By Geoff Colvin and Ryan Derousseau
September 15, 2015

The atmosphere of the Rust Belt pervades this morning’s news of power and leadership.

In Germany for the Frankfurt auto show, General Motors CEO Mary Barra stated – again – that she has no interest in merging with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA chief Sergio Marchionne has been begging GM for a deal, knowing that FCA is just too small to compete in a world of a few mammoth automakers. He even emailed Barra last spring proposing a merger, and FCA chairman John Elkann later said that GM “wasn’t the only one” that FCA approached. Nobody’s biting. “We looked at it very, very carefully and in tremendous detail,” Barra said at a news conference yesterday. “It’s just not in the interest of GM shareholders, and I think that message is resonating with shareholders.” She’s wise to be focusing on them. GM stock has been trending downward since she became CEO and the ignition switch mess was revealed in early 2014, and the last thing she needs is a big capital outlay that won’t earn big returns. As for Marchionne…

…he’s been facing unexpected angst since United Auto Workers chief Dennis Williams announced Sunday he will focus on FCA as the first of the Detroit Three to reach a new contract agreement; the old contract expired at midnight last night, and as I write this, the negotiators are still working. Williams’s choice of the smallest and weakest of the three is an unorthodox strategy that surprised everyone. Marchionne quickly canceled his trip to the Frankfurt auto show in order to stay at headquarters in Auburn Hills. The whole industry studying the wheels within wheels shaping the fortunes of a big, old labor union in an industry now returning to prosperity. And speaking of labor unions…

…Wisconsin Governor and fading presidential candidate Scott Walker, who attracted national attention by fighting public-sector unions, yesterday proposed pretty much eviscerating what’s left of unions in the U.S. If elected president, he said, he would eliminate the National Labor Relations Board, outlaw federal employee unions, impose nationwide right-to-work laws, and repeal the 84-year-old Davis-Bacon law, which has the effect of raising pay for workers on federal construction projects. Walker has not a prayer of making any of this come to pass, even assuming he has a prayer of becoming president. But he apparently believes the proposal will help revive his weakening prospects, and it will be instructive to see if he’s right. If he is – if he energizes a latent, broad-based anti-union sentiment in the country – then the continuing Rust Belt revolution could get much more dramatic.

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