Today's lament is, "The bankers have benefited from a bailout, so why shouldn't auto workers?" But they have, they have -- for decades...
Chrysler was bailed out directly with government loan guarantees; the Big Three all benefited from Reagan era "voluntary" quotas on Japanese imports to prop up domestic car prices. But these were temporary fixes. For more than 40 years, a 25% tariff has kept out foreign-built pickup trucks even as a studied loophole was created in fuel-economy regulations to let the Big Three develop a lucrative, protected niche in the "passenger truck" business.
This became the long-running unwritten deal. This was Washington's real auto policy.
For three decades, the Big Three were able to survive precisely because they skimped on quality and features in the money-losing sedans they were required under Congress's fuel economy rules to build in high-cost UAW factories. In return, Washington compensated them with the hothouse, politically protected opportunity to profit from pickups and SUVs.