- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

WARREN, Mich. | With “Government Motors” now the catchphrase for General Motors, co-workers Jason Polchowski and Russ King could only muse about what once was, as President Obama announced details of the giant corporation’s fall into bankruptcy.

“It used to be called ‘Generous Motors,’ ” Mr. King said Monday as the two had lunch at their usual eatery and watched Mr. Obama give his nationally televised address. “It’s not anymore.”

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Mr. Polchowski, a technical writer along with Mr. King here at the GM Technical Center, the home to many GM engineers, agreed.

“It’s the end of an era,” he said.

At the Pontiac Assembly Center during the 3 p.m. shift change, Don Bratchar, 55, who started working there when he was 20, exited with grim resolve after learning the plant was among those earmarked for closing.

“We’re depressed,” said Mr. Bratchar. “It was a very quiet day today.”

Plant worker David Hartzler 50, of Ortonville, Mich., has worked for GM since he was 19. He said he wasn’t angry but decried the demise of organized labor.

“Our union doesn’t have any strength anymore,” Mr. Hartzler said. “The union built the middle class, and I’m sad that it is going away.”

“I don’t think you can blame the Obama administration.” he said of the government takeover. “The Bush administration would have done the same thing.”

“I think our free-trade agreements have caused a lot of this,” he said. “They are one-sided.”

Neither of the technical writers were certain that after lunch, when they returned to the Tech Center across the street, they would still be employed.

“It’s just wait and see,” said Mr. King, 38, a father of three from Lexington, Mich., who is the sole breadwinner for his family. “I know I can’t live on unemployment.”

Said Mr. Polchowski, 35: “It’s nerve-racking. It’s very possible we’ll go back, and we’ll be laid off.”

The co-workers, both trained as mechanics who write service manuals for GM vehicles, said the waiting game has been hard over the past few months as friends were laid off and jobs were shifted. Working inside the massive GM facility has been a pressure cooker as both have tried to focus on their jobs and let the corporate titans figure out the balance sheets.

They understand that reorganizing is necessary for GM to survive, but say it would be hard to replace their jobs if they eventually get the boot.

Even as Mr. Obama proclaimed a swift reorganization for GM, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who had been an impassioned advocate for autoworkers in the months leading up to Monday, reacted to the bankruptcy filing with a sense of hurt, warning that more than just Michigan would be affected.

“GM’s bankruptcy is nothing less than an American tragedy,” said Mr. Bernero, whose father is a retired autoworker.

“This isn’t just about Michigan or the Midwest. The ripple effect of today’s bankruptcy is already being felt throughout this country as the dominoes start to fall across the domestic automotive-supply chain.

“Between plant closings, dealerships shutting down and related businesses failing, the end result will be the loss of scores of American jobs at a time when hardworking families across this country can least afford it. For too many families, the American dream is slipping away.”

Early Monday, things were eerily quiet inside the GM Renaissance Center, the gleaming seven-tower complex that rises 73 stories and defines the downtown skyline along the Detroit River. In addition to GM’s global headquarters, the complex houses dozens of stores and services, four movie theaters, a financial center, two foreign consulates, a 1,300 room Marriott hotel and four of the citys hottest restaurants.

A banner at the “RenCen” proclaimed “Total Confidence” as employees lined up a dozen deep at Starbucks, their weary looks conveying anything but certainty.

Shiny new vehicles gleamed on display in the building’s GM showroom as a lone worker dusted under a blue sign hung overhead proclaiming 100 years of leadership “and we’re just getting started.”

Such optimism and a century of automotive history, however, could not turn around the vaunted U.S. auto manufacturer, which after decades of spiraling losses, filed for bankruptcy protection Monday in a New York court.

“It’s a tough morning,” said veteran broadcaster Paul W. Smith, who hit the airwaves live from GM’s corporate hub as the reality of rock-bottom hit the struggling Motor City, awakening under gray skies and rain.

“It would be impossible to right this ship without doing this,” Mr. Smith, the venerable WJR morning anchor, added by way of softening the blow of the inevitable. By Monday, when the official announcement came, most here had come to the conclusion that the company, an icon to industry and American labor gusto, could not save itself.

Detroit, one of the hardest hit cities economically in the nation, received perhaps the best news of the day. GM announced that it would remain at the Renaissance Center.

GM agreed to an offer by city leaders, including new Mayor Dave Bing, to take advantage of Renaissance Zone benefits and stay downtown. The mayor and Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm had said the city must do all it could to keep GM within the confines of the city.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts had touted his own plan that would have offered GM incentives to relocate its corporate headquarters to the GM Technical Center, located in his city.

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