News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where the jobs aren't: a Labor Day meditation

The weakness in the American job market is being played for all it's worth--which isn't much--by the political parties.  The Obama administration is claiming it has saved and is creating jobs through it programs.  The Republicans are claiming that his programs are a failure and their ideas will create more jobs.  Meanwhile, the real problem with job creation is being ignored.

 People such as  Glen Beck claim that it's the fault of the unemployed.  There are 29 million people out of work, and there are 29 million people out there who insist that it is not their choice.

The fact that no one wants to face is: there are no jobs in America to be created.  They have been outsourced. 

A friend of mine went to a party where one of the games was a version of a treasure hunt,  Everyone was driven to a huge mall where they were to compile a list of items made in the U.S.A.  They were given an hour.  The mall did not include a grocery store.  The person who won came up with only five items.  Most of the contestants complained about how frustrating the game was.  One woman who looked only in clothing stores came up empty and asked if anything was made in America any more.  The man who won found his items in a stationary store and a tool and lawn and garden store.

The point is that the driving force in the market place is cheap labor.  And freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity are not part of the labor market.   While our government is a democracy that gives lip service, at least, to those attributes, the business community is feudal.  It depends for making its money on serfs who cost little to maintain and who are expendable when they cannot produce enough to sustain CEO bonuses.

One of the developments regarding the current recession and jobs involves General Motors.  As a condition of the loan which bailed the corporation out of insolvency and gave it another chance, the company was required to get efficient.  That meant that it had it to close unproductive operations and fire workers. Its down-sizing has involved the closing of its Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer divisions.  But it is investing heavily in new facilities, and the consequent jobs, in China.  At some point, it plans to market its China-made cars in the U.S.

The problem with American manufacturing is deep and complex.  Labor costs are a part of the problem, but they have been posed as the only problem.  They aren't.  My history with automobiles illustrates the experience Americans have had with cars.

I obstinately refused to buy foreign cars.  I owned one in the 1960s.  It was a 1959 Volvo that simply was not up to the American Interstate system that was developing at the time.  It was well built and could handle ice and snow fairly well.  But it did not have the power for sustained highway driving.  I drove to Highland Park, Ill., to visit relatives once in a freezing sleet and snow storm.  When I got there, I could not get out of the car.  The doors were frozen shut.  We had to go to a nearby gas station and let the car warm up in a service bay before we could open the doors and get out.  The car was tightly built,  but it had its drawbacks. 

The  Volvo experience ended at a remote rural intersection when, on the way to cover a story in the boondocks, the car threw a piston rod.  I never got to the story, and the newspaper state editors had to set up a correspondent's relay to get me back to the news room.  My next car was a Rambler station wagon with a V8, which I had until I traded it in on a Dodge wagon.

I vowed, for many reasons, to buy only American-made cars.  So I went through a series of Dodges and Jeeps (even a couple of Gremlins) which all served well for their time.   My last Jeep was going on 12 years old when it needed constant service and was very expensive to keep in  repair.   The service manager at the garage where I had it serviced remarked one day that I should try a Honda CRV if I like small, 4-wheel-drive SUVs.  One day when the Jeep was in for one of its frequent repair sessions, the manager said the dealership had just taken in a nice CRV on trade and I should look at it.  I did and ended up buying it.  That 12-year old car is still in the family, with my son now owning it.  My spouse and I have Toyotas, a Matrix and a Rav4.

The switch to Toyota is another story of car failures.  After shuttling my family around in a series of Chrysler minivans (which involved three transmission replacements) during their school years, we got a Ford Windstar, which was a good deal when we bought it.  But it was in the shop being repaired more than being driven.  It was a nice car in many respects, but its flaws were a constant plague.  The front passenger seat was uncomfortably drafty in the winter.  The power steering kept failing.  Some times the doors wouldn't shut all the way.  There were a multitude of small problems interspersed with a lot of big ones.  When wheel bearings started failing, we traded it for a Matrix and took a huge beating in the price.  This was the second time I had a foul Ford.  The first was the one I traded in on the Volvo.  That Ford could not keep gears from doing whatever gears are not supposed to do, and it left me stranded in strange places,  like the Volvo ended up doing.   The Honda and Toyotas are better engineered than those American cars, and are illustrations of how the Japanese car makers were focusing on engineering while the Americans diddled around with marketing as the key to competition. Like many of the people I know who drive foreign cars, I made the switch not because I preferred the foreign cars; but because I gave up on the expense and inconvenience of trying to keep the American cars running.  I was very slow to learn.

As the American car companies played their brief footsie dance with the Obama administration to try to be saved, their main public relations ploy was to focus on labor costs.  They never once mentioned the reason why they were losing out to the foreign competitors:  engineering and quality of cars.

In the automobile industry, any new jobs to be created will have to be through new companies manufacturing new kinds of cars.  The old jobs have been ceded to foreign car companies.  They are simply not in America to be revived.

Wind generator blades account for 325 jobs in Aberdeen
That is true of production jobs in general.  They are no longer in America.  There is nothing to revive.  If there are to be production jobs in America, they will have to be created from scratch.  It is significant that 325 productions jobs in  Aberdeen are in the production of wind generator blades.

A common argument circulating in the country today is that our children and grand children will be saddled with the debts that the country is accruing today.  The fact of our shortage of jobs is, similarly, because of decisions made 25 years ago.  We are reaping the result of trickle-down economics and the decision to move from manufacturing as the basis of our economy to service jobs.  The critics of 25 years ago were asking who would buy or afford the services when there was no production to support them?  We are living with the answer in an employment rate that will not budge off the 9.5 percent mark.

The much-heralded Reagan Revolution was devoted to busting labor. When Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, he won the opening battle in an all-out war against unions. The war on the working middle class was spearheaded by a propaganda campaign against unions. They were portrayed as organizations devoted to power and greed, whose members devoted their energies to sloughing off and contributing nothing to the American economy or general way of life.  That portrayal is still evident in South Dakota and on this Labor Day has found its expression on some blogs.  The attitude fomented is that jobs are created by the moneyed and powered class and workers who do not accept an ignominious serfdrom are obstacles to realizing the American dream.

There were some attempts to keep production jobs in America, but they were negligible in the corporate decisions to demolish the American workforce.  For a time WalMart bragged that its merchandise contracts were negotiated with American companies that used American workers to manufacture their products.     But in order to meet the low prices, those American corporations outsourced the work to China, other countries in the Pacific Rim, and some Latin American countries.  Try to find an American-made product at WalMart today.  The result will be what my friends found at that party.  America is out of the business of making things.

When the Obama administration expanded the bailout programs started by George W. Bush, it did so reluctantly under the realization that letting the financial industry and automotive industry fail in America might well be a final close-out of American production jobs.  The administration came up with money and restrictions in an attempt to prevent the corporations from repeating the irresponsible, incompetent, acts of greed that created the conditions for the recession.

Rather than focusing on how to revive and re-establish American production companies and jobs, Obama's opposition sees the attempts at salvaging the automotive and financial industries as a communist-like socialization of American business.    The corporate executives whose firms have been saved are now among the leaders leading the opposition to Obama.  The main jobs his bailouts saved were those of the people who see company success as the continued outsourcing of jobs and the ultimate serfdom of the American labor force.  American corporations have no interest in building the country; their only interest is in turning their corporations into fiefdoms whose success depends upon keeping its workforces in a state of subjection and weakness.

All the talk about constitutional governance is not talk that includes the working class as part of that governance.  The Constitution touted by conservatives in America does not include economic freedom, equality, and justice.  It is, in fact, a Constitution conceived as a return to the feudal classes and relationships to which America was invented as an alternative.

For workers this Labor Day, the focus is what is happening to the American workforce and who is actually behind the trends that sustain unemployment.  The Obama administration's biggest failing is in giving corporate executives another opportunity to impose their corporate version of fascism on the American workforce.

If American workers vote for the Republican agenda to overturn all that Obama has done, they can devote future Labor Days to pondering that fairly brief time in American history  when workers were free men and women who were regarded with some sense of value and equality.  That time may well be nothing but a memory.

1 comment:

Thad Wasson said...

The days of the plants employing thousands of men and women in America are over. If you want a career you have to find a niche or personalize a product.

I believe our federal government wants a vibrant China and Pacific Rim economy. We need someone who has the money we need to borrow.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States