Sunday, December 16, 2018

Tuned into the Cosmos? General Motor’s critical transformation

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”[1] – Arthur Clarke

“As emerging algorithm-driven artificial intelligence (AI) continues to spread, will people be better off than they are today?” –Pew Research Center, “Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humans”

The Midwest was jerked out of its comfort zone recently, when General Motors’ announced  that over the course of 2019 it would be laying off 14K+ workers (15% of its workforce) and shuttering five plants, in Michigan and Ohio. The move wasn’t a total surprise: many analysts had anticipated something big—between Trump’s counter-productive tariffs regime raising prices on steel and other raw materials, not to mention items manufactured for export like automotive parts, and the fact that several GM sedan models were simply underperforming, something had to give. 

Unfortunately, the plan is now to produce more gas-guzzling SUVs, as opposed to remaining on track with the more energy efficient direction the company was pursuing under the Obama administration; if the age-old collusion between the auto and oil industries seems no weaker today than it’s ever been, it’s probably because market forces (i.e., consumer preferences) haven’t yet punished them sufficiently, and the political will to impose a carbon tax on their products simply doesn’t exist quite yet. 

In fact, the weeks-long “Yellow Vest” protests in France are a signal that taxing petroleum in a climate of radical wealth inequality simply pushes working people too far. Putting food on the table will always take precedence over long-term environmental goals—a story for another day, but a critical conundrum that we must solve.  

For his part, Trump came into office offering a sweetheart deal to unscrupulous car makers: huge corporate tax cuts and reduced emissions requirements. Once the tax cut was gobbled whole, workers and the environment were bound to pay the price for years to come. 

Besides, the minute GM announced the layoffs, its stock prices shot up, so what a nice end-of-year boost to the execs’ profit-linked bonuses! Cynicism is fully warranted, unfortunately. As often as this has happened over the years, however, we keep forgetting that the perverse callousness of issuing pink slips right before the end-of-year holidays is just the corporate way. End-of-year profit statements crowd out human decency every time. 

Even so, the company’s official statement on November 26th sounds reasonably tuned into our cosmic times, and it certainly acknowledges the massive changes so many trend-watchers are predicting these days:

“ ‘The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,’ said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. ‘We recognize the need to stay in front of changing market conditions and customer preferences to position our company for long-term success.’”
That said, this post is about not just the GM layoffs, but also about the larger context that is driving the company’s plans. To explore both at once, we’ll examine a chart for the announcement GM made this past November 26th against its 2009 reorganization chart. The November announcement didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course—it’s been gestating since the company reorganized amidst a tough recession and an auto industry bail out, and during volatile political times that have ensued.

Barra took over the GM helm during tough times, in 2014.

The announcement was interestingly timed in regards to important technological trends and geopolitical cycles that are rapidly waning and re-launching anew in the coming 2 years.  We have an economy that shows signs of slowing down, at the same time a robotics/AI-powered “4th Industrial Revolution” gains tremendous steam. GM won’t be the only company that needs to switch gears and plan carefully for the road ahead. 

GM’s current plans tells us that 2019 will probably be a tumultuous year for labor issues in general; between GM’s situation, trade wars and a host of uncertainties that are giving investors serious heartburn, the Dow looks likely to finish out the year in very erratic, correction territory.

All of this gives less high-profile companies license to ride GM’s wake, of course, like compact cars driving behind an 18-wheeler. The “big guy” will give them cover for further layoffs. Do we expect labor unions to gain strength during this period? Not likely, and their inability to protect workers from the worst excesses of capitalism will be sorely felt as things develop.  

GM’s move reflects a more profound transition, however: according to the Brookings Institute:

“GM’s layoffs are not just incremental but existential, in that sense: They are about accelerating the staffing changes mandated by the company’s aggressive transition from analog to digital products and from gasoline to electric power. As such, the new layoffs (and associated future hirings) are likely an augury of much more disruption coming — in the auto sector, for sure, but also in firms all across the economy.
Central to GM’s announcement is, in our view, what we call the “digitalization of everything.”  By that, we mean that GM’s layoffs significantly reflect the talent and workforce strains associated with the diffusion of digital and electronic technologies into nearly every industry, business, and workplace in America.”

It seems that the American workforce simply doesn’t have the requisite skills for this transition, so what are the choices going forward? Since legal migration and work-related visas have been severely curtailed under the Trump administration, companies will likely depend upon American workers acquiring the needed skills, or they will have no choice but to automate as many jobs as possible with robots and AI-driven technologies so they can selectively train human workers for the remaining positions. 

The labor/capital dynamics at work will be predictable, pretty much as we’ve seen in past lay-offs and recessions in Detroit’s auto industry. Once the impact of lay-offs across vulnerable companies settles in, there’s always a deep pool of unemployed workers to choose from—and these workers don’t feel free to hold out for the wages their experience says they rightly deserve, whatever their unions may hope for. Besides, the power of labor unions—which has always been predicated upon companies having to shut down if workers simply walk out—may be fatally compromised as this new wave of automation takes hold.

Again, those who can’t or don’t want to co-exist and work with robots need not apply.
So yes, there’s a Damocles’ sword hanging over the auto industry’s human workforce if it doesn’t gain the skills it needs to participate in the coming “digitalization of everything.”  GM says many of its soon-to-be laid off workers will be allowed to apply for GM positions in its remaining American plants, but the company knows only a small fraction of laid-off workers ever actually moves to another state to take jobs that may be temporary at best. 

Besides, GM hasn’t divulged how many human laborers will be displaced by new technologies in their near- and long-term planning; they’ve only said that “The company is transforming its global workforce to ensure it has the right skill sets for today and the future, while driving efficiencies through the utilization of best in-class tools.”  So no commitments. 

To get a handle on what’s going on more narrowly with GM, let’s take a look at the chart for the November 26th announcement (read the company’s official statement here) against the company’s current radix chart. There are several charts to choose from for this corporation (its actual founding in 1908, its incorporation in 1916, etc.), but I’ve chosen to use its 2009 reorganization under the Obama auto industry “bailout” because that chart reflects the current incarnation of the company and it also captures the tumultuous times this reorganized entity was “born” into. 

Both charts in this biwheel are cast for noon—no precise timing is available.

Biwheel #1: (inner wheel) GM reorganized, July 10, 2009, 12:00 p.m. (noon chart) DST, Detroit, MI; (outer wheel) General Motors layoff announcement, November 26, 2018, 12:00 pm. (noon chart) ST, Detroit, Michigan. Tropical Equal Houses, True Node.

Interchart Grand Square: Announcement (ANN) Pluto/So. Node (midpoint, Capricorn) opposes Reorganized GM (GM) Mercury-Sun-ANN No. Node (Cancer); this axis squares ANN Uranus Rx-Eris (Aries)-GM Eris opposite ANN Venus (Libra). This complex configuration certainly reflects what GM has to say in the official announcement, entitled “General Motors Accelerates Transformation.”  Pluto, especially in combination with the nodal axis, speaks to developments that feel fated or that redefine the entity in profound ways. Pluto’s opposition to GM Sun speaks to an existential challenge, and to the need for a fundamental transformation.

There is also the possibility of secretive maneuvers and influence-seeking exchanges. Will GM Mercury-opposite ANN Pluto portend back-channel negotiations with the Trump administration? He has planets in late Cancer that are being opposed by transiting Pluto (chart not shown), so it’s hard to say, but we can surmise that Trump will want to look like the auto industry’s “savior” before election 2020, so anything goes.

The competitive impulse and the company’s need to balance that with a futuristic transformation is reflected in the cardinal intensity of this configuration, too—it’s particularly interesting that GM made this announcement while Uranus was in its retrograde “shadow period.” We can see this as a “holding” period when plans for change are pretty well “in the hopper” and people should be notified of what’s coming, but it’s just not time to launch.

Uranus will continue transiting retrograde until January, 2019 when it turns direct at 28°36’ Aries. Between then and February 16, 2019, it will retrace the steps it retrograded between 28°36’ and 29°17’ (its Rx position on announcement day, 11/26), so it’s likely that some “other shoe” related to all this will drop in the news around that time. If GM’s plans proceed without too many hitches, by the time Uranus re-enters Taurus in March, 2019 (its 1st ingress was in May 2018), most of the major plant closures will likely be underway.

GM uses the sterile term “unallocated” to describe plants it has decided to close—Uranus is thought to be a “humanitarian” energy in so far as it facilitates rebellions and revolutions, but its nature is also radically impersonal, and there is often unfortunate fall-out and backlashes when its energy predominates. Undoubtedly these layoffs will be no exception, even if they are framed as an essential step towards a larger transformation. Did CEO Mary Barra think that unleashing this announcement right before the end-of-year holidays like some kind of corporate Grinch was a good idea? Funny how she waited until after Black Friday—wouldn’t want to kill sales!

A shot of GM corporate headquarters in Detroit.
ANN Venus (Libra) trines GM Chiron-Jupiter-Neptune (all Rx inAquarius) and inconjoins GM Mars (Taurus); GM Mars opposes ANN Sun-Jupiter (Sagittarius); this axis squares GM Chiron-Jupiter-Neptune. The latter set of aspects here constitutes an out-of-sign T-square, of course—GM’s late Taurus Mars opposes early Sagittarius ANN Sun-Jupiter and both ends square Aquarius Jupiter-Neptune. Clearly, GM’s announcement was timed for maximum immediate benefit (Sun conjoins Jupiter), with Jupiter strong in Sagittarius, ready to stimulate the company’s growth (the Stock Market reacted accordingly that day).

The t-square involves Chiron-Jupiter-Neptune, which, combined with ANN Venus’s inconjunct to GM Mars (in Taurus, disposed by Venus) suggests that the dice have been rolled in this corporate gambit, but the company may find that its resources don’t always stretch around its aspirations, and most importantly, it may be subject to outside forces that confuse its direction and ultimately deliver a Chironic “wounding.”

Notice that GM’s reorganization took place during the 2003-10 Uranus-Neptune mutual reception from Pisces to Aquarius, during that mind-blowing first year (2009) of the Obama administration when so much was up for grabs due to the recession. The pressure applied here to the company’s Chiron-Jupiter-Neptune retrograde conjunction could further delay technology (Aquarius) rollouts—indeed, that may be what the ANN Chiron is signaling by transiting conjunct GM Uranus (Rx, Pisces).

Will the ANN Sun-Jupiter conjunction shield the company from hard times going forward? This conjunction also opposes GM Venus (widely conjunct GM Mars from Gemini), and Venus is also quincunx GM Pluto, widely conjoined ANN Saturn in Capricorn, so the jury is out. Massive structural transformations on the scale GM is planning rarely happen smoothly, so it won’t be surprising if this one has its resource and logistics problems.

The bottom line for all of the above aspects is that GM may want to work harder at gaining the public’s support—in Detroit, the fact that taxpayers (and their workforce) bailed them out of bankruptcy in 2009 and stuck with them through lean times is still a very fresh memory.

Chairman/CEO Mary Barra
 ANN Saturn-GM Pluto Rx (Capricorn) square GM Juno (Aries). As the one ultimately  responsible for carrying out the plans, Mary Barra is powerfully wedded to (Juno) GM’s successful roll-out of this announced “transformation.” She has undoubtedly met some serious challenges in the past year, as Saturn transited over GM Pluto; in fact, a noon chart for Dec. 24, 1961 (her birth date published on Wikipedia) shows that her Sun-Mercury conjunction in Capricorn would have been impacted at the same time. 

She’s proven her mettle repeatedly since the company reorganized, but with Election 2020 looming on the horizon, the timing for massively disruptive transformations could be problematic. Will she be targeted in Election 2020 for short-term political gain? Quite possibly. 

On that note, let’s take a quick look at Barra’s noon chart next to these two charts. Her “fit” for the position couldn’t be more obvious, but the challenges going forward are pretty clear, as well.

Triwheel #1: (inner wheel) Mary Barra, December 24, 1961, 12:00 p.m. ST (noon chart, no time available), Royal Oak, Michigan; (middle wheel) GM reorganized, July 10, 2009, 12:00 p.m. (noon chart) DST, Detroit, MI; (outer wheel) General Motors layoff announcement, November 26, 2018, 12:00 pm. (noon chart) ST, Detroit, Michigan. Tropical Equal Houses, True Node.

The most striking thing about Barra’s chart is the incredible array of points her chart features through the so-called “collective sector” of late Sagittarius through Pisces: her very being appears  calibrated for doing something on a grand scale, the bigger the organization the better. We can see her fit for leadership in the auto industry reflected here, certainly—especially with her Jupiter in technology-focused Aquarius and her Saturn dignified in late Capricorn. 

Reinforcing all this is her waxing Jupiter-Neptune square from Aquarius to Scorpio—she is capable of making Machiavellian, back-room dealings sound logical and transparent, which may be one key to her long, steady rise within the company. Her “membership” in the 1960s Uranus-Pluto (opposed to Chiron) generation drives her: it may have lent her the adaptive skills and commitment needed to persist as a strong woman in the mostly “man’s world” of engineering, not to mention auto industry leadership. Barra’s Uranus-Pluto conjunction is quite wide (the first exact hit was in 1965), but the Uranus-Chiron opposition is close and probably signals an “Achilles heel.”

The opportunity she realized in the reorganized GM (she was appointed VP of Global Human Resources in July 2009 and became CEO in January, 2014) is reflected in her Venus-Mars conjunction (Sagittarius) sextile to GM Chiron-Jupiter-Neptune (Aquarius). Because this is a noon chart, we won’t speculate on her MC figuring into all this, as appropriate as that feels. 

Charmed though her career path may appear, however, transits will be a major concern for Barra going forward, and we get a glimpse of what those will be from the ANN chart. Let’s consider some:

Transiting Saturn conjoins Transiting Pluto at 22°+ Capricorn) in January, 2020, widely conjunct Barra’s Saturn. Try to envision how these two planetary “heavies” will be transiting over her Capricorn points between now and the new cycle launch in January 2020: in the process, Saturn will do a retrograde turn between April 29th and September 18th, when it will station direct at Barra’s Mercury/Saturn (midpoint, Capricorn). The station Rx on April 29th will restimulate ANN Pluto, so it’s possible that Barra and GM will revisit the decisions announced on November 26th, 2018 at that time and make some adjustments; the pressure will certainly be on to do so between then and September, when Saturn turns direct. 

Taking Barra’s Mercury/Saturn midpoint into consideration, it’s possible that she will feel forced to compromise her professional judgment for the sake of press coverage, and we can expect that she will be called to account for her decisions and even her words (another appearance before Congress?). The more forthright she is with any such challenges, the better. 

So the new Saturn-Pluto cycle will launch in a key sector of Barra’s chart, close on the heels of her chart’s final dispositor Saturn, and within orb of her Saturn/Neptune midpoint. Not to be overlooked here, of course, is that Barra will be experiencing her 2nd Saturn return during this period as well—a time for revisiting one’s life path and regrouping from the perspective of an older, hopefully wiser heart and mind. A Pluto-infused Saturn return could be particularly intense, with a heavy focus on responsibility and perhaps even guilt. This fits, unfortunately, with the possibility that she may fall victim to all kinds of vicious political torment in 2020. Whether this means the end of her long, solid career with GM will remain to be seen.

Pressure from the White House has been intense after GM announced layoffs.
A side note here is relevant: as we saw in Biwheel #1, GM’s Mercury-Sun conjunction (Cancer) was opposed by ANN Pluto at that time, and that heavy pressure will continue as long as Pluto remains within orb (after the Saturn-Pluto cycle launches in January 2020). The company will be reinvented, one way or another—in all fairness, its announced plan is probably a far more constructive way to accomplish this than trying to play along with Trump’s tariffs and trade wars would be. Left to those whims, not to mention political pressure, the outcome could be far worse. Trump likes to pick winners and losers, and for the sake of its remaining workforce, GM really needs to shore up its defenses against this tendency. 

Transiting Jupiter should lighten Barra’s (and GM’s) path ahead to some extent. It’s important to remember that a unique Jupiter-Saturn cycle in air sign Aquarius is only two years away (almost to the day) as I write this. In the process of closing out the waning 2000 Taurus cycle, the earth element will weigh heavily in Capricorn, and Barra will be feeling that weight in the coming two years of transits. Despite Jupiter’s innate optimism and lightness, it doesn’t function as well in Saturn-ruled Capricorn, so when it approaches GM’s Pluto and Barra’s Sun (Capricorn) next year about this time, we can expect a power shift of some kind. 

Barra should survive this passage (Jupiter’s not likely to give her the boot), but some change (or at least an updated announcement) is likely. This is reinforced by two factors: one, the new Jupiter-Saturn cycle will launch conjunct GM No. Node (!) and two, transiting Uranus Rx will trine GM’s Pluto and Barra’s Sun-Mercury (all Capricorn) from Taurus at that time. 

Finances could be a factor between now and the launch of the new 2020 cycles: with Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto all influencing Barra’s career and the shape GM will take after this transformation shakes out, major responsibilities and debts could come due, and we have been seeing signs of an economic downturn, if not a recession looming. No doubt the 2008-9 auto industry bailout will come back to haunt GM and Barra, by association—even though the company recovered strongly and repaid the government loans it received early on, taxpayers never did recoup $10.6 billion in stock purchases. This leaves the company vulnerable to political targeting.  

And, as any Michigander knows, when Wall Street sneezes, the auto industry catches pneumonia—will a downturn or recession be the most supportive environment for the aggressive transformation Barra and GM have in mind?

What works for GM will likely clash with 2020 political agendas.
If it seems like we’ve veered off into a focus on GM’s transits and lost track of Barra’s, this goes back to how closely “wedded” she has been her entire professional life with this corporation—she will experience the upcoming transits from both the personal and professional perspectives. 

Unfortunately, her natal Juno conjoins GM Uranus Rx in Pisces, a conjunction that was 
further conjoined by ANN Chiron. This signals that her fate is tightly tied into the company’s fate. This close overlap between Barra’s personal and professional/collective lives will probably influence how she processes her 2nd Saturn return: perhaps she will even start feeling that it’s time to explore who she is apart from the company.

Uranus transits. Some of this was mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating. In the ANN chart, Uranus (Aries) trined Barra’s Venus-Mars (Sagittarius), catching her Sun in the process (out-of-sign trine). This latter aspect will morph into a more supportive, in-sign trine that includes her Sun and Mercury once Uranus returns to Taurus in March, 2019. As positive as a trine can be, however, this particular one can signal political/leadership changes that either work to Barra’s advantage or don’t. 

In so far as what happens in D.C. impacts GM’s plans at all, the political climate next year is bound to be different, but the inevitable strains between a Democratic-led House and a Republican Senate and White House will make for volatile times. Investing in the future (Uranus), much less making clear-minded decisions, will require nerves of steel—perhaps the stability of Taurus will help Barra and GM stay the course.   

Neptune transits. The good news here is that aside from the generational Neptune transiting opposition to natal Pluto (Virgo) and its trine to natal Neptune (Scorpio) in Barra’s chart, Neptune appears to be a fairly neutral player during the upcoming season of transits and new cycles. This doesn’t mean it won’t wield its special kind of influence from behind the scenes, but neither GM nor Barra seem particularly vulnerable. 

The more Barra frames everything she does in a fact-based light, the better, although she may want to sharpen and humanize GM’s public relations messages, along with her own. Election cycles tend to pose difficulties for strong women—they’re easy targets on social media, etc.—so a small dash of Neptunian charm and compassion wouldn’t hurt. 

Pluto transits. We’ve already covered Pluto in some detail, but it bears repeating that this geopolitical heavy’s transit into conjunction with her natal Saturn will only deepen the intensity of the 2020 Saturn-Pluto cycle launching in that same sector of her chart. Authority, responsibility, and the massive task of restructuring a major corporation for the coming “digitalization of everything” will be hot issues for her (and the company). 

Barra may feel herself to be under siege, in fact, as every stakeholder in this restructuring process will want its due, and there will never be enough good news to go around. Needless to say, separating her personal and professional lives will be daunting, but essential for her own effectiveness. 

Final thoughts

Navigating volatile geopolitical times is just part of the job description for global corporations, yet the times we’re facing now are uniquely risky and challenging. I am particularly interested these days in teasing out the personal dimensions of these challenges and understanding how the personal and collective levels interact. In the case of CEO Mary Barra and the reorganized General Motors, those two dimensions seem especially interwoven and mutually reinforcing. She and the company will likely thrive or run aground, together. 

With other situations we see in politics and stories in the news, however, the personal and the collective seem to be like ships about to collide head on in a turbulent sea. This is where we seem to be as a society with the issue of climate change, for instance: on a collision course with the facts, for the sake of maintaining a status quo that is crumbling before our eyes, anyway. 

Change is not coming; it’s here, and it’s the only constant we can count on. Despite my own misgivings with the labor and economic disruptions, not to mention the huge backward step GM has taken with regard to producing energy efficient vehicles, I will give GM and Barra credit for attempting to work with change, as opposed to working against it. Here’s one truism we can count on, though: companies respond to consumer demands, so maybe we all have a role to play in how the auto industry transforms itself.  

Let’s see where they go from here!

Raye Robertson is a practicing astrologer, writer and former educator. A graduate of the Faculty of Astrological Studies (U.K.), Raye focuses on mundane, collective-oriented astrology, with a particular interest in current affairs, culture and media, the astrology of generations, and public concerns such as education and health. Several of her articles on these topics have been featured in The Mountain Astrologer and other publications over the years.

She is also available to read individual charts—contact her at:

© Raye Robertson 2018. All rights reserved. 

[1]cited in Brynjolfsson, Erik. The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition, p. 13.

No comments:

Post a Comment