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Auto Recession Hits Workers

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"Motor Wheel is leaving." The oíd rumor is going around Ypsilanti again. The second largest taxpayer and lliird laxgest employer in town, Gpodyear-owned Motor Wheel makes brake linings ahd dfec rotors. Up until very recently it employed t'ive hundred people. But then in mid-November the plant l'oundry closed. laying off 1 36 workers indefinitely, and in early December the rest of the workers were given notice. What happened at Motor Wheel is happening all across the dreary industrial plain around Detroit. Up and down the 1-04 expressway, at Rawsonville. ('helsea and Saline, in Scio Township and at Willow Run the auto plan t s are lurching into low geai , some grinding to a halt. At the General Motors Assembly División, Willow Run. 3.600 persons have worked one week out of the last seven. Seven hundred were put on indefinito layoff in November, another 2,000 are being laid off indefinitely January 1 3, and what is Ie ft of the plant wil] probably be shut down for up to two weeks in February and Maren, Motor Wheel isn't necessarily leaving. but prosperity probably is. The auto plants originally fanned out from Detroit and settled into fields beside places like Ypsilanti because land was cheap and labor could be drawn off the farm. They thrived on powerful currents in the world economy. When the farm labor ran out, more was was drawn farther away. Vast bedroom communities sprang up, - ties whose only reason for existing was the plants. Now the world is turning upside down. The Detroit Free Press predicts auto sales will improve by fall, but the automobile industry is in steep decline. The Ypsilanti economy is a satellite of this industry. It shows signs of sinking into the last half of the seven ties like a junked car into Ford Lake. The brand new condominiums lining the lake will look on, dreaming. and the expressway will still sweep past the Ford plant on its way to Detroit, but the best days in Ypsilanti are probably over. Signs of spreading unemployment are easy to miss, but you can find them if you want to. Some observors discern an increase in the number of workingage men walking the streets during the day. At the Central Bar in depot town a dozen serious drinkers idle away the late morning, occasionally cursing the economy but mostly talking about other things. Just up the street is another sign, the patiënt lines that start up at the MESC office every morning about eight and evapórate inside by ten. It is cold and the lines move slowly, but the workers and their families still get up early to flock to MESC. There is every kind of workcr . construction and auto, all colors and every working age; mothers bring in children and husbands their wives. They blame the government, shake their heada and try to laugli, but for many a looming uncertainty is knocking at their lives, and behind it is quiet fear and panic. "I'm just living from week to week," different workers say. "As long as the benefits last I can't cry. Sure it's going to get better. It's gotta get better because it can't get any worse. It all depends on the government. "In my neighborhood everybody stays home because they're off work. It's not really hitting vet. Lot of us gonna be in big trouble. Sure it's gonna get worse. Just' breakin' even now, some's already fallin' behind." You can't fïnd no work beca use people are gettin' laid ofï everywhere." From a constructiorj worker down the street ut the Central Bar: "Whole thing is fucked up as far as I'm concerned, goddamn bad." FILING FOR BANKRUPTCY "People are getting set back," says Norbert Glover, an OEO manpower organizer whose job is to find people work when they have none. "II" they got no jobs. then they get set back on their bilis, and the next step is losing -cars and houses." The consequences of losing a job aren't simple. First there are the unemployment benefits, lasting as long as a year, and for autoworkers ihero are the Suppleméntal Unemploymenl Benefits (SUB). Hut unemployment benefits aren't much, a maximum of $106 a week fot a workci wnh ibur rjependents, and the SI U funds are so oveitaxed they're beginning to run out! While workois and families wan foi benefits ti expire, car mués, house pa monis and othei bilis become mutual contradietions. The 1 egal Aid office in Ypsilanti reports many clients filing foi wei! as ftghting eviction proceedings. Banks repossess cars aftei tliree months default, and are repossessing more. Legal Aid also says businessmen seem to he taking more people to Smal] Claims ('ourt.even though they're iinemployed. l'hil Wells, recording secretary for ilie UAW local al MotOl W lieel. says members are asking hún for help, with medical problems and fodti stáfnps, legal problems stemming trom financia] troubles and how to file lor bankruptey. "You always hear aboul 1 nul and Motor Wheel," says the young woman who takes bill payments at the Lidkc Oil Company in Ypsilanti. "New customers cali up and I have to take credit inl'oimation. When it comes to their place of work, a lot of them say I used to work at so and so. Some of them just say, aw heek, l'm not going to make credit anyway, and say they'll come in with cash." After the credit and the savings and the benefits run out, there is the Department of Social Services and welfare: food stamps aid to Dependent Children and then emergency relief. From there it's a subwelfare economy of nothing.. "We're getting calis from people who don't have any money to pay for food. let alone the rent," says Betty Renfroe, an OEO community organizer in Ypsilanti. "They don't have any people. they don'l 'have any diildren so they can't get ADC and they haven't stuck to a job long enougli to qualify for unemployment benefits. Young people are the worst, some of them are just at the end of their rope. They're losing the place they rent, their car and their credit rating." 'if they go down to Social Services, the most they can get is a rent order for one month, S30 for food and SS expense money. That's all, and the nexi month they're out of luck. We don't have emergency money for food orders anymore, the Salvation Army is way over its budget and there's just no place for these peoplc to go." "And what's gonna happen when the contmued on page 8 'Tm just living f rom week to week' workers in line at the Ypsilanti MESC office say. "As long as the benefits last I can't cry. It's not really hitting yet. It all depends on the government. In my neighborhood everybody stays home because they're off work." Ypsi Hard Times continued from page 7 SUB pay runs out," asks Renfroe, "and all those people hit the welfare? This year people are suffering, bilis are going unpaid but l'm not even worrying about right now compared to what happens next year. When a man is used to taking home $800 a montli. and he has a $300 house note and a $100 car note, how's he gonna buy his food?" "Pretty soon it's going tu be give me t lia t check so I can leed my babies. If I need to steal to leed my babies. I will." CULTURAL DIVISIONS "Not everyone U'complaining," observed the woman at the Lidke Oil Co., "but when they do they blaine the government. not the corporations. It's all the state of the economy, the state of the country, but not the corporations. When they talk about Motor Wheel they ask, how can they do this to us, how can they pull out?" Left behind after Motor Wheel will be, as in any spent industrial or mining district, a lot of people with nothing to do. Thirty percent of Ypsilanti's population is already below the federally defined poverty line, with a mean annual tacóme of $1663 per family. As industry slows and commerce departs for the suburbs, the tax base is declining relative to inflation. Police now serve in the high schools, one of the excuses being racial trouble, and the poor are tightly enclaved along ethniccultural lines. On the east side of town live the migrants from Kentucky and Tennessee, sons, cousins and survivors of the migration north from the mountains which began during World Wai l to work in the bomber plant at Willow Run. On the soutli side of town live the blacks, ;md around the campus neigliborhoods students, hippies and old people. The more prosperous live in newer neighborhoods west of the downtown. Until a ward system was adopted in 1972, the city government was run by Junior Chamber of Commerce slates elected by the west side of town. This is because most of the rest of the town doesn't vote. Non-partisanship is taken to great lengths. In December a maverick councilman accused fellow Democrats of working more closely with Republicans than their own party. The councilmember. an EMU student named Larry Lobert, referred to the phenomenon as the Old Ypsilanti Majority. No one bothered to disagree. According to tradition, after every meeting most council members meet at a place called the Pub Club to talk over the evening's differences. The only real mention of politics in Ypsilanti these days is supplied by a small but effective Human Rights Party. Riding on a $5 marijuana referendum and turning out voters in student-populated wards, HRP won two council seats last spring. Since then the party has demonstrated noisily at meetings and divided liberal white Democrats from conservative black ones. It may also succeed, this month, in getting passed a bilí sticking landlords with criminal penalties for withholding securitydeposits. Since HRP, ward politics have proven so troublesome that now there is talk of returning to the old "total city" approach, which the west side would again presumably domínate. CLASS WAR IN YPSILANTI The rumor that Motor Wheel is leaving has been around a long time. The truckers bring it in from other plants, and they say the company has a vacant building somewhere, probably in Kentucky, to which it can move the plant lock, stock and barrel should it decide to leave Ypsilanti. Last May UAW Local 782 struck Motor Wheel after their contract ran out. The issues were overeconomics, not working conditions: a cost of living clause. higher wages and dental plan. Goodyear has always had bad labor relations and pólice were always coming by the picket line. On May 13 a line of them maced, clubbed and drew their guns on picketers. A can of mace was sprayed in the face of Al Cruikshank, the vice president of the local, and a black man on his way to the credit union was maced in his car. The night after the attack a group of workers went to the city council and demanded action against the pólice. Pólice officers jame to the building but did not enter the meeting, waiting instead out in the hall. Council ordered an investigation, but seven months after the incident there are no conclusions. Joe Warren, the city manager put in charge of the investigation, said he wasn't able to arrive at any conclusions because emotions are high and pólice and union accounts so divergent. Mr. Warren recommended arbitration, but the union members and the pólice cannot agree on an arbitrator. Part of the reason may be that Mr. Warren had a heart attack in October and was replaced by Herb Smith, the pólice chief. Smith was present at the Motor Wheel gate May 18 and presumably ordered his men to move in. The HRP pushed for a city council investigation, with subpoenas, but Republicans and Democrats voted it down. Now the Motor Wheel workers have been laid off. The SUB pay hasn't run out this week, but it may next week and most certainly by next summer. The workers were to report to work again after the New Year, but the plant has remained locked. The people at the personnel office say they can't commit themselves as to when anyone can report back for work. As of this writing, it is not known when the Motor Wheel plant will be reopenine.