Autoworkers unimpressed with Bush's claims Asia trip called politically motivated

January 11, 1992|By Kim Clark

"Hogwash." "A sellout." "Fruitless." "A waste."

That's what Maryland automotive workers and managers call President Bush's claims that his trip to Asia has convinced the Japanese to buy more U.S.-made cars.

President Bush, who returned yesterday from a 12-day tour of Asia and Australia, says a Japanese agreement to import more U.S.-made cars and car parts would create as many as 200,000 jobs nationwide.

But assembly workers and car-part plant managers interviewed yesterday were unanimously skeptical of Mr. Bush's claim. Many said his trip seemed designed to help his own political fortunes in this election year rather than improve their troubled industry.

"I don't think it will help anybody," Francisco Morais, an assembly worker at General Motors' Broening Highway plant, said of the Japanese agreement to buy $19 billion of U.S. automotive goods. Japan bought a total of $8 billion worth of U.S. automotive goods last year. They agreed to double that by 1994.

After working for a GM plant in Massachusetts for more than 10 years, Mr. Morais lost his job when that plant shut down.

To find a job, he moved to Baltimore in September. "I had to pack up and move. I can't sell the house in Massachusetts. The market is terrible up there."

Though the local plant is working overtime to meet demand for Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans, co-worker Charlie Boone said he's still scared by the economy.

"We are losing. We have people from three or four other GM plants coming in here because their plants were shut down," he said. "These people are coming in hungry, they are losing their homes. The trip to Japan was a joke."

Fellow van assembler Dennis Andrews called the trip "a waste of time and money."

"So they agreed to buy 19,000 more U.S. cars. [Japan bought a total of 15,000 U.S.-made cars last year.] They sell 1 million-plus here," he said. "I don't think it was right, the way President Bush went over there asking, kind of like begging. Politically, I think it will backfire on him," Mr. Andrews said.

Although they were skeptical of progress, most of the workers and managers said they still hope that the Japanese will start dismantling the barriers that make it hard for U.S. companies to sell goods there.

Thorne Gould, president of the Murray Corp. hose clamp plant in Hunt Valley, said he's been selling clamps to Japanese vehicle-makersfor 20 years but still finds it difficult to win new contracts.

"We have trouble breaking in. We were just approved for use on Nissan trucks, but it has taken three years of testing, and we still have not gotten our first order. . . . It has been a lot of investment," Mr. Gould said.

Although Mr. Bush's agreement calls for increased sales of U.S. auto parts, Mr. Gould said he doubts his 120-worker plant will benefit.

His Japanese competitors are now building plants in the United States and shipping their products back to the mother country, he noted.

Ken Jacobs, general manager of the Marada Industries plant in Westminster that makes bumpers and other car parts, said: "Anything we can do to boost the marketplace is going to help us. . . . But I didn't see a whole lot that was concrete."

His 200-worker plant often bids on contracts for Japanese auto plants in the United States. "And it is extremely difficult compete with their suppliers in Japan," he said.

"The Japanese run their manufacturing facilities very, very efficiently. . . . I don't think they are dumping [or selling products here below their costs]. They are very good at what they do," he said.

President Bush's trip "can't hurt" his company, but it won't help President Bush, Mr. Jacobs predicted.

"His timing was off. I think he felt the American public is a little more gullible than we are," he said, explaining that he believes "the true reason behind his trip was politics."

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