Labor Day 2011

By Robert Mark on September 5th, 2011

In our house when I was a kid, Labor Day was always a big celebration. My father retired at age 65 from life as a union plasterer, a profession few people can even define today. My grandfather on my mom’s side, John Kikulski, was one of the first presidents of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union in Chicago in the early 1920’s so that side of the family understood union cards, worker rallies and strikes pretty well.

I carried it all down for a portion of my life as a member of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) and the AirLine Pilots Association (ALPA). Today, having run CommAvia for 16 years, being part of those groups seems as if it happened to me in another life. But much of what I learned in those years of working for someone else still sticks pretty closely with me.

Where We Came From

Labor Day began with an 1894 request from then President Grover Cleveland in an attempt to satisfy the demands for such an event from the unions and also – Cleveland hoped – to help end a crushing strike against the Pullman Railway Company in Chicago. He eventually sent 12,000 Army troops to Chicago to help squash the strike, which led to the death of two-dozen workers. Imagine a Democratic president in the U.S. trying something like that today should ALPA walk out at United Airlines.

Looking at the state of the economy here in the U.S. today though, makes me realize that many of the same issues labor fought for a hundred years ago may have fallen to the sidelines for awhile, but are still around if anyone chooses to notice.

In the early 1900’s, work life in the United States was tough, with people struggling to make ends meet, while the controllers of capital had the easy life. Some thought the analogy of famous CEOs stealing the food right out of the mouths of hungry workers and their families captured the sentiments pretty well, hence the robber baron label attached to the George Pullmans, John Rockefellers and the J.P. Morgans of the time.

Today, much is the same here in the states, although we must clearly acknowledge that the life of the average working stiff is not much better in other parts of the world either. Hundreds of American companies have shipped tens of thousands of jobs overseas to take advantage of cheaper labor in the past few decades, something that in a capitalist society they are perfectly free to do of course. Those cost-cutting measures have kept millions of Americans out of the labor pool as companies have stashed billions of dollars in cash in the kitty for a rainy day, unwilling to reinvest that cash here in the U.S. – as in hiring more employees.

But Americans have also, to a degree, created the atmosphere that allowed this to happen. Most Americans believe unions and the larger labor movement have little value, assuming that they MUST perform precisely what their companies demand, precisely the way they demand it. People under 40 these days can’t imagine standing up to management, saying no or fighting back for a better standard of living. They simply quit and begin elsewhere all over again.

The question this Labor Day though is not simply where this is all headed for the working stiffs of the world, but where is that capitalist America we’ve all grown up with headed? Business says it has no confidence in the American economy and hence can’t imagine spending its cash here. Or is this – as some Democrats claim – all some part of a grander idea to be certain our current President Barack Obama falls flat on his face in front of the nation so a Republican candidate can take his place?

No matter the ultimate strategy, this kind of war against labor – union or non – can’t continue for much longer before our nation begins to split at the seams.

So here’s a piece of simple and free strategy for any of the Republicans reading this. You could build some tremendous admiration for big business in this country right now – Obama or not – if you began reinvesting some of the billions you’re making overseas back here in the states. Next November, you’d have millions ticking the ballots for the Republicans if you did too.

Me, I wouldn’t vote for the Republican anyway as you might have guessed, but I’d sure give those CEOs and shareholders a tip of my hat for doing the right thing to put the country – and millions of hard-working Americans – in the money again.

So come on Apple and Walgreens and Office Depot and Dell and Halliburton and a thousand others and all those shareholders of course. How much money in the bank is enough? Don’t Americans at least deserve the opportunity to TRY and help your companies make a profit here in the states?

I think they do.

Rob Mark, Publisher

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24 Responses to “Labor Day 2011”

  1. Dave Says:

    Investing in America is exactly what Boeing is trying to do in South Carolina. Unions (through NLRB)have stopped Boeing from creating thousands of jobs there. The same plant would be up and running if Boeing had decided to build it overseas.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    Excellent point Dave. I agree with you on this to some degree. No doubt Boeing would like to grab some cheaper labor for sure which they can in SC.

    But do you seriously believe that sending an entire Boeing manufacturing line outside the U.S. is an option for these folks? I don’t.

  3. Jason Says:

    The purpose of a company is not to give people a job.
    If demand for a product isn’t there why would a company hire more people to produce it? Maybe we should just hire people to digs holes in the ground and hire more to fill them? Perhaps Apple should hire 100 people to bring an iPad to market when it may only require 5?
    Companies aren’t being miserly about cash. No one can even predict demand partially because 1. Labor in the US is more expensive to produce a product. 2. There’s too much uncertainty about what regulations are coming down the pipe. Unions and govt regulations are mostly responsible for more manufacturing leaving the US.
    Would you hire someone just to give them a job? How do you define how much money is “enough” to have in a bank account?

  4. Dave Says:

    Boeing has modified 747s to carry large parts in from all over the world. Russia builds many of these parts and I’m sure would offer many incentives to build a manufacturing plant there.

  5. Robert Mark Says:

    You make an interesting point Jason and I would never tell a company that they must exist to hire Americans.

    However, labor clearly has a role in all manufacturing jobs. The key is to bring the two groups together in a way that a company would be willing to keep jobs here in the U.S.

    But I have a reason a bit more grand than simply delivering the shareholder value I was taught was the holy grail in graduate school.

    If we – and I mean labor and management – don’t find a way to blend some of our needs together in a way that each gets some of what they want and can keep America rolling along in some new way, the country we know as America will cease to exist.

    I hope it doesn’t happen in my lifetime, but it might.

    Just as corporations decide to give something back to the communities in which they reside, I believe these same companies are going to need to decide whether they want to do their part to keep the United States alive or not.

  6. Robert Mark Says:

    And Dave, as you said, the Russians would be perfectly happy to build anything Boeing wants, much cheaper than those greedy folks (my intonation here) in Seattle.

    But what has the 787 chaos of trying to build pieces elsewhere cost Boeing? Who knows how long it will take for the company to break even on that airplane.

    But should Boeing decide to build a plant to build all 737s, for example, in South America because they can get workers at half price, I suggest they would no longer be the same Boeing we have all come to know.

    I also believe the U.S. airlines would find themselves much less apprehensive about choosing an Airbus product.

    All that aside though, we’re still talking only about shareholders in a sense. I’m still talking about that fact that this country is changing fundamentally … and I just don’t see good things ahead for the United States as an entity.

    Perhaps what happened to Britain as a world power will indeed be our fate. Does American business really want that?

  7. Rodney Says:

    Two observations really. One of the reasons labor is so expensive here is the “extras” you have to pay here, payroll taxes, social security, 401k, health care. It is almost to the point where the actual salary the worker takes home is the least of the expenses. As far as I know none of this is expected or required in most third world countries and it was not the case here in the 30s and 20s when the labor movement was in full swing. Secondly, the massive regulation of industry in the US is effectively killing it, especially manufacturing. Everything is regulated and most companies have to hire people just to deal with the government regulation. You have OSHA, EPA, FAA and possibly others to start. We have made it very hard to manufacture anything here which is why jobs are moved overseas. As far as the lack of concern for their jobs and not wanting to go against their employers why should anyone? If they get fired there is unemployment. If they can’t find a job they have the government to support them. In the early part of this century a job was hard to come by and not having one meant you may starve and your family too. Labor unions, started by the communists, came in to help out the workers and give them a voice. After years of Democrat handout legislation and job security bills a person does not have to worry about having a job or starving. I guess you could say Labor Day is a celebration of where we are now and the “security” we have now in regards to our lifestyles. Sometimes security has unforeseen costs.

  8. Ken Says:

    A good portion of the problem can be laid at the feet of American consumers, union and non-union, who, when they were given the choice between an American-made product and a similar foreign-made product for a third less, chose the foreign-made product. They never thought about the American jobs that would be eliminated by their decision; all they cared about was price. Getting a deal, getting a steal, getting “value”, whatever that is. Almost no one bothered to look inside or behind products at the label of origin.

    The result? Korean-made Chevys, Egyptian-made Levis, Vietnamese and Chinese-made Converse All-Stars, Chinese-made American flags.

    It’s easy to say that companies go where the least expensive labor is to maximize their profits. And when it was union blue-collar manufacturing jobs getting sent overseas, the popular excuse was “greedy unions”. Fine.

    What’s the excuse now that non-union tech-support, paralegal and engineering jobs are being sent to India? In this internet age, are there any technical jobs that aren’t in danger of being exported to low-labor cost countries that are halfway around the world yet as close as a modem?

    And you Americans who are employed and think your jobs are “safe” need to consider this: how long will this country’s long-term unemployed be able to afford the products your company makes or the service your company provides?

    Chew on that along with your barbecue, and have a very happy Labor Day.

  9. Dave Says:

    Does American business really want that? Does American labor really want that? Who knows how long it will take for the company to break even on that airplane, especially when the cost of labor is uncertain. What is the ‘real’ labor dispute in South Carolina? In my opinion this is not a case of “a greedy corporation” taking advantage of labor, more a case of labor making unrealistic selfish demands.

  10. Bill P Says:

    Before you think that getting stuff made in China is “simply” cheaper. China has brought a gun to a knife fight and we’ve been perfectly willing to play.
    read this:
    http://myemail.constantcontact.com/What-is-the-Secret-behind-China-s-Cheap-Prices-.html?soid=1103295952889&aid=ZWXamcxRQbE

  11. Jack Chapman Says:

    C’mon Rob, under this Administration it’s easier for a corporation to create jobs overseas than in South Carolina. The unions, Republicans and Democrats are all to blame.

    Jack Chapman (underemployed pilot,thanks to ALPA)

  12. Ken Says:

    Consider this scenario: Brazilian or Chinese (or even S. Carolina)-built 787’s crashing like modern-day DeHavilland Comets precisely because U.S.-style government labor and safety regulations weren’t in place at those plants.

    And if American consumers (even anti-big-government types)went bonkers over strangling window blind cords, collapsing cribs and serving platters with lead-based glaze, imagine how they’d howl if their loved ones were incinerated in foreign-built 787’s because Boeing wanted to build planes without U.S. union or government “interference”.

  13. Dave Says:

    Is that why the plant in SC remains idle, because U.S.-style government labor and safety regulations weren’t in place there?

    Consider the scenario that Boeing fails to deliver product to their customers because they invested in a plant that can’t produce airplanes. The loss of customers forces the company into bankruptcy leaving Airbus as the only viable manufacturer.

  14. Rodney Hall Says:

    Ken that is a different and just as insidious case. In those cases you are talking about lawyers hunting up a jury to give multimillion dollar settlements of which the lawyers get the majority. Just yesterday I got a notice that I had “won” a class action settlement of several million dollars against a certian website for its billing practices. My portion was a whopping $10.00 if I filed a claim consisting of several forms. The actual fact is very few people were ever hurt by any of those things you mentioned and none of it was due to a lack of government interference. In the case of “lead based glaze” it is more a function of the EPA’s shifting standards. FYI you can buy all the lead based glaze pottery you want in many foreign countries and I don’t see any epidemics of death or blindness there. In many cases our government is overprotective and the result has been that we consider, as a whole, that anything “approved” by the government must be okay instead of thinking for ourselves.

  15. Robert Mark Says:

    But does the question not remain of who is actually looking after America? My thought right now is no one for sure.

    The prez wants a new jobs bill this week that means we’ll print gazillions of new dollars to support it. Then when he gets ousted, a Republican will jump in and add more tax breaks for companies which will help them turn a better return to shareholders and then the Democrats …

    Well, it just goes on and on.

    We are talking about many of the same things I think in this forum.

    As Jack said, it’s Dems and Repubs. OK, so what? Now that I know who to point the finger at, we do what exactly? Wait for the Beltway folks to solve the problem of where’d America go?

    I don’t think so. My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t seem like anyone is even having that “Where’d America go?” conversation.

    And we need to … not so much for old farts like me — and don’t you folks quote me on that – but for my kids and their kids.

    People say this is the first generation that won’t do as well as their parents. I think that’s an understatement.

    Rob

  16. Bas Scheffers Says:

    Move a job overseas, a local job is lost. More people chasing fewer jobs means lower wages. Lower wages mean less disposable income for people to buy the products you now make overseas. That means the “what the market can bear”price will go down. Which means less profit.

    The final outcome of this downward spiral will be a small amount wealthy managers and shareholders in the US selling their foreign made products at the slimmest of margins to a population the majority of whom live below the poverty line.

    Well done.

  17. Dave Says:

    Boeing has been prohibited from creating American jobs in South Carolina. Using this as an example, why would any company risk creating jobs here? Does it only count if it is a union job?

  18. Robert Mark Says:

    Thank you Bas. My sentiments exactly. I don’t really think many people see that approaching quagmire though.

  19. Robert Mark Says:

    And to you Dave. I know Boeing has been slowed, but I doubt they’ll be stopped. As for the IAM, well, they’re doing what any union would try to do … keep as much highly-paid work around for its members.

    That kind of a narrow focus may get members something now, but a decade down the road — if that long — things will look much different. Unfortunately it’s not just the unions, shareholders are just as greedy and narrow minded, don’t you think?

  20. Dave Says:

    I completely disagree. The IAM has idled workers in S.C. and hurt the American economy. This has nothing to do with greedy shareholders.

  21. Robert Mark Says:

    Sorry about that. I actually shouldn’t have linked the two in this particular case, although to be fair, we have no idea what the pay and benefits are in the Boeing SC plant.

    I didn’t really mean that the Boeing shareholders were being greedy here. I jumped from the SC discussion to the point that “Some shareholders CAN be just as greedy and uncompromising as the unions,” in the sense that it often works both ways.

    Just not in this case though as you correctly pointed out.

  22. Jamie Dodson Says:

    Rob,

    As always you have penned an eloquent essay with the voice of reason in the hate filled world.

    Do you really think that appealing to the patriotic side of CEOs will work? I am beginning to suspect that the days of nationalism are numbered. I fear that all too soon we’ll be saluting the Apple Logo, or singing the Halliburton anthem.

    Corporations long ago ceased being American -unless of course they need US muscle to secure their markets or materials.

    The only CEO I can hold up to the light is Jim Sinegal of COSTCO. Can you name any? An insightful book on the state of the working poor in American is “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America”, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Have you read it? It was an eye opener and changed my mind about the plight of the working poor.

    I am amazed that so many of the working poor think their best hope is with the Republicans. Heath Care is a vibrant example. I have met so many self employed tradesmen, farm works and even janitorial workers who are adherents to the rants of talk radio and the Glenn Beck’s of the world.

    What strikes me as absurd is these hard working honest people are against a plan that offers them affordable health care. Go figure.

    I admire President Obama. And even if some of his decisions drive me crazy, I will vote for him come Election Day. He’s by no means perfect but he did run a perfect campaign. Perhaps he’ll do it again.

    I will listen to his speech on September 8th. Who knows, many be he’ll put the proverbial Rabbit out of a hat?

    As always fellow Lane Indian, Jamie Dodson

    (Ed note on Lane Indian: We graduated from the same Chicago high school)

  23. Rodney Hall Says:

    It seems to be a trend for the Federal Government to get involved in business decisions. Telling Boeing it is illegal to open a second plant in SC is crazy. Do they WANT the company to fail? And what about all the people that now have jobs. They probably do not get paid as much as the people in Washington but the cost of living is a lot lower also. Even the government adjusts your pay based on where you are living. It seems the whole thing is based on some Boeing executives saying or writing that they can’t afford more shutdowns of their plants. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. As many have said lets just be glad they moved to SC and not China. I think I am going to vote out all the incumbents I can this election and maybe a couple of the new guys will have some sense. I’m not making any bets on it though.

  24. Steve Tobias Says:

    We, in this country, are our own worst enemy. Will we ever boycott the WallMarts or Home Depots, etc? Almost everything that these big-box stores sell is made overseas. We are choosing being able to save a few bucks at the store over supporting local businesses that pay their labor decently, and resell products that are made in America. I’ve talked to many sales reps that sell iconic, American named products to both the mass merchandisers and smaller stores. They tell of seperate lines of products that look the same, but are specially made in China for the discounters. We also complain bitterly about the high cost of energy! Where do Americans think that the energy comes from to make all of this cheap stuff?!
    A friend once told me that if one wanted to buy an American Orange or Cantalope in Tokyo, one would pay over $20 for it…and this was several years ago. Somehow, we need to tax imports (if there is still an American alternative available) until our trading partners realise that they are indeed partners and need to treat our exports fairly in their countries.

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