YEARS OF MAGICAL THINKING

When living outside of a major metro area the economy tends to revolve around a very small number of large employers. Most often these are, despite what right wingers would lead you to believe, either government (city/county, school districts, police and fire, etc) or private industries that are little more than thinly disguised conduits for government money (hospitals, higher education, state contractors). Usually there are a handful of actual private enterprises that are large enough to matter; the monolithic Factory or Mill that lends a company town feel to the area. Its fate and the fate of the local population are intertwined, Accordingly the average person becomes more intimately familiar with the inner workings of otherwise unremarkable companies than a person living in, say, New York or Boston would ever be. A thousand people are probably laid off or otherwise rendered unemployed in New York City every four hours. In the middle of nowhere, where the prospects for finding a different job at anything above the minimum wage, no benefits plateau are bleak, that same 1000 layoffs will hit the community like an earthquake.

Late last week – "Break bad news on a Friday" being one of the cardinal rules of modern corporate PR – Mitsubishi announced the closure of its sole U.S. manufacturing facility in Normal, IL. Along with State Farm insurance and Peoria-based Caterpillar, Mitsubishi was one of the sole companies with a major employment presence in Central Illinois (and one of the only blue collar employment opportunities). Now other than State Farm (and Beer Nuts…) the Bloomington-Normal area, population 135,000, is entirely dependent on Illinois State University and other public sector sources for employment at any level above the service industry. Local reaction has been the predictable mixture of anger, sadness, and resignation; this has happened so many times "downstate" (i.e., any part of Illinois not immediately adjacent to Chicago) that it hardly surprises residents anymore.

The reason for the plant closure could not be more obvious. Unless you live in the area, where employee-discounted Mitsubishis are ubiquitous on the roads, or are really interested in the auto industry, there is a good chance you had no idea Mitsubishi still sold cars in this country. They have not been a player in any segment of the U.S. market for two decades. Other than their $40,000 boy racer Evolution model, a favorite of the teen Fast & Furious set, no product they've made since the early 90s has garnered more attention than the bare minimum obligations of the automotive press. Nor have any reviews surpassed "Well, I guess it's not awful, but there are probably 10 options I'd buy before this" in the realm of the positive. More often the commentary has been downright brutal; what may be the company's final new model in this country, 2014's Mirage, was almost immediately placed on "10 Worst Cars of all time" lists. The Normal factory was producing about 50,000 cars annually – most sold at a substantial discount and loss to employees or in annual summer fire sales – despite having a capacity of over 300,000. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this wasn't a going concern.

Irrespective of the complete lack of advertising for Mitsubishi products and their stark inferiority to the competition, I'll give you ten seconds to guess who or what shoulders the majority of the blame for the factory closure in the local press.

If you didn't guess the UAW, try again.

I don't know what I expect from people anymore. We've all read What's the Matter with Kansas? and internalized its narrative by now. We've all become well enough versed in armchair psychology to understand that people who experience this kind of economic dislocation are going to look for someone to blame and their choice of whipping post might not be terribly logical. But I want to grab people and shake them, not to make them See the Light but simply to get an answer to the question of what exactly the absence of unionization would have done to improve this situation.

What exactly is it that could have helped this situation – a moribund, clueless company designing products for third world markets and then trying to sell them to Americans at market prices? Are we angry that the UAW didn't give Central Illinoisans the right to work for the $8/hr Mitsubishi could have paid factory workers in rural Mississippi? Are we upset that we never had the chance to work for the $1/hr that Mitsu pays its manual labor in Thailand, Malaysia, and India to assemble cars (the justifiably maligned Mirage is made entirely in Thailand)? This isn't an example of a company closing a factory and moving it elsewhere for cheaper labor. The company is getting ready to abandon the U.S. market entirely because it sucks at what it does and it is not remotely competitive in this market at any labor cost.

It used to be that when the company went through layoffs and firings, people got angry with the company. Or "the bosses." Or "management." Even a passing understanding of this situation would direct the area's anger toward Japanese boardrooms where bad decisions and bad products originated. If ever a company had a legitimate economic argument for closing a factory, Mitsubishi has one here. Nobody buys their cars because their cars are shit. I understand how "the unions" are an easier, more proximate target than a faceless corporation. I understand why people blame them even when it makes absolutely no sense in context. It would be interesting, though, to know exactly what these anti-union people envision would have happened here without Union Interference. The obvious answer – "Everyone would have made less and then gotten laid off anyway" – hardly seems worth getting in knots over. An unemotional observer might describe that as no real loss at all. A smart one might conclude that the only chance we missed was for the situation to be worse.

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79 Responses to “YEARS OF MAGICAL THINKING”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I don't blame the UAW, but perhaps at lower wages the cars could have been sold at lower prices and would have been more popular despite their low quality. After all, Old Navy still thrives despite the fact that their clothes are far lower quality than Gap, Inc.'s other mainstream brands, The Gap and Banana Republic. Of course, poorer-quality workers may have 6

    I must admit that I've never really considered buying anything other than a Honda or Toyota (or a Nissan Leaf or a Tesla if I could afford the latter), but I do see Mitsubishis on the road occasionally here in the Bay Area.

  2. Anubis Bard Says:

    A wise man once said that no successful solution ever began with the phrase, "If everyone would just . . . " But you know, if everyone would just stop buying crap from elsewhere and spend a nickel with their neighbors . . . So yeah, for solutions I got nothin'.

  3. Katydid Says:

    My spouse is from a small town in western NY that had a general middle-class vibe from the several factories when he was growing up–toys, furniture, torches/welding equipment, ketchup, potato chips. There were also two union-staffed grocery stores. They're long gone starting in the 1980s; the closest place to buy groceries is now the Hellmart just outside of town. If it weren't for the small hospital right in town, the library, and the National Guard armory, there would be no work at all. As much as I would love to leave the metropolitan mess I live in now and go to someplace where rush hour is actually only an hour and not most of the day, I'm not eager to give up the luxury of work options; when the company I had been working for showed signs of imploding, it was a matter of weeks to interview and sign the offer letter for another company. My SIL in western NY was out of work for 3 years when her factory went south, before getting a job in the school system.

    Maybe it's a mid-west thing to blame the unions? One of the attractive features of New York (Gulag, can you confirm?) is that so many people have been in unions or had family members in unions that they know exactly where to place the blame–the CEOs and boards of the companies that are running to sub-minimum-wage workers.

  4. pathman Says:

    I worked a temp job at that factory when I was in college at ISU. Man, the workers did not like me with my "getting all educated and stuff." It was an interesting study in what I never, ever wanted to do again.

  5. Steve in the ATL Says:

    So whom did they blame when the non-union Saturn plant closed?

  6. fasteddie Says:

    "Diamond-Star cost Illinois about $41,000 per employee in an incentive package worked out in 1985." http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-04-11/news/8904030161_1_foreign-plants-foreign-investment-new-plants

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    "Maybe it's a mid-west thing to blame the unions? One of the attractive features of New York (Gulag, can you confirm?) is that so many people have been in unions or had family members in unions that they know exactly where to place the blame–the CEOs and boards of the companies that are running to sub-minimum-wage workers."

    @ Katydid,
    In urban areas, yeah.

    In suburban and especially rural areas – uhm… not so much.

    The anti-union propaganda from Nixon and Reagan, and all of the rest of the more recent conservatives, has sunk into the minds of those people.

    They've turned 50 years of people who knew union members, and said, "Hey, I want somma dat!", into 30 years of, 'Why do THOSE people get benefits and pensions, and vacations, and sick time, and WE don't? TAKE IT AWAY FROM THEM"

    Divide and conquer always works wonders – if you're the ones dividing and conquering!
    Sad, but true…

  8. Major Kong Says:

    @gulag

    It's like the old Russian prayer: "Lord, my neighbor has two cows and I only have one. Please kill one of my neighbor's cows."

  9. Khaled Says:

    Dayton has lost a ton of manufacturing jobs over the years. And people blame unions, the management, foreigners, etc., for the plant closures. But here is why people blame the unions. One of my old employees got a job right out of high school with at a Delphi plant. He worked there for a couple of years, and then Delphi started to have some hard times. Management threatened to close to plant unless the union took concessions. The union negotiators told everyone to reject the deal that the management was proposing. The workers did. The plant then closed, everyone was out of work, and the negotiators left. Who was really to blame? Who knows, but the unions didn't do themselves any favors.

  10. HelloRochester Says:

    @ Katydid- what gulag said. My family, as my handle tells you, is all in Rochester, NY. All of the men in my mother's family are union elevator guys. And guns- and-tinfoil-hat libertarians/teatards. And they endlessly complain about the 1% of their paycheck that goes to union dues despite the fact that they make extremely livable pay thanks to good wages and real old-fashioned overtime negotiated by the union. One of my uncles is functionally illiterate and still owns two homes and a very nice boat on that horrible horrible union job.

  11. moderateindy Says:

    The unions make it so we can't compete…..Odd how places like Germany manage to compete just fine despite having the burden of unions.
    IL does not have a "business friendly atmosphere" is one of the things I hear from my conservative friends all the time. It's a ridiculous "Luntzian" euphemism which really means that Illinois doesn't allow the business community to completely and utterly exploit its workers and the environment. What conservatives fail to recognize is that they advocate a paradigm with states against each other in a race to the bottom. And that race goes on steroids when they make it international. I don't know about you, but I don't want my state to be like Alabama or Arkansas.
    Of course the truth is the conservative intelligentsia do not want a viable middle class. They believe a strong middle class is a danger to their ability to govern and stay in power. People that have a comfort zone when it comes to basic life staples tend to turn their attention to things like social, and economic justice. This is what happened in the 60's. People that are barely scratching out an existence live in fear of losing everything in an instant. They are willing to put up with crappy wages and conditions because they are constantly on the edge of ruin. This fear is easily manipulated and turned into things like bigotry and xenophobia. That's why it's easy to get people to blame things like unions, or immigrants.
    By the way, this is not conjucture on my part. People like Bill Buckley, and other "fathers of the modern day con movement actually openly wrote about the dangers a strong middle class posed to conservativism and the status quo, back in the early 60's. A strong well educated middle class led to liberalism and questioning of the power structure.

  12. sluggo Says:

    @katdid

    Illinois is actually two states, Chicago and everything else (south of I-80). Everything else is as red as you can get. Chicago is what tips elections to democrats and boy o boy does that piss off the folks from downstate.

  13. Jesse Says:

    Alaska Pulp Corporation (APC) operated two pulp mills in Sitka and Wrangell, Alaska and received timber at subsidized prices from the Tongass National Forest. By the early 90's the price of wood pulp plummeted and APC shut down it's Sitka plant. The timber contract with USFS was predicated on APC operating both mills; when Sitka shut down their contract was voided and the Wrangell mill no longer had a supply of timber (from an old growth rain forest, which it turned into freaking wood pulp) and, consequently, shut down.

    Here's the wrinkle…they'd already busted the union so NOW who would they blame? Go on, take a guess…

    "The Environmentalists".

    Still. To this day. Oh and they named a street after the company President.

  14. Major Kong Says:

    @sluggo

    A quick bit of math tells me that roughly 75% of the population of Illinois (12.8 million) lives in the Chicago metro area (9.5 million).

    Yet I'm sure that everyone downstate considers themselves to be the "true" residents of Illinois.

    It's like a microcosm of US politics.

    Self disclosure – I grew up in the Chicago metro area.

  15. Eric S. Says:

    @ c u n d gulag: "'Why do THOSE people get benefits and pensions, and vacations, and sick time, and WE don't? TAKE IT AWAY FROM THEM"

    Every time I hear this argument I ask why they think we should take benefits away from someone instead of demanding them for ourselves. Almost invariably it stops the argument dead in the water.

  16. DocAmazing Says:

    The new Normal.

    It might be worthwhile to remind people of what Mitsubishi manufactured in the late 1930s and early 1940s…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_Zero

  17. Skepticalist Says:

    So many people think of the 1950s as a time when things were pretty damned great! For white protestants anyway. Of course it was also a time of very high corporate taxes and strong unions. Not that those taxes were all that hard to avoid of course. Still, more people than ever could own a pretty good Chevy and even afford to drive it around a bit.

    Thank God that's over though. We found out just in time that labor was where Communists dwelt.

  18. Emerson Dameron Says:

    It's time to have a frank discussion about what "austerity" really is.

    It's not Desperate Times calling for Desperate Measures. That would require the rich to take cuts as well. Or at least start coming up with new ideas.

    It's an effort to permanently drive down the western standard of living until US and EU laborers meet their Chinese and Indian peers on their way up.

    Prove me wrong, Walker Administration.

  19. Katydid Says:

    @Gulag & HelloRochester; thanks for your input! Maybe it's just the people in the small town my spouse is from (about an hour west of Rochester)? Back in the Bush era, I went up there for a family party and got to talking to the neighbors and was stunned by how liberal and politically aware they were. My spouse and most members of his family worked in some kind of union job; his father (who never finished high school) supported a wife and four kids on a union job, the spouse and his siblings worked their way through college in union jobs…then the jobs all left that area. I have never heard anyone bash unions in that area, but naturally I don't know everyone in that area. :-)

    @Skeptalicalist; the 1950s were when my first-generation American parents (their parents were all immigrants from various European and Scandinavian countries) were finishing college and starting their first jobs. My grandparents on both sides, who came to the USA as children (3 out of 4 speaking no English when they got here), owned their own homes and a car, had stay-at-home wives, and sent their children to college. One was a (union) bus driver, one was a (union) ferryboat engineer. Taxes may have been higher in the 1950s, but the standard of living certainly seems much higher than it is today. Both grandfathers had their jobs their entire adult lives; one died on the job (literally) and the other retired and took a pension.

  20. Major Kong Says:

    Back in the 50s a CEO made roughly 40 times the average worker's salary rather than 4000.

  21. Jack the Cold Warrior Says:

    "DocAmazing Says:
    July 27th, 2015 at 5:02 pm
    The new Normal.

    It might be worthwhile to remind people of what Mitsubishi manufactured in the late 1930s and early 1940s…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_Zero "

    Well, the Zero was a fast and very maneuverable fighter that dominated in China and the early Pacific war. But it ultimately was a peice of shit fighter because it had no armor or self sealing gas tanks. One incendiary round in the tank and Boom!
    Even early, less maneuverable US fighters like the P-40 and F4F developed diving tactics that killed Zeros, then the Navy fielded the F6F Hellcat, which had a powerful engine, heavy armor, and self sealing tanks and the Zero was doomed. In the Great Mariana's Turkey Shoot, the Hellcats (mainly) shot down 425 zeros and other Japanese planes, only 60+\- US planes were shot down.

  22. Jimcat Says:

    "It might be worthwhile to remind people of what Mitsubishi manufactured in the late 1930s and early 1940s…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitsubishi_Zero"

    And Ford and General Motors made tanks, jeeps, and armored transports during the war. What is your point?

  23. Major Kong Says:

    Heck, GM's Opel subsidiary made trucks for Germany during WWII.

    I believe the US govt paid GM for damages to the plant after we bombed it.

  24. Michael Says:

    Unions = government = African-Americans = Communists = Islamic terrorists.

    Not kidding.

  25. J. Dryden Says:

    @ Michael: You left out "the gays."

    I'm relieved, in a way, that Ed is confessing to a general "I Got Nothin'" on this one–that is, that the people who suffer the most at the hands of companies that prefer to minimize costs beyond the point of social responsibility, the politicians who are funded (and, post-service, hired) by them, and the media owned and operated by them, are the people most likely to support the agenda of their abusers.

    Ed has given us the useful "Battered Workers Syndrome," to go along with Franks's equally useful explanation of the successful strategy of swapping Social Issues for Economic Issues at the ballot, so as to guarantee the election of politicians and the appointment of judges who will accomplish none of the promises made to stop abortion, etc., but who will continue to enable the outsourcing of the manufacturing base to overseas markets, while making sure that the now-chronically-unemployed blame it on those (like the unions) who tried to stop it from happening, or those who are completely unrelated to the problem (Hispanic immigrants.)

    I'm relieved because I keep trying to think of something that could be said–something that could be heard. Something that can let these people know that nobody is ever or will ever come for their guns, or their right to worship–that they need to stop worrying about that stuff, and to ignore anyone who tells them to do so. Something that will slip under or over that wall of 'Merica!, and just speak to the suffering human being behind all that bluster–the one who sees his paycheck buying less and less, who sees his city's infrastructure falling apart, who cannot get the medical care he and his family need–and just say, "Worry about what's really happening to you–take two seconds to feel what's really hurting you, and don't let anyone tell you what it is first."

    But…is there something that I can say that can be heard? I want there to be. But for the life of me, I can't think of what it is. The Capitalist Aristos got to the sans-culottes first, and told them that the reason they were starving was that those fucking Tennis-Court-Oath-taking fuckers wouldn't let the fair market do its job–and they were believed. The mob isn't storming the Bastille–it's lining up to defend it. Please extend this analogy as far as you please; I'm too depressed to continue.

  26. wetcasements Says:

    I moved to a small-ish Pacific Northwest town for a year, thinking I'd relocate to be closer to my family.

    Literally the worst mistake of my life. The best job I could find was in a factory, making a few dollars above minimum wage. (Although interestingly, I did have health care and it was a very good plan. Go figure.)

    As for local government jobs, there's a thing in USian small towns. Those government jobs are very much a private club. Move to the area with a degree _not_ from local Third-Tier State? You're basically blacklisted.

    So in many ways Ed, it's actually worse than you describe.

    Oh, and of course that factory ended up shutting down. I mean, at least it was something but now even that's gone.

    When people sing the praises of small town "real" America I actually shudder. What a bleak, horrible place. Nice scenery I guess.

  27. Katydid Says:

    @JDryden; my parents, nearing their 80s, have fallen into that "Rill Murkuh" Faux Noize schtick. The children of immigrants themselves, they blame the guys in the Lowe's parking lot willing to swing a hammer all day in 100-degree-heat for $20/day for taking away "the good jobs". My mother, who married right out of college and never held a job in her life, who's more-than-comfortable from her share of my father's post-military pension, his military retirement, his 401k, and her own Social Security (paid out because of my father's work) is always carrying on about "The takers!" She doesn't see the irony. They both carry on about "Obamacare"…as they then ask for a ride to one of their countless doctor visits to the Tricare facility paid for by the US taxpayer. They could go the Medicare route, but Tricare covers more. They recently breathlessly told me that "Obama" (never his title) was going to make all churches illegal and jail all Christians and make it illegal to say grace over supper…and neither of them has stepped foot in a church in decades and we never prayed before meals when I was growing up.

    I don't recognize these people anymore; they're certainly not the people who raised me. They've completely fallen under the spell of right-wing Talking Points, and there is simply no introducing them with reality because they love their little bubble-of-persecution.

  28. Procopius Says:

    @c u n d gulag at 3:33: I was in high school in a suburb of Detroit in the 1950s, and there was a lot of anti-Union propaganda. I remember the teachers as being pretty progressive and pro-labor. A couple of them taught us some of the history that wouldn't be in the books — the race riot of 1942, the "Battle of the Overpass" from 1933, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. Don't remember if Haymarket Square was in the history book. Anyway, the anti-union sentiment didn't start under Nixon and Reagan. There was lots of anti-union propaganda from practically every employer throughout the mid-West going back to the Lochner Period. My father was adamantly anti-union until the company he was comptroller of went union — I think it was United Mine Workers, really bizarre — and then he discovered what a great channel of communication the union was for heading off problems before they got big.

  29. A Says:

    Fox (right wingers) have brain-washed a lot of parents/grand-parents. There is real psychology behind it – hearing the same thing over & over, never hearing an alternate view point…

    FWIW the only thing sadder than the numerous cases above is a prison town.

  30. sluggo Says:

    The Unions in the 1970's didn't help their cause very much, either. The would strike to get another 25 cents /hour, endorse Reagan( how'd that work out , Patco), tolerate corruption in leadership, and really completely mismanage their image with the public.

    They also had a sense of entitlement, and an attitude of I got mine so screw the rest of you. So when the tide turned, much of the public went along with it.

    Very sad.

  31. Khaled Says:

    @sluggo- see my post about Delphi in Dayton. The union did itself no favors by walking away from all of the people when the plants closed. Local members saw the national union as leeches who took their money and didn't help them. I was a member of a local union at a Kroger in Ann Arbor in college, and they were very good at collecting $50 a paycheck every week out of my $6.25/hr job (that's not a misprint) but it was the store manager that got everyone raises because the Meijer was paying $7.25 and he was having trouble finding employees. Oh, and what did the union do for us? Nothing. The "union rep" hated all of the college and high school kids working up front, and when someone did get in trouble, pretty much said "whatever" and didn't help at all.

    Part of the reason plants close is the tide of globalization. Here's a case from b-school, which is based on a real world case. I'm using hypothetical numbers, but the ratios are pretty much spot on. Tee shirt company sells for $10 a unit, but the plant in Western Mass that has stood in the town for 100+ years costs $12 a unit. No way to lower costs anymore. What do you do? Open a mill in South Carolina where the unit cost is $8 a unit? The company did, but kept the Mass plant open. Or, do you close both plants and sub-contract the work out to a plant in Bangladesh where the unit cost is $4 a unit? Closing the Mass plant and sending all of the work to SC gets you a $2 a unit profit (totally unacceptable to your shareholders) or you get it from Bangladesh and get a $6 unit profit. If you keep the Mass plant open and reduce the production, the costs just go up per unit, further making it impossible to keep open, but at least by closing the Mass plant you keep the company from going bankrupt and everyone losing their jobs, including the Mass plant.

    What is the answer? Tariffs? Okay, say you do a tariff on any T shirts coming in to the US from Asia to $4 a unit to keep the South Carolina plants competitive. Well, maybe Asian countries start charging tariffs on US foodstuffs and buy the stuff from Europe instead. Or, companies move production to Hungary where it costs $6 a unit instead, and where a tariff could start a trade war with the EU.

    Do you charge $12 instead? If you do that, your marketshare plunges and the company goes bankrupt and everyone is out of a job. Say the Asian tariff reduces the players in the market, and the supply goes down, bringing the price up to $12 a unit. Yay, more money! Consumers lose (price has gone up) and that company from Hungary starts shipping more shirts over. While not as efficient as a US company, and costs are $7 instead of the $6 the US company could get there, they see the price has gone up to $12 and knows if it goes in at $10 a unit, they will win marketshare, and the price per unit will eventually be driven back down to $10.

    See the problem? Globalization is good for US companies that sell overseas, and bad for US based production of goods. Tariffs don't help, because while it will protect certain industries, it will hurt other industries, and ultimately companies will find a way around them anyway.

  32. democommie Says:

    "One of the attractive features of New York (Gulag, can you confirm?) is that so many people have been in unions or had family members in unions that they know exactly where to place the blame."

    On the OTHER unions. Not kidding.

    I live in Oswego, NY where the firemen and cops are blamed by the teachers and medical techs/nurses for bloating the budget–and they're all blamed by the guys who work at Novellis (union equivalent pay and benefits–and, soon, a union if the courts have their way) and the Nukes (3 of those) whose paychecks are guaranteed by you, me, the ratepayers and the taxpayers.

    It really is "I got mine, fuck you!".

  33. CRHayne Says:

    Stop me if you've heard this one…

    A capitalist, a union organizer and a republican sit down to share a plate of ten cookies. The capitalist takes nine of them, turns to the republican and says, "That union guy is trying to take your cookie!"

  34. Sock or Muffin? Says:

    Another Rochester native here and I'd say about 90% of my family aside from me worked for Kodak in one form or another for many years. It was a great company up until probably the late 80s. It was almost like the Macworld Expo when they'd release a new camera or film. I recall many friends in the hood whose parents received the magical yearly 'Kodak Bonus' which was usually enough to buy a car or take a good long family vacation. My 94 year old grandmother STILL gets her pension, which she'd better as she worked there her entire life. Then the 90s hit and it was "Did your dad/mom/brother/uncle make it past this round of layoffs?" As far as I can remember no one ever said anything about unions or benefits. It was ALWAYS the fault of management. In the dying times it seemed like Kodak went through a CEO a year. Yeah no one will want a digital camera… great move there guys.

    Side note: I don't remember seeing a Mitsubishi built in the last 10 years that didn't have a black film on the rear bumper from burning copious amounts of oil. That alone would be a good sign that they're crap.

  35. Heisenberg Says:

    I agree that many working class people seem to blame the wrong factors for their economic woes. But as at least two others have pointed out, the unions haven't always been so great themselves in the last 50 years. I can't really fault people for being at least a *little* down on unions in the modern era.

    From a broad historical perspective, of course unions have been great forces in the development of American capitalism. Left unchecked, the owners wouldn't have given a shit about the workers. But at the same time, I recognize that the labor movement itself bears a lot of responsibility for its own irrelevance today. It's not just a conservative myth that some of our major labor unions have, in the last 50 years, been marked by greed, corruption and incompetence – something many American workers experienced firsthand (see Sluggo and Khaled's anecdotes). In addition, in many cases the unions really did coerce companies into very costly concessions that a) weren't really essential to labor rights, and b) legitimately did put those companies in difficult fiscal situations in a rapidly changing economy.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not playing violins for corporations here. I have no sympathy for them. But I am saying that the *combined* interactions of owners and labor exacerbated America's competitive decline in manufacturing. It used to be a US Labor vs. US Management game: With American growth and dominance as a given, they just squabbled over how to divide the spoils. But now it's a US Manufacturing vs. Foreign Manufacturing game, and all the US team's bickering only served to hasten our decline.

    What's the solution? I agree with Khaled that the forces of globalization are ultimately to blame – and I don't know how we can put that genie back in the bottle. Of course I support unions more than owners (by a long shot), and the average American worker should too. But I can understand why that worker might be a little confused and angry at all of them.

  36. sluggo Says:

    I still blame management, just in this case it was the management of the unions.

    Douchebags often rise to the top.

  37. Major Kong Says:

    The problem with globalization, and I don't know the solution, is do we really want the price of labor being set by slave labor in Burma?

    That's no exaggeration. Apparently some companies are moving production from China to places like Myanmar because that Chinese labor apparently is just too darn expensive.

    The problem with a race to the bottom is eventually you hit, you know, bottom.

  38. Katydid Says:

    @Major Kong; the Walmarti-ification of American consumer society; ALWAYS lowest prices! A decade ago, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book about working low-wage jobs, including a stint at Walmart. As a Walmart worker, she saw co-workers who couldn't afford to buy the clothes Walmart sells. Further example of race to the bottom: at least one Walmart store had a food drive…for Walmart workers who were going hungry.

  39. Barry Says:

    Heisenberg Says:

    "I agree that many working class people seem to blame the wrong factors for their economic woes. But as at least two others have pointed out, the unions haven't always been so great themselves in the last 50 years. I can't really fault people for being at least a *little* down on unions in the modern era."

    It's not that they're a *little* down; it's that unions are frequently #1 on their blame list, no matter what.

  40. bb in GA Says:

    I am not a Fox fan, but I will keep blathering on – on a regular basis – get over your FOX Derangement syndrome.

    There are presently ~243 Million adults in the USA

    Fox's 'best' program draws 2 to 3 million (Bill O' Righteous)

    And while we are on it, Limbaugh draws about 4 million listeners per day that are five counted if they listen every day. (18 – 20 million per week)

    They are an utter fail at brainwashing hardly anybody.

    You may be right about attitudes you encounter, but you are blowing smoke if you blame it all on Fox or Limbaugh.

    //bb

  41. sluggo Says:

    If memory serves……that plant in Normal was suppose to be Diamond Star Motors, a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

    I also suspect that the UAW presence in the area (Peoria/ Caterpillar) was, at the time, an attractive feature to attract the plant.

    If anyone ever wants to get a feel for Northern/ Central Illinois, I recommend the Tom Hanks movie, Road To Perdition. There is an incredible amount of desolation between towns, even now, and the film captures it perfectly. Beans to the left of me; cornfield to the right. God did I ever spend a ton of time 'downstate' Illinois.

  42. sluggo Says:

    @bb

    18-20 million is half of AARP's total membership. (37 mil according to Wikipedia) That's the target crowd. I'd say that is significant.

    ps. Limbaugh listeners also tend to be rural.

  43. Mo Says:

    But…is there something that I can say that can be heard? I want there to be. But for the life of me, I can't think of what it is. The Capitalist Aristos got to the sans-culottes first, and told them that the reason they were starving was that those fucking Tennis-Court-Oath-taking fuckers wouldn't let the fair market do its job–and they were believed. The mob isn't storming the Bastille–it's lining up to defend it.

    Dryden, I wonder the same damned fucking thing.

    As to brainwashing, it need a receptive ground. FOX as mouthpiece for the GOP is raining fertilizer on a fallow field of pre-existing prejudices and fears. The field owners never make the effort to plant something good, and so the rain results in a junkyard of nasty useless weeds.

    Validation is a hell of a drug.

  44. Major Kong Says:

    @bb

    I think it's because just about everyone I work with is a white, upper-middle-class, middle-aged male and therefore prime Fox demographic.

    Actually I fit that demographic as well. I must have slipped through the cracks somehow.

    Just last week I was flying with a guy. The trip was going pretty well when he says:

    "Did you see that thing on Fox News about Planned Parenthood?"

    "No, I don't normally watch Fox News."

    And awaaaaaaaaaay we go…………………….

  45. Mr. Frebus Says:

    "I don't recognize these people anymore; they're certainly not the people who raised me. They've completely fallen under the spell of right-wing Talking Points, and there is simply no introducing them with reality because they love their little bubble-of-persecution."

    I can say pretty much the same thing about my dad. Never went to college, but worked his way up to a corner office, he has a pension and an insane health plan that pretty much pays for everything. Also collects social security, natch. I remember being politically aware from an early age, and don't remember him being very political. In the last 10 years when I go home to visit, I hear ranting and raving about the "war on christmas", "obamacare", etc. etc. And guess what channel is always on the TV if there isn't a football game or golf tournament?

    Somebody has been working on a movie about this (for a while, I guess. Will they ever finish it?!?!): http://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com

  46. Really? Says:

    Although I am too young to really remember or have been any kind of part of the era of strong unions, the history of the whole affair is pretty clear.

    By the late 60s Early 70s the unions were a source of power and influence. Becuase they had influence, the sort of people who chase influence sought out jobs where they could do "front office" type work for unions. Thats how you get national level people who are willing to see a plant close and cripple a community instead of negociate. They figured that the rules don't really apply to people as important as they are and what matters is that the union fights well and they got to lead the strike.

    In the next generation the influence seekers all became stock traders and then they decided that the rules of the banking system didn't apply to people as smart and important as they are and of course comoditziing home loans is a great idea.

    Its the same mentality, it crops up EVERY generation. It always around and it actually doesn't having anything to do with left/right (unlike the empathy gap which also never goes away).

    There will always be people who think that they are so smart the rules shouldn't apply to them. They will gravitate to whatever the easiest way to make money/power/influence is, and they will leave a trail of misery in their wake.

  47. Anonymous Prof Says:

    Guys, I hear you when you say that globalization is the problem, and that union corruption has exacerbated it. And yet…

    I just have a problem with the fact that over and over again I'm asked to bend over and take one for the team. And the person asking me is always some MBA moron who is going to get a million-dollar raise BECAUSE he fucked up the institution beyond repair.

    It's like Ayn Rand. The whole point of Ayn Rand is to make crybabies feel like men. So she presents this myth of the bold, brilliant John Galts who know how to get results. That would be a threatening role model, if you were actually expected to get results – but the flip side of the coin is that John Galt can't get anything done because the little people keep dragging him down.

    My students asked me what I thought of the fast food minimum-wage strike. I said the minimum wage should probably be about $15/hour. They were shocked. "But gosh, professor, how can McDonald's stay in business if they have to pay $15/hour?"

    They can't. THAT'S THE POINT. McDonald's and Walmart and all those other shits receive an ongoing government bailout that is BIGGER THAN CHINA'S ENTIRE DEFENSE BUDGET, every year. Why? Because they are so incompetently run that they can't make a profit unless the government pays half the wages of their employees.

    Let them fail. JOHN FUCKING GALT says only the strong survive, right? If the CEO of McDonald's can't run his company, then he is incompetent, and he should be fired. If McDonald's can't find a competent CEO, then they will fail, because that is how capitalism fucking works, dipshits.

  48. Anonymous Prof Says:

    bb in GA,

    if FOX news is so irrelevant, then why is it so fucking inescapable? I would never watch FOX if I could choose, but every business seems determined to play FOX on a big-screen TV in the waiting room.

    It points to a really sick attitude on the part of, well, every business owner in Oklahoma, for one thing. If I had a bank and played porn on the TV in the waiting room, people would lose their shit. Obviously some choices are better than others, in this situation.

    Rather than play, say, the Food network or something equally innocuous, they play a channel that is notoriously hateful and divisive.

    It's like Ed's flowchart. "Should I do blackface?" "No."

    Should you fly the confederate flag? No. Because why would you want to? Are you just trying to piss people off?

    By playing FOX, the business is telling its customers to fuck themselves. I'd take my business elsewhere, but what choice to I have? Which bank, cafe, bakery, landlord, or sandwich shop *doesn't* play FOX in the waiting room?

  49. Bitter Scribe Says:

    The current governor of Illinois hates unions and is holding the state budget hostage, to the point of shutting down the state government, until he gets legislation weakening all unions. He says it's to make the state "more competitive."

    More competitive with what? Mississippi?

  50. Katydid Says:

    @Anonymous Prof; there's at least one chain of fast food (Moo Cluck Moo), in Michigan, that starts workers off at $12/hr and rapidly escalates them up to $15-ish. The owners of the restaurant were willing to forgo obscene profits and settle for merely great profits in return for lowered hiring and training costs and workers whose families could afford to eat at those restaurants. I'm browsing through their menu now (they're online) and the prices are roughly about what I'd pay to eat at the cafeteria run by my employer. I can't speak to the nutrition, but it certainly can't be any worse than any other fast-food chain.

    Costco is another employer known for high wages and strong benefits, and it's very obvious when I go into my local Costco and the employees don't look like they're being held there at gunpoint. Turnover is very low.

  51. sluggo Says:

    Dusting off my Econ Degree here.

    SELLING PRICE HAS ALMOST NO GODDAMN RELATIONSHIP TO THE COST OF PRODUCTION!!!!!!

    Macroeconomics 101 : Price is determined by Supply and Demand. There is nothing in that basic model that has anything to do with the cost of production.

    Do you know what has a high cost of production. An Art History Major with a Double Minor in Whatever. Yet that cat can only earn $8/hr. Why? Lots and lots of Art History Majors applying for those limited jobs.

    The sooner we all understand this, the happier we all will be.

    SELLING PRICE HAS ALMOST NO GODDAMN RELATIONSHIP TO THE COST OF PRODUCTION!!!!!!

  52. Barry Says:

    Bitter Scribe Says:

    "The current governor of Illinois hates unions and is holding the state budget hostage, to the point of shutting down the state government, until he gets legislation weakening all unions. He says it's to make the state "more competitive."

    More competitive with what? Mississippi?"

    Yes. But don't worry; none of the savings will ever end up in *your* pocket, so don't worry about having to pay more taxes :)

  53. S M McBean Says:

    I've been avoiding Walmart for about a decade, since shortly after they squeezed out the last local businesses from our smallish town. It doesn't seem to have affected Walton family obscene wealth yet, but I'll keep trying.

    I'm reminded of a favorite old Doonesbury strip from the Carter years.
    Duke is replaced as ambassador to China by Leonard Woodcock. Honey says, "Perhaps they feel he'll be sensitive to the plight of the working class."
    Duke: "Of course labor leaders are sensitive to the plight of the working class. That's why they avoid being a part of it!"

    My union (at a state university) is a mere shadow. I'm a member but most think why pay dues when they all get the benefits. Without enough members, no bargaining power. The price of a parking pass to go to work is rising to $175. Here in Republican land they can't even see they keep voting against their own interests.

  54. Tom Says:

    The Mitsubishi plant closing actually has a lot of personal significance for me. Their US corporate HQ is in the small Orange County, California town I live in. I am sure the plant closing will "trickle down" to layoffs at the corporate level.

    On the other side, my mother ended up with shares in a small community bank that had been founded by some distant relative. As her mother had been an only child her shares were diluted less than other family members, and she ended up being the plurality shareholder. The bank has branches in Chattsworth, IL and you guessed it, Normal. It is the only business in Chattsworth, a town with 1 stop sign. An already poor situation for them is likely to get worse.

  55. Robert Says:

    One of the nice things about living in Oakland, California is the relative scarcity of televisions showing Fox News in public.

  56. Linda Says:

    The real punch line is that I'm sure the state and locality have them tons of incentives, maybe even downright grants and tax breaks (meaning that they were given tons of goodies and contributed bupkus to the public good), to locate there. So they screwed 'em, and left them on the side of the road, and the blame is falling on the co-victims. Because if we seriously faced up to our role as supplicants to the wealthy, we would go crazy.

  57. Khaled Says:

    @Linda- One of the closed GM plants in Dayton has a new tenant, a auto glass maker from China (Dayton, where we are so broke, the Chinese outsource HERE). They have gotten a dump truck load of tax breaks and incentives from both the city (Moraine), the state, etc. I doubt they will ever actually pay taxes to the state. And all so they can employ a couple hundred people. Seriously, it'd be better for the government to mail everyone checks for the amount of money they are giving away for a company to operate here.

  58. Linda Says:

    @Khaled–but then how could politicians brag about bringing in jobs?

  59. sluggo Says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamond-Star_Motors

    It looks like the original package for the Normal Plant was $274 million. Like Khaled said, may have been cheaper to just give the money away.

  60. Mo Says:

    sluggo – somehow I think there may be more to it than that….

    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/07/what-is-price-theory.html

  61. Jado Says:

    "if FOX news is so irrelevant, then why is it so fucking inescapable? I would never watch FOX if I could choose, but every business seems determined to play FOX on a big-screen TV in the waiting room."

    Of course they do – no business owner wants to deal with a frothing screaming Fox fan who thinks the business is a liberal front because it won't play Fox. And, from what I have seen, Fox fans are rabid fans, just waiting for an opportunity to explode. So everyone who isn't a Fox fan either tolerates it, or quietly leaves to go to another business. And the business owner avoids an ugly scene.

    It's the path of least resistance. Unfortunately, it only seems to validate the Fox fans' rage and hair-trigger to believe that everyone agrees with them.

  62. Khaled Says:

    @Mo- your link doesn't really dispute what Sluggo is talking about. The best example I can come up with of supply/ demand is price of tickets to sporting events. You have a fixed supply, and the demand therefore sets the price. In Columbus, the demand for hockey tickets is quite low, so I can get a ticket in the lower bowl, 7 rows up, for $80. It costs $60 to get in the arena with bad tickets to see the Penguins in Pittsburgh. It's over $100 to see the Leafs or Canadiens. Lower bowl tickets to see the Leafs are sold on the 3rd party market, and are so expensive that it is cheaper to fly to Tampa or Miami, spend the night, sit in a great seat and fly back. Retail, where I worked for 15 years, is where supply and demand meet. If a price was cheaper on an ad item, we sold more. The issues come in with "stickiness" of prices (prices go up, but rarely go down) and elasticity of prices… i.e., things like gasoline or electricity are going to be purchased no matter what. There are a variety of models to try and explain those things, but the basic supply demand curves are pretty much the foundation of all modern economic thought.

  63. Furloaded Says:

    Re: Fox news
    I was once at a flight training facility in Wichita and a sign was posted next to the TV not to select Fox News. Most of the instructors and American students were outraged of course, being that most pilots think that they are in the club of rich folks and not the hired hand they actually are. I inquired and found out that the not insignificant number of foreign students were routinely offended and insulted by Fox News' particular brand of bullshit.

  64. Katydid Says:

    @Furloaded; a few years back, I had to travel for work and took the whole family along. The hotel where we stayed had a great breakfast buffet, but there were 2 televisions tuned permanently to Fox (we asked to have the channel changed and nope, the hotel staff wouldn't do it).

    In the mornings, the children (then 10 and 12) ate their breakfasts and refuted the Fox news talking points–it was so obvious even children were calling bullshit (to be fair, they had prior practice refuting their grandparents' Fox-generated talking points). The whole family discussed the countless logical fallacies.

    The couple of times we were joined by foreign tourists, they smiled and agreed…the Muriken travellers got really annoyed.

  65. Linda Says:

    I can testify to the eagerness of Fox lovers to play the outrage card. Our library's aid io visual department has a couple of TVs turned on softly. One ass raised hell because one wasn't turned to FoxNews, and complained until it got turned on. At my gym, there is always one Fox News TV, even though most would prefer ESPN.

  66. Anonymous Prof Says:

    Wow, guys. I guess that explains a lot re: FOX news. It even jibes with bb's comment: FOX's viewership is small, but they're also crazy bullies.

    This scares me. This is not something I grew up with. The idea that we have a substantial chunk of the population getting brainwashed like this. Every time liberals get together, you have at least two or three people who say their parents were transformed from reasonable, sweet people into rageaholic Nazis by FOX. So yeah, this is a thing.

    And what it means is, the library MUST have at least one TV playing FOX at all times, OR ELSE. Today, we're lucky they only insist on one TV. Tomorrow, they'll insist that all the TV's in the gym play FOX, and nobody will be allowed to watch ESPN at all.

    It scares me that this is how the Nazis started. You read something like Das Boot, and the narrator is always bb in GA, saying, yeah, sure, there was always ONE guy on the submarine who was all about that Sieg-Heil bullshit, but the rest of us thought Hitler was an asshole. So, gee, does that one Nazi on the submarine not count? Because his side sure seemed to be calling the shots when it came to choosing the submarine's mission.

  67. Kaleberg Says:

    "I don't blame the UAW, but perhaps at lower wages the cars could have been sold at lower prices and would have been more popular despite their low quality."

    Labor is about 10-15% of the cost of a car at first world UAW wages. Even if you zeroed that out, you'd be hard pressed to get people to buy a sucky car for maybe 10% off. (The other 5% would go to CEO raises.)

    Blaming labor costs is the usual first resort when analyzing a business, but labor costs are rarely the problem. Usually, this comes up in arguments about the minimum wage. When people run the numbers, it turns out that a $15 minimum wage might add as much as 25 cents to the price of a fast food burger, and would probably add less.

    I think a lot of people feel there is a certain virtue in other people's poverty that somehow they can benefit from, perhaps in the next kingdom, for their good acts in inflicting it.

  68. Kaleberg Says:

    RE:

    "But gosh, professor, how can McDonald's stay in business if they have to pay $15/hour?"

    They can't.

    —-

    But they can. They pay that much or more in countries like Denmark and Australia. If they raised the minimum wage to $15 here, it would 10-25 cents to a Big Mac. It might add even less if employee turnover went down. A higher minimum would also mean more business for MacDonald's. The people who work there usually can't afford to eat there, except, maybe, a splurge on a Dollar Meal.

    Businesses like to cut labor costs because it is a low risk way of increasing their own profits. If you cut ingredient quality, you might lose customers. If you rent or buy cheaper digs, you get a cheaper clientele. If you aim for higher efficiency, you have to think and you might have to buy new equipment. Cutting wages is the easy route to a bigger management paycheck.

  69. democommie Says:

    "Rather than play, say, the Food network or something equally innocuous, they play a channel that is notoriously hateful and divisive."

    I doubt that bb in GA sees FuckTheNew'sCorpse programming as anything other than a "correct" version of PBS Frontline.

    One of my B-i-L told me once that Omaha was in the running for a BMW plant that was going to open in the U.S. The competition was someplace in SC (where it wound up). I asked him why he thought anyone that was importing fucking containerloads of parts from Europe to make cars that are purchased by people with big paychecks would locate their plant in a landlocked middle-class (at best) economy. He, btw, loves FuckTheNew'sCorpse, Rush and the rest of the Reichwing's Disintelligentsia.

  70. Anonymous Prof Says:

    @Kaleberg:

    thanks for adding some facts to the discussion. Do you have a cite for the 25 cent estimate? It would be a good fact to have in my pocket the next time this comes up.

    Do you have any comparable study for tomatoes? My students gave me the old "if we pay the employees a living wage, they won't have any incentive to improve themselves." (Note the royal FOX 'we' being used by a bunch of actual fast-food employees, here.) I told them that if we subsidize McD's, the management won't have any incentive to, you know, actually run their business properly.

    One example I use in this situation is tomatoes. The farmers bitch and whine about how "nobody will pick tomatoes but Mexicans, because everybody else is too lazy!" Well, I think a lot of people would pick tomatoes if you actually paid them. "But then tomatoes will be too expensive to sell!" Nonsense- Hugh Hefner spends $8 per ice cube. No such thing as "too expensive to sell." (Like I said- a real John Galt earns his tomatoes. If the FOX-watching wannabe rabble wants tomatoes, then they should get to work and become millionaires.)

    But is this based on any real cost-benefit analysis? If the farmers had to use legit labor instead of exploited labor, how much would tomatoes cost?

  71. Greg Says:

    Anonymous Prof, the tomato pickers of Florida organized and demanded higher wages and the price of tomatoes went up. By 5 cents a pound, or something ridiculous like that. Agriculture has been sucking the blood of Mexicans since the Bracero Program of the 40s, but it really got rolling with the H-1a(now I think H-1B) temporary slave labor visa program. I'm too lazy to do your Googling but Mother Jones and the New Yorker have carried stories about the tomato pickers and the slave visa by John Bowe. Googling Immokalee Florida tomato workers will also give you the story about people who risked death to get paid and housed better.

  72. Major Kong Says:

    Even my father, who is generally pretty reasonable, sometimes liked to bash the unions.

    After Corporate America downsized him at age 60, he ended up selling used cars.

    One time we had this discussion:

    "Those assembly line workers should only make $8 an hour"

    "Dad, how many cars did you sell to people who made $8 an hour?"

    "Oh"

    Like I said. My dad's actually pretty reasonable.

  73. Templar Says:

    Greg, H-1B is for "highly skilled" workers, mostly in IT, accounting, and other professions requiring significant education. The H-1B program is its own nightmare of exploitation of foreign workers/indentured servants driving down wages.

  74. Anonymous Prof Says:

    @Greg, thank you very much- I'm checking it now. The price increase was actually ONE CENT PER POUND, after labor agitation that more than doubled the pickers' wages.

    Wow.

  75. Greg Says:

    Templar, I always mistype a for b with those damn things. They're awful in different but very similar ways.

  76. Greg Says:

    Apparently WordPress does not want me to acknowledge my constant inability to keep the a and the b straight. At any rate it appears AP found what he needed regardless.

  77. Beleck Says:

    lol, the usual diversionary tactics, like blame the unions, isn't something the Right wing is willing to admit with Faux Noise. BB has no clue, probably from being Southern, how hatefilled Faux Noise is or, maybe he's lucky not to have seen someone lose their mind under the constant mind control Faux Noise espouses.

    watching Faux Noise is good indicator of how the average white male in the South is so "captured" by his "location, location, location," lol. When i see Faux Noise on, as it is in most any business, Making Money is Business' only concern nowadays, i know i have some ignorant closed minded, non thinking zombie to deal with.

    it would be nice not to find Faux Noise not on the Boob Tube. but down South, here, that is what makes the South, the South. lol ignorance fear and programming by the Right Wing.

    what amazes is how easily this lady i knew who had a government job and repeated word for word the Rush lies. she listened to Rush on her commute from home to work.

    and she was supposedly a very smart lady, from many of our conversations. it just amazed me to think she bought the Right Wing BS lock stock and barrel, but she did. and she is from New Hampshire, but now lives in the South. lol

    St. Reagan, Ayn Rand and the Faux Noise really has succeeded, in ways i couldn't begin to understand. mainly because i doubt anything either the R's or D's say. lol

    but Faux Noise is part and parcel of why America is so fucked. so royally fucked. i have to admit where the Republicans/Democrats Business Owners succeeded so well.

    and to think lots of Southerners think the Confederate Flay doesn't symbolize HATE!!!!

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