GM's Autogeddon

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It's going to be a long weekend in Detroit. General Motors is set to shut down production completely Friday as the United Auto Workers' strike really begins to bite. The industrial action has already cost management $200 million in lost profits and shut 21 of GM's 29 assembly plants in North America. Now, with the other eight about to be idled, America's largest company faces the prospect of its longest-running and most crippling strike in years -- worse, say some observers, than the 17-day strike at brake plants in Dayton, Ohio, in 1996. That action lost GM an eye-popping $900 million; this one could easily pass the billion-dollar mark.

Which is a little ironic, considering the whole dispute with the UAW is about figures as small as $50 million and $300 million. The former is how much GM says inefficient work rules at Flint, Michigan's Metal Center was costing them. The latter is how much the workers say GM promised to invest in the plant, then reneged on. Both sides are sticking to their guns, which could mean a long summer of discontent in the auto industry. And as those Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles start to dry up, more consumers will likely switch to ever-cheaper Japanese imports. Suddenly, a $50 million loss doesn't seem like such a big deal.