24 July 2008

Hargrove Demands Federal Bail-Out of Auto Industry

When I read the headline this morning, the No! which burst from me could not have been more furious.

Once again, Buzz Hargrove, head of the Canadian Auto Workers union, is demanding government bail-outs of the auto industry. He justifies it this way.

Every day now is more bad news in our industry... It's a very stressful time for our union and especially our members and their families at GM, Ford, Chrysler and independent auto parts supplies now. It's just a horrible situation. We really need the feds to join with us in partnership to deal with the challenges that we face and try to bring in some programs that will help restore the strength of the industry.

Industry leaders, from both management and union, cannot have had their heads buried in the sand over the past decade and more.

They hire expert market analysts. They've known the greening of consumer interest was coming and they've known their competitors, equally informed, were preparing for that future.

That these men (they're always men) didn't act on this information is telling. They were either incompetent or irresponsible. I'm guessing a mix of both, with a heavier dose of the latter.

The big bosses on both sides of the negotiating table rarely looked beyond the short-term gain, not least because they could get away with it: if they dug themselves a hole and fell into it, there was always the government to pull them out.

Given that mindset, neither auto workers nor management prepared for the future.

Now the chickens have come home to roost.

There should be no more government bail-outs. In fact, there never should have been.

Businesses and industries rise and fall. Just as there should be separation between church and state, there should be separation between private enterprise and government - including no tax exemptions in either case.

Which returns me to Hargrove's demands for government intervention, made on behalf of auto workers. What about those workers and the bleak futures many of them may be facing?

Everyone in the auto industry, worker and manager alike, knew the end was coming. Those who prepared for the future, by cutting back on spending and socking away their savings, will do fine. The ones who didn't, won't.

This may sound hard-hearted, but you've only to look at situations like mine to think again.

Since 2000, I've seen my income falling. By the end of 2001, I knew that condition was not going to reverse. Over the past five years, my earnings from all sources, including tax refunds, income from self-employment, savings from the sale of an old mobile home and interest, came to $61,620.

That's an average of $12,324 per year.

I've learned to live on far less. I've had to.

My only expenses are hydro, food, a broadband Internet connection and rent, which has gone up by almost 20% over the same five-year period.

I have no phone: neither landline nor cell. No TV. No VCR. No radio. A poorly-equipped kitchen and very little furniture.

I walk everywhere, wearing shoes with cracked soles, which cause my feet to become soaked from wet pavement. I don't buy clothes: neither new nor used. To save on hydro, I tend to eat my food uncooked. When possible, I turn off the fridge, again to save hydro.

Living this way, I've been able to save just under $6,000 each year; more in the earlier years, less now as the cost of rent, hydro, Internet connection, and food hike up.

That means I've managed to save almost $30,000. On an annual income of no more than $12,324.

I'm 58 years old. I've disabilities which are worsening. I'm not employable in the usual sense, hence the reason I do contract work when I can get it. I've no assets other than those savings.

In two more years, I can start collecting a small monthly allowance through the Canada Pension Plan and will qualify for BC's Shelter Aid For Elderly Renters, a rental subsidy program. Because I saved when I knew I had to, I'm going to make it until then, with enough to make up the difference for the following five years until I reach age 65 and other government support will kick in.

Do I feel sorry for auto workers whose income has been four, five, six times that of mine? Who had benefits in addition to that? For people who could see the writing on the wall?

No. I don't. Just as I don't expect people to feel sorry for me.

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