What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

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Thread: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

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    What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    The New York Times
    April 20, 2017

    A New York Times book review.



    JANESVILLE: An American Story
    By Amy Goldstein - 351 pages. Simon & Schuster. $27.

    Over the course of his career, Paul D. Ryan, the House speaker, has been described as a policy nerd, a lightweight, a canny tactician, a dreadful tactician, a man of principle and a man whose vertebrae have mysteriously gone missing.

    But in the opening pages of “Janesville: An American Story,” Amy Goldstein’s moving and magnificently well-researched ethnography of a small Wisconsin factory city on economic life support, Ryan is just another congressman, pleading on behalf of his hometown, population 63,000.

    It’s 2008, and Ryan has just received a phone call from Rick Wagoner, then the chairman and chief executive of General Motors, to alert him that the company will shortly be stopping all production in Janesville.

    The news is too improbable to register. Janesville has a storied place in labor history, changing and repurposing itself as the times required. Barack Obama used its plant as a backdrop for a speech about the economy early on in his 2008 campaign. Most presidential candidates eventually buzz through. The place has been manufacturing Chevrolets for 85 years. The congressman is stunned.

    “Give us Cavaliers,” he begs. “Give us pickups.” Any model other than the unpopular SUVs the plant is currently churning out, he means. “You know you’ll destroy this town if you do this!” he yells into the phone.

    Whether the closure of this fabled 4.8-million-square-foot facility does or does not destroy Janesville is for the reader to decide. Goldstein, a longtime staff writer for The Washington Post who was part of a reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002, opts for complexity over facile explanations and easy polemics. (Neither Obama nor Ryan comes off looking particularly good; and no, she does not conclude that these layoffs put Donald J. Trump in the White House.) Her book follows a clutch of characters over the course of five years, from 2008 to 2013, and concludes with an epilogue in the present, when unemployment in Janesville is less than 4 percent.

    Terrific news, you might say. But that number belies some harsh realities on the ground, as we learn throughout the book. Real wages in the town have fallen. Marriages have collapsed. And Janesville, a town with an unusual level of civic commitment, unity and native spirit — the Ryan family has been there for five generations — has capitulated to the same partisan rancor that afflicts the rest of the nation.

    It was not the sort of place, for instance, where a beloved local politician might find someone unfurling his middle finger at him during Labor Fest — until 2011, which happened to be the year that Scott Walker, a flamboyantly anti-union and polarizing figure, took up residence in the governor’s mansion. The town is now riven by “an optimism gap,” as Goldstein calls it, with dispossessed workers on one side and bullish businesspeople on the other.

    “Janesville” joins a growing family of books about the evisceration of the working class in the United States. What sets it apart is the sophistication of its storytelling and analysis.

    The characters are especially memorable. This may be the first time since I began this job that I’ve wanted to send notes of admiration to three people in a work of nonfiction.

    Readers will also finish “Janesville” with an extremely sobering takeaway: There’s scant evidence that job retraining, possibly the sole item on the menu of policy options upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree, is at all effective.

    In the case of the many laid-off workers in the Janesville area, the outcomes are decidedly worse for those who have attended the local technical college to learn a new trade. (Goldstein arrives at this conclusion, outlined in detail, by enlisting the help of local labor economists and poring over multiple data sets.) A striking number of dislocated G.M. employees don’t even know how to use a computer when they first show up for classes at Blackhawk Technical College. “Some students dropped out as soon as they found out that their instructors would not accept course papers written out longhand,” Goldstein writes.

    It makes you realize how challenging — and humiliating — it can be to reinvent oneself in midlife. To do so requires a kind of bravery for which no one gets a medal.

    But perhaps the most powerful aspect of “Janesville” is its simple chronological structure, which allows Goldstein to show the chain reaction that something so calamitous as a plant closing can effect. Each falling domino becomes a headstone, signifying the death of the next thing.

    Because the G.M. plant closes, so does the plant at the Lear Corporation, which supplied it with car seats and interiors. Because so many in Janesville are now out of work, nonprofits lose board members and contributions to local charities shrivel. Because their parents are out of work, students at Parker High start showing up for school both hungry and dirty. A social studies teacher starts the “Parker Closet,” which provides them with food and supplies. (Deri Wahlert: She’s one of the people to whom I’d like to write a fan note.)

    The fabric of hundreds of families unravels, as an itinerant class of fathers — “Janesville Gypsies,” they call themselves — start commuting to G.M. factories in Texas, Indiana and Kansas, just so they can maintain their wage of $28 an hour. Those who stay home invariably see their paychecks shrink drastically. One of the men Goldstein follows, Jerad Whiteaker, cycles through a series of unsatisfying, low-paying jobs, finally settling in one that pays less than half his former wage and offers no health insurance. His twin teenage girls — to whom I’d also like to send awed notes — share five jobs between them, earning so much money for their family that they compromise their eligibility for student loans.

    You will learn a lot about the arbitrary rules and idiosyncrasies of our government programs from this book. They have as many treacherous cracks and crevices as a glacier — and offer about as much warmth.

    “Janesville” is not without shortcomings. It can be overwhelming at first, with many characters raining down on the reader at once — it’s a bit like getting caught in a hailstorm of pickup sticks. (Though there’s a cheat sheet in the front of the book, which helps.) There’s almost no discussion of globalization and outsourcing jobs to Mexico, which seems a strange omission. Surely, the residents of Janesville must have an opinion about this?

    But these are minor objections, ultimately. “Janesville” is eye-opening, important, a diligent work of reportage. I am sure Paul Ryan will read it. I wonder what he will say.

    ---------------------------------------

    GazetteXtra
    March 30, 2017

    GM ramps up decommissioning of Janesville assembly plant

    JANESVILLE—General Motors is ramping up the decommissioning of its shuttered Janesville assembly plant, working inside the 4 million-square-foot facility to clean and scrap out equipment.

    City officials say they've heard no new word from GM on a pending sale of the property. But the hive of new activity at the plant has heated up recently, signaling that GM is getting deeper into the effort of mothballing its plant with the intent to sell it.

    In an email to The Gazette on Wednesday, General Motors spokesman Pat Morrissey confirmed that the decommissioning work now being done is a precursor to selling the property.

    He wrote that the work likely will be done by the end of June and is to “prepare for the eventual disposition of the property.”

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Readers will also finish “Janesville” with an extremely sobering takeaway: There’s scant evidence that job retraining, possibly the sole item on the menu of policy options upon which Democrats and Republicans can agree, is at all effective.
    That is a scary quote for tens of thousands of American workers faced with the challenges covered in this book.

    The year 2008 and the financial problems General Motors faced at the time seem like generations ago, and perhaps they were as Arlington (Texas GM plant building full sized SUV models) turns out full-sized vehicles 21 hours a day with the efficiency, speed and quality that was never even possible on the Janesville line.

    A new GM indeed. But what a shame at what was left behind.





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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by Perian View Post
    That is a scary quote for tens of thousands of American workers faced with the challenges covered in this book.

    The year 2008 and the financial problems General Motors faced at the time seem like generations ago, and perhaps they were as Arlington (Texas GM plant building full sized SUV models) turns out full-sized vehicles 21 hours a day with the efficiency, speed and quality that was never even possible on the Janesville line.

    A new GM indeed. But what a shame at what was left behind.





    .
    Keep buying the imports people, keep buying em

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    I've changed roles and jobs and industries several times.

    I worked in IT. I had a bookstore for over a decade. I had an auto dealership for a few years. I went back to IT. I've lived in three states.

    It's easier when you're single, young, and completely untethered. For people with cultural and familial roots, it can be a shock.
    "The Artist Formerly Known As Jesda"

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by mbukukanyau View Post
    Keep buying the imports people, keep buying em
    During my years of employment I was surprised that avid union reps would purchase imports instead of a vehicle from GM, Ford or then Chrysler, the excuse usually was the fact that " American " cars were inferior or unreliable. I usually would counter " even if that is the case, you are unwilling to stand with you union brothers and sisters because your car might have a mechanical problem ", so much for solidarity. Countries like China have been dumping goods in the U.S. for years, stop buying this junk.

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by jesda1 View Post
    I've changed roles and jobs and industries several times.

    I worked in IT. I had a bookstore for over a decade. I had an auto dealership for a few years. I went back to IT. I've lived in three states.
    Same here. I've also lived in three U.S. states, having recently moved to northern Mississippi to start a new job in elevator and escalator repair. Previously, I worked as a car wash attendant, technical writer, bricklayer, construction worker, and commercial & industrial real estate salesman. Before my discharge, I also served as a carpentry and masonry specialist in the Army National Guard.

    People reinvent themselves in midlife all the time. It can definitely be a challenge as the book reviewer indicated, as can transitioning from military to civilian life. But neither of those endeavors are uncommon.
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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    So, 2012, the Only Major Industry in My Town, shuttered. Doom and Gloom and Fear was the main focus. Especially working in Big Ticket Retail.

    There was another Industry looming in the shadows, but speculative at best.

    So 5 years later, we have had 5 consecutive years of Sales and Service Growth. The Looming Industry is nearing the end of Construction, but has not turned dollar $1 yet from a profit standpoint.

    Keeping all of the Politics out of this (which are many and very crippling for the Community) Why is it that things got better?

    Sure the Industry didn't shutter until 2012, but anyone that worked there were on Pins and Needles for Years before that. It's final closure, forced the workforce to other employment some of which included travel, some early Retirements and so on. The shift caused a pent up demand for New Vehicles, Fun Recreational Products when back home, and so on. Now that they Know they had stable employment.

    So, a Uncertain Company is by far worse than No Company at all for the Local Economy. A Semi Certain Company, that is just playing for Government Funding is even worse.

    So in short, if GM is closing Janesville, Janesville will survive. GM, instead of "Don't let the Door Hit you on your way out" it should be "GM make sure you take your door with you when you go"

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by jossch View Post
    During my years of employment I was surprised that avid union reps would purchase imports instead of a vehicle from GM, Ford or then Chrysler, the excuse usually was the fact that " American " cars were inferior or unreliable. I usually would counter " even if that is the case, you are unwilling to stand with you union brothers and sisters because your car might have a mechanical problem ", so much for solidarity. Countries like China have been dumping goods in the U.S. for years, stop buying this junk.
    That would be the day I would leave the union in disgust! Pudding proof that Unions have no real love for work but for control and political power.

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by gkr778 View Post
    Same here. I've also lived in three U.S. states, having recently moved to northern Mississippi to start a new job in elevator and escalator repair. Previously, I worked as a car wash attendant, technical writer, bricklayer, construction worker, and commercial & industrial real estate salesman. Before my discharge, I also served as a carpentry and masonry specialist in the Army National Guard.

    People reinvent themselves in midlife all the time. It can definitely be a challenge as the book reviewer indicated, as can transitioning from military to civilian life. But neither of those endeavors are uncommon.
    Thank you for serving in our Armed forces.

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by mbukukanyau View Post
    Keep buying the imports people, keep buying em
    People buy whatever they think is better,or cheaper..

    Ive been perfectly happy with my Camaros,Trans ams and Chevy GMC trucks over the years,,
    seems like anything with a V8 motor and rear wheel drive made by GM is quite reliable..

    Once I considered geting Lexus but after reading about all the problems on their forum,it stopped me from taking such chance,plus those things are bit expensive anyway..

    Had one Ford van and one Dodge way back and those were crummy lemons,,fool me once never again..
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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by jossch View Post
    During my years of employment I was surprised that avid union reps would purchase imports instead of a vehicle from GM, Ford or then Chrysler, the excuse usually was the fact that " American " cars were inferior or unreliable. I usually would counter " even if that is the case, you are unwilling to stand with you union brothers and sisters because your car might have a mechanical problem ", so much for solidarity. Countries like China have been dumping goods in the U.S. for years, stop buying this junk.
    I would like to know how many people working in management positions in big threes auto companies drive the vehicles their particular company makes,would be interesting to know,,if they all like and trust and are happy with their products..

    I knew a kid working at Chrysler and he drove Chevele of all things..had to take lot of flak from his coworkers but didnt care for Chrysco junk I guess,,

    If I was a CEO I would fire anyone who doesnt drive what the company makes,,
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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Two red flags:
    1. Author is a WaPo typist.
    2. Swooning review is by NYT.

    They both make up stuff and have no real concept of what "reporting" is. Perhaps they did 50 or 60 years ago.
    Too bad. The book sounds interesting.

    But, see #1 and #2.
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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by Neanderthal View Post
    Two red flags:
    1. Author is a WaPo typist.
    2. Swooning review is by NYT.

    They both make up stuff and have no real concept of what "reporting" is. Perhaps they did 50 or 60 years ago.
    Too bad. The book sounds interesting.

    But, see #1 and #2.
    Also add and some of GMI posters will get the South Park's Underpants Gnomes reference
    #3: ????
    #4: Profit

    It could be interesting to compare it with Charlie LeDuff's book "Detroit: an American Autopsy".

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    I was interested in hearing from the Janesville workers. Surprised that we had so many, yes but interested. This scene was repeated in Wilmington, DE, Doraville, GA, M<oraine, OH, and in a prolonged fashion in Oshawa, ON. As a former GM HQ engineer, Janesville was always easy to work with. Others were not. The people there were great, and my family will always remain in gratitude for their work on my sister's '91 Cavalier. She was t-boned by someone without their lights on in the early morning hours, and is still here, working as a cardiac nurse in CO. Thanks Janesville! That car saved her.

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    Re: What happens when a large GM plant closes down? "Janesville: An American Story"

    Quote Originally Posted by mbukukanyau View Post
    Pudding proof that Unions have no real love for work but for control and political power.
    That's exactly what all modern labor unions in the USA are about. They will harass and threaten anyone who dares to expose their self serving and kleptocratic agenda. I have personal experience on the receiving end of union thuggery.

    Economic development officials in Janesville and Rock County, Wisconsin should do everything in their power to cleanse any remnants of UAW influence in their region. They should also emphasize that ANY and ALL labor unions are unneeded, unwanted, and unwelcome in modern day Janesville.
    Last edited by gkr778; 04-20-2017 at 10:40 PM.
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