Steve Miller, CEO of the newly bankrupt Delphi Corp., has warned that his company’s descent could become the tipping point for not just the fall of Detroit, but for all of industrial America.


“What’s happening at Delphi is just a small part of a huge national problem,” Miller told Newsweek for a story in the October 24 issue. “This is our country’s dilemma as we talk about Medicare and Social Security.”


Since Miller arrived in Detroit this summer to save General Motors spin- off Delphi, the feared and revered corporate fireman has been loudly proclaiming an uncomfortable truth: Detroit, the last bastion of blue-collar affluence, is collapsing under the weight of pension and health care costs, Newsweek said.


Now if Miller can’t convince the powerful United Auto Workers to take a two-thirds compensation cut, money-losing GM and Ford have little hope of getting desperately needed concessions. “If they can’t modify their labour contracts,” said Miller, “Ford and GM are very much at risk of spiralling down into an ultimate bankruptcy.”


In the meantime, Delphi’s employees have cast Miller as the villain of the working man. Each night, he stays up late with his laptop, responding to every piece of hate mail he gets from his workers. A recent example: “You will walk away from this process paid for life, just like every other funeral you’ve presided over.” Miller’s response: “I’m painfully aware that I’m responsible for the welfare of thousands of employees. That’s what keeps me up at night.”


In another instance, while Delphi was in feverous (and ultimately fruitless) negotiations for a bailout from GM, Miller found himself sitting next to GM CEO Rick Wagoner at an executive confab in Washington. Miller’s BlackBerry buzzed. He glanced down to find a flaming e-mail from one of his employees. “You are a rapist and a pillager and a thief of the working man’s rights, and may you rot in hell.” Miller leaned over and showed it to Wagoner, saying: “Hey Rick, this one’s for you.”