Flint and Reagan's Wake

Flint Strike 1937 Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Flint Strike 1937 Photo Credit Wikimedia Commons

Driving out of Flint, Mich. on Bristol Road wasn’t in the plans.

I interviewed some 30 people, all but one male, for truck driving jobs at the Days Inn across from the GM plant. Tired and ready for sleep, I went to the van to get my overnight bag and found all four tires had been slashed.

In the parking lot with a driver I later hired, the tire service came and replaced them. Around 10:30 p.m. I decided to drive the four hours back home to Indiana. The drive seemed much longer as I fought sleep and considered the day’s events.

In his film Roger & Me, Flint native Michael Moore identified Nov. 6, 1986 as the date of the announcement that General Motors would start laying off thousands of workers to move jobs to Mexico. Eventually, Mexican labor would prove too expensive and GM moved some of those jobs to Southeast Asia and elsewhere where people would work on the cheap building cars and auto parts.

I made about a dozen recruiting trips to Flint in 1988. There was a lot of interest in our non-union jobs, a lot of anger, and few hires. As a trucking terminal manager in Northwest Indiana I interviewed countless people seeking work in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky and many other states. I took a pencil to it, and found I had interviewed well over 10,000 people from 1987 until 1993. My life was forever changed by that experience as one applicant after another told me their stories of adjusting to devastation in the rust belt as the policies of President Ronald Reagan and his cronies eviscerated the middle class. We are still in the wake of his administration.

It was the end of an era as large-scale work sites like Buick City laid people off and eventually shuttered their plants. Flint is just one example of the hellhole the steel, auto, and other manufacturing towns became. Flint went from being an award-winning auto maker to being an EPA cleanup site. People still live there, but what was no longer exists.

Today we hear of the water crisis in Flint.

Nearly two years ago, the state decided to save money by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a tributary that runs through town and is known to locals for its filth, according to CNN. Because of the corrosive nature of water in the river, iron oxidized discoloring tap water, and more importantly, lead began leaching from the pipes in the water system.

“Everything will be fine,” former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said as he downed a glass of water.

It’s not fine. It won’t ever be fine.

Flint went to hell, literally, after GM began shedding jobs to cheap foreign labor. Violent crime rates rose, people left the city, and today 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Employees dependent on union jobs had trouble coping when the jobs were gone, resulting in complex social and psychological problems. I experienced some of their anger that day in Flint and I won’t forget because it permanently changed me.

I get why Reagan is lionized for what he did to Flint and dozens of other manufacturing cities. The anger is still here. We are still in Reagan’s wake.

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