Mike Westfall /Roger Smith “ Michigan Today” 1986

“GM and Liberal Arts”


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In December’s Michigan Today Roger Smith used the subject of liberal arts as the vehicle to make some typical General Motors public relation’s comments on GM’s restructuring. While Mr. Smith promotes GM’s “Mark of Excellence” to academia, what kind of social report card does GM get in the way it treats workers and communities both domestically and internationally?

Westfall group demonstrating at GM stockholders Meeting Detroit 1986

The real message of Mr. Smith’s remarks were on GM’s corporate restructuring equation that is directly and negatively impacting a massive segment of working people and the communities in which they live. While no one is against these companies’ turning a reasonable return on their investment, what really is at stake isn’t so much profits as it is the systematic elimination of the future employment opportunities of the next generation of workers, both blue and white collar.

One of GM’s major restructuring strategies is global production. This forces domestic workers to compete with GM’s many foreign workers, some of whom make starvation wages. One example is GM’s “Maquila” worker plants in Mexico where GM has about a 90% annual labor turnover rate. Because of their pitifully low wages, these poor workers cannot even afford the costs associated with work including the transportation, work clothing or lunch money; GM is now forced to furnish these hungry workers with one meal per day.

While no one wants to be “anti-progress”, in light of several studies like the one recently commissioned by the Michigan State Senate which projects that by the year 2000 more cars will be produces with an incredible 50% cut in auto jobs it is less than socially responsible to not raise the questions “progress for whom” and “progress for what”?

GM is going into the communities in which they operate and demanding property tax assessment reductions on factories being modernized to “state of the art”, making them not “less” but “incredibly more” profitable and valuable. While Mr. Smith calls for a good liberal arts education, GM’s tax demands are pulling money out of the education systems in the communities in which GM operates forcing many local educational systems to now slice deeply into their already low budgets and put up operating funds to fight GM.

On top of disturbing municipal services, this strategy has the potential of creating a devastating effect on our children, making it in many cases much more difficult if not impossible to even attend college.

There are many other critical and quiet strategies being pushed by GM including the redefining of the of the term “union” and “attitude manipulation” programs directed at their captive workforce, but it is impossible in this short space to comprehensively define all elements of GM’s restructuring.

Obviously educators in many instances are being integrated into the corporate restructuring strategy as potential facilitators of these changes and it should raise some very complex social-responsibility questions for many of them.

Shouldn’t education help improve the situation of our people by promoting values, sensitivity and vision? Why aren’t more questions being raised on these changes that will impact the lives of so many?

When reading an article of speech by a powerful and resourceful business leader, don’t take it for face value. Look for quiet politics, deliberate corporate-image enhancement and only the points brought out that promote their particular concerns.



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Westfall group demonstrsting at GM stockholders meeting

Detroit 1986


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