THE COMMODITY NOT FOUND IN STOCK PRICE

Trust? Why should they trust? Why should Chrysler workers believe anything they hear from their company’s new would-be owners, Cerberus Capital Management, a firm named for a mythical, three-headed hound of hell? Do you trust a new king who was born in another country? Do you trust a new landlord who has a history of evicting people? Who trusts anything when it comes to big business today? If you know someone, tell me.

I don’t. Not anymore.

What I know are workers whose firms have been bought and sold so many times, they have to look at their paychecks to see who owns them. What I know are workers who get herded into conference rooms to meet their new bosses and are told of “exciting” new directions and “exciting” possibilities – then bang, they get laid off.

How exciting is that?

What I know are Americans who, when asked about the companies they work for, roll their eyes, shake their heads and say, “It’s ridiculous.” Or “It’s awful.” Or, the most common phrase, “It’s unbelievable.”

But history has shown what’s believable. And it is generally not the promises of one big company taking over another one.

If it were, Daimler and Chrysler would still be happily married, and this column would not be being written.

Promises, promises

Nine years ago, we were told how Daimler-Benz and Chrysler would be better together than they ever could be apart. You look back on it today, and you almost start laughing.

Now Cerberus comes along, full of assurances that it will not slash Chrysler workers or break the company apart.

“We believe in Chrysler,” John Snow, the Cerberus chairman, told the media last week.

Of course, this comes from a man who only joined Cerberus seven months ago, so the “we” makes people nervous. And he used to be the Treasury secretary for – and a cheerleader for the policies of – the Bush administration, which makes people nervous.

And he now works for a firm whose business model is to take very rich people’s money and make them more money from it. Cerberus is not an auto company. It is a wealth company. It creates wealth by buying things – and by selling things. And by doing so quickly, so investors see growth.

Feeling trusting yet?

This is not a personal knock at Cerberus. This is simply the sad truth of American business. There is barely a dotted line anymore between the workers’ purpose and the owner’s purpose. The workers think they are there to make better cars, or more stylish clothes or higher quality carpets. The owners want to keep the stock price high.

Smaller companies are bought by bigger companies, who are then bought by bigger companies. We used to call this “greed.” Now it’s called “global competition.” They have to be this big, we are told, to compete with those big and nasty European or Asian companies.

So when employees are fired, plants shut down, families uprooted or health care slashed, workers are told to stop their whining. Don’t they realize how hard it is to compete? There is such a disconnect between the top and the bottom, you wonder whether either party, given a compass, a map and an hour time limit, could even find each other?

We’ve heard it all before

In my time at this newspaper, it has been owned by two corporations, and merged, business-wise, with the competition. During that same time, the radio station I work for was merged with another huge company and is now being sold to another.

I hardly know anyone, besides mom-and-pop store owners, who hasn’t experienced the new policy letter, the new benefit plan memo, the whole new-owner experience.

And those people will tell you, trust is the last thing you feel. Because not long before, some other owner was doing the same.

Cerberus may be good for Chrysler. It may make money for Chrysler. It may beat the lousy alternatives.

But for now, it is simply another huge, rich company, buying a company that used to be huge and rich and telling workers, “Trust us.”

Fat chance.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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