DETROIT, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Opposing factions of demonstrators braved chilly weather and light snow outside the Detroit auto show on Monday to protest taxpayer-funded bailouts, or the neglect of American workers — depending on which side of the street you stood.
The annual show comes after a year in which two of America’s Big Three automakers — General Motors Co [GM.UL] and Chrysler FIA.MI — were forced into controversial government-led bankruptcy amid the worst sales slump in decades.
“I’m here to protest the bailouts that have helped corporate America and Wall Street but have left Middle America behind,” said Frank Warren, 50, who retired last year after working for GM for 32 years. “After receiving hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, the big banks are paying out huge bonuses again while retirees like me have had to give up some our benefits to help the automakers survive.”
“We can’t let that neglect continue,” he added.
Warren was one of a few dozen workers protesting in favor of job creation and against financial-sector bailouts, while on the opposite street corner a slightly smaller group — which included conservative “tea party” activists — turned out to protest all bailouts.
“There is no such thing as a good bailout,” said Andy Moylan, 26. “We don’t need to be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on helping companies that should be reorganizing on their own.”
According to Neil De Koker, chief executive of the Original Equipment Supplier Association, the bill for the bailout of GM, Chrysler and U.S. auto suppliers comes to around $120 billion.
Coming on top of the massive government aid program for the U.S. financial sector, that support for the automakers has proven deeply unpopular.
Ford Motor Co (F.N), the remaining U.S. automaker, has not sought government aid.
Squaring off outside the conference call in downtown Detroit where the auto show is held, protesters were united in their disapproval of big bank bailouts but in little else.
The workers carried banners including “Rebuild America with American workers” and “Build what we need.”
GM retiree Miriam Pickens, 59, said that U.S. President Barack Obama needs to focus on a “jobs recovery bill.”
“Here in Michigan we have old auto factories that we can use to build new things like wind turbines for the green economy,” she said. “And we have plenty of people who would rather go back to work and pay taxes than receive a government handout.”
“Only job creation will lead to a real recovery,” she added.
Across the street, about half of the demonstrators were there to protest the bailout of GM and Chrysler.
“I have trouble paying my cell phone bill every month and I don’t need to be sending more of my money in taxes to pay for a bailout of private companies,” said Eric Odom, 30, a business owner and Tea Party activist from Chicago. “Private companies should take responsibility for their own actions and not get bailed out by the government.”
But this demonstration found itself split between two factions, with a second group protesting the healthcare reform plans of the Democratic Party. Some members of this group carried posters depicting President Obama sporting an Adolf Hitler mustache.
“We’re here to protest against the healthcare reform that is being forced on the American people,” said Jamar Penn. “That bill is unconstitutional and fascist.