UAW’s King, ex-CarMax chief Ligon lead Obama’s defense of auto bailout

UAW’s King, ex-CarMax chief Ligon lead Obama’s defense of auto bailout
Larry P. Vellequette
and Philip Nussel
Automotive News | September 5, 2012 – 9:44 pm EST
UPDATED: 9/5/12 10:45 pm ET – adds Ligon text

Austin Ligon: “The president’s decisive action led to the rapid and successful restructuring of two of America’s largest companies, GM and Chrysler.”

UAW President Bob King, defending the 2009 auto industry bailouts before a national television audience, said the government-financed bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler weren’t “universally popular” but were “absolutely right.”

CarMax co-founder Austin Ligon joined in the effort, touting the government’s 2009 cash-for-clunkers program.

King, speaking Wednesday night to delegates at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., said a rejuvenated auto industry is leading the nation’s economic recovery.

“An industry we once called the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ is driving us to a new prosperity,” he said in prepared remarks. The first-term UAW president was given a high-profile prime-time speaking slot just before former U.S. President Bill Clinton formally nominated Barack Obama for a second four-year term.

The successful 2009 auto bailout has become s a centerpiece of President Obama’s campaign for re-election, in part because of its contrast to an opinion piece by Republican nominee Mitt Romney headlined “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

Vice President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the Democrats’ entire campaign can be summed up on a bumper sticker: “General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead.”

King told delegates that in the administration’s decision to finance GM and Chrysler through their managed bankruptcies, President Obama had demanded all stakeholders share in the pain, and that the companies had to change.

“President Obama took action, putting together a rescue team and demanding real change, real sacrifice, from everyone: management, labor, shareholders, suppliers, debt-holders and dealers,” King said in the remarks.

“President Obama’s strong leadership saved more than a million jobs. Since June 2009, the industry has even added a quarter million jobs and is thriving once again,” King argued. “These are good middle-class jobs — in glass, plastics and steel. Jobs making things for an economy built to last.”

Before King’s appearance, the party put on a video showing all the benefits of the auto bailout, including testimonials from UAW rank-and-file workers whose jobs were saved by the bailout. One of them, Karen Eusanio, a UAW member from the GM assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, spoke just before King.

Ligon endorsement

King’s speech was preceded by remarks from Austin Ligon, co-founder and former CEO of CarMax Inc., the nation’s largest used-car retailer.

Ligon praised the bailout, along with the U.S. government’s cash-for-clunkers program, which helped boost U.S. auto sales in August and September of 2009 just after the bankruptcies.

“The president’s decisive action led to rapid and successful restructuring of two of America’s largest corporations, GM and Chrysler,” said Ligon, who retired from CarMax in 2006.

“That didn’t just save the car companies. It helped prevent a domino effect that would have taken down everything in the auto industry from factories that manufactured the auto parts to dealers that sold the cars.”

“He also launched targeted efforts that helped ordinary people buy cars again,” Ligon said, referring to the cash-for-clunkers program. “Altogether, these actions prevented over a million job losses and laid the groundwork for what’s now a robust recovery of the American auto industry.”

TEXT OF UAW PRESIDENT BOB KING’S SPEECH:
The first woman to serve in both houses of Congress, Margaret Chase Smith, once said, “The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character.”

Margaret Chase Smith was a Republican – but a very different kind than those Republicans trying to take over our country today.

In some of America’s darkest economic days since the Great Depression, and in the face of tremendous political venom, President Obama met that true test of moral character. He stood up – not for what was popular and easy, but for what was right.

He stood with American workers – not just autoworkers – but a million workers in towns all across America who, if the auto industry went under, wouldn’t be able to put food on the table.

We all remember what those days were like as President Obama took office.

Workers waiting anxiously as their companies announced layoffs…banks refusing to loan…car sales collapsing. It wasn’t just auto companies struggling to survive; so were those making parts and selling cars. Many small businesses that relied on autoworkers as customers – like diners and barbershops – had to close down.

Unfortunately, most Republicans advocated doing nothing. And what did Mitt Romney say? “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

By contrast, President Obama took action, putting together a rescue team and demanding real change, real sacrifice, from everyone: management, labor, shareholders, suppliers, debt-holders, and dealers. It wasn’t universally popular, but it was absolutely right.

President Obama’s strong leadership saved more than a million jobs. Since June 2009, the industry has even added a quarter of a million jobs, and is thriving once again. These are good, middle-class jobs – in glass, plastics and steel. Jobs making things for an economy built to last.

And Mitt Romney’s record? At Bain Capital, the corporate buyout firm he founded, too often he and his partners made their money not by building companies up, but by taking them apart. And too often, the workers ended up in the streets, even as Romney and his partners made millions of dollars.

Earlier this week, we celebrated Labor Day. Many people forget why we have that holiday… and why we have safe workplaces… health care… the 40-hour work week…middle-class wages… standards that most people take for granted.

The standards did not just happen. They happened because generations of working people fought for — sometimes died for – the right to organize, and the right to bargain collectively. President Obama strongly supports these basic human rights – because these rights help all Americans.

Strong unions and collective bargaining have lifted millions of people out of poverty, and built the great American middle class. And it’s the middle class that keeps America’s democracy and economy strong.

The Republicans? Just look at Wisconsin. They want to take us back to a time when workers couldn’t stand up for themselves – couldn’t speak with one voice, couldn’t speak out for fairness, justice and middle-class opportunity.

That’s why unions matter, and that’s why I’m so proud to be a union member and proud to lead the men and women of the UAW. Because of President Obama’s moral courage and leadership, America’s auto industry is roaring again, and we’re proud to lead America’s economic recovery.

An industry we once called the arsenal of democracy is driving us to a new prosperity.

This November, America faces a clear choice about what kind of country we want to be.

For working families, the choice is clear: we must re-elect President Barack Obama.

PREPARED REMARKS BY AUSTIN LIGON, CO-FOUNDER AND FORMER CEO OF CARMAX INC.:
When we first started CarMax 19 years ago, we had a simple idea: make buying a used car a transparent, easy, and honest process. And today, CarMax has grown to be America’s largest auto retailer, employing 17,000 people in 30 states, and it’s one of Fortune’s “Top 100 Companies to Work For.”

We worked hard to conceive and build CarMax. But we didn’t do it alone. I succeeded because we had intensely committed associates; healthy and flexible capital markets; good roads and bridges that let us move products rapidly; and federal, state, and local governments that cooperated with us and provided clear “rules of the road” that let us plan and grow our business.

As a businessman, I know President Obama understands what it takes to spark economic growth, because I have seen him in action. When he took office, he inherited a massive structural deficit from his Republican predecessor, an economy in free-fall, and, most important for me personally, an auto industry on the verge of collapse. The president’s decisive action led to the rapid and successful restructuring of two of America’s largest companies, GM and Chrysler.

That didn’t just save the car companies—it helped prevent a domino effect that would have taken down everything in the auto industry, from the factories that manufactured auto parts to the dealers who sold the cars. He also launched targeted efforts that helped ordinary people buy cars again. Altogether, these actions prevented over a million job losses, and laid the groundwork for what’s now a robust recovery of the American auto industry.

The president deserves credit for this extraordinary success. And I’m determined to see that he gets it. As a businessman who focuses on facts, not political rhetoric, I think the choice in this election is clear. President Obama has shown he has the vision to support average consumers and taxpayers. He understands that the consumer is the engine of economic growth—that businesses can’t prosper and grow without them. That’s why he has a plan that will reduce the deficit, invest in infrastructure and education, and give tax relief that benefits the average consumer, not millionaires.

Because that’s what works. That’s how we grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down. As a businessman, I’ll tell you: Mitt Romney just doesn’t get it. That’s why I’m voting to extend Barack Obama’s management contract for four more years.

The UAW’s King: “President Obama’s strong leadership saved more than a million jobs.”

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