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Detroit Workers Struggle as General Motors Restructures

Once the largest private sector employer in the United States, General Motors, headquartered in Detroit, employed over half a million people nationwide. That number has dwindled to 60,000 in recent years. Now, the economically depressed state of Michigan could suffer further with GM planning to shed 20,000 more jobs nationwide and close up to 17 more facilities as it restructures in bankruptcy. The outlook is grim for autoworkers hoping to stay employed or find new work.

In Detroit, reminders are everywhere of a bygone era when the city was a powerful symbol of working class America.

A train station once bustling with people stands as an idle ruin in the heart of what was once Detroit's automotive sector along Michigan Avenue.

There are no more Cadillacs or car parts rolling off the lots of the manufacturing plants here. Most of them are shuttered and crumbling.

"It's a ghost town," said Gary Wilson, who has an office at the United Autoworkers Union Local 22, now one of the few signs of life along Michigan Avenue. He grew up in this neighborhood and signed on with General Motors in 1977. "You would start off. You'd get your high school diploma and go to the factory. That was a way of life in Detroit," he said.

That way of life is becoming extinct. Many jobs in automotive manufacturing no longer exist in Detroit.

For the moment, Wilson still has a job at a nearby GM plant not scheduled to close, alongside , the Local 22 President. McGregor went to work for General Motors in 1968, joining friends from the military who were making good money on the assembly lines. "When I got hired in, I thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread," he said.

Over 40 years, McGregor watched one of the biggest employers in the world, GM, shed over half a million jobs. "It hurts, because it was the icon of America. The old saying was if General Motors sneezes, the rest of the country catches a cold," he said.

The cold that General Motors spread around the country is reaching through several generations of McGregor's family.

His uncles are retirees, unsure of their pension and health care plans. His daughter lost her job at an automotive parts supplier. His 17-year-old grandson has few prospects for jobs in the area. "The unemployment number of today, which is quite large, is going to grow over the months ahead," he said.

Dick Blouse, President of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which promotes business in the city and surrounding area, is not optimistic. "There are a lot of people that are projecting that it will be somewhere between 15 and 20 percent unemployment before we're finished," he said.

Despite the bleak outlook, there's hope.

As part of the agreement GM negotiated with the UAW, new jobs could soon put unemployed workers back on the assembly line.

A GM manufacturing plant for compact cars, originally planned in China, will now be based in the United States when GM emerges from bankruptcy.

But starting a new job at a new plant would be difficult for employees like Wilson and McGregor. Both are close to retirement. "There's nowhere to go, there's no where to run, so you have to sit it out, and do what you can to help get the whole thing turned around," said McGregor.

McGregor believes the ultimate solution to the problems that plague General Motors, as well as Chrysler and Ford, is not a so-called bailout, but a far-reaching fix to the overall economy that gets consumers working again and, ultimately, driving new cars.