|LA factory. Grueling, disrespected work always for low pay|
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Los Angeles County has more manufacturing jobs making apparel than any other area of the US, twice as many as the Detroit or Chicago areas. One advantage I would think is an abundance of poor immigrants from the South more desperate for work. Desperate people are a boon for capitalism. The apparel manufacturers, in most cases the young offspring of the middle and upper middle class with access to capital, see an opportunity to make lots of money without actually doing any work. They are whining about the new law that will increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 which will ensure it remains a wage that no one could possibly live a decent life on, but too high for the profiteers.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the plight of these poor entrepreneurial go-getters in an article on July 15th. Brian Zuckerberg is one of them and he says of the minimum wage increase that he’ll move his operations, “The simple answer to this whole conversation is we’re moving out of the city of L.A.,” he tells the WSJ. This is the usual strategy, apply some economic terrorism, threaten to move and lay off workers, Boeing management did the same during its dispute with its manufacturing workers last year.
He can feel confident making this threat as the system allows him to do so, it allows him and any owner of capital to do what they wish with their capital, move production and decimate an entire community in the process if need be. Society allows them to pay wages that people can’t live on and reap the profits, the surplus value they extract from them through the labor process and for which they pay nothing. Society also allows them as bankers to take your home from you as well. What freedom means depends on who is using the term.
In the entire WSJ piece, I don’t think the word “profits” with reference to what Zuckerman pockets through his capital outlay on the labor process, is mentioned once. It is not uncommon to read similar articles about production or economics and never come across the word profits with regard to the individual capitalist.
Some of the workers Zuckerman hires earn “$15 or more through incentive pay.” The Journal writes, but many “less productive workers earn far less than that”.
I want to just point out the use of language here. Firstly, as I say, profits seem to play no part in this process at all, in fact, they don’t exist. The term incentive when a capitalist is using it, especially manufacturers, applies to a worker that can work faster than others, doesn’t take too long a break or any break at all. Showing incentive is a keeping your mouths shut and not talking about unions and other impediments to profit making. Let’s not forget that in US history as working class people, it was not so long ago that if workers got together to talk about raising wages we would be breaking conspiracy laws that forbad combination (union organization) and we could be imprisoned and jury qualifications (only white men of property) would ensure we were not judged by our peers.
Willingness to snitch on their workmates or at least show no interest in being part of the collective except as a “team” created by and for the interests of the boss is also showing the right incentive. Managing to control one’s bowel movements for extended periods is also a plus. I’ve worked in factories, I know.
The term “productive” when used by people like Mr. Zuckerman in reference to a worker whose life activity he has purchased, means a worker who produces more value in the form of products or commodities, than the he returns to them in wages. A “productive” worker is one who is a source of surplus value which is also the source of profits.
And finally, while we’re on the subject of language and what words mean depending on one’s class point of view, the capitalist in question here Mr. Zuckerman, says that paying $15 an hour it would “….end his ability to hire lower-skilled workers and train them.”
What a saint this man is. If wages are raised to a still poverty level of $15 an hour (in 5 years mind you) it will be too high for him. He doesn’t say he will be broke, or in the gutter, just forced to shut up shop, move his capital, leave town and his poor wards, his beloved workers, will have no income causing untold hardship. His sole motivation and reason for stopping production is egalitarian. He won’t be able to give us jobs and make us more well-rounded human beings by training some of us to sew garments.
I tried to find out what Brian Zuckerman is worth and it’s not easy. The ruling class and its security apparatus can locate a rat pissing on cotton but for some reason trying to find out who pulls the strings behind the major decisions in society or the actual profits of a corporation, who actually owns it and what their real wealth is, that’s pretty damn hard for the average person.
The option in any situation like this is for the public, community organizations, rank and file union members, social activist and other community based groups, to demand the books be opened and all financial transactions and records of the corporation and its officers be public. If they can’t pay then the industry should be nationalized and the public sector provide meaningful work.
Lonnie Kane, the president of Karen Kane Inc. another manufacturer, and Chairman of the California Fashion Association echo’s Zuckerman, “We’re going to have to look closer at contractors outside the city………..“it’s going to be harder to produce domestically,”
So when the issue of a wage people can live on comes up, even one we can’t like the $15 an hour one in California, an expensive place to live, the manufacturing bosses use all sort of terroristic methods to put that genie back in the bottle. Their strategy is blackmail, threats and other violent tactics, violent because taking a person’s means of subsistence from them is an act of violence.
Along with their direct threat to eliminate jobs, they wage war in their media, much of it directed at workers as consumers warning that prices will rise if they have to pay a higher wage. This is to undermine any support the consumer might want to throw the garment factory workers’ way. The bosses’ propaganda that wages are organically linked to prices is false. Capitalists will raise prices whenever they can if the market will bear it and as Marx pointed out years ago, wages and prices are not organically linked.
In the 1990’s due to the tight labor market, workers at the lower end of the ladder were being paid above minimum by fast food employers in order to attract them. Workers, the sellers of labor power, had the upper hand and wages rose driven by demand for labor power. The moribund labor leadership did nothing in the period when profits were at a 40-year high.
But the missing link is profits and again, profits are never mentioned, but it is profits that are eaten in to if workers through industrial struggle or electoral means force on the bosses a general increase in wages. The boss will take a cut. They won’t go on that trip to Venice this year or buy that new car or maybe send their kid to that expensive school; who knows what.
But they omit this category form their calculations, It is all about their caring attitude toward workers and our interests, jobs, wages etc.
As workers or wage earners, we must not concern ourselves with profits as we don’t earn our means of subsistence off the profit of capital, we sell our labor power, both mental and physical, and receive compensation in the form of money wages out of which we pay our rent, our car note, the food and any other necessities we need. When our income is not enough to meet those needs in one job like working for Brian Zuckerman we more often than not work three jobs, or borrow money off his class colleagues at the bank.
The private sector cannot and will not provide work and compensation at a level that provides the worker with decent, healthy and productive life, even during the post WW2 boom, US capitalism was unable to provide a decent and secure life for its citizens. A capitalist like Zuckerman is not motivated by the desire to clothe people, he does not lay out his capital with clothing the nation’s population in mind. He lays out his capital to reproduce it through the labor process, in this instance, having workers sew clothes. If it wasn’t making clothes it would be something else. Zuckerman’s wealth is dependent on his worker’s poverty. That’s no way for a society to function.
The unelected elite, the few thousand people that do the rounds on the boards of the major corporations and develop the decisions in society in their retreats at Jackson Hole Wyoming, Camp David, the Bohemian Grove or the their private clubs, spread fear that if they can’t pay substandard wages they will leave a community causing it severe economic hardship. This is economic terrorism. “The exodus is on its way” one manufacturer tells the Journal and the higher minimum wage will speed the transformation of the manufacturing district from warehouses and small factories to luxury lofts and high end restaurants, “Five years from now, there won’t be manufacturing in the city anymore,” he warns. They’re such caring individuals.
Despite their propaganda to the contrary, the private sector is inefficient and wasteful, keeping in mind how a capitalist understands efficiency. The attack on the public sector and our unions is an attempt to drive down the wages and conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers to levels that allow for private capital to profit and to eliminate public services in the process.
If the manufacturer, the private sector employer, can only make a living by paying starvation wages, then this should not be permitted. It is laws made by legislators representing capitalists that allow this at great costs to society as a whole. Thousands of people across America will get a taste of how inefficient the private sector is if they get their grubby little hands on the US postal service. They’ll close thousands of offices, particularly rural ones all in the name of efficiency.
Manufacturers and investors in industry descend on a pool of cheap of labor like vultures on a carcass and we see now how they are looking to Africa and Ethiopia in particular as the best opportunity for capital accumulation, for earning money without working. The Chinese workers have won some major battles for higher wages and are less attractive these days. That capitalists do not shift production abroad to improve the living standards of workers in other countries is a sure sign workers in the US need to build strong links with workers globally. Competing with the lowest common denominator is a sure way for us all to end up on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Working people don’t think so much about capital in the form of our social wealth and how that capital is created and allocated. We accept that an individual can own billions of dollars and do with it what they wish; move it whenever they wish even if it is in the form of a factory that a whole community depends on for work and a relatively stable existence. In fact, this is the definition of freedom to capitalists and is what their economists mean by freedom-----the freedom of capital to travel the world unencumbered by borders, regulation and unions.
But social capital is not the product of an individual. It is the product of labor, a collective product; an individual actually has no right to it. I am not talking about wages here or what’s in the savings account of a worker or the owner of a community business. Social capital is the product of past labor power stored in banks allocated by the reprentatives of capital on their behalf. It is this product, the wealth of society built up over time, that we have to take in to public ownership and collectively decide where and how it should be used in society.
We do not accept that a human being or group of human beings can own an individual or a group of individual as workers; that’s slavery. So why would we allow the collective product of society, our social wealth, be owned by individuals and how it is used and when, determined by those individuals and for their personal gain?
"Producers in Chicago and the surrounding cities employ 408,100 workers; in New York, northern New Jersey and Long Island, there are 356,100 manufacturing workers.
At the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose has 160,900 manufacturing workers while San Francisco, Oakland and Fremont have 118,400 workers." Source, LA Times