General Motors and Chrysler are on the anvil of history. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger holds the hammer and will determine whether they emerge more competitive or shattered in pieces and sold to foreign investors.
In December, George W. Bush granted $17.4 billion in temporary loans on the condition those firms convert two-thirds of their debt into equity. Another condition was to persuade the UAW to accept stock for one half of what these companies owe to fund retiree health care and align wages, benefits and work rules with those of the Japanese automakers operating in the United States.
GM and Chrysler must complete these negotiations by March 31 or repay the money and face bankruptcy.
At U.S.-based Toyota factories, workers receive about $25 dollars an hour and good health care benefits. But they don’t retire at 50 after 30 years or get as much time off and huge severance packages. Toyota does not endure the medieval work rules and job classifications imposed by UAW contracts.