So Many Ways Corporations Kill People -- GM Robbed Us and Risked Our Lives

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Common Dreams

So Many Ways Corporations Kill People -- GM Robbed Us and Risked Our Lives

General Motors CEO Mary Barra testifying on Tuesday.

This blog isn't really about health care and the need for an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life system, as my writings normally are. But it is about corporate greed and willful disregard for the lives of millions of people. Today I am angry about how GM put me and everyone who rode in my car in danger even as my husband remained loyal to the US car maker.

Our 2004 Malibu Maxx is part of the massive recall announced by GM. Well, surprise, surprise, surprise. GM says our car may have serious power steering problems. We found that out ourselves as we experienced alarms signals and lights along with frightening disruptions in steering that no mechanic was able to accurately diagnose or fix until after I found a service advisory and numerous consumer comments on the web that seemed to echo the problems we were having with the car.

We would be driving along, usually at highway speed, when all the dashboard alarm signals would light up and sound. Then for just a few terrifying seconds, and sometimes after a sharp jerk to the left or right, the car was not steerable. Then all would return to normal. It was scary and difficult to replicate for mechanics. At first, the mechanics checked other systems and over the course of several months, we had that car in the shop several times and seemed to be replacing parts to the tune of $300 or $400 every time we took it in. Then the problem would happen again. When I finally found the service advisory on the web, the mechanic worked on the power steering system, and we haven't had the problem again. More than $2,000 in repair bills later, we think the car is now fixed.

The money spent is bad enough. But it is also so frightening that we could have had a serious or even fatal accident in the car that clearly GM knew was having steering issues long before the recall was announced. We do not know if we will get some or all of the money lost back. We do know those who lost family members and friends to defective GM cars can never recover those lost. It's really awful.

Our car is 10 years old now. We bought it when we first moved to Chicago after SiCKO was released (Michael Moore's 2007 film that documented our story) and after we began to rebuild our lives from the financial ruin caused by medical crisis and debt. Even though we bought it used, we went to the dealership in Arlington Heights, IL, where I bought my very first car at 17 years old and trusted them to sell us a reliable and enjoyable vehicle. My husband has long trusted GM vehicles, and I first took behind-the-wheel driver's ed lessons in a Chevy Malibu. So a car that someone else might find less classy was a real sign of healing for us. I was proud of my car, and we just paid it off a few months ago.

The GM recall represents once again how dishonest and greedy many, if not most, US corporations have become. And we have little trust that all the showy Congressional hearings demanding that CEOs appear and do the requisite groveling and apologizing for their failures will result in any long-term changes in the American corporate value structure. Human life -- and everything else -- comes second to profits.

As a good friend of mine always reminded me when I ranted about the greedy US health care system, "The profits are dear, Donna, the profits are dear." Clearly those dear profits are just as dear in other industries, and we all have to be aware that the value of our lives can be measured in dollars and cents. Can we change that reality? I doubt it. Unless and until some of these people are charged with murder, theft and other crimes carrying real jail time, American corporations will continue to give a whole new meaning to the old adage "buyer beware." Perhaps if someone really famous or really wealthy or both had been killed or injured in one of these GM cars we'd see change. But to lose a few Larry and Donna Smith's? Well, that's just a cost of doing business, eh GM?

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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