By on July 30, 2008

“I still love it. If I were 55, not 65, I’d be doing this for another 10 years.” Buzz Hargrove describes himself as "full of piss and vinegar." Well exactly. The combative Canadian has been instrumental in his country's union movement since 1964, when he represented a couple of thousand employees in Chrysler's Windsor plant. Now, having announced his 2009 departure from the Canadian Auto Workers' (CAW) presidency, Hargrove's enthusiasm for the labour movement remains undimmed. "I still love it," he says. "If I were 55, not 65, I'd be doing this for another 10 years." That said, Hargrove doesn't think Ford, GM or Chrysler will last that long.

Hargrove first came to the national forefront in 1985, when he assisted then-Canadian-UAW director Bob White in the chapter's secession from the UAW, and the subsequent foundation of the CAW. Hargrove recalls the friction caused by the UAW's top-down approach. "They were going down a road we did not agree with," he recalls.

"They were of the opinion that it had to be the same deal for everyone. We're a separate country. Some of the concessions they made, on health, on strike pay, on benefits, we didn't need to make. In retrospect, it was the best decision we ever made," he declares. "We doubled our membership [from 125k to 255k], and the UAW has gone from 1.5 million workers to less than half a million today."

If the monumental UAW/CAW split is Bob White's legacy, Hargrove's is more difficult to define. He's been CAW president for sixteen years. During that time, through tough negotiation and currency fluctuation, Canada has become one of the world's most expensive places to build cars.

Hargrove acknowledges that it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world. GM-Oshawa's fate will weigh heavily in history's judgment.

"One of my big goals was to take care of Oshawa before I left." Hargrove crossed that one off the list back in May, when GM promised to continue production in Oshawa. Then GM reversed course and decided to close the Oshawa plant. Hargrove claims he was stunned by the move. And he's still bitter.

"I don't know if it's Rick Wagoner or someone else, but someone at GM management lied [to us]. They sabotaged the deal."

As for GM as a whole, Hargrove continues to wax philosophical. "The decision making is day-to-day over there. You can't run a company of that size making decisions like that." As I scribble furiously, Hargrove pours it on: "They did it for the shareholder meeting to say ‘look, we're serious about cutting costs'. The stock jumped, but it went back down."

The parallel to the recent GM-UAW deal almost draws itself: "They did the same thing for the UAW. Well, they got their VEBA, they got their two-tier pay, they got job cuts, and the stock price went up to $35. Now, they still have their VEBA and the stock price is down anyway."  

Hargrove was satisfied with Oshawa's eventual semi-reprieve, echoing local president Chris Buckley's assertion that the CAW made the "best of a very terrible situation." Still, Buzz admits the cordial relationship he had with Wagoner was "undermined" by the Oshawa events. The perceived slight prompted some unexpected candour.

"I told Rick it's not a question of if you're going to have to file for Chapter 11; it's a question of when."

My pencil literally dropped on the floor. This from the man whose accountants had a good old look at GM's books before the union signed their latest contract. Recovering, I ask Buzz for Wagoner's response to his comment: "Never." 

 "I know the reality when I sit down at the negotiating table," Buzz maintains. "You can't continue to lose market share and stay in business." Hargrove's delivered the same message to Chrysler and Ford. "They just haven't shown me how they plan to grow the business." Hargrove believes a Chapter 11 filing is unavoidable for all of Detroit's former Big Three. And he thinks sooner is better than later.

"They're delaying the inevitable. They will lose market share when they file because of consumer confidence, but they're losing it right now anyway. Everyone will take a haircut on what GM owes them, but it will allow them to retool and come out stronger."

Canada, he thinks, will be OK. "They're all making money in Canada… partly because of higher prices. It's the U.S. that is losing money, and it makes the North American numbers look bad. The assets, the plants aren't going to go away. The trustee will continue to make a hot-selling Impala until GM is ready to come back."

"What about the UAW?" I ask.

"The UAW already took a haircut on their last deal," he deadpans.

[Part 2 of this interview will run tomorrow. It will cover Hargrove's thoughts on Canadian labour costs, free trade, political involvement, Cerberus, Bob Nardelli, executive compensation and Hargrove's imminent departure.]

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28 Comments on “Buzz Hargrove: Still Full of Piss and Vinegar (Part 1)...”

  • avatar

    Great interview.

  • avatar

    “The decision making is day-to-day over there. You can’t run a company of that size making decisions like that.”

    This confirms what things look like from the outside. It seems that there is a total lack of vision at the top of GM. There is even a total lack of hindsight as they never seem to learn from past mistakes. I think Buzz is right about BK, it’s not ‘if’ but when. Great interview.

  • avatar

    Great interview, and great to see TTACs is moving up in the automotive world.

    This is definitely something that I would hope would be printed out and shown at GM headquarters. However, considering the mentality there, they would probably laugh it off as fiction.

    Oh well, their loss!

  • avatar

    Wow, great interview!

  • avatar

    I wish Rick would let go of his ego. It looks like he is flat out refusing to consider it because he doesn’t want to be the guy who led the great & mighty GM into C11. He needs to pull his head out of his ass, let go of his ego, and really look at whats best for GM. They need to file while they still have some assets to get through this. If they hold off until creditors are ready to declare involuntary bankruptcy, it will be too late.

  • avatar

    Love the interview. If possible, Samir, any back story on how the interview came to frutition?

    Look forward to part two.

  • avatar

    Great interview Samir, can’t wait to read ch 2 now. Good to see Buzz sitting down with someone from TTAC and telling it like he sees it from the inside. I know I have had issues on how Buzz and the CAW have worked in the past, and probably will still, but Buzz has earned more respect from me just by giving time to someone at TTAC.

  • avatar

    Great interview!

    I’m also glad to see TTAC moving up in the world.

    I’m not so concerned with Rick and his thoughts. What concerns me is that the Board of Directors likes what they are seeing. What could they possibly point to in the last three years as a success? Heck, the last 10?

    No CEO will ever admit they’ve loused things up. That’s why you have a BoD, to push them out the door before they crash the ship into the ground.

  • avatar

    Great interview. Thanks.

  • avatar

    The interview follows most of the stories we’ve been hearing. GM is in deep trouble. It’s almost like Iraq no one takes the blame but they have to do something. No one wants to be the guy that put them in chapter 11.

    I don’t really blame the unions. Of course it’s more expensive to build a car in the developed world than in a sweat shop. (note: my grandfather started local #1 of the garment workers union.. thank him for that one day off a week they got) My guess is Toyota in the US pays their workers well too. The problem is selling a car no one wants and when you do sell it you loose money on it.

    When GM goes under it will lay on the hands of managemet.

    Another post today spoke of Toyota knowing their threat was Korea; well our threat was Japan and we laughed it off.

  • avatar

    toxicroach :

    I wish Rick would let go of his ego. It looks like he is flat out refusing to consider it because he doesn’t want to be the guy who led the great & mighty GM into C11. He needs to pull his head out of his ass, let go of his ego, and really look at whats best for GM. They need to file while they still have some assets to get through this. If they hold off until creditors are ready to declare involuntary bankruptcy, it will be too late.

    Rick Wagoner doesn’t “need” to do anything. He should do the right thing, yes, but he doesn’t “need” to.

    Likewise, the board doesn’t “need” to do anything either. But if they wanted to do the right thing, they would ask for his resignation. Last Thursday would have been good, but I’ll accept anytime this week.

  • avatar

    TTAC is on the cusp of mainstream legitimacy thanks in great part to the writers and contributors.

    Great work RF!

  • avatar

    Good interview, but I am rather annoyed that the mainstream media could not have asked the same types of questions earlier in the year. It just goes to show that if you want real news and information, you have to forget about mainstream media and stick with sites like TTAC.

  • avatar

    Buzz knew that the Silao, Mexico plant was converted to build pickups during the last model changeover and pickup sales were dropping like a rock. If he was such a smart guy and great negotiator he would have had it in the contract that GM could not close the Oshawa truck plant. Maybe he was just in such a rush to sign the contract early he overlooked that. Buzz is all about Buzz.

  • avatar

    wow, bankruptcy for the Big 3 inevitable, eh? I hadn’t thought of Chapter 11 as an inevitability for Ford, but maybe he knows something we don’t.

  • avatar

    One of the more interesting auto exec interviews in recent memory. Very, very well done.

    Kudos to you and TTAC.

  • avatar

    excellent interview ! can’t wait for part 2 and hear buzz’s thoughts on “boot em bob” and company.

  • avatar

    I’d like to echo the numerous comments about TTAC coming up in the world with this interview. Nicely done! Looking forward to the next part (and hopefully more like it)…

  • avatar


    I’m somewhat surprised by Buzz’s candor, but I guess it doesn’t matter with his retirement.

  • avatar

    Great interview. He is one of the few power brokers in this whole mess that sees the handwriting on the wall and acknowledges reality.

  • avatar

    Yes, he sees that there’s trouble in Detroit, so he’s going to continue to milk them for what it’s worth, corporate well-being be damned.

    Oh wait, I had him confused with Ron Gettelfinger.

  • avatar

    RayH: Love the interview. If possible, Samir, any back story on how the interview came to frutition?

    Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

  • avatar

    Kudos to Samir and TTAC for a great interview.

  • avatar

    Samir : “Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.”

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Let me join the chorus saying: Job well done Samir! What a fascinating interview.

  • avatar

    Buzz’ candor is refreshing, as well as disturbing. Great Interview!

  • avatar

    We are a fly on the wall it seems.

    Rabid Rick is heading towards the wall and he is not backing down. That’s because of the Golden Airbag in front of him. The workers will not be so lucky.

    Interesting enough is the labor costs in Canada. Does anyone know if any transplants from Korea, Japan or Europe build cars there?

  • avatar

    Excellent interview!

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