Why The Auto Industry Is Failing – Part 5

In this installment, we discuss the prevailing socialist work mentality held by many employees.

Mind you, I work in the automotive sector.  So I’ve seen all this stuff up close and personal.

My first experience with the auto companies was visiting a vehicle plant in Michigan, in a pre-sales technical capacity.  We were looking over some equipment locked in a room, and monitored by a union autoworker.  The interior of the room was dark, and the lights were off.  So in our little party walked, and flipped on the light.  We so startled the guy inside the room (supposedly monitoring the equipment to be evaluated), that he fell off his chair, and hit the hard concrete floor.

He had been sleeping in the room, and getting paid for it.  In fact, it was well known that all he did was come into work, and sleep all day.  He had seniority, so he got the plum job.

Now, I can sit here and harp about union people all day, but they’re not the entirety of the problem.  The malaise that substitutes for work ethic within most of the Big Three is systemic.  I can cite any number of union abuses: janitors making six-digit salaries, production slowdowns in the plants so that the union members automatically force the company to pay overtime, and so on.  The fact is, it isn’t just union people acting like this; it has gone non-union as well.

As I’ve stated once before, there is pretty much no frickin’ way the Big Three is going to rid themselves of the UAW any time soon.  Democrats in Congress will fight to the death to prevent this from happening.  Republicans don’t bother to fight at all, for seemingly anything.  So, companies like GM and Ford are stuck with labor unions.  Period.  And the abuses of organized labor have been itemized ad infinitum, so I don’t need to go into more detail about them here.

What’s more disturbing is that the same type of work ethic held by unskilled, organized  labor has bubbled up into the ranks of white-collar employees.

I come from a small business background.  If you don’t get the job done, your a** is toast.  There are any number of people out there who can replace you at any given time.  Michigan is an “at will employment” state, meaning that an employer can replace an employee for any given reason.  If they don’t like the part in your hair, you’re fired.  If you breathe too loud, you’re fired.  The employer is under NO obligation to hire you, or to keep you on.  Granted, there are limits to this.

I’ve experienced this first-hand.  Two previous employers have let me go for glaringly specious reasons.  Later you find out that the excuses being given weren’t the actual reasons for the dismissal.  In one case, it was internal company politics.  In another case, the company was having money problems, and wouldn’t openly admit this to their employees.  So, they terminated the highest salary in the company – me – to save money.

So, you’d think that after a couple of bad experiences, I’d be all for fixing the situation so that I wouldn’t have to worry about some idiot firing me for no reason, right?  Wrong.

“At will employment” actually works to my advantage.

If I can be replaced at any time, then I’m forced to be competitive within the work environment.  This means that, because of competitive pressures, I’ve got to use my A-game all day, every day (within reasonable limits).  This keeps my intellect, and my skills razor-sharp.  Thus, when I re-enter the job market, I’ve got a track-record of success, and I am able to deploy these honed skills the minute I start a new job.

When you let your skills atrophy, once you enter the job market, you’ll be crowded-out by others who didn’t let themselves go job-wise.

When I first really started working with the auto companies, I was utterly stunned.  Not only did simple projects take forever to get accomplished, but there was a real, genuine unwillingness to make an effort to achieve goals that could otherwise be done by venturing down the path of least resistance.  Furthermore, there was a genuine disinterest in knowing the ins and outs of technology they already have.  What also stunned me was how little outside training one specific auto manufacturer invested into its employees.  The main focus was on outsourcing, even to the point of outsourcing key business knowledge, and proprietary information.

I was like a frickin’ whirlwind coming in and doing all of this stuff on my own.  Stuff they paid millions of dollars elsewhere to produce, and with companies that used substandard labor.  That’s because, at that time, the Big Three were doing well, and had the money to spend.

What further floored me was the emphasis on trendy neo-socialist concepts like “diversity” and finding a “balance” between work-life and home-life.  There was an emphasis on being eco-friendly, and all that jazz.  They had diversity groups divided along race, sexual preference, and so on.  People were broken into groups, and things aside from company business and profit-motive were emphasized, and even institutionalized.

This has since changed.

Now, you may be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with any of the stuff I’ve thus far faulted places like Chrysler for initiating.  After all, employees are people too, right?

People always tout socialism as being the path to a class-less society.  This is utterly absurd.  Capitalism and representative government provide the only true means to a society absent social or economic classes.  Even as you read Marx and Engels, classes are defined from the view of wrong-headed communists as a means to label the “abuses” of capitalist economics.  On the contrary, it is people like Marx who divide rich from poor, bourgeoisie from proletarians, and haves from have-nots.  Even Jesus Christ said that the poor will always be with us.  Poverty is a relative state.  Wealth is relative.  These two concepts alone define and help drive effective economies.

Capitalism is really the only economy that is not class-oriented.  Wealth and wealth generation is always in flux.  If you have a skill, SOMEONE out there is willing to pay money to rent it for a time.  Cripes, the whole driving force behind websites like eBay is that if you have something to sell (or consider valuable), SOMEONE out there is probably willing to pay to own it.

Free and open markets work.  They benefit everybody, save tyrants and oppressors.

Socialism takes the constantly morphing wealth in capitalist systems, and set it in concrete.  Under socialist and demi-socialist systems, once people get rich they pretty much stay rich.  The Soviets and the Red Chinese have provided us clear examples of how socialism in its purest form creates a dividing line between party members (elites), and non-party members (workers).  That’s because once government inserts itself into free economies, it creates artificial divisions that end-up inhibiting wealth creation.  Taxation is a prime example.

So, by breaking people up into groups, outsourcing, and creating a fine line between “executive” and “worker” classes within an organization, you basically inject socialism.  This explains why many small businesses are are far more flexible and adaptable to changing market conditions – these divisions essentially don’t exist.  Employees of a company do what needs to be done to be successful.  If they don’t, they’re gone in one manner or another.  End of discussion.

If you look at the careers of successful people, you’ll see they from the get-go they have the attitude to do whatever it takes to be successful.  There is no concept of “balance” in their work-life; that kinda crap comes after they’ve made their billions, and can retire to their private island in the South Pacific.  No, successful people come to work dressed for battle.  They come to win.

Many employees in the Big Three come to work because it is their job.  Whether the company as a whole “wins” or “loses” is inconsequential to them.  Their focus is on the balance between their work-life and home-life, or their diversity group, or hanging out at the water cooler, etc.  They are but a cog in a very large machine, and a lot of them get comfortable with that designation.

This is by design.  The Big Three have patterned themselves to act basically like a mini-federal government.  There are layers upon layers of bureaucracy within the organization, competing fiefdoms, politically-driven corporate initiatives, and so on.  The emphasis is no longer making a stellar product, company stability, or corporate profits.  No, the emphasis is on being a good corporate citizen first.  Every other consideration is secondary.

This is the same neo-socialist crap that is being taught in the business schools of today.  I’m sure there were LOTS of people at Enron who took to hear this new, “enlightened” approach to business.

Now we see the result of all of this.  Eventually, in a competitive marketplace, the Big Three buckles.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, things have since changed.  I’ve seen firsthand how streamlining workforces, and layoffs have dramatically changed the workplace dynamic within some of the Big Three.  No longer do I see the emphasis on diversity programs or on all of that feel-good crap that previously lured people away from productivity.  The idea that an employee can be gone tomorrow has taken hold, and everyone works just a little bit harder now.  Paring away the dead wood is helping the tree to grow.  All of this is a step in the right direction.

The bumper-to-bumper concept of employee benefits is slowly being replaced by those more in line with that of the average workplace.  Instead of pensions, some of the automakers are pushing 401K plans, and asking employees to manage their own retirements.  Even the unions are moving people with seniority out, and replacing them with junior workers whose salaries are more along the lines of what the Japanese pay their people in the production plants.

Capitalism and competitive pressures work.  I’m seeing this unfold right before my eyes.

The question is, what will happen to these improvements once the federal government once again inserts its anti-productivity aura into the struggling domestic automakers?

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