From – Labor/Community News (August-September 1989)
Title – “We, the Community, Have a Stake in the Future of GM Van Nuys
The next time someone asks why the community is involved in the Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open, I’ll answer a rhetorical, “why not?” Why shouldn’t the community be concerned about its future? Does anyone really believe that the San Fernando Valley would not be impacted if the plant closed?
GM Van Nuys has been part of the growth of the Valley for a half century. Its workers shop, live and go to church with non-GM families. Their children attend Valley schools. The Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce estimated that if the plant was to be closed:
- 35,000 additional jobs in the community would be lost through the ripple effect
- 514 retail establishments would be closed
- $290 million in annual retail sales would be lost
- 108,000 local residents making up almost 50,000 families would be relocated.
Historically speaking, the community as an institution is one of the oldest units of production; only second to the family. Early trade unionists recognized the community’s importance, and they attempted to preserve it through the organization of mutual aid and cooperative societies. Fair wages and job security were and are fundamental to the maintenance and independence of a community.
It was not until the Social Darwinists of the right with their “survival of the fittest” rhetoric rewrote history, selling workers on the idea that labor-management relations were an individual affair, that unions were conveniently separated from the community. The separation made workers increasingly vulnerable since the corporations easily divided collective bargaining into “you and me” instead of “them and us”.
Community members of the Coalition to Keep GM Van Nuys Open want to keep Los Angeles a community where our children have a wide range of occupational choices. GM Van Nuys is a union shop where auto workers get a decent wage and benefits. Too many plants like GM Van Nuys have left the metropolitan area and tha(***) not healthy. The choices are quickly narrowing and future generations will be divided into professionals and those working for a McDonalds like industry. We don’t think we can afford to (***cut off word***) back and be lulled by GM executives who don’t give us anything more tangible than “Trust me.”
We buy more cars in Los Angeles than any other place in the world. Justice demands that those profits be used to improve the quality of life in the community where they are consumed.
The Van Nuys plant, because half of the workforce is Latino, is of particular significance to the Chicano community. Of all ethnic groups, Chicanos are the most loyal buyers of GM products. If GM closes the only auto plant in the country with a largely Chicano workforce, many will interpret this as racist.
But how can we convince GM, a company without a conscience, to abide by the ethic of social responsibility? How can we make GM understand that the corporation must make a long-term commitment not just to the workers but to the community as well? The only was is to tell GM as follows:
“IF YOU EVER CLOSE DOWN THE GM PLANT, THE COMMUNITY WILL ORGANIZE ITS OWN BOYCOTT OF GM PRODUCTS AND THE WORKERS CAN JOIN AS OF THE COMMUINTY. IT IS THE COMMUINTY THAT PURCHASES GM PRODUCTS AND IT IS THE COMMUNITY THAT WILL RETALIATE IF GM EVER CLOSES DOWN THIS PLANT. TO THE EXECUTIVES OF GM IN DETROIT, WE SAY, “KEEP GM VAN NUYS OPEN, AND MAKE A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT AND YOU WILL GAIN THE SUPPORT OF THE GREATER L.A. COMMUNITY. CLOSE THE PLANT AND YOU WILL HAVE A BOYCOTT ON YOUR HANDS.”