

If he did not like an employee, he would reject the suggestion, whether it was a good one or a bad one.  The UAW put pressure on people not to submit suggestions that would eliminate jobs, or eliminate overtime, which most UAW people counted on and budgeted into their household financial plans. The only suggestions that got beyond the General Foremen’s desks were non threatening ones that did not eliminate jobs, or meaningfully change the ingrained procedures that Ford had enforced for 75 years.

A handful of such suggestions actually made it up the chain of command, and a few employees were paid $50 for each suggestion. But nothing significant changed, quality continued to go down hill, and each of the Big Three had massive layoffs and plant shutdowns. In the meantime, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and VW continued to improve quality and take away the American car market. Ford Motor Company received the largest recall in automotive history because of defective transmissions, and only the intervention of the Reagan Administration in the early 80s prevented a bankruptcy filing from Ford.

A wide range of people have purchased the book, with interesting stories. A very interesting one was Alan Malully, who emailed me that he appreciated the book and would be reading it on the plane. But the most interesting people were workers at the Sharonville Ford Plant, and members of their families.

There was the lady who said her father worked at the plant when it opened and retired 20 years ago. He can’t see well, at the age of 80, and his daughter read the book to him. He sent her back to my store to get it autographed, and thank me for telling the story of what Ford workers had to go through back in those years when they were hammered from both sides, management and the union.

Then there was the guy who said he was buying the book in honor of his Dad, who died a few years back, after putting in 30 at the Fairfax and Sharonville plant. His Dad never talked about his job, but everybody knew he worked it only because of the money that it paid, and hated to work at Ford. He went to the plant only once with his Dad, who told him two things. First he took him into the men’s room to show him the cardboard beds UAW guys made on top of commodes to sleep on company time. Then he pointed out a guy on a bicycle. He said the guy rode to one end of the plant, then had himself paged to go to the other end of the plant. When he got there he had himself paged to ride back to the other end of the plant. That way he always looked like he was busy and going somewhere in a hurry.

I cannot forget the email I received from a lady who worked for me. She was outraged that I would write that she was a prostitute who serviced men in her camper in the parking lot. I explained that I was not talking about her, and had written nothing about her in the book. She said “Oh, O.K. Other than that it was a good book and is pretty much how I remember things.”

I would be remiss not to mention a fellow that I worked closely with at Sharonville, and is still there, after 37 years. He has regular arguements with other UAW guys about the book, saying that the book is completely factual, as he can verify, because he was there, and the book is not about the people who work at Ford today.

One of the most moving book buyers was a man from Kentucky, about 90 miles south of the plant. His Dad is dead now. But he bought the book in honor of his father. I knew his father. He worked for me in Department 258. He was one of the best workers that I remember. He drove the hour and a half to Sharonville on Sunday Nights and rented a sleeping room. He worked at Sharonville all week, then drove back to Kentucky on Saturday morning, after the midnight shift. Then he worked his 150 acre farm with his two sons on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday night he drove back up to Sharonville in time for the midnight shift. He did that for 28 years. Then he died. His mother received nothing from Ford because he had not made 30 years. He bought a book for himself, his brother, and his mother.

Some of them hate me, and some of them thank me. I am talking about the response from Local 863 of the United Auto Workers. Since the articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer and local radio talk shows, I have gotten a definite response from the UAW at the Sharonville Plant, which is what the book is about. But that response has been polar opposites.

The response from current workers in the UAW has been extremely negative. They see my book as an attack on them. Which is strange, since most of them were, I am guessing here, 10 years old when I worked at Sharonville. Are all UAW people as insecure and defensive as the workers at the Sharonville Transmission Plant? Are they so fearful of the mess that they have helped create that they want to silence anyone who writes the truth about how they built the cars that destroyed Detroit? 

Look, my book is about yesterday. It is not about today. I certainly have no bone to pick with the workers at the plant today, since I left Ford 30 years ago. So who cares what happened 30 years ago? Everybody should care, because that is when they created the begining of the downfall of the Big 3 by producing junk for 20 years. The cars that were produced by Detroit in the 70s and 80s had historically bad quality. By historically bad I am talking about 33 states passing legislation to create “Lemon Laws” to protect car buyers. I am talking about people that were killed and injured by defective cars. I am talking about the largest recall in automotive history. I am talking about the intervention of President Reagan to save Ford from bankruptcy because they could not withstand the recall of 23,000,000 Fords for defective transmissions.

But there is another, more important thing that I am talking about. A thing that DOES impact today’s auto workers. That thing is two small, weak, insignificant, inexperienced foreign auto companies called Toyota and Honda that came to the U.S. and took the market from the mightiest industrial empire on earth: the U.S. auto industry. How did they do it? They didn’t do it. The American car buying public did it.

I can remember when Ford, GM, and Chrysler dealerships were bloated with inventory that no one wanted. I can remember salesmen milling around, smoking cigarettes, watching cars go by, hoping that someone, anyone, would come in to buy a car. At that same time period, VW dealers were mere order takers, had no inventory, and you had to go on a two month wait to purchase a VW coming from Germany. Quit whining, Detroit. You did it to yourself. You destroyed the faith and trust that had been built up for a half century in American made products. You drove  American car buyers to foreign competitors. YOU created the competition that has destroyed GM and Chrysler and is now nipping at the heels of Ford. My book is about how you, and, yes, me, built the cars that lost the global auto war.

So what has been the UAW response to my book? Lets take the haters first. I have received emails calling me a traitor and questioning my parentage. A UAW 863 guy came into my retail store, purchased a copy of A Savage Factory, opened to the first page, wrote “From 863”, spit in the book, told my clerks that I had “better watch my back because a lot of people are out to get me” and walked out. I received an email from a woman who worked for me almost 35 years ago. She was highly upset. She called me a liar. She was referring to the incident in the book where a female Ford employee had a side business of turning tricks in her RV in the parking lot. I answered that I was NOT talking about her. I was talking about a whorehouse on Ford property silently supported by management and had nothing to do with her. She had nothing to do with the mobile whorehouse, nor did she have anything to do with the whiskey and beer serving bar set up behind storage racks, and again, silently supported by management, which got appropriate kickbacks.

Now lets talk about some positive responses. To date I have sold more than 200 books to former Ford workers, now retired, who worked under the conditions that I describe in A Savage Factory. Some of those books, a fair number, were purchased by children of Ford workers, at the suggestion of their fathers, who wanted them to try and understand why they had never been good fathers. Why they were never home, because of the incredible overtime requirements, and when they were home they were exhausted, had no time for wife or kids, and were ready to bite their heads off if anyone disturbed them.  No soccer game attendance, no PTA meetings, no playing ball with the kids. Just trudging off to Ford with churning stomachs and balled up fists, waiting for the never ending battle at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. Sure, they brought home fat paychecks. And they tried to buy things to substitute for not being a good father. But things are no substitute. One woman, in her 80s, husband deceased, thanked me for writing the book, because, for the first time, she understood how Ford had changed the man she married into a monster.

UAW local 863, whose members built transmissions that brought the largest recall in automotive history, can’t even get threats and intimidation right.  Apparently some members of local 863 do not like my book. Which is odd, since A Savage Factory attacks incompetent Ford management more, by far, than the UAW, and at least 120 UAW members and former members have bought copies and praised the book for telling it like it was.

Speaking of incompetent,  an unkempt, possibly boosed up UAW guy came into my retail store yesterday, demanding to see me. When told I was out making deliveries, he picked up one of my books, wrote “From 863” then spit into the book, slammed it on the counter, and told my clerk that “I had better watch my back, because I pissed off a lot of people.” There are defective Fords, defective Ford transmissions, and defective threats.

We have this thug on camera. We have his fingerprints on the book. We have a picture of his car with the license plate. We have his spit DNA. The police are issueing a warrant for his arrest for terroristic threatening. I have not yet decided whether to sue UAW Local 863. They could not build transmissions right and just about took Ford down. Now they can’t even do threats right.

Which is good, because I am armed, my home and business has constant survailance, and I have posted harassment charges with the State Police and two local police departments. I am guessing a story like this will sell a lot of books.

Detroit is a very sad place, reminding me of movies about cities that have been devastated by war.  That is what happened to Detroit. It has been devastated by the war in the auto plants. I went to Detroit the day prior to the GM announcement to interview on Chinese television about my book “A Savage Factory.”

I interviewed  in the Courtyard Motel, across the street from GM headquarters. Reporters from all over the world were swarming like bees around a honey pot, waiting for the big announcement. Of course it did not come until the next day, Monday, June1.

I felt like I was attending a funeral. The mighty General Motors, largest, most powerful corporation in recorded history was laid out like a corpse. A building a short distance from RenCen was vacant, with a “for sale or lease” sign in the window. One of the Chinese interviewers stated that when communism was collapsing in the Soviet Union reporters from all over the world were there to report the event. Was this the collapse of capitalism? I had no answer. All I had was feelings knotted up in my gut, remembering a similar time in a place where I grew up – Western Pennsylvania.

First I saw the coal mines die. All the coal towns shriveled up like weeds sprayed with Roundup. Old men who gave their lives to mining coal for America sat on porches, hollow cheeked, with blank stares, subsisting on welfare, waiting to die. Many of these men fought for America, worked for America, and that was there reward.

Then Big Steel died. 100,000 jobs in the Mon Valley disappeared. Towns died. Young people left. All that was left were welfare people, retirees too old to suck it up and move on, and armies of blacks subsisting on….what? I do not know. Houses with broken windows. Roofs caved in. Streets with weeds growing up through the tarmac. No money for police, fire, road repairs.

And now we come to Detroit. I drove all over the city. It was the same everywhere. Boarded up houses. Closed businesses. Beggers on street corners with “will work for food” scrawled on pieces of cardboard. I stopped for gas. A guy was sitting in a beat up mini van. Blankets and pillows were in the back. He had two little boys, my guess 8 or 10. Each time a car pulled in he sent one of the boys to the car to hand him a piece of paper. Written on the paper was “discount work. Any kind. Will paint, clean up, carpentry. Anything you got for anything you are willing to pay.” I asked another guy directions to get back to I75. He gave them to me. Said can you spare a dollar? Fifty cents? I ain’t had nothing to eat today. I gave him five dollars. I remembered when I was hungary as my world collapsed around me near Pittsburgh. Some people cared. Some people helped. Most did not. 

As I left the devastation of Detroit I remembered my years at Ford. Building cars that were junk. Bowing to UAW demands for more money, less work. And I wondered why the Japanese can build quality cars in this country, at a profit, hire American workers, and the Big Three cannot. What happened to us? The world used to look up to America. Now the world laughs at a stumbling, bumbling America starting wars where we don’t belong, mismanaging our businesses, everything controlled by greed. Sad. Very sad.

I was cheap before cheap was cool. Even though I worked 12 hour days mostly 7 days per week, and made as much as a vice president at Procter and Gamble, even though I was just a foreman, I didn’t spend any money. This was quite different that most of the people that I worked with.

Oh, yes. Tightass. Cheap SOB. These were things I was called often. Most of the people I worked with spent, to put it mildly, lavishly. I had guys working for me that could barely scrawl their names, and they were making as much as a lawyer. Of course to do it they worked 7 days per week, many of them 12 hour days. I do not begrudge these people that money, because Ford treated people like prisinors, and they deserved every penny, and more, just for putting up with Ford’s crap.

But it is what they did with the money, and what I did with the money, that is central to this blog. They bought new cars every year. They took cruises. They bought houses, then bigger houses, then bigger houses still. They thought nothing of blowing a couple hundred bucks on a night out with the boys. Many of them, no matter how much money they made, spent every dime, and went into debt.

The classic was the guy who worked in the press room, dept 250. He was a hillbilly with about a 7th grade education. He owned a new Lincoln, an F150, a camper, an airplane, and a boat. Of course he never got to enjoy much of them, because to pay for them he worked Sundays, holidays, and if no OT was available, would work, illegally, in other departments, out of classification, on OT. When the whole thing collapsed in 1979 he went around the plant begging people “take over payments on my airplane, take over payments on my $400,000 house” But of course we were all losing our jobs because the party was over, and he lost everything. Nobody had any money to take over payments of anything. They were already deep in hock. They thought the party was going to last forever.

I, on the other hand, would not give up a dime if you tried to pry it out of my fingers with a crowbar. You might call me a cheap bastard. But ones attitude toward money is impacted greatly by how they were raised.

For example, when I was growing up, my dream of extreme luxury was a house with indoor plumbing. I got two pair of pants and two shirts a year. At Christmas. That was my Christmas present. We lived in a four room tarpaper shack. I dug coal with a pick and shovel with my Dad in worked out coal mines to earn a living. I know, personally, what  “You load 16 tons and watta you get” is all about.

So by the time I got to Ford, I owned a nice home, had a nice car, provided well for my family, and that is all we needed. I did not want a new car every year, a bigger house, a closet full of clothes. None of that was important to me. What was important was escaping from the economic bondage imposed by the American Corporation. Not just Ford. EVERY American corporation.

They give you a job that is not really a job. It is a game. They way it is played is kiss up to the right people. Manipulate the right people. Work your way into the power structure, and the corporation will reward you. Well, sorry, but that is not my idea of “working a job.” So I used my money to escape from economic bondage so I could be free and call my own shots in life.

So I budgeted like I was on welfare and stuck every penny into investments. Where I was going in life was important to me, not how much I could consume while the party was in full force. So I brownbagged it. In all my years at Ford, I never spend nickol one on lunch. I grew most of my own vegetables in the back yard, canned and froze, and rarely had to buy veggies. I bought a wood burning stove, cut and split my own wood, and CG&E got very little of my money.

My wife cut everybody’s hair, and she made most of our clothes. We taught our kids the difference between what they want and what they need, and that they were being manipulated into buying things that they did not need, and contributed very little to their happiness. We lived a spartan life. Where did it get us?

Here is where it got us. I paid off my mortagage, and had no other debts. I paid cash for a large farm in Clermont County. That was 31 years ago. That farm is now worth  more than a Ford worker’s entire pension will be, after 30 years on the job, and it has provided a nice income to me for 31 years.

I had a college fund for each of my children that paid their way through college, and they did not have to borrow any money. Then my wife and I started out own business. We have run it now for 24 years. We have everything that we need, and not a penny in debt.

So that is how I escaped from Corporate Bondage at the Sharonville Transmission Plant. True, the guys I worked with got enjoyment from spending all that money. But my enjoyment is longer lasting, and the stuff they spent their money on is long gone. Would I do it all over again? You’re damn right I would.

About the Book

Flickr Photos

Categories

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 58,654 hits