GM Killed Mass Transit: Now it Must Help Repair it

Now that General Motors is facing financial ruin and seeking a federal bailout, Harvey Wasserman argues that before it receives any help, GM must redress its participation in the conspiracy to destroy America's mass transit system.

"Bail out General Motors? The people who murdered our mass transit system? First let them remake what they destroyed.

In a 1922 memo that will live in infamy, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit aimed at dumping electrified mass transit in favor of gas-burning cars, trucks and buses. GM [had] lost $65 million in 1921. So Sloan enlisted Standard Oil (now Exxon), Philips Petroleum, glass and rubber companies and an army of financiers and politicians to kill mass transit.

GM has certainly proved itself unable to make cars that can compete while healing a global-warmed planet. So let's convert the company's infrastructure to churn out trolley cars, monorails, passenger trains, truly green buses."

Full Story: GM Must Re-Make the Mass Transit System it Murdered




Interesting paper that refutes the conspiracy theory:

Although I often don't agree with the writers over at commondreams, I have to whole-heartedly second this line:

"...GM's managers should never be allowed to make another car, let alone take our tax money to stay in business."

I'd let them go bankrupt though.

1922? Really?

I just had to respond to this silly, obviously unresearched article by Harvey Wasserman.

To connect GM with Sloan (after he LEFT GM) with big oil and the destruction of mass transit is, to put it mildly, a stretch.

And to refer to a memo that was written in 1922?? Really?? The world was such a different place in 1922, as were it's inhabitants. To connect present-day GM to that crap is akin to blaming John D. Rockefeller for today's banking woes. Come on....

After all, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Washington DC, San Francisco and other large cities have absolutely no mass transit. Ahhh....what could have been, eh?

No- you must put the blame for lack of higher usage of mass transit squarely on the shoulders of folks like me- people who like to drive cars and CHOOSE to not use mass transit. We make this choice because we are not fond of being robbed at bus stops, mugged while on a train or sitting on seats of either mode of transportation the has spilled food, old chewing gum or worse all over it.

We choose our cars because of the primal need for freedom. We like to drive down the road and sing at top volume, smoke a cigarette, take our own sweet time to get places. We do not choose mass transit because, while people like Wasserman scream loudly of it's benefits, they do absolutely nothing to improve the trip itself. We cannot eat a sandwich on a bus, we get arrested for eating french fries in a DC subway station and otherwise have to put up with all the BS that comes with an unmaintained mass transit system.

No- mass transit, contrary to Wasserman's poor article, is very much alive, but not at all well. When he writes an article that makes some mention of how he'll make it more accessible and attractive to ride, we'll all get on board. In the meantime, I'll stay in my 32 MPG Chevy car, take my friends to work in it, walk or bike to a few places and try to make the world a little better.

We'll actually try to make the world a little better instead of just writing about it.

Taken for a Ride

I'm quoting a comment on the article b/c it reflects my sentiments:

"There is a film you have no doubt heard of called 'Taken for a Ride'. It's a documentary that explored the destruction of electrically driven mass transit in the US. It relied heavily on Bradford Snell's research. It focused on the holding company in the '30s and 40's called National City Lines, who's 6 partners, GM, Firestone, Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil of California, Mack Truck and Greyhound, destroyed the trolleys. First they bought up the trolley systems, reduced service, removed the cars and burned them, tore up the tracks and replaced them with GM diesel buses. It's a great documentary if you can get your hands on it."

And worse, they degraded the service intervals so as to make transit useful only to those who had no other choices.

GM has a history of bad deeds, from the dismantling of transit to lobbying against cleaner air standards.

Henry Ford was a 'friend of Hitler's' and a notorious anti-semite, not exactly heroic.

In Canada, GM is begging for bailouts and Honda and Toyota are expanding and hiring. Go figure.

rob bregoff

Common to all of these

Common to all of these respondents (and the author) is the assumption that the auto bailout is to be taken at face value. But that is unpolitical thought about a political football. Although automakers are ailing and sharply worsening, the Dems brought this up for a couple of reasons - foremost to put themselves in the minds of members of non-auto kinds of union, and ununionized employees, because "card check" legislation is going to get another shot at enactment.

Under current practice, union organizers can't use peer pressure against employees because those employees can say what they want to in a secret ballot without repercussions. The Dems' card check initiative gives the appearance of democracy by rescinding employers' right to ask for a secret ballot if non-anonymous organizing measures have asserted a majority. In reality, though, this institutionalizes peer pressure in a particular direction. A very particular one, with that force capturing political donation cuts from millions of ambivalent new members' out-of-pocket dues in order to very naturally fund as permanent as possible a Democratic power bloc. Not so democratic in point of fact. But it would be very nice for them to be able to be laboring under the benefit of the presumption that they're still in it for the working man, so that there will not be anywhere near as much resistance from the target donors.

The benefits to pushing for auto bailout right now are clear. If it *doesn't* pass, the Democratic majority in congress will nevertheless be able to associate it with the dregs of the lame duck executive admin, get a glow from having pushed for it, and get a negative light on the Republicans so those union and might-soon-be union members will learn to be glad they're gone. If it does pass, and is a waste and a useless sop to corporate America, the zeitgeist will likewise tie it in the public mind to the end of the same thing - what Obama PR naturally contrasts with - quite in spite of the fact that Obama personally pressed Bush to do it at the Oval Office. Likewise if it does pass and is good (the final remaining possibility, least for last) Republicans conversely *won't* get credit for it anyway, although they get the blame the other way around.

So the Dems don't have to intend it seriously in order to be serious that it's a win-win issue ticket for them. If you believe that Obama is serious about not counting partisan coup, however - and it should already become very discernible before long - then maybe he was making a public deal out of it on his first White House visit in order to accumulate political capital on the issue for the time when he *doesn't* go along with the Congress on the card check veiled initiative.

If you want to know very concisely what is wrong with the Big Three, please, read Jane Jacobs' 1969 "The Economy of Cities", pages ~ 86-103 and ~123-126. Believe it or not, it was already dead (or, being generous, morbid) in any way that mattered to the nation.

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