Alfred P Sloan – A Friend to No One

I recently wrote a poem about the 1936 Sit-Down strike in Flint, Michigan and I began to wonder about the man who was president of General Motors at the time. Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr. (May 23, 1875 – February 17, 1966) became president of General Motors in 1923 and was elected Chairman of the board in 1937. For 23 years he ran the helm of the auto company. When he resigned in 1946, he was named Honorary Chairman of the Board, a position he held until his death.

His name had been honored in at least the following ways; 2 streets in Flint, Michigan bear his name (Sloan Street and Sloan Heights), a museum also in Flint and the MIT business school are named for him. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame and was awarded the gold medal of the Hundred Year Association of New York.

As I began to read and research more about him, I began to see what I feel is a man who had no use for the working class, except to exploit it for gain. Isn’t it ironic that we continue to honor and place on pedestals, the same individuals who wish us no good?

Working Conditions:
The auto plants were dark, smoky, oily environments. Hours were long. The work could be back-breaking and even fatal. Pay was poor. There was no health care, unemployment, or retirement. Job security was at the whim of your direct supervisor. Sloan tried in vain to make the workers believe that he had their best interests at heart, yet continued to turn a blind eye to these issues.

Strike Negotiations:
Sloan at first refused to negotiate with the Union and the striking workers. His response to workers at plants not striking was a memo that did nothing to recognize the issues of workers and only reconfirmed that General Motors had their best interests at heart.

Rather than using the violence of Henry Ford’s strike breakers, he attempted the use more devious plans to break the strike. 

Spies were placed in the plants and anyone caught talking of the Union were fired. 

During the strike, strange men and police officers would visit the homes of the strikers after dark and share rumors of what was really happening in the plants. Stories of wild women, alcohol and gambling placed fear into the workers family.

It was a cold winter and days into the strike the heat and power were shut off to the plants, leaving them dark and frigid.

The Flint Police force armed with firearms and tear gas were sent to attack the unarmed men.

Planned Obsolescence:
Under his leadership, rather than designing long lasting, dependable autos, General Motors adapted this design process that led to failures in the product and making them obsolete after a time. Some aspects of this were only cosmetic changes or new improved options, but the idea of failure was incorporated into the complete design.

American Liberty League and it’s Conspiracy:
Founded in 1934 by lawyer, Jouett Shouse this group of business elites fought against the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The New Deal dealt with the "3 R's": relief for the unemployed and for the poor, recovery of the economy back to normal levels, and reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression. The work of the New Deal helped to bring America out of the depression and made major leaps in social reform and equality among workers.

Their beliefs were that common man held no true benefit except to provide for those like themselves a means of betterment. President Roosevelt said of them, “"… to uphold two of the Ten Commandments," stopping at protecting property and drawing no inspiration from the command to "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

Sloan was a member of this group.

History tells different stories about the bits and pieces of a coup to overthrow President Franklin Roosevelt by the American Liberty League. In 1934 various reports placed their support behind a 500,00-man army of veterans set to over throw the government.

Nazi Germany and Antisemitism:
Around 1933 it became apparent that Germany was waging an internal war against the Jewish community. They were suddenly banned from the German Automobile Association and began to lose their jobs. Hitler sprouted out non ending anti-Semitic rhetoric. 

General Motor’s German division Opal was one of the strategic suppliers for Hitler’s war machine. General Motors remodeled plants and built new ones to meet demands. A new plant in Brandenburg produced the Blitz truck that became one of the German Army’s main supply vehicles. 

Nazi armaments chief Albert Speer later told a congressional investigator that Germany would not have attempted its September 1939 blitzkrieg of Poland without the performance-boosting additive technology provided by Alfred P. Sloan and General Motors. This technology produced modern gasoline that allowed better performance.

The Opal plants operated on the Nazi ideology of Hitler worship and Jewish suppression. 

In 1938, after the Nazi annexation of Austria, James D Mooney, head of GM's overseas operations and Sloan’s right-hand man, was awarded the German Eagle with Cross.

Sloan in 1939 told shareholders that the German investment was highly profitable and a sound business practice. 

A General Motor’s spokesman has said, "General Motors finds the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime abhorrent and among the darkest days of our collective history. General Motors deeply regrets any role the company or its vehicles played in the Nazi era."

It is rumored that all correspondence and paperwork that dealt with the Nazi side of General Motor’s business has been destroyed or are missing. 

General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy:
National City Lines and its two subsidiaries, American City Lines and Pacific City Lines spent the years between 1938 and 1950 buying up and taking control of major public transit systems. These three companies were invested in by General Motors, Firestone, Standard Oil, Phillips, Mack Truck and others. 

As the transit systems were bought, they were destroyed and taken out of service. The push for bus service would be a goldmine for those involved.

In 1947 these companies were indicted in Federal Court, for "conspiring to acquire control of a number of transit companies, forming a transportation monopoly" and "conspiring to monopolize sales of buses and supplies to companies owned by National City Lines."

In 1949 they were convicted of monopolizing the sale of buses and related products.

David Farber:
David Farber, historian and author of Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors (2002) said:

"There’s a lot I don’t like about Mr. Sloan. His steady opposition to making safer automobiles, his dismissal of workers’ rights, his inability to see Adolf Hitler as evil and dangerous..., and his general disregard for social justice and the common good make him a not very lovable figure. Those failings are usually not weaknesses in a corporate manager, even as they make Sloan less than a model of good citizenship. But good citizenship has little to do with maximizing corporate profits. Which makes it pretty obvious to me that putting corporate leaders in charge of our public good is ill-advised."

This is not a man to honor and uphold. Yes, he donated money to good causes and organizations later in life. Were these attempts at paying for his sins, was it only blood money? Listing his attributes, we find: elite businessman, seemingly antisemitic, apparent Nazi supporter, possible anti-government conspirator, anti-social reformist and someone who built their fortune on the backs of others. Yeah, no thanks. 

Copyright Roy Richard

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