GM’s decline truly began with its quest to turn people into machines

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According to (This article and its images were originally posted on Technology – Quartz December 30, 2018 at 10:04AM.)

When General Motors announced last month that it was shutting down small-car production and mothballing its Lordstown Assembly plant outside of Youngstown, in northeast Ohio, ­the news felt inevitable. While GM once built nine of every 20 new cars sold in America between 1950 and 1980, its market dominance has long since faded. Along with the other two of Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, GM has been slashing shifts and shuttering factories for decades, gutting cities like Youngstown across America.

But nothing that led to the layoff of Lordstown’s 1,500 workers was inevitable—not GM’s failure, not the triumph of foreign small cars, and not even the withering of Detroit’s industrial might—provided you know where to look. Nearly a half-century ago, as the first gusts of global competition began buffeting the US economy, an iconic strike in Lordstown presented GM with an alternative path—and incited the rest of America to rethink our relationship to work.

In the late winter of 1972, Lordstown workers rebelled against GM’s experiment with a bold new management style that put a premium on automation while treating assemblers as though they were little whirring parts of one giant machine. Their uprising became a national symbol of blue-collar disaffection. “Lordstown syndrome,” as the media dubbed it, was fueled by the idea that, for American society to thrive, people needed work, yes, but more specifically, meaningful work—a purpose that went beyond the simple act of fastening a spring to a 1,100 Chevrolet’s left rear axel. In the national debate that ensued, America pondered how a society that neglected to treat work holistically would hurt the competitiveness of its workers, and, ultimately, the health of its communities.

That 1972 strike—or, more precisely, GM’s response to it—marked the beginning of the company’s long but uneven descent, which would be characterized by a repeated impulse to bet on fancy, futuristic but unproven technologies while undervaluing its workers. And so, long before GM CEO Mary Barra’s announcement in late November, we’ve known how the story of GM ends. But Lordstown’s strange moment in 1972 teaches us about what could have been written instead.

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This article and images were originally posted on [Technology – Quartz] December 30, 2018 at 10:04AM. Credit to the original author and Technology – Quartz | ESIST.T>G>S Recommended Articles Of The Day.

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