June 2nd, 2009
05:13 PM ET

A phoenix rising from GM's ashes

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/12/22/poll.auto.bailout/art.gmflag.gi.jpg]

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
CEO, Green For All

Yesterday morning, an icon of American industry announced its failure – and 21,000 American workers woke up without jobs.

General Motors filed for bankruptcy and will shut down nine U.S. plants.

At a time when the United States economy is already hemorrhaging jobs, the failure of an established industry giant leaves us to confront hard questions – What went wrong? And what is the future of American industry?

What went wrong?

GM doubly undermined the U.S. economy – killing jobs for American workers by taking manufacturing overseas and running the company into the ground by failing to remain competitive with foreign auto companies.

The company repeatedly rejected improving the environmental and safety standards of its vehicles and shipped thousands of American jobs overseas. Meanwhile, Japanese and German cars improved their gas mileage and safety – and foreign auto industries took off.

GM also callously misjudged the American people believing that the size and speed of our gas guzzlers was what mattered most.

The truth is, the most significant contribution of the auto industry is not the cars it produces, but the way of life it once produced for the American worker.

At its best, before shipping jobs overseas in the 1980’s, GM and the auto industry provided jobs for American workers – good, union jobs that supported the growth of a strong middle class.

This legacy of the auto industry ─ and the United Auto Workers ─ is one we cannot let die with GM.

What is the future of American industry?

The promise of American economic growth and jobs still remains in manufacturing, though the products we make must change.

Our industrial manufacturing economy has relied on unregulated consumption of fossil fuel for too long – consumption which steadily destroys our air, our communities, and our planet.

We should not salvage the gas-guzzling U.S. auto industry. But that does not mean the factories in Flint, Michigan, should stay shuttered. Instead, the manufacturing industry in the United States must be revitalized to build the infrastructure for a clean energy economy.

Imagine America’s ‘Rust Belt’ transformed into a green belt of clean energy manufacturing. Imagine the factories of Detroit making wind turbines and solar panels to power America.

The rest of the world is already racing to implement clean energy solutions. The U.S. must catch up and blaze a new trail.

China spends $12 million per hour to develop its own energy sources. Germany has already created 250,000 jobs in the clean energy sector through government investment and incentives.

As a nation, it is time to make a choice.

Are we a country whose economy runs on batteries from China and oil from the Middle East? Or will we manufacture our own clean energy in the United States, creating green-collar jobs for American workers?

The Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, has already made her choice: “despite today’s devastating news, Michigan is ready to lead,” she wrote yesterday.

“Today, the advanced batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles are made in Asia. Tomorrow, they will be made in Michigan. Today, the wind turbines used in much of America's wind farms are made in Europe. Tomorrow, they will be made in Michigan and in states across America.”

Congress also has the opportunity to lead this transition of American industry. The U.S. House of Representatives is crafting a comprehensive energy and climate bill – The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACESA),

ACESA could be our chance to revitalize American manufacturing through jobs in the clean energy economy. But the bill must be strengthened to create more investments in America’s workforce and communities. A stronger ACESA must invest in job training through the Green Jobs Act and include targeted hiring provisions to ensure that clean energy jobs go to local workers and workers from low-income communities.

It’s time to invest in America’s workers and build an economy based on clean energy and green manufacturing. We can revitalize the best of America’s manufacturing legacy – and leave the rest behind.

Michigan is ready to lead again. What about the rest of the country?

Editor’s Note: Green For All is a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through a clean energy economy. The organization works in collaboration with the business, government, labor, and grassroots communities to create and implement programs that increase quality jobs and opportunities in green industry – all while holding the most vulnerable people at the center of its agenda.

Filed under: 360° Radar • auto bailout • Economy • Environmental issues
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jane


    June 2, 2009 at 11:42 pm |
  2. Karen

    I'm never going to buy a GM vehicle. Never!!!!

    You sheep better wake up.

    The United States government will now guarantee all the vehicles GM makes. You better hope no faulty part are ever found in a vehicle because the government will have to recall them to fix it costing the U.S. tax payers millions,

    The government did a good job guaranteeing mortgages that they decided to guarantee vehicles.

    You CNN sheep.

    June 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm |
  3. Isabel, Brazil

    The concordat impresses. GM has always been a symbol of American capitalism.

    The chairman of General Motors said it would be a quick recovery. But history shows that such processes of bankruptcy, they are unpredictable and sometimes very lengthy. Not always end well.
    This case is different because the US government is putting a lot of money. It is difficult to say if will be fast. It is a major restructuring.

    The truth is different from that expectation. The processes of bankrupt are unpredictable, can last years, the recovery can happen or not. After all, the taxpayer's money can not do everything. Sales of the company need to increase, and consumers have several options of competitors, that are doing everything to survive the crisis too.

    June 2, 2009 at 7:39 pm |
  4. pmiller

    The Real Phoenix is going to be the first Hummer H2 with a machine gun turret on the back in China. Or the first North Korean version. We best prepare to have a "Yes sir" demeanor with our new world leader, China. If we are not careful, they will bomb us back to the stone ages.
    One day we will tell our children how powerful the united states was.
    Plan on being a has been nation with no clout. Americans hate America.
    They say they love it, but Americans are Hippocrates. They would not buy an American car to save the nation. They don't understand "Let them die" means "let us die".

    June 2, 2009 at 7:16 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    Its not just Michigan who will suffer from the closing of those GM plants – there was a map yesterday showing where all the plants were located that would be closed – there was quite a few of them in other states like the one in Nashville TN that has been the source for good jobs there. It will hurt badly with that plant closed in Spring Hill. Someone in the green industry could probably buy that plant at a good price and use it to make items for renewable energy or fuel efficient cars – they would have a ready workforce that would need some training and who would be thankful to get it.

    GM's demise may be terrible for GM but it could be a good thing for the rest of us if someone will step up to the plate and start the process of converting the plants from the old sources of energy and products to the new. Its not that different from what we did for WW2 when we converted our auto plants into plants that made airplanes, tanks, and other articles of war. We've done it before; we can do it again.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:49 pm |
  6. les

    I believe your article prety much sums it up. It seems a little odd that the American auto industries the only one who could'nt figure it out, because the american consumer figured it out 5-10 years ago. they only have themselves (and their greed) to blame.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:24 pm |
  7. Enough

    Samantha – How else can they pay for all those Union benefits? What do you think got them into this mess in the first place? Why do you think people buy Toyotas instead.....they are cheaper.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:21 pm |
  8. Samantha Horwitch

    I think it is absolutely absurd, that amidst circumstances so dire to warrant a bankruptcy filing for the corporation, GM has the absolute gall to charge a premium upcharge on a new vehicle. IT is very pompous of GM to enfore the premium charge on a new vehicle, when the company is having such finiancial troubles. GM should be thankful that faithful customers are continuing to purchase cars in this hard economic time. Putting a $5000 premium charge over the sticker oprice of a vehicla is ridiculous when the company isn't even staying afloat.If they continue this policy, GM will most likely loose more customers than they already have. I myself purchased a new car and was stuck with this premium charge regardless of any reasoning. GM needs to revaluate their policies. If they need to file bankruptcy, then to do NOT need to be putting a premium on their vehicles.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:02 pm |
  9. Michael C. McHugh

    I think that if we don't start doing something like this–and soon–we are just going to be kaput. Finished. We have to start investing in a wide variety of new research and technology, and move far ahead of the old industrial system (Fordism) of the 20th century.

    June 2, 2009 at 5:40 pm |