Vincent Chin and the Chrysler Bailout

A bio-time-line*

2003: The US as a whole lost 2.3 million jobs since 2000

2000: Chrysler "merged," with the German company, Daimler-Benz. In reality, Chrysler sold itself to Daimler. Chrysler's 30 top executives milked the company for $395.8 million in cash and stocks when the merger with Daimler Benz was completed. Chrysler Chairman Robert Eaton alone received a pay-out of $69.9 million, plus the option to cash in his 2.3 million shares of Daimler-Chrysler stock. The same executives negotiated, as a condition of the merger, $96.9 million in severance packages in the event they were fired or otherwise removed. Several of the executives took advantage of these ""golden parachutes"" and bolted from the company before the current crisis hit.

2000: Chrysler announced massive blue collar and white collar layoffs, 26,000 jobs, or 20% of its workforce. The cuts were supported by the UAW, which said they were necessary to save the company.

1999: Chrysler recorded profits of $5.2 billion, its best year. US car companies made a record $18 billion in profits, while employing a half million fewer workers than they employed two decades earlier.

1997: Bitter strike at Detroit's Mound Road Plant, over health and benefits cutbacks.

1995: Mercedes-Benz wins more then $250 million in Alabama taxpayer support to build a plant in the state. The subdivision of the MB company is later partnered with Daimler Benz. The taxpayer support was won, in part, with promises to create jobs for Alabamians.

1979-80: UAW supported the bailout of Chrysler corporation, and massive job (50,000) , wage and benefit cuts (worth $500 million), in order to save the company. At the same time, UAW leaders and Chrysler engaged in a sweeping "Buy American" pr campaign, openly blaming Japanese workers (and promoting racist cartoons, films, etc)for the loss of US Jobs. The UAW president, Doug Fraser, was appointed to the Chrysler Board, and the UAW and Chrysler announced they were Partners In Production. Vincent Chin murdered in 1981.

1978-2000, top executives' pay leaped more than 100 percent-not counting the millions more they have made in bonuses, stocks and other compensation----while workers' real wages have grown by only 1.3 percent.

1974-1980, and on. Deep recession hit US and the auto industry especially, caused by the Oil Embargo, failure of US employers to reinvest in aging plants (hence declining quality of US autos) and the federal inflationary crisis sparked in part by the Vietnam War. Inflation ran at more than 20%, representing a significant, day by day, wage cut

1968-74: Vietnam vets returned from war to work in auto plants. Many black vets worked in the Detroit-metro area plants, particularly Chrysler's which had more plants in and near the city than other auto-makers. Led mostly by these veterans, Chrysler rank and file workers formed groups like the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, (DRUM), and the Eldon Revolutionary Union Movement (Elrum), etc. These organizations, often led by communists, often used the Wayne State University student newspaper, the South End, as an organizing voice. They led wildcat strikes throughout the industry.

1973: Workers at the Mack Avenue Chrysler plant, responding to job safety concerns, staged a sit-down strike that lasted for about 4 days. UAW staff members, armed with clubs, pipes, chains, etc., entered the plant early in the morning, attacked the strikers, and turned them over to waiting police. The UAW was formed, at the outset, by massive, illegal, sit-down strikes. The 1973 union leadership said they acted on behalf of the police in order to fulfill the guarantees of their contract, and to be sure that dues income went forward uninterrupted.

1979: Chrysler lost a half billion dollars. By 1979, the company was losing $6-8 million a day, and it would soon lose a total of $1.1 billion, the largest amount in US corporate history.

1979: Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca (designer of the Ford Mustang) demanded a one billion dollar bailout from the federal government, and the State of Michigan.

1980: Under Jimmy Carter, the federal government and Michigan approved the bailout, in the form of loan guarantees. However, the loans required concessions from the Chrysler workforce, in the amount of more than $400 million. Under the slogans, "We are all in this together to save our country," and "Buy American," the UAW leadership approved the concessions. Days later, the state of Michigan cut welfare grants, insisting that the state budget was hit by the Chrysler bailout.

1980-1990: Chrysler closed more than 30 plants in the US, laid off about 45% of both its blue collar and white collar workforce, or about 65,000 people.

1980--GM and Ford, and other automakers, used the Chrysler cutbacks as a model, whipsawing the workforce with demands for similar wage and benefit cuts, and the UAW leadership cooperated, losing nearly one million members along the way. Marc Stepp, the boss of the UAW's Chrysler division, said these multiple cuts and concessions were necessary, "to preserve the American system of profits."

1980--the UAW institutionalized what it had done since WWII, and what the American Federation of Labor had always done: serve as an arm of management in protecting US industry, positioning foreign competition as the key enemy. This was called New Unionism (it was once called Company Unionism, Corporatism, or a prop of fascism), the notion that labor and management have over-arching common interests. In part, this position was excused by the UAW leadership on the grounds that it was necessary in order to elect Democratic Party leaders to office. (The same logic was employed during the failed Detroit Newspaper strike of 1997).

2003: In Alabama, the Daimler-Mercedes partnership begins to import workers from Poland, paying them less than ½ the wages common to locals, arguing that the Polish workers do jobs that require special skills unavailable in the US. The jobs are routine factory positions, involving painting and cutting."We were a little bit shocked when we came here -- that people live in trailers, there are forests, no skyscrapers."

*Based in part on research done by Jerry White, Bill Gilbreth, and Richard Gibson.

White's article is at


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