COMPANY TOWN

Posted in Rants on March 16th, 2011 by Ed

The phrase "company town" is loosely applied to any locale dominated by a single employer. But real company towns – the kind built, managed, and subject to the paternalistic control of private enterprise – have been an important part of American economic history. From Gary, IN (U.S. Steel) to Pullman, IL (now part of Chicago) to Hershey, PA to Alcoa, TN to the hundreds of textile mill towns of the South and coal mining towns throughout Appalachia, municipalities founded without incorporation or elected government are more numerous than many Americans realize. To live in these places meant to depend entirely on the munificence of one's corporate nobleman for the services one usually gets from local government. It usually meant getting paid in company scrip usable that limited one's economic transactions to company-owned banks, stores, and so on. Some company towns, notably Hershey, PA, were considered relatively swell places to live. Most, as in the case of Appalachian coal company towns, were efficient means of brutal exploitation and debt peonage.

Michigan's widely reported 'Financial Martial Law' bill, soon to be signed into law by teabagging mannequin Rick Snyder, is portrayed by leftists as another salvo in the ongoing Republican war against teachers and public sector unions. I find that conclusion overly linear and too simplistic. This legislation – which allows the Governor to declare financial emergencies and appoint individuals or corporations to serve as city managers with the power to dissolve local elected councils and nullify employment contracts for public servants – is the first step in an effort to do away with municipal and local government altogether in favor of quite literally having private enterprises replacing government and contracting out its functions to the lowest bidder. How beautiful it will be: Wackenhut cops and local jails, Waste Management goons collecting trash, utilities sold off to Aqua America and Exelon, tax assessments mailed to homeowners from a financial services boiler room in Bangalore, and municipal employees of all types fired and replaced by temps from Manpower, Inc.

Gives a new and literal meaning to the phrase "company town," doesn't it? And the kicker is that the Governor is empowered to pay the new city managers any amount he sees fit before turning over total control so that they may further profit from a variety of harebrained privatization schemes.

This legislation speaks to the ideas that have kept right-wingers' hearts aflutter since the early Reagan years. It's not removing government from the private sector; it's replacing government with the private sector. For-profit education corporations running the schools. Private military/security outfits as cops. Subscription-only fire protection and ambulance service. City property auctioned off to developers (with zoning laws created ad hoc by unelected city managers; sure, you can bury nuclear waste here!) No pesky citizens, city councils, or local laws to get in the way. Corporate owner-governments that can charge you whatever they're bold enough to charge for services and utilities. And there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it. Your government will be a board of directors in some office park in Arlington, VA.

What a beautiful vision. It's like watching the Koch brothers masturbate.