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Suicides and Plant Closures

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Reuters has an interesting piece on how Volkswagen’s previous attempt to operate a union factory in the U.S. failed and how this relates to its attempts to institute a German-like workers’ council through the United Auto Workers. One major challenge I think this attempt faces going forward is the strong hostility toward organized labor by the American managerial class that will be dealing with the UAW on a daily basis. The Germans are going to have to mandate serious cooperation with the union if their goal of a workers council will come to fruition.

But that’s not why I linked to this. It’s to reiterate the real and often deadly cost of job loss:

While the landscape is very different from 25 years ago, the legacy of the older plant’s failure is part of the troubled history the UAW will have to overcome as it tries to represent VW workers again — this time in Tennessee, where the automaker employs 2,500 people building Passat sedans.

After the 1988 closure of VW’s plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ron Dinsmore kept a grisly toll of the pain: the number of suicides of former workers. He stopped counting at 19.

“I used to go to every funeral home,” said Dinsmore, 71. “I quit doing it. It got morbid.”

Minimum of 19 suicides out of a 2500 person workforce. That’s a huge number. You saw the same thing in Oregon and Washington and northern California when the timber industry laid everyone off in the 1980s. I have one story in my research of a pastor in northern California who had to counsel a couple not to commit suicide, which they were considering because they couldn’t provide for their children and had an insurance policy that could. This is the cost of unemployment and factory closure. Way too often, even in the progressive blogosphere, this is abstracted to thinking about economic policy and decisions in Washington. That’s fine of course, but it’s also easier than reckoning with the real human costs. Sad, sad stuff.

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