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Post Poletown: GM's Plant Closures Reopen Old Controversy
Created by John Eipper on 11/29/18 3:48 AM

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Poletown: GM's Plant Closures Reopen Old Controversy (Edward Jajko, USA, 11/29/18 3:48 am)

General Motors has announced plans to close several car assembly plants and to end production of certain models.

One of the plants is the Hamtramck plant in Detroit, which was built in the early 1980s to build Cadillac Sevilles. The plant was later used to manufacture Buicks and another mark or model, and finally the Chevrolet Volt, which is a hybrid that is supposed to be GM's counter to the Toyota Prius and similar cars.

But the Volt never took off and US car buyers now prefer SUVs (although why does the Prius remain popular?).
So now the Hamtramck plant will be closed and thousands there will lose their jobs, as likely also will thousands of those who work for GM suppliers.

What makes this particular plant closing such a source of bitterness and anger is that, around 1980, GM wanted to build a new assembly plant and its managers came up with the mad notion that the only place to put it was the almost 500 acres in a neighborhood called Poletown. That Poletown was a settled, long-established mostly residential community of thousands of mostly Polish-Americans.  That there were people living there already in a settled community, didn't matter.

GM made a case that the area known as Poletown was the best place to build its new assembly plant and convinced the city of Detroit and the State of Michigan that vaunted economic betterment justified the destruction of Poletown. To its undying shame and disgrace, even the Archdiocese of Detroit agreed to the wholesale destruction of the neighborhood of mostly Roman Catholic Polish-Americans, including the deconsecration, sale, and destruction of its Catholic churches.

The battle of the Poletown residents went to the Michigan Supreme Court, which ruled that powers of eminent domain could be used to take one group's private property to give to another for the sake of economic gain. (This infamous precedent was reversed by that court in a more recent case, but Poletown is now but a memory.)

Now that car assembly plant that GM management, the city of Detroit, the State of Michigan, and the Michigan Supreme Court, as well as even the Catholic Archdiocese, thought would bring such prosperity (certainly to GM management) that it was worth destroying a stable middle-class neighborhood for, will itself become part of a dead past. As far as I'm concerned, all of GM can join it.

In the mid-1980s, my late brother wanted to buy a new car and told me that he was planning on getting a Buick. I was surprised, and reminded him of Poletown. My brother was the first member of our then very large extended family who was born in the US (I am the second). We were both raised in an atmosphere of Polish language, old Polish traditions, and respect for our parents' home as well as a deep love and respect for the US. In response to my comment, my brother changed his mind. He looked around and bought a Lancia; that company was trying to crack the US market. He later bought Hondas. For myself, my first car was a ‘67 VW Beetle (although I had driven my brother's TR-3 for a couple of years and the ‘60s Peugeot our parents had bought). The VW was followed by a Toyota station wagon, a Super Beetle, and a Volvo station wagon. That was followed by a succession of Acuras. Our son drives a VW and our daughter, a Honda CRV. I have driven Chevy rentals because they have the large trunk we need for baggage. But since the death of Poletown, I have maintained a personal boycott against GM: I will not buy a General Motors product.

At the same time, I have bought, driven, and invested large sums in the maintenance of German and Japanese cars. I was born and raised in the days of WWII and am quite aware of who our mortal enemies were then, and also how much we spent to restore those countries after the war, to the point that American industries were harmed. Yet I buy their cars and not GM. The basic reason is that you expect to be attacked by the strangers, by your enemies, but not by your friends.

From Detroit Free Press:

GM's Hamtramck plant closing reopens old controversy in Detroit

With the GM plant slated for closing, it's fair to ask if it was worth wiping out a neighborhood to build it


JE comments:  Monday's announcement is all we Michiganders have been talking about.  The "renaissance" of GM after bankruptcy was not only a feel-good story for Detroit.  It was also bringing tangible prosperity.  Wall Street is applauding GM's radical self-surgery, which will save money by focusing on cash-cow trucks and SUVs.  They are also "positioning themselves for sustainability" by emphasizing electrics and autonomous vehicles.  Problem is, these gizmos are not profitable.  And who will buy behemoth trucks the next time gasoline doubles in price?

I am also incensed by GM's Orwellian language for describing the closures:  the Hamtramck facility, as well as a massive plant in Lordstown, Ohio, will be "unallocated."

GM seems to be following Ford with the unthinkable:  more or less stop making...cars.

There's much more to talk about, including Michael Moore's display of near-pity for his nemesis Trump, saying how The Donald was "played" by The General.

I'll save my thoughts on Hamtramck for a future post.  Aldona lived there when she first came to Michigan.  Most of the Poles have moved to the suburbs, to be replaced by people from Bangladesh and Yemen.  Hamtramck is now the first Muslim-majority city in the nation, which in itself is fascinating.  I'm especially intrigued by the loudspeakers calling people to prayer within earshot of the town's ubiquitous dive bars.

Unlike Ed Jajko, I've been a GM customer for twenty years.  Presently, I have a Buick, a Pontiac, and my father's vintage Cadillac.  Trying to pull for the home team, but I feel betrayed.

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