A comedy routine

The auto bailout mess reminds me of a comedy routine.  Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did it years ago.  Moore auditions for the role of Tarzan.  Problem is he has only one leg.

Cook has to gradually break some news to Moore.  The public is not ready for a one-legged Tarzan.  “I’ve got nothing against your right leg,” he says. “The trouble is - neither have you.  You fall down on your left.”

The auto guys auditioned before congress guys for billions in bailout bucks.  Problem was they hopped in on one leg. 

Dudley could talk all day about his experience.  About how thrilling he would be in the role.  But if you were present at the interview you would want to blurt “You twit!  You can’t play Tarzan.  Not ever! Because you’ve got only one leg!”

The auto guys could go on for weeks about their viability.  About their headaches.  About the credit crunch.  About their plans to cut this and patch that.  “And, yes, Madame Pelosi we will make a 3 ft. gossamer car that runs on mayonaise and gets 400 miles per jar.”

If you were present you would want to blurt “You twits!  You’ve got only one leg!  You pay your workers $73 an hour in wage and benefits.  Your competitors pay $48. You have been running a jobs bank where laid off workers get paid two-years while idle. (Used to be they got paid forever and there were 7000 workers in that happy situation.)

“Case closed.  You can’t play Tarzan.  You can’t compete. Stop all this silly talk about market strategies and reducing models.

“And congress guys, cease your gab about green cars.  And enough of your posturing by asking these execs if they flew in by private jet.  They parked theirs next to yours.

“Face the truth.  The car makers shell out $2200 more to make a car than foreigners do in Tennesee plants.”

To be kind, Cook tells Dudley he still has a very good chance for the role. He tells him to hop on a bus, go home and sit by the phone.  In case no men with two legs audition.  Or if only a man with no legs does. Cook would tell that man to “Get out, run away.”

Congress guys might tell the auto guys the same thing.  You still have a chance of success, Detroit.  If Toyota hikes its pay package to $75, that is.

In other words, who are we kidding?  The bailout is a farce.  The auto czar idea is absurd. Congress overseeing the auto industry is comedy.  Black comedy.  Would you let congress guys run your local diner?  You would end up with pork coffee.

Truth is, the auto companies and unions don’t have a leg to stand on.  (Sorry about that.)  They don’t, until they rewrite labor contracts.

Oh, to satisfy the politicians in front of cameras we can insist the CEOs get paid in Walmart coupons. And that they pedal to work. And pack a lunch of no more than two peanut butter sandwiches per day. That is good theater.  But it will shave only fifty cents off the cost of making a car in Detroit.

Bottom line is - and for once it is truly the bottom line - the car companies cannot survive when they pay so much more than competitors. Duhhh.

Amidst all the posturing and posing I hope to God the politicians give some thought to some forgotten people.  Congress could allow a type of managed bankruptcy.  One which forces unions to cave.  Or, it could also leave the car companies to flounder in real bankruptcy.  That would punish - among others - many thousands of folks who work for car dealers.

The mechanics, the sales crew, service staff, gofers.  They are not overpaid.  They are not part of the $2200 hangover.  They are the proverbial ham in the sandwich.

This is because if car companies suffer real bankruptcy, thousands of car dealers will be left holding the bag.  They will lose many millions because of the financial arrangements with the auto makers.  Many will close, bankrupt themselves. Others will lay off faithful workers.

That will not be a comedy routine.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.                  

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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