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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Corporate patriotism: the unAmerican way

 {Or, when Chinese communism beats American capitalism}  Click here for update.  

 Election or American Spring?
It is not that sometimes the mainstream media shows a preference for liberal policies in its editorial stances that bothers conservative America.  It's when it digs up and reports facts that ties the knots in the regressive panties that gall so much.  To the GOP, God came to earth and revealed himself as a person in the form of a corporation.  And "Thou shalt have no other god before me" means total obeisance to the corporation that supplies your livelihood, monitors your life, and decides whether and how you shall live.  The worship of business is how you are expected to show your god-fearing patriotism.  Even if it means betraying your country.  

Before we go on discussing the nature of  God, we should acknowledge his omnipotence.

Our corporate father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy brand.
Thy dividends come,
Thy bonuses granted on earth,
As it is in the CEO mind.
Give us this day our daily wage,
Reduced and without healthcare benefits,
And forgive our presumptions of equality,
As we forgive them who fire us,
And lead us not into equity,
For thine capital is the kingdom,
The power that grants us life
And the glory of your perks
For ever, or whatever you decree.
Now., we hope  we will not be struck dead for bringing up a New York Times--the text of Satan--piece on Apple and how the corporate god loves all the children of the world, especially those in China whose government in effect subsidizes Apple.  It is unthinkable for the U.S. government to regulate corporations, but it is just fine to reap profits from the subsidies of the Chinese government and the labor of the people over whom it exercises authority, in the  name of the corporate godhead.

Apple is a company that many of us admire.  It has produced superior and innovative products.  It seems to embody the idea of free enterprise, a company started by a couple of guys working out ideas in a garage.  At one time it proudly boasted that its products were made in America, and Steve Jobs at one time said he was as proud of one its factories as he was of the products in produced.

But things change.  The products change.  And so  does the way of doing business.  Apple just announced one of the most lucrative quarters in its history with profits of $13.06 billion which earned stockholders $13.87 a share.  The story in the New York Times tells how the Chinese people with the collaboration of the Chinese government contributed to that success.  In this country such a collaboration would be called socialism.   It begins with summarizing the current attitude of Apple executives:

It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.
Then the story goes into details of why the Chinese workforce is so superior and how it got that way.  It uses as the case in point the year 2007 a month before the company was to release its new iPhone in stores.   Steve Jobs was not happy with the phone.  It had a plastic screen which he thought would scratch and be a big detraction  from the product.  Instead, he announced that he wanted a hardened glass screen that would not scratch and he wanted it in a month when the iPhone was scheduled to go on sale in the stores. 

One executive explained the situation:

A '"critical advantage for Apple was that China provided engineers at a scale the United States could not match. Apple’s executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly-line workers eventually involved in manufacturing iPhones. The company’s analysts had forecast it would take as long as nine months to find that many qualified engineers in the United States.”

Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul.

In mid-2007, after a month of experimentation, Apple’s engineers finally perfected a method for cutting strengthened glass so it could be used in the iPhone’s screen. The first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City in the dead of night, according to the former Apple executive. That’s when managers woke thousands of workers, who crawled into their uniforms — white and black shirts for men, red for women — and quickly lined up to assemble, by hand, the phones. Within three months, Apple had sold one million iPhones. Since then, Foxconn has assembled over 200 million more.

A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

It was Steve Jobs who set in motion the actions that illustrate the motive forces in American industry: 

 “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”

After one executive left that meeting, he booked a flight to Shenzhen, China. If Mr. Jobs wanted perfect, there was nowhere else to go.

But while Apple is far from alone, it offers a window into why the success of some prominent companies has not translated into large numbers of domestic jobs. What’s more, the company’s decisions pose broader questions about what corporate America owes Americans as the global and national economies are increasingly intertwined.

“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”

 Though components differ between versions, all iPhones contain hundreds of parts, an estimated 90 percent of which are manufactured abroad. Advanced semiconductors have come from Germany and Taiwan, memory from Korea and Japan, display panels and circuitry from Korea and Taiwan, chipsets from Europe and rare metals from Africa and Asia. And all of it is put together in China.

For technology companies, the cost of labor is minimal compared with the expense of buying parts and managing supply chains that bring together components and services from hundreds of companies.

The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory. It had a warehouse filled with glass samples available to Apple, free of charge. The owners made engineers available at almost no cost. They had built on-site dormitories so employees would be available 24 hours a day.
The article says:

What U.S. plant can find 3,000 people overnight and convince them to live in dorms?”

Today’s new jobs are disproportionately in service occupations — at restaurants or call centers, or as hospital attendants or temporary workers — that offer fewer opportunities for reaching the middle class.

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

Mr. Jobs even suggested it might be possible, someday, to locate some of Apple’s skilled manufacturing in the United States if the government helped train more American engineers.
 The recounting of the iPhone story provides a stark glimpse into why American workers are under attack by corporate interests and why the reduction, possibly the elimination, of a middle class has become such an important part of corporate strategy.   The Chinese workers live in dormitories and work 12-hour shifts.  They, in effect, live in a  labor camp.  And this is the  model of a workforce that American corporations see as the key to  their success and profits.

The dismantling and weakening of the American workforce began with the anti-union and trickle-down economics of the much-vaunted Ronald Reagan.   From today's vantage point, the vision of a labor force working in prison-like conditions is the model that corporate America thinks working people must submit to or be expended as impediments to corporate prosperity.  A signal as to the corporate dedication to that policy is the fact that corporations are operating at huge profits while the workforce in America is being pushed into poverty.

A scarcely noted fact about life at the Foxconn work camp is that last year 14 workers committed suicide and earlier this month 150 workers gathered on the roof of the plant and threatened mass suicide over the working conditions.  

 Free enterprise has been redefined in the corporate world to mean the freedom to exploit people held in thralldom and the freedom to fuck over a majority of the population.

The current political campaign does not involve disagreements on how to get the economy to improve for the benefit of all Americans.  It devolves into a basic conflict between those who are against equality and those who strive to achieve it.  America has divided itself along philosophical premises in which the  very concepts of equality, liberty, and justice are being challenged and disparaged by the right wing.  It defines the political divisions within the nation.  The Displaced Plainsman cites an article from the Wall Street Journal which claims that inequality has spread from economic circumstances to a national system of cultural belief and preference.

The GOP derides discussion of inequality as class warfare.  But it is the  corporations and their policies that have declared war on the working class and are forcing a worldwide movement.

In America, there is growing pessimism that the 2012 election will have any relevance in resolving the issue of inequality.  America is poised to join people throughout the world who resist the tyrannical and demeaning rule by and of corporations and those who support them.

Before we ever get to an election in November,  America is poised to have an American Spring and join the disaffected people throughout the world.  The issues are well defined by the campaigns of the political parties, and the democratic process of elections seems impotent and irrelevant to resolving the fundamental issues raised by the corporatocracy of liberty, equality, and justice. 

[Keith Bradsher, Hong Kong bureau chief,  covering Asian business, economic, political and science news,Charles Duhigg , based in New York. are the writers of the New York Times story.   David Barboza, Peter Lattman and Catherine Rampell contributed reporting.]

1 comment:

John said...

It appears that living in the man-camps in the oil patch is similar to living in a dorm as thousands respond to jobs paying a living wage. If US industry pays a living US wage like is done in the oil patch they will have more than enough qualified applicants. The problem is that so long as trans-Pacific transportation is cheaper than paying Chinese wages the modern US industrialists refuse to pay local living wages so the will remain overseas.

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