Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Meet the Flintstones...

Sure, I see the news and know that the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is pretty high (8% or so). And Boston doesn't make the top ten list of places that the recession will only flitter in (or by pass entirely). Those cities all seem to be in Alabama or Texas.

But, in truth, it doesn't feel all that recession-y around here.

I walk through downtown Boston most every day, and the streets are crowded with folks going to work and, this time of year, school trips and tourists.

Cosi, where I grab a take-out lunch once or twice a week, remains packed with people willing to spend $7 or $8 on a salad.

You mostly need reservations at our neighborhood restaurants.

Maybe the stores are empty - I don't know: I'm not in them.

For the most part, however, it really doesn't seem bleak and depressing in Boston.

I guess it's because, while housing prices certainly went up- up- and away over the last decade, we didn't have a lot of housing speculation, so no big real estate bubble to burst.

And, of course,  because we have so little manufacturing here, with so much of it drained out of the Commonwealth by the 1980's.

So we really aren't experiencing the recession in the same way as folks Florida. Or in Elkhart, Indiana (erstwhile RV Capital of the World). Or in Flint, Michigan, which since Michael Moore's Roger and Me has been the poster child for the collapse of the U.S. auto industry. And the attendant collapse of the cities built around it.

Flint's on my mind these days.

Yesterday, I saw an article, from The Telegraph (UK) that talks about a plan being put forth by Genessee Michigan County Treasurer Dan Kilkee to bulldoze parts of the city and let them revert back to nature. Apparently, the idea is being considered for other Rust Belt cities that have experienced substantial population loss, and have great swaths of land full of abandoned, wrack and ruin houses.

Even though I don't live in Flint or Detroit or Buffalo or any of the other cities likely to come under the dozer, I do find this prospect somewhat depressing. I like cities. And I have a particular soft spot for big old industrial cities. Frankly, if I were going to see anything bulldozed, my preference would be for the jerry-built crap suburban sprawl that's been slapped up in the last couple of years.

But the death of the great industrial cities is more or less the nature of capitalism, unforgiving of those who couldn't keep up with "progress."  Now they're giant, brick and mortar ghost towns, larger scale versions of the flimsy wood Western towns abandoned once the mine played out.

All of these old industrial towns are supposed to remake themselves as education and health centers. But who will be coming for school or a checkup if there's nobody with a job, other than those who work in schools or hospitals? Hmmmm.

Anyway, a few weeks back, The New York Times had an article on the remnants of the GM workforce that once employed 27,000 workers in Buick City alone (out of 80,000 overall in Flint), but is now down to 450 folks hanging on for dear life in a creaking old engine plant.

They've been offered cash buyouts, which 60,000 members of GM's union workforce have taken over the last 3 years.

No, even though many of the Flint holdouts, having put in 30+ years on the line, would be eligible for a pension (which may or may not be built to last) they'd rather stay working.

“I just get up in the morning, wash up, and drive here every day,” said O. C. Cooper, a 64-year-old machine operator at Flint North. “It’s just been a way of life.”

The holdouts are pretty realistic about their prospects "out there."

“For me to go out and get a job these days, at my age and with a limited skill set, where do I go?” said Victor Brown, 55, a repairman at Flint North.

There's no guarantee that these jobs will survive the cuts and plant closings that are still to fall out of the GM "rebirth."

“General Motors has taken good care of me,” said Mike Stoica, 60, who started at G.M. fresh out of high school in 1967. “I’ve had a good life for not having a college education and doing something I love to do.”

Well, those days are pretty much gone.

Now we all have to stay current - where current shifts every few months or so. We need to continuously re-invent ourselves, "Brand Me" it up, be perpetually on the make.

But that's probably not going to happen to the guy who's been working at the plant for over 40 years.

He has no doubt looked around and seen that the alternative is Wal-Mart greeter or burger flipper.

Why not stay working for GM as long as you can?

In many ways it has to be a complete downer to be one of the last remnant, especially when you lived through some pretty good times.

But you've still got your respectable paycheck, the companionship of your fellow workers, and a place to go when you get up in the morning.

Sure, I'm betting that these guys feel like a holdover from a long by-gone era - Barney Rubble and Fred Flintstone in a world of George Jetsons.

Why not stay working for GM as long as you can?

Heck, I probably would.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey thats me, Betsey and I lived in Flint in the heyday, and we were in the same food co-op in Davisonville with Michael Moore. Mike was considered a satirist and not too taken too seriously be real people in those days. Most of my work was in the truck, engine and stamping plants. Flint was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, movies ran all night for tehe swing shift and most resteraunts were open 24 hours.