Ron Jackson: A little empathy would help

December 2, 2018

Some local residents are old enough to recall, many moons ago, when manufacturing jobs were plentiful in Kankakeeland. It was the good old days, a time when anyone who wanted a job, could find one. It was rare to know a person without a job unless by choice.There was a general confidence that if you lost a job in the morning, there was a great chance you would be gainfully re-employed by that afternoon.

Then, times changed. The bottom fell out. Manufacturers closed shop and moved away to greener pastures. The jobs were never replaced. Our way of life changed. We have never recovered.

Last week’s post-Thanksgiving announcement by automaker General Motors that it was going to close five North American plants, four in the United States and one in Canada, was a reminder of our yesteryear. Upwards of 15,000 jobs are estimated to be eliminated. That is 15,000 livelihoods. Entire communities will be devastated by the unsustainable economic impact.

One would think sympathy and empathy would be the prevailing reaction. However, judging by comments posted on message boards following news stories of the job losses, that is not always the case. Many find it easy to politicize the losses of livelihood, making reference to the affected communities’ voting preference in the 2016 election. How low can humanity sink?

The 2018 midterm election finally is over. We know who will represent us for the next two years. It is way beyond time to curtail the political rhetoric, especially during periods when fellow citizens face life-altering situations.

Since 1966, the village of Lordstown, Ohio, has been home to one of the GM plants slated for closure. It has a population of 3,500. The GM plant currently employs 4,500 people. It would not be a stretch to say everyone works there. If they did not work there, they were economically dependent on the workforce.

To one day learn of your uncertain future and the following day read how you deserve it because of how you may lean politically, is like getting the proverbial knife in your gut twisted a few times. No one deserves such unsympathetic ridicule. No civilized person would stoop so low. America has to do better.

This was not a political decision. No one voted for this. It had nothing to do with how people voted. Bottom line, General Motors made a financial decision. America bailed out GM. Now GM is bailing out on Americans. Profit above people. That is how business works. Long-term policymaking is understandable. GM is positioning itself for two decades hence. Long after those thousands of displaced workers will have been forgotten.

GM presented its action as survival. GM’s decision to end the production of six underselling product lines was explained by its CEO, Mary Barra, “The actions we are making today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future. We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.” To remain competitive, GM made a choice to cut some of its losses sooner than later.

Still today, we can see reminders of the good old days. It is difficult to pass an old relic and not recall what it used be and some of the names of people long gone who made it what it was. We can also recall when the last big manufacturer left Kankakee decades ago. The final lights were dimmed, the gates were locked, the hearts were broken, and the lives and communities forever changed.

But, I don’t recall anyone saying we deserved it.

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