Friday, December 7, 2012

Flint, MI - PART 2

Flint has celebrated their 150th. year with this commemorative logo.
* Art for this article courtesy "Google Images".
Research accomplished through Wikipedia and Google.

100 years of human engineering endeavour!


by Felicity Blaze Noodleman
This week’s article is a continuation of last week’s story, which suspiciously ended in about 1956.  I didn’t mean to leave you hanging or anything but it seemed to be a logical place to stop.  It’s been over forty years now since I’ve lived in my home town of Flint, MI and many changes have taken place.  This is why we are picking up the story today at that point and I must confess that it's very hard for me to write about these chapters in my home towns history.  It's a very different "Christmas Story"! 
Some of the changes have been heart breaking to say the least for the residents who are still living in Flint.  I’ve heard some parts of the story from family who are living there and the out laying cities around Flint; and sadly from national news casts.  It’s very difficult writing indeed but I’ll try; but for me I still remember my home town and the General Motors Company who made Flint a great place to live and grow up in a very good and positive light.  Good memories are always like that - bathed in the late golden light of an early summers evening and viewed through a rose hew.


I like history.  History is one of the greatest subjects for any story.  I especially love to see and read about the past.  Some people call it nostalgia.   Vintage photos can reveal so much and can also leave people wondering about so many things.  I look at these photos to marvel at the vintage buildings, the people and their clothing and automobiles.  I can see the condition of the old buildings and surrounding areas.  I marvel at all of these things as they once were in comparison to how appear today.  Even a sidewalk can reveal so much to me as I think of all the people who must have walked over it through the years.
It's been a long time since Chevrolet opened their automotive plant
on Wilcox St. in Flint, MI (later to be named Chevrolet Ave.). It was
only a dirt road at that time, in the second decade of the 1900's,
but the legend lives on!  Chevrolet Ave. would be paved with brick.
The bricks of prosperity and fortune.

 Chevrolet Ave. - mid 1930's.  New factory across the street which
has been joined together with an elevated walkway.  Boy!  Do I
remember that.  When I was a child I thought that was the neatest
thing since peanut butter! 

As I mentioned last week;  this is where my Grandfather worked and retired.
He also suffered an accident here loosing his ring finger on the left hand.

The labor movement began in Flint and was lead by the UAW (United Auto Workers) in 1935; my grandfathers generation. Auto workers were always well paid and was a policy begun by Henry Ford. He believed that his employees should be able to afford and buy the products which they were building. Alfred P. Sloan, President and CEO at GM also stated that his GM employees were “pampered”.  Labor in the twentieth century was being redefined.

The years between 1929 and 1948 were very tumultuous for the country and for General Motors, not to mention Flint.  It seemed as though the Stock Market Crash of '29, the Great Depression, the Labor Movement and WWII all happened at once.  The auto workers were all directly affected by these events on a personal level as they moved from one crises to the next.  It must have seemed as though there would be no end to it all.


Sit down strike by auto workers in Flint - 1936

Exterior of the Fisher Body plant on Saginaw St. in Flint, MI.  Crowds gathered
as the sit down strike was now gaining national attention. The United
Auto Workers (UAW) have long since had their grievances settled for them by the Governor of Michigan as stricter guide lines were placed upon the Unions. 

This factory was originally build as the "United Motors" factory by William Durant
to build his new "Durant" automobiles after he was voted out of control at
GM in the Wall St. proxy fight of 1920. 



GM manufacturing brands in Flint during the period in
which I grew up from 1950 - 1970.


When I was a child growing up in Flint, MI my father worked for Buick Motors Division and Fisher Body.  His father and mother worked for General Motors, Grandfather was at Chevrolet and Grandmother with AC Delco.  It seemed everyone had a family member working in one of the many GM auto assembly plants or even one of the smaller companies which manufactured parts for GM.  To call Flint a factory town, was well, the definition of who we were.  Life there was all about General Motors.


In the years between 1950 Thur 1970 GM seemed to be contented with it's success.  The post WWII years were highly prosperous for all Americans and the auto industry was in its own with a sense of well being.  GM was filling its potential.  It was a time of mutual harmony with the UAW, the Government and the public at large.


From the time of my birth until I left Flint to join the US Air Force the local economy there was one of prosperity and growth.  It was a very good place to live and grow up.  I couldn’t imagine anything better, except living and working in Hollywood.  They say “you can never go back home” and that became true for me.  I was on a different path.  Family and friends who were left behind in Flint, MI would seem to fall from the face of the earth for me and I was probably better off for the choices I’ve made.


As I neared my junior year of high school things were beginning to change for me.  What would I chose to do with my life and how was I going to begin preparing for it all.  I remember my father talking about new changes which were coming about with his job.  His job title was “Cutter Grinder”.  He told us that the company was bringing in a new computerized milling machine which would sharpen its own cutters and would eliminate some of the demand for his kind of work.   The machine was about the size of our entire house and would be the begging of a new kind of automation which would revolutionize everything in the automobile industry.  How little we knew of what this would mean concerning jobs in our home town.  The old expression is so true – “you can’t stop progress”.


New computerization and robotic technologies would revolutionize auto production.  New construction techniques such as “uni body” would eliminate the need for the traditional frame for a car and would save costs in time, materials and labor.  The UAW was unprepared for these radical new concepts in production and by this time union contracts were beginning to eat into company profits.  Other dynamics of auto production would spell disaster in Flint.  Auto manufacturing plants were now becoming very old and expansion was impossible.  GM's decision was to move overseas and close it's Flint manufacturing.

Try to imagine your job, home, family and community of stores, religious institutions and schools are all being pulled out from underneath you.  All at once.  One day the company where you have worked for 20 years is down sizing or going to be closing.  You're losing your job through no fault of your own.  It's like having the wind sucked out of your lungs!  This is what the people of Flint Michigan have suffered. 
2010 Chevy "Volt" at assembly plant Flint MI.

New Chevy "Silverado rolls down the assembly line at the
Flint, MI Chevrolet Van Slyke Rd. truck plant.

Chevrolet truck assembly plant on Van Slyke Rd. Flint, MI.
Auto workers attach engine to the chaises of a Chevy Sliverado at
one of the remaining GM plants in Flint.

The US Government was also presenting new challenges to GM and American industry as a whole.  The company has responded by meeting or exceeding all regulations placed upon it.  GM is a very safety minded organization.  GM has now completely demolished four of their manufacturing plants in Flint and moved their operations out of the country sacrificing millions of jobs here in the US.  As people have moved out of the Flint area homes became vacant.  Whole neighborhoods were eventually demolished as the houses could not be sold.  The only things left were sidewalks, streets, home foundations with street signs and fire plugs.  It quite literally looked as though the city was hit by a nuclear bomb.    

GM is now forced to deal with foreign competition on a global basis, the US Government, Unions and changing customer demands while trying to maintain profitability.  Today GM is doing business in some 157 countries and General Motors produces cars and trucks in 31 countries around the world.  It seems that General Motors is a Phoenix waiting to rise from it's ashes in my home town of Flint, MI., we hope!  So in closing;  this is how I remember growing up in my home town and spending the holiday's with my family.  Everything seemed much brighter and more secure than today.

As I think back and remember all those wonderful Christmas's growing up in my home town one year seems to stand out in my memories.  We all gathered and my Grandparents home on Reid St.  The family was very happy.  We were all grateful for the blessing which we had received.  Some how the lights on the Christmas tree seemed to magically twinkle and sparkle as they reflected from the beautiful ornaments on the Christmas tree.  We all knew how fortunate we were to be living in Flint, MI and to have employers like GM to provide the work and opportunities that we enjoyed.


After emerging from chapter 11 reorganization due to GM's "Financial Services Division" which suffered losses in the housing markets the company has returned to profitability.  GM has eliminated three once successful brands (Oldsmobile, Pontiac and Saturn) from the company and cut millions of American jobs due to the failure of Government in Washington.  They asked for and received a bail out from the Government for those losses sustained in the housing markets.  GM has established manufacturing plants in China to compete in the global markets and is now again the worlds largest auto manufacturer and again ranked number one.  In 2010 GM offered a new stock IPO.  Who knows; maybe in ten years the Government may be asking GM for a bail out!

Vintage post card photo of Flints only remaining
GM manufacturing plant.
William C. Durant - Founder & CEO of GM 1904 - 1920
"In Loving Memory" 1861 - 1947
The man who gave our home town so much.

Next week we will be writing about the absolutely poor quality of work being done by our civil servant's and the financial costs involved.  We will be focusing on our law enforcement officials and the police in particular.  Hope you will join us again.  I'm Felicity with the Noodleman Group.

 Oh how the Government loves to interfere with American business!


* “The Noodleman Group” is pleased to announce that we are now carrying a link to the “USA Today” news site.We installed the “widget/gadget” August 20, and it will be carried as a regular feature on our site.Now you can read“Noodleman” and then check in to “USA Today” for all the up to date News, Weather, Sports and more!Just scroll all the way down to the bottom of our site and hit the “USA Today” hyperlinks.Enjoy!

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