Firestone and Ford: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Run over a nail and get a flat tire, and usually it’s no big deal. But when you’re tooling down the highway, and a tire’s tread peals away from the casing, tragedy can and does happen. Case in point, the 101 traffic deaths and 400 injuries reported to date that are linked to Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Corp.

Adding insult to death and injury is the attempt of the two worldwide industrial giants to cover up their respective roles in the bloody calamities. Each firm points its finger at the other. Firestone says that Ford has a far higher number of rollovers (16,000!) than other auto makers using the same tires. Ford says that Ford Explorers involved in fatal crashes were 10 times as likely to be riding on Firestone tires.

If the past is any guide, no matter who is held responsible it will be business as usual for both corporations. In the 1970s Firestone survived the largest tire recall in history; when the steel in its steel-belted tires turned to rust, tires failed, with inescapable heartbreak and grief. And to date, Ford has done quite well, thank you, despite its known 16,000 rollovers, and its early Mustangs that are notorious for becoming gasoline torches when hit from behind.

But a far bigger cover-up is going on. Public officials from both capitalist parties and the corporate owned mainstream media are intentionally failing to report what any production worker knows in his bones. And that’s simply that the over-riding cause of tire failure (like salmonella-laden pork, beef, and poultry) is the unyielding drive for profits.

From the start of a work-shift until its weary end, production-line workers are driven to pick up the pace, set a record. Quality control workers are pressured to look the other way or fudge reports to the higher-ups, who are under pressure from their bosses to raise the output over the previous quarter’s output.

Putting profits over people is nothing new to workers on the job, or in the marketplace. So you’d think that workers’ organizations, labor unions in the first place, would have something to say about it. Specifically, you’d think that the steelworkers union that now represents the rubber workers would kick off a crusade to rally and mobilize the general public behind demands for a safe workplace and a product that delivers what is promised.

Not unexpectedly, the steelworkers union did not act to mobilize its members to mobilize the rest of us. Instead, on Sept. 4, the union announced that it had reached tentative agreements with Firestone covering nine plants.

The union said that it achieved its major goals resisting the firm’s concessionary demands. That’s good. But it’s also shortsighted. Clearly, the union had the opportunity and the responsibility to do much more to safeguard its members and workers at large.

While the union vigorously attacks, hand in hand with the steel bosses, what it calls the “predatory” pricing of foreign steel, neither the steelworkers union nor the autoworkers union is going after Firestone’s and Ford’s predatory profiteering at the expense of life and limb.

Make no mistake, we know that the profit system is the problem. We just haven’t forgotten, as have many union bureaucrats, that unions must be part of the solution. -C.W.

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