Michael Moore Has Plans for GM
In "Goodbye, GM ... by Michael Moore," a letter published on June 1, the documentary film producer gives his insights on the collapse of GM and charts a future course for the automaker.
Before we visit this twilight zone, let's be clear about why this filmmaker's opinion matters, especially on this topic. Michael Moore is someone who "gets it," according to the left. When his movies take on an issue -- like gun violence, health care, or the U.S. response to 9/11 -- it's a cultural event for progressives from San Francisco to Vancouver. He writes the narrative.
He started his career in 1989 with Roger and Me. This film followed Moore's quest to interview Roger Smith, the CEO of GM, to ask why the company was cutting jobs in Flint and building new plants in Mexico. Moore's background as the son of a GM autoworker made the film even more credible for Democrats convinced of the darkness of free trade and globalization.
With this history, Moore should know something about GM and the domestic auto industry, right? But he begins his letter by laying the blame for GM's failure squarely on management, for not building and selling the types of cars the American public wanted. That's superficially correct, but hardly insightful. It's like saying Obama won the election because he got more votes.
There's a topic missing from his letter that Moore doesn't get, or just would rather not address. That topic is the union, of course. Like the Democrats in Washington, Moore discusses GM's past, present, and future without uttering the word.
GM failed because in the 80s and 90s the company's unionized workers realized that the real money wasn't in making automobiles, but in writing a better collective bargaining agreement. While Toyota's workers were organizing quality circles, UAW workers were organizing work stoppages and press conferences. The consequences were predictable; the only surprise is that it took so long.
One of the best books on the auto industry competition is Womack's The Machine That Changed The World. This management bestseller tells the story of how Toyota's workers were able to build better autos not because of any single technological advance, but through a series of hundreds of small improvements over time. I believe we used to call that American ingenuity.
Yet in Moore's world, the union workers could never be the villains. They are victims protecting themselves against exploitative management. They have no responsibilities to the company or its customers, just entitlements that grow larger and larger every year.
And Moore certainly doesn't make the connection between GM's bankruptcy and the proposed card check legislation that has the potential to unionize virtually every American workforce, an act of national economic seppuku that guarantees more bankruptcies, bailouts, and jobs moving overseas.
Like President Obama, Moore says that he has no interest in running a car company. His solution is to transform it into a nationalized transportation company -- which he seems to be interested in managing -- as evidenced by his nine-point plan. The new and improved company would build local and long-distance public transport using electric trains powered by renewable energy.
In this progressive fantasy, we all travel in style on GM-manufactured Japanese bullet trains that zip across the country at 165 mph. A trip from NYC to Miami would take a mere eleven hours. Sure, that's eight more hours than a plane ride, but why save time when we can save the planet?