CEOs of American companies complain of a lack of skilled workers and the lack of job training.
But if you look at what most of them do, and not what they say, they don’t really want productive workers. They want replaceable workers.
One obvious example of this is Boeing’s decision to have its new Dreamliner made by inexperienced, low-paid workers in South Carolina rather than members of the International Association of Machinists in Seattle. They had production and quality problems in South Carolina, but their priority evidently was to get away from the union.
Now the same management philosophy is being applied to public schools, universities and hospitals. Well-trained, well-paid professionals are harassed, laid off and replaced with inexperienced newcomers.
If you define efficiency as that which is most convenient for managers, there is something to be said for this. An ignorant subordinate is less likely to give you an argument than an experienced and skilled subordinate. It is easier to treat people as replaceable parts if they lack knowledge and opinions.
And cutting jobs and wages can free up money for executive bonuses and shareholder dividends if your time horizon is limited to the next fiscal quarter.
I remember reporting on business in Rochester, N.Y., in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1980s, I reported on efforts by Kodak, Xerox, General Motors and other large companies to adopt the Deming worker-oriented management philosophy.
By the 1990s, that had mostly gone away. Big manufacturers turned to outsourcing, off-shoring and two-tier wage systems. This didn’t solve their problem. Now decisions about American industry are made neither by worker-management teams nor by industrial engineers. They’re made by financiers.
This is a broad generalization, and of course, in a country as big as the USA, there are many exceptions. But I think this is the way things are going.
But American prosperity requires a healthy middle class. If the prevailing management philosophy is to seek short-term profit by driving down wages, then in the long run there are will be customers for the products of American industry aside from a tiny economic elite.
That’s why, as Geoghegan wrote, that only a strong labor movement can save us. Organized labor is the only thing that stands between the American middle class and the slide to the bottom.
The one thing that can save America by Thomas Geoghegan for Salon (book excerpt)
What Would Keynes Do? by Thomas Geoghegan for The Nation (book excerpt)
The Big Fix by Thomas Geoghegan for The Nation
Ten Things Dems Could Do to Win by Thomas Geoghegan for The Nation
Bringing Labor Back by Chris Miasano for Jacobin.
Let Old Labor Die by Jeremy Gantz for In These Times.
Why Workers Won’t Unite by Kim Phillips-Fein for The Atlantic.
A Shaky Solidarity by Michael Kazin for Bookforum.
A More Perfect Union? by Thomas A. Kochan for Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Tags: American labor unions, American workers, Declining wages, International Association of Machinists, Labor Unions, management philosophy, Only One Thing Can Save Us, productive workers, replaceable workers, skilled workers, Thomas Geoghegan, Unions, Workers