General Motors — the company that American taxpayers bailed out less than a decade ago, rescuing the company from near-certain bankruptcy after years of mismanagement — continues to struggle, and the dominoes that were toppled by the bailout decision continue to fall.
Yesterday the company announced that it is engaging in a massive restructuring that will close assembly plants in Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada, eliminate thousands of jobs, and end some car lines. One of the vehicles being discontinued is the Chevy Volt, the electric hybrid GM rolled out to great fanfare. The company said that “GM is continuing to take proactive steps to improve overall business performance, including the reorganization of its global product development staffs, the realignment of its manufacturing capacity and a reduction of salaried workforce.” GM’s CEO, Mary Barra, said “GM wants to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences for its long-term success.” One of the “changing market conditions” is the declining public demand for passenger cars like the Volt and the Chevy Impala, which also is being discontinued.
President Trump and the United Auto Workers are both unhappy at the GM move. Trump said he didn’t like GM’s decision and reports that he told Barra “You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon. That’s Ohio, and you better get back in there soon.” The UAW, which will see the loss of lots of blue collar jobs held by its members, said: “This callous decision by GM to reduce or cease operations in American plants, while opening or increasing production in Mexico and China plants for sales to American consumers, is, in its implementation, profoundly damaging to our American workforce.” The UAW news release added that “GM’s production decisions, in light of employee concessions during the economic downturn and a taxpayer bailout from bankruptcy, puts profits before the working families of this country whose personal sacrifices stood with GM during those dark days.”
GM’s decision will no doubt be devastating to those employees who lose their jobs and the communities where the plants will close. But it also makes me wonder how even the advocates for the taxpayer bailout of GM less than 10 years ago feel about their decision to prop up GM now. The underlying question raised by the UAW and President Trump is legitimate: Was the bailout worth it, in view of these kinds of decisions? GM remains a public company, and it gets to make decisions that it considers to be in its own competitive interest. And if changing market conditions really do require GM to cut thousands of jobs that the bailout advocates expected would continue indefinitely, that may just tells you something about the wisdom of taxpayer bailouts generally.