An Editorial from a Daughter of a GM Employee

Growing up my mom was a school teacher and my dad a laborer with General Motors. We were probably the typical family in Michigan, with my dad making more money than my mom even though she had a Master’s Degree. I grew up in a General Motors town and when General Motors faced financial difficulties, the entire city was devastated.

Just this past week Ford announced that they would be laying off 10,000 employees and offering buy outs to 75,000 more. Haven’t we been through this before? It just seems like a vicious cycle to me – years of plenty and then years of famine, then years of plenty and years of famine again.

Most of my high school friends had parents (mostly fathers) who worked for General Motors. These men were making $30-$70K+ per year in the 1980’s. Some of them were foremans, or millwrights, but others were simply laborers paid very well and taking on lots of overtime.

None of the GM parents desired that their children pursue a career in the auto industry. None of them wanted their children to experience the inconsistency and instablity of working in that industry. But what were we kids to do who saw non-college educated men making this kind of money? How would it be possible for us to attain the same economical quality of living as our parents? Well most of us were persuaded by our parents to go to college to keep us from “being at the mercy” of a company as most of them had been with GM. They saw a college education as your being able to “write your own ticket” and “be in control of your own destiny”. But after graduating from college, many of us quickly learned that it would take us years to get to the income of our parents and to attain their level of purchasing power. This I believe became disheartening to some. Those who did not go to college found it difficult to almost impossible to find a job when GM was not prospering, let alone making the income their parents had made. Thus our generation became more apt to pursue self-employment and/or quick to change jobs. We offered no loyalty to our employers as we felt GM had shown no loyalty to our parents.

Many of my GM childhood friends have gone beyond a Bachelor’s degree and are pursuing – master’s and doctoral degrees. For many of them they see this as a sure way of surpassing their parents economically. In the middle of the spectrum are the kids who decided to pursue a vocation such as nursing, plumbing, carpentry, etc. If I were to psychoanalyze, I would probably say that these were the kids who desired job stability in contrast to what their parents experienced, but they were okay with having equal to or less than their parents. On the other end of that spectrum are those who kept hoping that the days of GM would return. They really wanted the life that their parents had the way their parents got it. These are now those who I find to be discouraged, distraught, disheartened, bitter and angry.

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