Does America Still Work?

Does America Still Work? Transcript

[This transcript is provided as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript. JES]

FRONTLINE Show #1417
Air Date: May 21, 1996

ANNOUNCER: The numbers just aren't adding up. You run a leaner operation or you shut down. How many people will you have to let go? Or is there another way?

Tonight on FRONTLINE, what does it take to stay in business today?

ROBERT EATON, CEO, Chrysler Corporation: We had to go through that down-sizing period or we wouldn't have survived.

ANNOUNCER: Correspondent Jeff Madrick looks at the hard decisions companies have to make and the people they affect.

BILL DONNELL: There is no loyalty anymore to the employee of America.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, "Does America Still Work?"

JEFFREY MADRICK, Correspondent: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been called the city that works, the city with sweat on its brow. But something has changed in America and some Milwaukeeans are listening to a new message.

PAT BUCHANAN, (R), Presidential Candidate: Corporate profits are soaring! I don't mind corporate profits soaring, but why aren't the working men and women and the American families sharing, if the times are good?

JEFFREY MADRICK: The day before the 1996 primary, Patrick Buchanan brought his anti-corporate message to town.

PAT BUCHANAN: We got to stand up for that idea and that ideal, something called a "living wage" for the men and women of America, and these trade deals have sold that out. You and I know it.

BUCHANAN SUPPORTER: I_ I got a job. I don't want to see it go away because they can find someone that_ that'll work for less than what I'm getting. I want it_ I want it there and_ so I'll be able to support my family.

JEFFREY MADRICK: Buchanan received nearly 40 percent of the Republican vote in Milwaukee. He touched a nerve not only here, but across the nation. Now the mainstream candidates are echoing him.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: Many of our largest companies are laying off workers, some of them because they have to to compete in the global economy. Some of them are doing it even when their profits are going up.

JEFFREY MADRICK: The electoral battle for the hearts and minds of the "anxious class" is in full swing.

Sen. ROBERT DOLE, (R), Kansas, Presidential Candidate: Corporate profits are setting records, but so are corporate lay-offs. There's a wide and growing gap between what the government statistics say about our economy and how Americans feel about it.

JEFFREY MADRICK: After a decade and a half of down-sizing and lay-offs, corporate America has borne much of the blame this election season. Robert Eaton, the chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, takes exception.

ROBERT EATON: Now, I don't mean to get personal, but my mother has been my biggest fan over the years. At least she was until recently. Now the poor lady is getting confused. That's because every time she opens a magazine or turns on the television, she's told that people like me are no good. She reads that people like me like to fire thousands of other people so we can impress Wall Street and get bigger bonuses for ourselves.

Oh, I_ this_ you know, I'm trying to address all of this stuff. I mean, the_ the_ the rhetoric out there is absolutely not in agreement with the facts.

JEFFREY MADRICK, Correspondent: Well, I know you've criticized the Newsweek piece, the New York Times down-sizing piece. You_ are you saying they're just plain wrong?

ROBERT EATON: Oh, absolutely. I think it's_ it's just sensationalism that just absolutely makes my blood boil. The number one responsibility that we have is survival so that we can, you know, employ people, so that we can pay taxes, so that we can contribute to the community. And_ and to_ to say that_ that_ that management, you know, their whole objective is to_ is to reduce employees, they don't care what happens and_ it just is_ shows a recognition of simply not understanding the world at all.

JEFFREY MADRICK: Rudy Kuzel heads the United Auto Workers local at Chrysler's Kenosha plant just south of Milwaukee.

RUDY KUZEL, President: There's so much, to use their own euphemism, "down-sizing" and temporary employees, sometimes I think of this economy as a game of musical chairs and for every 100 people, there's only 20 or 25 chairs. And when the music stops, 20 or 25 have got good jobs and the rest of them are standing. Now they've got part-time jobs or crummy jobs, but they don't have a good job.

JEFFREY MADRICK: In Milwaukee, as in much of America, job security was once the norm, but it's increasingly harder to come by. One by one, many of the big corporations that made this city famous have either left or cut their workforce.

Reporter Jack Norman has covered business here for the last 14 years. He writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

JACK NORMAN: Nobody can breathe easy. The place I work was so secure, so comforting, we called it "Ma Journal." "Ma Journal" last year threw hundreds and hundreds of people out. It will happen anywhere, it can happen any