Kicking Labor While You're Up
July 23, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Caterpillar, after record profits, squeezes its union for a six-year wage and pension freeze and increased insurance contributions - not because it has to, but because it can. As the machinists' union enters its fourth month on strike, the company says it's getting along just fine with temps and union workers who have crossed the picket line. Private-sector union membership is now at an all-time low of 6.9%. Even as calls to remedy America's income inequality grow from Occupy and other movements, nobody in power is helping. The Democratic Party's ship has long since sailed. (previously)
posted by moammargaret (292 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Surely this oh who are we kidding
posted by mightygodking at 9:40 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Too bad. The reasons why we have unions and governmental protections for workers is because back in the old days when we didn't, there was major agitations, bombings, killings, destruction of business offices, etc. If businesses and government want to go back to those fun times they better be prepared for the nasty consequences.

Violence is just a stone-throw away.
posted by JJ86 at 9:41 AM on July 23, 2012 [31 favorites]


Caterpillar, which has significantly raised its executives’ compensation because of its strong profits...
See now, that's just not right.
posted by spinturtle at 9:43 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sounds like it's time to do more than merely form an orderly picket line.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


After all, the brazen greed of unionized labor is what caused this recession in the first place.
posted by Fritz Langwedge at 9:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


Looks like supply side economics is working as intended.
posted by Max Power at 9:51 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok I'll be the unpopular one. If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this? Caterpillar would have no workforce, and the employees would be better off.

If the answer has to do with unemployment then that is a another discussion (a bit of a derail IMHO.)
posted by danl at 9:52 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Caterpillar should restructure under Crysalis Holding Corp and emerge as Beautiful Butterfly LLC
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:53 AM on July 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


danl: "I would do whatever it took to get another, better job."

Where are these hypothetical "better jobs" people keep telling us to find?
posted by Karmakaze at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2012 [83 favorites]


When people tell me I'm supposed to get more conservative the older I get, I just laugh. (It's either that or start crying.)
posted by entropicamericana at 9:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [35 favorites]


If executives don't like their current compensation levels, why don't they go out and find better jobs?

Oh...because they can vote themselves more pay!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [36 favorites]


"The company had profit of $39,000 per employee last year."

If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this?

Because there aren't many (or any) better jobs to be had? Your answer is the "standard" free market answer, but the market favors employers. Collective bargaining allows workers a more equal say against a company as rich and powerful as Caterpillar. What's wrong with that as an answer?
posted by OmieWise at 9:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [37 favorites]


If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this?

you are failing to understand market capitalism. the jobs at caterpillar *are* another, better job. all those people you're talking about *have already traded up to the best job they can find*. you haven't yet reached the starting point of this discussion.
posted by facetious at 9:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [34 favorites]


If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this?

Healthcare, in addition to other reasons already mentioned.
posted by migurski at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Karmakaze: Where are these hypothetical "better jobs" people keep telling us to find?

Excellent question. I have many thoughts on this.

1. If there are no better jobs, then the best job I can get is getting worse. Sucks, but not a tragedy. There is a recession. Just because someone else is making more is not necessarily my business.

2. If I'm unemployed (especially by choice) I had better start to hustle and make things happen. Education, entrepreneurship, networking. What kinds of things do you do when you need a good job? The Caterpillar workers are not some special breed.

More to come... discussion is unfolding quick.
posted by danl at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2012


Those "better jobs" at Caterpillar were once in London ON. Yeah, fuck you, Caterpillar.
Caterpillar’s Progress Rail Services unit is ceasing operations at the city’s Electro-Motive Canada diesel locomotive factory, two months after Canadian Auto Workers president Ken Lewenza said company officials assured him they had no intention of closing the plant. ...

The closing infuriated Mr. Lewenza, whose union represents the plant’s workers. Caterpillar had demanded pay cuts of 50 per cent in many job categories, elimination of a defined-benefit pension plan, reductions in dental and other benefits and the end of a cost-of-living adjustment.

“I’ve never had a situation where I’ve dealt with such an unethical, immoral, disrespectful, highly profitable company like Caterpillar,” Mr. Lewenza said in a telephone interview Friday as he drove to London from Toronto to meet with the workers.

He said that during bargaining in December, he told the company’s negotiators: “If it’s in your business plan to close us, don’t punish us, let’s work out a closure agreement. They said: ‘We have no intention of closing the facility.’ ”
I remember the mayor of the American city getting a plant talking to the people at As It Happens about his sympathy for London workers -- and he sounded like a decent guy, so I still believe him -- but he also mentioned how much his community really, really needed what seemed like pretty good jobs. Welcome to the race to the bottom, dude.
posted by maudlin at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [26 favorites]


"If businesses and government want to go back to those fun times they better be prepared for the nasty consequences."

The United States for more than 2 centuries had something unique... a perpetual labor shortage, which ended in 1978. It was this labor shortage that made the middle class possible, and enabled the rise of unions.

Automation and outsourcing decreased the amount of labor required to run the economy below the available labor pool. I see no way that this situation is going to be reversed. We had a good run (200+ years!) but the middle class is now about to disappear into the mists of history.

The power is back in the hands of capital, and the only way it's going to change is through revolution. It will be longer and messier than anyone could possibly imagine, because they have all the technology, communications infrastructure, food stocks, and drones.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:02 AM on July 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


Maybe these guys can do something useful now, like write a social scrapbooking app for iOS or recap Bachelorette episodes for AV Club
posted by theodolite at 10:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


danl: "1. If there are no better jobs, then the best job I can get is getting worse. Sucks, but not a tragedy. There is a recession. Just because someone else is making more is not necessarily my business."

What if the way there are making more money is by making sure there are no better jobs? Doesn't it become my business at some point?
posted by Karmakaze at 10:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [15 favorites]


Is anyone here actually a union employee who has had this sort of experience.

I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs.

Why are union employees different? What makes them fundamentally different in this case?

I've seen many discussions like this and no one has been able to give decent answers to those questions.
posted by danl at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


1. If there are no better jobs, then the best job I can get is getting worse. Sucks, but not a tragedy. There is a recession. Just because someone else is making more is not necessarily my business.

2. If I'm unemployed (especially by choice) I had better start to hustle and make things happen. Education, entrepreneurship, networking. What kinds of things do you do when you need a good job? The Caterpillar workers are not some special breed.


You aren't actually responding to this situation, you seem to be responding to some situation you would like (?) to be happening here. You sound, frankly, like someone who doesn't really care about issues like this except insofar as you can castigate people who respond negatively to obvious unfairness. That doesn't make you a very good interlocutor.
posted by OmieWise at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


Because there aren't many (or any) better jobs to be had?

If there aren't any better jobs to be had, there's almost no point in even complaining. Workers have nothing to bargain with.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:04 AM on July 23, 2012


Your answer is the "standard" free market answer, but the market favors employers.

And the reason it does is that capitalists ARE allowed the unionize. What do you think "management" is other than a union? They act together as the single entity opposed to labor.
posted by DU at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2012 [34 favorites]


hurf durf bootstraps
posted by entropicamericana at 10:06 AM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


If there aren't any better jobs to be had, there's almost no point in even complaining. Workers have nothing to bargain with.

Thus my original comment upthread. The threat is not "we'll leave and you'll have to limp along on scabs". The threat is "we'll leave and we won't allow anyone else in the building". Or "we'll leave and, due to our existing contract, you are forbidden from hiring anyone else".
posted by DU at 10:06 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


dani, are you in a time slip? Where are all these better jobs that we're supposed to scramble over each other trying to get? I happen to be a freelancer (with good years and less good years), and I know how to hustle, but people like me depend on a reasonably well off middle class as part of our overall economy. Right now, the clients we're targeting are either sitting on buckets of money and dare not spend a penny more than they have to, or else they're floundering because the kind of people who used to earn steady middle class wages are getting fucked over by shitheels like the executives at Caterpillar and they are no longer buying enough of these clients' products.
posted by maudlin at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this? Caterpillar would have no workforce, and the employees would be better off.

One perspective could be that scabs/temp workers can almost always be found; not only does that mean those people will probably be exploited, but their exploitation will undermine organized labour and the benefits it provides to other workers in that industry.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:10 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


danl: "I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs. "

The lives of blue-collar workers in the manufacturing sector are open to everyone to examine. Their wages, their benefits, their employment histories, everything. It's data.

You come here with vague anecdotes and platitudes about your own ability to "hustle" and insist that your experiences can or should be projected onto the American labour landscape as a whole.

So why don't you bring the data? What do you do? What have you done? How much do you make? Who do you work for? How many people do you employ? How many people have experiences like yours? How much room is there in the economy for people to have experiences like yours?
posted by klanawa at 10:11 AM on July 23, 2012 [49 favorites]


If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this? Caterpillar would have no workforce, and the employees would be better off.

It isn't really an unemployment problem, the problem is systemic and would still (and did) happen if the economy was at full-employment. The problem is that employers have more bargaining power than individual workers. The job that the employee has is always more important to the employer than any single employee is to the company and there isn't ever enough competition in the job market to overcome that. Even at the natural level of unemployment (~4%), too many people are moving around the job market for any single employee to be irreplaceable.

It's only collectively that the workers have any real power. I suppose it might be solved if we had something close to 0% unemployment but that has a whole different set of macro-economic problems.

Thanks for playing devil's advocate!
posted by VTX at 10:13 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


The threat is "we'll leave and we won't allow anyone else in the building". Or "we'll leave and, due to our existing contract, you are forbidden from hiring anyone else".

That's a pretty tall order if there are no better jobs to be had.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:14 AM on July 23, 2012


That's the risk of striking: there's a chance your strike might not work.

I'm not sure why I'm supposed to be mad at Caterpillar management. Their machinists walked off the job, and it turns out they can get the same product for cheaper from a new group of employees. The union had no leverage and should've known that before they called the strike.
posted by downing street memo at 10:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Caterpillar employs somewhere around 150k people, while this article is almost entirely about a dispute with 780 workers at a single factory -- right? It seems like a very obvious question would be: how do the contract / wages / conditions / whatever compare for these workers versus other Caterpillar workers?

If the current situation and negotiations at this plant are typical, then the argument that company-wide profitability means they can afford to pay the workers more might make sense. If the situation at this plant is atypical and the workers are paid more than other places, then the company's argument that they need to take a tough stance at this plant might make sense.

Seems pretty woefully under-reported to me, missing the bigger picture.
posted by Perplexity at 10:16 AM on July 23, 2012


Collectively workers would have more power if they provided more collective value. Caterpillar's industry is such that those unionized labor drones are easily replaced by Scabs and Temp Workers (who, to be fair, have families and children to feed too).

It ain't right, but it's VERY important that that 401K manager's numbers tick up every quarter. Or he won't make his bonus.
posted by DigDoug at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2012


MikeWarot's comment is perfectly on-point. There's really no point in talking about whether or not it is fair to be punched down by the playground bully, there's only one playground for large equipment mechanics, and everyone on it who has a ball is a bully, so if you want to play with them be prepared to get punched.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:19 AM on July 23, 2012



I watched The Big One on Netflix the other night. It was somewhat prescient, and what I found most concerning is the fact some people were complaining about their wages getting cut to $8-10/hr without benefits (the few that were able to keep their jobs after the mass outsourcing caused by NAFTA's Giant Sucking Sound).

I mean, that was about a decade ago. We have people who are in the same situation for the exact same pay. If that doesn't scare the crap out of you, I think you've failed a Turing test of sorts.

Now, up until a point, I can see where certain executives and conservatives have get their resentment. I remember a time, in the copper wire industry where I grew up, when the local 1000 (or whatever they were) didn't even need to make an appointment to see the CEO or members of the board. They had that kind of pull. It was slightly frusterating for some major companies and smaller business owners to have the Union demanding bigger pay and benefits, then turning around and leveraging their pensions or investments for shareholder voting rights when they were disappointed in the returns. In some ways, I could see how certain parties felt they were pinched in a no-win situation.

When things started to get bad, there were a lot of people who felt the Unions failed them, and in many instances, they did. I once talked to a guy who watched his whole group lose their jobs in exchange for the Union maintaining the jobs in the higher paying parts of the research division. You could see where they would feel the Union was a bit self-serving and hardly different than the other "bean counters."

However, the mass layoffs, union busting, and mass exodus of the working Southern class to the right wing was not the most respectable or intelligent ways of dealing with these malfunctions. There is always a middle ground, and we find ourselves in a situation where one side is demanding nothing less than everything they want (and continue to get as much) while the other side doesn't have an inch to offer, or a rope to pull.

Also, don't demonize executives across the board for the inconsiderate actions of the most visible transgressors. I happen to work with many executives in my current line of work and they are all very good people with a concern for their employees. They will be the first to acknowledge the bad apples, and it embarrasses them to no end. Many of them have had to work very hard to get to where they are, and they drink gallons of Pepto thanks to the perpetual fight between what the shareholders want and what the employees need. In some companies, they do everything they can to do right (look at Lenovo's recent news).

That being said, the "why don't you just get a better job" is an ignorant view and should be addressed, but not considered for any longer than it takes to reply, politely, to its status as such.

In most cases, there aren't better jobs. For people who've been running the line for 10-15 years, there aren't any jobs.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2012 [10 favorites]


If there are no better jobs, then the best job I can get is getting worse. Sucks, but not a tragedy. There is a recession. Just because someone else is making more is not necessarily my business.

It is not a recession. Business is doing well.

You could be forgiven for thinking it's a recession, due to the labor conditions, but that's getting it backwards, and is the essence of the complaint.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2012 [35 favorites]


OI'm not sure why I'm supposed to be mad at Caterpillar management. Their machinists walked off the job, and it turns out they can get the same product for cheaper from a new group of employees. The union had no leverage and should've known that before they called the strike.

And then when things can be done even cheaper in China do you stilll look for a reason to be mad?

The problem is that the American worker has no leverage. Unions - except the public sector ones - are irrelevant. American jobs - except for those in the public sector - can be moved to China and the finished product imported back into America duty free and any talk of that this is maybe not such a good deal for America and Americans is is shouted down by both sides as protectionism.

Clinton and Reagan are to blame, but each side only blames one for all of it and so it continues unabated regardless of who runs the government.
posted by three blind mice at 10:28 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


It hurt my heart to read the comment from the striker who couldn't afford the $40 for his son to play Little League, so I tracked him down through the reporter. Lovely man, and I just sent him forty bucks. And I always honk in support when I drive past a picket line.
posted by twsf at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [81 favorites]


" I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs.

Why are union employees different? What makes them fundamentally different in this case?
"

They didn't want to be quitters. They wanted to fight to keep their job a desirable one. That's a perfectly rational and appropriate response.

When a ship starts to sink you can jump off and swim to another ship OR you can try to keep your current ship afloat. Neither option is morally superior to the other.
posted by oddman at 10:31 AM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


twsf: You are a good person.
posted by DigDoug at 10:32 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Collectively workers would have more power if they provided more collective value.

Maybe, but I doubt that CAT's CEO, Douglas R. Oberhelman, provides 496 times the value of the average employee.

He doesn't work 496 times harder, longer, is 496 times smarter, has 496 times the business acumen or any combination thereof.
posted by VTX at 10:32 AM on July 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


danl: "I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs."

I too have hustled - and done two university degrees. I have improved my wages from $7/hour in 1998 to $24/hour in 2012, in what is a damn, fine (and highly skilled) job.

I still can't afford to rent a 2-bedroom apartment within a 30 minute commute of where I live. And there is no way that I could have found this job without having gotten a degree in the top 5%, gone to grad school - and just happening to know the right people. My previous job paid $13/hour (for also very skilled work - now offshored).

The world doesn't work the way that you think it does.
posted by jb at 10:34 AM on July 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


I'm not sure why I'm supposed to be mad at Caterpillar management. Their machinists walked off the job, and it turns out they can get the same product for cheaper from a new group of employees. The union had no leverage and should've known that before they called the strike.

"I'm not sure why I'm supposed to be mad at Caterpillar management. It's really expensive to safely store toxic waste, and there's a stream across the street. Downstream communities had no leverage and should've known that before they built parks and playgrounds."

"I'm not sure why I'm supposed to be mad at Caterpillar management. Automatic shut-off contraptions don't make the tractor work any better. People whose hands got cut off had no leverage and should've known that before mowing the lawn."

See where this leads? Unmitigated self-interest is why we have regulation.
posted by moammargaret at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2012 [37 favorites]


Listen people, I've been looking for a job for the past two months, sending out a resume and a cover letter a day. I founded and ran a community center for three years for christ-sakes and I have a master's degree from a very well respwcted social woek school. There aren't any jobs. I might not even be able to get a job that will let me pay my student loans and also not be homeless. All this victom-blaming "you just need to ustle more" is contributing to a very severe mental health crisis I'm having a hard time weathering. Please think for a moment before you go tell people to find a job, you could be hurting them more than you think.

I have to get away from this.
posted by fuq at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Why are union employees different?

I've been to many playgrounds. I've left to look for better places after the local bully started beating people up. Sure, I've taken a few beatings and had to move a lot, but I've always found a new swingset, even if its just a rusty old thing.

Now there are some shrimpy kids getting together to oppose the bullies. What makes them so special? Why shouldn't they just take the beating like everyone else does? Just take your beating or move and know your place kids.
posted by Winnemac at 10:36 AM on July 23, 2012 [42 favorites]


The world doesn't work the way that you think it does.

Sounds like it works exactly like I think it does. Well in your and my cases at least.

So I guess what you're pointing at is a case of privilege. I too have a top 5% degree backing up my employment success. We are privileged in certain ways. Do we assert that the unionized worker is not? That s/he operates at a lack of privilege? That line of discussion seems to make more sense here on metafilter at least.
posted by danl at 10:37 AM on July 23, 2012


CAT's CEO probably has even more than reflected on paper tucked away, considering a new analysis has found that our economic elites currently have at least $21 trillion dollars (more than the US and Japan's annual GDP combined) stashed away in secret tax shelters (and that turns out to be just scratching the surface).

Why shouldn't our executives look at the guys at the bottom to feed more revenue into their bottom lines? Obviously, there isn't nearly enough on the capital side to go around.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


See where this leads? Unmitigated self-interest is why we have regulation.

Well, and, if we do not stand together, we will all stand (and hang) separately.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


All this victom-blaming "you just need to ustle more" is contributing to a very severe mental health crisis I'm having a hard time weathering. Please think for a moment before you go tell people to find a job, you could be hurting them more than you think.

Good lord don't let please don't take personally any of my quickly dashed off sentences about some union dispute I'm only remotely familiar with. I don't know you, wasn't talking about you, couldn't possibly be in any position to judge you. In any case it sounds like you've got the hustle part down pat. Best of luck. This too shall pass...
posted by danl at 10:43 AM on July 23, 2012


See where this leads? Unmitigated self-interest is why we have regulation.

So, Caterpillar's just supposed to take its striking machinists back? When it's found replacements for them? What about the replacements?

If strikes were risk-free, people would go on strike for any perceived workplace slight. They aren't and so they're properly reserved for the important stuff. But there's always the chance that your side won't win.
posted by downing street memo at 10:43 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Textbook definition of management acting in bad faith.
posted by arcticseal at 10:43 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people

Do you have a mortgage? Children? A pre-existing health condition? A sick family member who you can't move away from to find a better job? Care about your community so passionately that it's more important to you as part of your life principles to stay where you were born/feel at home?

I have no children and no wife. Prior to having a mortgage I could just up and quite when I felt I was being treated unfairly. Now I have a mortgage, and I have a much more limited margin for that kind of thing, and yet I did just leave a position. However, if I had any of the above issues I could not do that.

Look, it is not beneficial to any kind of social fabric and overall economic strength, not to mention solid family life, to force your population into a decision between two evils. Particularly when management is not forced to make that decision because profits are flowing to them at the expense of workers.
posted by spicynuts at 10:45 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


You do know that workers on strike don't get paid, right?
posted by moammargaret at 10:45 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Poor Caterpillar--boo hoo! It's children must be starving to death to justify cutting those jobs. I'm sure the situation is desperate enough the executives have no choice but to show inhuman disregard for their own society and its most vulnerable people in the middle of one of the nation's worst economic catastrophes.

Only monsters could think their obligations to shareholders eclipse their obligations as human beings and citizens of a nation that gave them so much.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Throughout most of Europe, union workers enjoy a largely unqualified legally protected right to strike without being fired. Somehow European companies have still been eating our lunch for years. So yes, expectations differ.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:50 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


(That last bit was for downing street memo's benefit, in case that wasn't clear.)
posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 AM on July 23, 2012


Throughout most of Europe, union workers enjoy a largely unqualified legally protected right to strike without being fired.

I think that's, well, sort of crazy. But OK.

Somehow European companies have still been eating our lunch for years.

In what respect, Charlie? (Norway and Luxembourg benefit from oil and financial services, respectively; among very large economies ours is the most productive by far).
posted by downing street memo at 10:54 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seems that some of the Caterpillar employees have actually had a 60% raise recently
posted by talos at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2012


The United States, particularly during the Cold War, regarded its two biggest challenges as, "Russia abroad, labor at home". This is more than a simple economic play for leverage, it's an ideological struggle against what Caterpillar perceives as the enemy.
posted by deanc at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2012


Sort of some worthwhile context surrounding this

Long story short CAT has been very aggressive with its unions over the last 25 years. And they shown time and time again a willingness to use strikes as a way to fire organized labor. Labor's problem is that they've become less important to manufacturing - not just in terms of number of employees, but the skill levels required. In 1970 you couldn't have done this because there was a unique talent pool. Today that issue isn't as important.
posted by JPD at 10:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no children and no wife. Prior to having a mortgage I could just up and quite when I felt I was being treated unfairly. Now I have a mortgage, and I have a much more limited margin for that kind of thing, and yet I did just leave a position. However, if I had any of the above issues I could not do that.


Mortgage, child, and wife. Alters the dynamic a bit but of course those three were my choices in a world of incredibly fragile employment and a strong seeker's job market.

Is this hinting that the responsibility to care for employee's families, home, and health should rest on Caterpillar's shoulders? I'm not sure about that. As an example we do not expect corporations to educate use, why do we expect them to care for us in that way?
posted by danl at 10:57 AM on July 23, 2012




Is anyone here actually a union employee who has had this sort of experience.

I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs.

Why are union employees different? What makes them fundamentally different in this case?

I've seen many discussions like this and no one has been able to give decent answers to those questions.
posted by danl at 10:04 AM on July 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


I don't know, I was always taught that I should leave places better than I found them. I believe in improving working conditions and building environments that reward and empower their participants.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Germany, for instance, has managed to hobble along.

All the same, the point stands. Expectations and priorities differ. And none of the alternatives is necessarily the end of the world as we know it until we entrench ourselves so snugly up our own asses that we can't see any light anyway.


Is this hinting that the responsibility to care for employee's families, home, and health should rest on Caterpillar's shoulders?


Is Caterpillar a human enterprise with a role in human society or an alien parasite that gets to feed on human capital without being bound by any ethical or social obligations? Depending on how you answer that question, your ethical calculus may yield more or less reliable results.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [32 favorites]


Only monsters could think their obligations to shareholders eclipse their obligations as human beings and citizens of a nation that gave them so much.

That's part of what really bugs me though. If the CEO and other executives were really just fullfilling their obligations to the shareholders, the CEO wouldn't make almost $17 million a year (and similar millions from all the other top executives). Instead, most of that money would go back to the shareholders in the form of dividends or stock-buybacks.
posted by VTX at 11:02 AM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


There was a time in America when a company turned a profit it shared the profits with shareholders and all employees, CEO's didn't get 496 times the lowest paid worker yet still did well.

With the labor pool expanded to global proportions labor will inevitably lose traction. That's the "free market" in action. And that's why capitalists hype the "free market" so passionately.

There is no reason however not to share the wealth when it's to be had. The execs at Cat didn't after all, make the products, I doubt there are any execs in place who made the company either.

In the current dispute one of the contention points is that new hires start at 11$ and get raises to 17 over time. Less than current workers are getting now, the union is against that. They are fighting for people who don't even have jobs yet.

With unemployment so high, however, lots of people would jump at a measly 11 bucks/hour. And unemployment is so high because our Corporate Masters want it that way. Nothing is going to change.
posted by Max Power at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is this hinting that the responsibility to care for employee's families, home, and health should rest on Caterpillar's shoulders? I'm not sure about that.

It's not caterpillar's responsibility, it is the government's responsibility to organize the economy and labor laws in such a way that they preserve and foster the economic health of the middle class. Insofar as Caterpillar should probably "buy" into that legal framework and mindset, yes, but I don't expect them to do that unless they're forced to.

It is a societal responsibility to "make things better than we found them." If Caterpillar isn't making an effort to make its employees' lives better, than it is failing as an entity and acting in a parasitic manner upon our country, our society, and our people who are the ones that build and buy their products.
posted by deanc at 11:03 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean think about how much those workers have paid to Caterpillar in lost opportunity costs alone! If you want to pretend to do impartial economic analysis, make it impartial, or else shut up and admit these are social justice matters not mathematical calculations.

That's part of what really bugs me though.

I know--even the bullshit "Business is business, people," line doesn't hold up under scrutiny anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]




Is this hinting that the responsibility to care for employee's families, home, and health should rest on Caterpillar's shoulders? I'm not sure about that. As an example we do not expect corporations to educate use, why do we expect them to care for us in that way?
posted by danl at 10:57 AM on July 23 [+] [!]


Wage, benefits and the forty hour week are not divinely decreed. They're not ours because employers or government guaranteed them, they're ours because previous generations fought tooth and nail for them. These things don't exist because they're fair or just demands (although I believe they are), they exist because they've been fought for and won.

None of this has been won through moralizing, it's been won through direct action, hard work, and a whole lot of bloodshed. I'm not interested in convincing my boss that he should feel responsible for supporting me out of some sense of guilt or moral responsibility, I want him to understand that he must support me.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2012 [23 favorites]


As an example we do not expect corporations to educate use, why do we expect them to care for us in that way?

Corporations actually did used to be responsible for training and educating their workforce. That's now fallen onto the shoulders of workers, retraining programs run by colleges (usually community) and other governmental bodies, and on for-profit programs. It's not really working out all that well. Nor will this, in the long term, at least not for the rest of society. It's what lets Walmart pay its workers so little money that many of them are on food stamps while at the same time as the company claims tax benefits and other advantages.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:05 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


That settles it. I'm not going to buy a backhoe from Caterpillar.

Part of the problem is that the people who care about are very unlikely to have any influence on the corporation.
posted by dgran at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's not caterpillar's responsibility, it is the government's responsibility to organize the economy and labor laws in such a way that they preserve and foster the economic health of the middle class.

Does Caterpillar contribute money to political causes that actively seek to subvert those state responsibilities? Of course they do.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The part the right simply glosses over or refuses to see is this: Companies like Caterpillar are not just hurting the workforce, they are killing the country. Facts is facts.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:08 AM on July 23, 2012 [11 favorites]




Is this hinting that the responsibility to care for employee's families, home, and health should rest on Caterpillar's shoulders? I'm not sure about that. As an example we do not expect corporations to educate use, why do we expect them to care for us in that way?
posted by danl at 10:57 AM on July 23 [+] [!]


My employer actually is responsible for educating me, by the way. In my case it's part of a hard won compensation package, but some private sector non-union workplaces offer training funds and support education as well.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


My grandfather almost bought a Caterpillar dealership back when he had a successful timber company. More and more, I'm glad he didn't live for me to see him keep turning against the interests of his own working class roots.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:09 AM on July 23, 2012


Politics aside, if you are working to depress wages and benefits while, at the same time, you are booking record profits, then you are a colossal, insufferable prick.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:12 AM on July 23, 2012 [25 favorites]


About hustle.

As far as I can tell, hustle improves your odds, but probably makes less of a difference than base luck. For me, fortune is that I happen to have put a lot of time/study into a skilled field (web/software) because I thought it was interesting, and as luck would have it, there's a lot of demand for that skill right now.

It's not always true with skilled fields. And back in 2002, it was different for mine. There were dozens if not hundreds of *qualified* applicants for every open position I saw (I was told as much by some hiring managers). No amount of hustle seemed to appreciably change my personal odds, and it's even more obvious that no amount of hustle would change *everybody's* odds.

Sure, at that point you can try to retrain or hit another field. But then you're a novice -- and in a recession, you're a novice in a tight job market. Anybody who was lucky enough to have picked the field you're now entering a few years earlier has an edge on you, and many of those people are looking for jobs.

At that point, hustle may be what you gotta do, but it's not a generalizable solution to unemployment problems.
posted by weston at 11:13 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Number One, engage hustle. Maximum bootstraps.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


This horse has long left the barn and in fact has left the country.

Do you like buying things from dollar stores, or buying hammers for four bucks at home depot, or buying tape measures for five bucks there? All of that comes here from jobs that were here and no longer are here.

In the 1970s tape measures cost about fifteen bucks, which is probably forty to sixty bucks in todays dollars, or more. Vaughan hammers were made in Illinois, they cost about fifteen or twenty bucks, too. I bought a set of chisels for about $35, which I can buy today for no more than that and almost certainly less. And this in 2012 dollars, which are about worthless, compared.

All of those differences were to pay the guy building the hammers, the guys making those tape measures, grinding those chisels, and the rent for the buildings to build them in.

Oh, and clothing -- you'd buy a shirt or pair of pants or whatever, and in the pocket was a paper tag saying "Union Made" and often with a US flag symbol or some other such on it. "Inspected by number 11" on the reverse side of that tag.


I was in the last wave of union members; I worked in union shops but mostly non-union, since I've mostly lived in Texas. Many construction companies were beginning to have union shops and "open shops" IE non-union shops; the union shops for work on buildings that required union labor, mostly large jobs, mostly in large cities, mostly in the industrial cities, rust-belt cities, east coast cities. Texas, Arizona -- right to work states, translated as "right to starve" states; the only union shops I have seen in Texas are in the large cities, for sure.

Union workers -- my father and his time and those before his time, going back to Sam Gompers -- they raised the boat for everyone, that rising tide floated all the boats. The non-union shops had to be competitive or at least close. So when they struck, they struck for all workers.

I saw a lot of the problems with unions, and there were problems. You've got your hammer in your hand and you want to do something with it but *NO* you're not a carpenter, and you don't dare do it, you call your lead and he goes and talks to the carpenters lead and they send a guy over to straighten out that stud or whatever it is. All of that took time time time and a lot of it, and it was a huge PITA for everyone but -- BUT -- you don't cross those lines. Period. That's what it was.

And it was difficult to fire someone, you couldn't just run them off, esp not on a large job, esp not in a large city. People *would* strike, and other unions would *not* cross those lines, and those jobs shut down. Management had to be caareful, it was an adversarial relationship, to be sure.

But it gave us 8 hour days, five day weeks, it gave us medical benefits, it gave us the only leverage over management, to force them to give labor a decent life. None of those things would be seen as how it is supposed to be; we take these things for granted but those guys got beatings to stand in those lines, to give us what they gave.


Peoria Illinois was a Caterpillar factory town, you either worked at Cat or you supported people who did IE built their houses, cooked their biscuits, fixed their cars. I know this because my mothers sister married a guy from there aand they raised their children there and I visited a lot, enough to get a sense of life there. I bet that they're facing the same things in the US factories that is being faced in Canada. Hard times in the land of plenty.


I'm old enough to remember when items from Japan were laughed at -- cheap Japanese junk, ha ha har har who'd buy that garbage anyways? And their cars were pathetic pieces of shit, about the size of a shoe-box and about as sexy. Of course now everyone wants a Toyota and US auto-makers have fallen on hard times and are mostly non-union, from what I understand.

Now, instead of Japan, it's China. "Cheap Chinese junk" but man oh man are they getting better, and fast, too. And there is no. way. that we can compete with their labor costs. Not today and not ever.


Long winded. Sum: I don't see it coming back, not unless the jobs are forced back, and management will fight that with every dollar they have, they'd commit financial suicide rather than give labor a decent life.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2012 [28 favorites]


A good, working definition of a Republican: someone who can't enjoy their meal unless they know someone else somewhere is hungry.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [21 favorites]


When I talked about expecting corporations to educate use I was referring to primary and secondary education.

None of this has been won through moralizing, it's been won through direct action, hard work, and a whole lot of bloodshed. I'm not interested in convincing my boss that he should feel responsible for supporting me out of some sense of guilt or moral responsibility, I want him to understand that he must support me.

I suppose I'm coming from privilege again. It concerns me that few others in this thread seem willing to acknowledge privilege. I see it as the guilty beating heart of lot of outspoken liberalism (I include myself squarely in this camp) particularly when speaking out for other peoples' interests.

As I was saying, some of my privilege contributes to the fact that my current employer does care a fair amount about my family, health, and welfare (when measuring care in wages, benefits and treatment.)
posted by danl at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2012


In the current dispute one of the contention points is that new hires start at 11$ and get raises to 17 over time. Less than current workers are getting now, the union is against that. They are fighting for people who don't even have jobs yet.

posted by Max Power


Wait, what ?

Unions have routinely thrown "future" hires under the bus in order to keep benefits/protections/etc for the current worker. Even TFA talked about the two-tier wage structure unions have been arguing for, so as to preserve things for the current worker.

So, if you spite your pool of new blood, well, I can see how that'll bite you in the end.
posted by k5.user at 11:16 AM on July 23, 2012




Long winded. Sum: I don't see it coming back, not unless the jobs are forced back, and management will fight that with every dollar they have, they'd commit financial suicide rather than give labor a decent life.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:14 AM on July 23 [+] [!]


The struggle for standard of living doesn't stop at the border. Nor should it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


talos: "Seems that some of the Caterpillar employees have actually had a 60% raise recently"

Hmm, an interesting tack: If management gets a raise, so do workers, at the same rate as management. Of course in our lovely individualist society that would never happen.
posted by symbioid at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Politics aside, if you are working to depress wages and benefits while, at the same time, you are booking record profits, then you are a colossal, insufferable prick.

Not if the company doesn't think the profits are sustainable (which is, I think, the unspoken assumption behind Caterpillar's decision).

Lots of this stuff is driven by the macroeconomy, and with the world's major builders (China and other developing nations) looking like they may be coming onto hard times, wage cuts might not be the dumbest thing even if you've posted a solid profit for the year.
posted by downing street memo at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2012


I think most people would agree that unionized manufacturing jobs in the US are good jobs. The decline of US manufacturing and increased automation has hurt industry in general, but other things have contributed to weakening the unions, too.

At some point, there just becomes too much dissonance between the unions' demands and the expectations of other American workers.

The Times article says that one of Caterpillar's demands is that the Machinists contribute more for health care. The Times article says that this is "up to $1,900 a year more". It took me a while to track down what this meant. Under the current Machinists contract (see page 62), the covered workers are paying 10% of the health plan's cost (subject to a bunch of other stuff).

Caterpillar's negotiating posture is apparently a request that the Machinists' contribution would rise to "20% in 2017"; I couldn't find exactly what the steps and numbers are. (See "Caterpillar Girds for Strike", WSJ 4/30, also reprinted here.)

So my assumption now is that the Machinists currently pay $1,900 a year for what amounts to pretty nice health benefits. And that Caterpillar is asking them to double their contribution, up to $3,800. (Those are my assumptions based on the articles I found, I'm not sure if those are actual costs or not.)

But bottom line, there just seems to be a lot of dissonance compared to what the rest of American workers have, that a request that workers collectively contribute 20% of the cost of group health care is unreasonable. There's certainly room for discussion as to the role of employer-provider health care, but how many people really think the 20% number is unreasonable today?
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:18 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The US/Canada/China/etc divide can't really survive can it?

National borders are so 19th century.
posted by DigDoug at 11:20 AM on July 23, 2012


I'm very much in favor to unions in the private sector, at least in industries that are competitive. (In uncompetitive sectors like utilities, or in the public sector, they just seem like engines of rent-seeking, but that's another discussion I guess.) But unions haven't done much to endear themselves to the non-unionized public, and I think that's at the core of why their support has been eroding.

The power of modern unions derives, as I see it, from two places: the first is through capital's demand for the unionized workers themselves, and the economic power that implies; the second is through the political process. Early unions and their trade guild predecessors derived their power mostly through the former -- if you get most of the workers capable of doing a particular job into the guild or union, then you can bargain pretty aggressively with people who need those skills by threatening to strike. But most modern unions don't even pretend to have a corner on the skilled labor market, and thus their strike threats are fairly hollow -- except where the unions' political power forces employers to negotiate rather than just bypass the union and hire non-union workers. And that right there is the devil's bargain of Taft-Hartley.

By replacing strikes (or the threat of strikes) with litigation and arbitration, it allowed unions to ignore all the non-unionized workers who could perform the job just as well as union members -- who would have, in times past, presented a threat to the ability to strike successfully. Rather than concentrating on unionizing all of the potential workers in a particular industry or field, the major unions instead concentrated on broadening their membership either within particular employers or industries, principally by organizing those already employed. The result, when combined with the slack post-1978 labor market, is a minority of well-compensated workers in unionized jobs, and a large number of poorly-compensated (or unemployed) but frequently well-qualified potential workers standing outside the proverbial factory gates.

This clearly isn't sustainable. Even at organized labor's peak, there were only ever 25-30% of the total workforce actually in unions, and 30-35% of wage and salaried workers. So their political existence has always depended on support from non-unionized voters. Without that, having given up the ability to strike effectively by failing to organize not just the employed but also the unemployed (who are potential strikebreakers), it's not surprising that they are in trouble.

Although it's all in hindsight now, it's my view that if T-H had never passed -- and in particular, if the idea of binding arbitration as an alternative to strikes had never become common, unions would actually be healthier today than they are. Unionized employees might actually be paid less, and a large portion of union dues might go towards basically paying the unemployed-but-qualified not to break a strike, but they wouldn't be dependent on the vicissitudes of the largely non-union electorate for their survival.

Of course, history is path-dependent, and I don't think that we can get to that state from where we are today. Due largely to the weakness of labor, we opened the floodgates to foreign imports and labor outsourcing such that it's unlikely that the unions will ever achieve much power -- economic or political -- as they did in the early 20th century. I don't see much of a future for them, aside from perhaps ensuring a slightly-nicer retirement for the few remaining unionized employees, watched with anger and envy by the rest of the working public. The rich in their mansions are never as hated as the guy with a slightly nicer house across the street.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 AM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not if the company doesn't think the profits are sustainable (which is, I think, the unspoken assumption behind Caterpillar's decision).

Lots of this stuff is driven by the macroeconomy, and with the world's major builders (China and other developing nations) looking like they may be coming onto hard times, wage cuts might not be the dumbest thing even if you've posted a solid profit for the year.


Pure rationalization that doesn't comport with reality.

When I start to see management take it on the chin in hard times along with the workers, then I'd happily review my assessment.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


But bottom line, there just seems to be a lot of dissonance compared to what the rest of American workers have, that a request that workers collectively contribute 20% of the cost of group health care is unreasonable.

Why does it matter what others are paying when the real context has to do with Caterpillar? Your assumption leads to a race to the bottom, and is a big reason why capital has been so successful in destroying labor. It doesn't require much thought to see how bankrupt a position it is, though.

Caterpillar made a profit of 39k per employee last year.
posted by OmieWise at 11:27 AM on July 23, 2012 [8 favorites]


But bottom line, there just seems to be a lot of dissonance compared to what the rest of American workers have, that a request that workers collectively contribute 20% of the cost of group health care is unreasonable.

I don't know, a $1900 (or whatever it is with the taxes) pay cut would make me pretty unhappy, especially if it was on top of other large concessions. It would be hard for me to take on, and I make about what some of these guys do, without a family, debt, or a mortgage. This is a pretty common argument when you listen to people discuss the salaries of professors or teachers-- oh, but they get vacation, what does it matter to them if they lose a certain number of days, or oh, but asking them to contribute X% to their pension is only fair/asking them to give up their pension funds is only fair, because it now looks to the public like it was "unfair" to begin with. And in comparison, sometimes it does seem pretty shocking. Sometimes benefits were poorly decided or handled. Often, they weren't, it's just that they've been better protected than the benefits of everyone else. Where I work, a nonprofit college, our benefits are very good, in part because our salaries aren't. If someone were to come in and say that all the admin people get a 60% bonus but I have to give up 5% of my 401K match, I would be furious.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I suppose I'm coming from privilege again. It concerns me that few others in this thread seem willing to acknowledge privilege.

You're right. Let's talk about privilege. Let's talk about the Walton family's heirs privilege, for example, to command more wealth than 40% of their fellow Americans combined merely by virtue of having been born in the right family.

We definitely need a conversation about privilege in this country. Especially among those who occupy the most privileged positions.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Pure rationalization that doesn't comport with reality.

Oh, OK.
posted by downing street memo at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2012


Germany, for instance, has managed to hobble along.

Yeah, by what amounts to f*cking Greece in the ass.

How, you ask? Well by letting them into the Euro, of course. Spain, Greece, etc. have been borrowing and spending beyond their means ever since they got into the Euro. The only reason they were able to do that is because borrowing in Euros is vastly cheaper than borrowing in pesos or drachmae. It was the equivalent of getting the kids a credit card in their own name with dad's credit rating.

And where do you think all that money got spent? Not on infrastructure, that's for sure. Partly on real estate, especially in Spain. Definitely on public sector pay and benefits. And where do you think all that money got spent? In Greece it was significantly on German manufactured goods. The same is true to a lesser extent of Italy and Spain, and all the economies in Southern Europe.

So if it wasn't for the fact that Greece has bankrupting itself for the past decade, essentially subsidizing German manufacturing, German companies probably wouldn't have been so flush with cash for so long. It's a mathematical fact that not every country in the world can be a net exporter. Germany has, for years, benefited from net inflows of money from places like Greece. Now it's reaping the whirlwind. Even if it doesn't wind up getting stuck with the cost of all those borrowed funds, like dad eventually having to pick up the tab on the credit card which, after all, bears his name, demand for German goods is going to fall back to where it should have been all along. Then see how well things go.
posted by valkyryn at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


We definitely need a conversation about privilege in this country. Especially among those who occupy the most privileged positions.

I won't disagree. Although I'd prefer a more self-aware discussion of privilege. There aren't many sites like metafilter where that could fly. Could it fly here?
posted by danl at 11:38 AM on July 23, 2012


You're right. Let's talk about privilege. Let's talk about the Walton family's heirs privilege, for example, to command more wealth than 40% of their fellow Americans combined merely by virtue of having been born in the right family.

We definitely need a conversation about privilege in this country. Especially among those who occupy the most privileged positions.


Anyone that has any wealth in this country has more wealth than a sizeable portion of the country, whose wealth is zero or negative (I think around 25% of people have negative or zero net worth). Wealth is not income. Also, paradises of equality like Norway and Sweden also have significant portions of their population that hold no wealth. It's not to minimize the problem of inequality, but that particular statistic about the Waltons is misleading in just about every way.

Second, it's not outlandish to talk about privilege in an argument where pro-labor lefties are saying, essentially, that it's better jobs stay in the US than go to $OTHER_COUNTRY, especially when those relocating jobs are responsible for dramatically higher living standards in those other countries. "No, Chinese laborer, you have to continue living in your Stalinist concrete block apartment so US laborers can make $50 an hour" doesn't seem inherently liberal, at least not to me.
posted by downing street memo at 11:41 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Second, it's not outlandish to talk about privilege in an argument where pro-labor lefties are saying, essentially, that it's better jobs stay in the US than go to $OTHER_COUNTRY

I don't know, I'm pretty liberal, and I don't know anyone who's pro-outsourcing because it's somehow a form of benevolent charity for poor workers in other countries. I know a lot of liberals who work for charities to increase education abroad, along with living standards, women's health, and environmental standards, but no one who thinks somehow Caterpillar will be any kinder to their workers in other countries.

(I also know a lot of liberals who work for basically those same charities in the US of A, which is a great reason for wanting to preserve these jobs, since we still have serious poverty and literacy issues at home.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Raising Chinese (or Vietnamese, or Mexican, or ...) standards is admirable and desirable, but not at the expense of our own standards.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe this is just me sympathizing too much with management-side arguments, but I think it's a red herring to rely too much Caterpillar's profitability this year in ongoing bargaining, because the stability of a job covered by a union contract means that the machinists are isolated from potential downturns in Caterpillar's profitability. So I think it's one thing to say, "hey, let's have a greater portion of our total comp be from the profit-sharing plan", but it's another thing to say, "well, we want higher wages because this past year has been great, and we want that wage stability for the next X number of years".

Of course, upper-level management's contracts (see: golden parachute) won't have them sharing pain in the same way as workers affected by a plant closure, either.

Collective bargaining is complex, and both sides are fighting a messaging war. I think the unions (especially in the current political and economic environment) are having a harder time making their case.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So now suddenly we're obliged to think of the economic needs of the rest of the world and that's the economic justification? Just as long as the interests we're advancing aren't those of our own workers?

Give me a break. How many different mouths espousing how many contradictory POVs does one have to have to make these pro-management arguments anymore?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Spain, Greece, etc. have been borrowing and spending beyond their means ever since they got into the Euro.

Not at all true for Spain. See also: housing bubble.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


danl: "Good lord don't let please don't take personally any of my quickly dashed off sentences about some union dispute I'm only remotely familiar with. I don't know you, wasn't talking about you, couldn't possibly be in any position to judge you."

If you don't recognize that this "union dispute [you're] only remotely familiar with" actually does have direct, personal effects on people "don't know", "[aren't] talking about", and "couldn't possibly be in any position to judge", maybe you should hold off on telling people to stop complaining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
posted by Lexica at 11:51 AM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


It's just business and no one's entitled to expect corporations to think about social justice or be responsible to the communities they operate in until that line doesn't work anymore and then we're reminded that as fat, sugar swilling Americans we should simply be more grateful for our lot in life. If I could roll my eyes hard enough to express the depth of my sentiments about these arguments, they'd pop right out of my head.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:52 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


So I think it's one thing to say, "hey, let's have a greater portion of our total comp be from the profit-sharing plan", but it's another thing to say, "well, we want higher wages because this past year has been great, and we want that wage stability for the next X number of years".

Correct me if I am wrong, but neither party are offering the former. A wage and pension-freeze for six years is what management has offered and what drove the union to strike. I mean, the second part of what your saying (wage stability) is what the management wants in a wage freeze, so why aren't you holding management to the same accord for not offering anything?
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 11:56 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


maybe you should hold off on telling people to stop complaining and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

I never don't...
posted by danl at 11:56 AM on July 23, 2012


I don't know anyone who's pro-outsourcing because it's somehow a form of benevolent charity for poor workers in other countries.

I don't think it's benevolent charity at all, in fact it's the opposite - real economic development. I don't think Caterpillar and other outsourcers are doing it to improve living standards either, but that's exactly what has happened. I don't think pro-labor lefties are anti-poor people in other countries, but I do think they don't think thoroughly about what labor protectionism in the US would mean to developing nations.

Raising Chinese (or Vietnamese, or Mexican, or ...) standards is admirable and desirable, but not at the expense of our own standards.

Well hey, that's a defensible viewpoint. It's not one I'd call inherently liberal or progressive, but that's fine.
posted by downing street memo at 11:57 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


...I think it's a red herring to rely too much Caterpillar's profitability this year in ongoing bargaining...

This would be true if they hadn't given the CEO a 60% pay increase. If the short term profits shouldn't be considered a justification for pay increases, that logic shouldn't apply to ANY employee.
posted by VTX at 11:58 AM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yeah, by what amounts to f*cking Greece in the ass.

I like the way you essential describe Europe's poorer countries as "the kids". I'm sure they appreciate the condescension.
posted by Slothrup at 12:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the 1970s tape measures cost about fifteen bucks, which is probably forty to sixty bucks in todays dollars, or more. Vaughan hammers were made in Illinois, they cost about fifteen or twenty bucks, too. I bought a set of chisels for about $35, which I can buy today for no more than that and almost certainly less. And this in 2012 dollars, which are about worthless, compared.

This is basically it. My father asked me to pick up a Marshalltown trowel for him to bring back to Australia (because they cost an arm, a leg and a kidney over there) and it was $35 for an 11" trowel. The thing is US made from forged tool steel and will be neigh on indestructible.

Compare that to the cast carbon steel shit from China that's $12. And I know which one sells more because Marshalltown is an endcap in the masonry section.

People just won't pay for quality anymore. And in areas where they will either the US industries can't compete on quality (cars) or the US share of manufacturing has been obliterated (Apple). Even Intel does chip assembly in Malaysia after doing fab work in the US.

On the plus side with the rapid inflation of wages in China the US will soon be competitive in the manufacturing sector again. They're fast approaching parity with the US minimum wage.
posted by Talez at 12:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know about Caterpillar, but public pension benefits are absurd in the US. You can try to beat mathematics, likely you won't. Many cities will have to declare bankruptcy to cope with this future burden.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Caterpillar made a profit of 39k per employee last year.

If the unions want in on that, the way to do it would be via an ESOP or profit-sharing system, not through above-market benefits or compensation that are locked in for years. While I agree that it's pretty shitty on its face for Caterpillar to be asking workers to take a haircut while giving themselves a raise, locking in compensation based on one good year's numbers is how you put your employer out of business (or at least into Chapter 11). That doesn't end up benefiting anyone.

Management jobs typically are individually rather than collectively bargained, and typically have a greater degree of exposure to the company's profitability. That they have increasingly included "golden parachutes" that limit downside risk is crappy, but both the upside and the lack of downside are functions of the apparent shortage of qualified people for those positions. If Caterpillar's board thought that their junior managers were as easily replaceable as machinists, then they'd probably be paid the same (or less, since they're not bargained collectively). It's worth considering why that isn't felt to be the case, because in the past I think it was the opposite way around: a qualified machinist was probably harder to find than a pencil-pushing junior middle-manager for much of the 20th century. What changed?

I think you'll find that the answer is largely due to the collapse of American manufacturing and heavy industry in particular, which has left Caterpillar as one of the few firms left in that sector. That buyer's market was due pretty clearly to trade policy. That was the real looting of the middle class, and it's the pro-free-trade liberals that are the real culprits. Unfortunately, they managed to paper over the damage for a few decades, so they're probably beyond the reach of the mob -- just as they planned all along.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Raising Chinese (or Vietnamese, or Mexican, or ...) standards is admirable and desirable, but not at the expense of our own standards.

Fuck you, I got mine.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I mean "liberals" in the "economic liberalism" sense, not in the "euphemism for Democrats" sense.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on July 23, 2012


I don't know about Caterpillar, but public pension benefits are absurd in the US

If middle class people can't retire with a pension of 40% of their modest salary after working for 40 years, then what, exactly, does it mean to be middle class? The mindset seems to be that if so many people are heavily-indebted white collar workers with empty 401(k)s, then EVERYONE should be, and that it isn't fair for public employees with a pension to have a secure retirement.
posted by deanc at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Management jobs typically are individually rather than collectively bargained, and typically have a greater degree of exposure to the company's profitability.

Insert "short term" in there and you're describing a bug in how executive compensation packages are structured that even corporate types acknowledge as troublesome. Turns out, aligning compensation with short term profitability is bad even from a pro-business perspective. They should be dependent on the performance of the company's pension system, and that system should be the same for management and labor, if you really want to align executive compensation with a company's long-term health and profitability.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:12 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


But instead, executives have every incentive to plunder their own companies' retirement systems, under the current stock-option-heavy compensation schemes.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The world doesn't work the way that you think it does.

Sounds like it works exactly like I think it does. Well in your and my cases at least.


Except that you didn't read my comment. It was not my hustle that found me this good job - it was social networks and luck. I was previously working just as hard for $13/hour. (That was the job I got through "hustle").

When this job ends (it's temporary), I have no idea where I will find a job as good, let alone better -- and I am saying that from a position of privilege with a good education and good literacy and numeracy skills. And this "good" job still doesn't pay well enough for me and my SO to even think of having a mortgage. We're looking at probably having kids in an apartment building in a bad area of town, because that's how middling people live in my city.

Frankly, I think that union workers do have it relatively good -- that's why I think that more people should be unionized. Otherwise, there will be no such thing as a better job, just bad ones and even worse ones.

As it already is for so many people.
posted by jb at 12:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


If Caterpillar's board thought that their junior managers were as easily replaceable as machinists, then they'd probably be paid the same (or less, since they're not bargained collectively).

Let me ask you: who do you think puts together the projections and recommendations for the board at Caterpillar? Who do you think benefits from the performance of their junior staff? And to that end, do you not think they might be a little bit biased towards, say, compensating the people who help them hit targets vs. those who work in another area of the company?

The same way that you might criticize a shop steward for advocating for things that benefit them and not thinking about the whole company, so could you of the management who have negotiated these parachutes so they can make riskier, higher-payoff, short-term decisions. The only difference is one has the ear of the board and one does not, and that's why it's not about the supply/demand of MBA graduates (for which there are plenty on the job market right now), but instead a biased system that has management justifying management's own existence.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"If middle class people can't retire with a pension of 40% of their modest salary after working for 40 years, then what, exactly, does it mean to be middle class?"


Well, last thing I heard was 60% of the average of you last three years salary after 20 years in the system. And this is quite a deal. It is unsustainable, if you like it or not.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2012


The company had profit of $39,000 per employee last year.

That's it? Doesn't seem all that high. And, as a matter of fact, it isn't. Each employee cost CAT way more than $39,000. That $55k salary a high tier CAT employee takes home? Probably costs the company closer to $80-90k when taxes and benefits are factored in, especially at union levels. And the company also needs to spend money on overhead just to give the employee a place to work. Real estate, equipment, inventory, utilities, insurance, you name it. How much, exactly? Well, their revenue per employee comes to about $393k. Which works out to about $250k in overhead, per employee, excess of salary and profit. And hey, their net income in 2011 was $4.928 billion on $60.138 billion in revenue, or 8.19%. Pretty much in line with the $39k per employee figure. This is decent, but far from fantastic. Profits are up this year, but they're still in the 10% range. Better, but still pretty typical for a well-managed, mature manufacturing company.

Here's the thing: capital is not worthless. CAT employees are paid for their labor. But CAT investors have to get paid too. All those figures you hear about most people having zero or negative net worth? People like me? They're all true. Which means that companies are competing for capital just like they're competing for everything else. A company that doesn't pay a good return is likely to see investors head for the exits. Right now, yield on CAT is about 2.55%. Which is decent these days, but not even in the top half its DJIA contemporaries. Verizon's at 4.5% and AT&T is at almost 5%.

And where capital is scare, labor is most definitely not. All those union employees? Almost infinitely replaceable. It's true that CAT needs the parts made at the Joliet plant, but it has zero need for the particular workers at that plant. None whatsoever. The only reason it can't replace its entire workforce in the next week is it's contractually prevented from doing so, and the only reason it signed that contract is because state and federal labor laws forced it to.

Further, investors are compensated not just for having a scare resource, capital, but for exposing it to risk when they didn't have to. That, too, is valuable. But employees aren't exposed to any risk. They get a paycheck, week after week, regardless of how well the company does. Why should they get to participate in the profits but not the losses? If CAT has a bad quarter or loses money, shareholders' dividend payments drop or disappear. But employees keep getting paid. If employees want a windfall when the company does well, they also need to be prepared for a pay cut when the company does poorly. No union contract of which I've ever heard contains such a concession.

And before you go saying "Hey, but the executives got a raise!" remember two things. First, executives generally have a larger portion of their paycheck directly tied to company profitability than regular employees. Second, they're also a lot more likely to get fired. GM, for example has had thirteen CEOs in its history, four of which have been in the last twelve years and three of them in the last three. Third, there aren't that many people in CAT's C-suite. Or any C-suite, for that matter. CAT employs 153,000 people. Giving each of them an extra $1,000 a year costs the company $153 million. You could double the salary of everyone in the C-suite and it'd probably fall quite a bit short of that. Now, we can have a conversation about executive compensation--I happen to think it's excessive--but it does not have the same impact on any company's bottom line that regular employees' salaries do. Not by a long shot. It might not be fair to raise executive pay while cutting employees', but it isn't remotely the same economically.

The point here is that CAT, though profitable, isn't crazy for asking for concessions from their employees. Particularly if, as CAT has suggested, it's paying some employees up to 35% more than the market will bear. Even a 2% pay cut could easily save the company $100 million or more. A pay freeze for six years could easily work out to $1 billion in extra profitability over that period. For a company that made just under $5 billion last year, that's not chump change.

So should CAT be raising its executive pay while looking for these concessions? It's a bad PR move, to be sure, but it won't really cost the company anything. Should executive pay be restructured generally? Probably. But again, even if that happened, CAT would still want these concessions. So yelling about executive compensation is a complete red herring. It may not be fair, but it doesn't actually matter. CAT would be doing this regardless. The most minor change to regular employee compensation will always dwarf even the most extravagant executive compensation increases.
posted by valkyryn at 12:18 PM on July 23, 2012 [12 favorites]


In what respect, Charlie? (Norway and Luxembourg benefit from oil and financial services, respectively; among very large economies ours is the most productive by far).
Um, on the very same page you link to, the 2005 figures show the US below a good portion of Europe. Given that Europe and the US have chosen different strategies to deal with the economic crisis, it is no surprise that the US looks much better at the moment in terms of GDP per hour worked. Indeed, I'm not sure the table even accounts for the notoriously damaging overtime that US workers are expected to do, as not all of that is recorded.
Second, it's not outlandish to talk about privilege in an argument where pro-labor lefties are saying, essentially, that it's better jobs stay in the US than go to $OTHER_COUNTRY, especially when those relocating jobs are responsible for dramatically higher living standards in those other countries. "No, Chinese laborer, you have to continue living in your Stalinist concrete block apartment so US laborers can make $50 an hour" doesn't seem inherently liberal, at least not to me.
This is an exceptionally weak argument. The economy is not a closed system where growth can only come at the expense of somebody else. It is possible to both maintain the living standards of one set of workers while raising the living standards of another. You're patronizing the Chinese (or any other growing economy) by suggesting that they can only achieve economic growth by taking the economic activity of the US.
posted by Jehan at 12:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


jb: Except that you didn't read my comment. It was not my hustle that found me this good job - it was social networks and luck. I was previously working just as hard for $13/hour. (That was the job I got through "hustle").

Hmm.. I was responding to this bit:

I too have hustled - and done two university degrees. I have improved my wages from $7/hour in 1998 to $24/hour in 2012, in what is a damn, fine (and highly skilled) job.

Sounds you hustled like a champ and it paid off in spades. I definitely count social networking (job-related) as hustle... and I sincerely wonder just how much luck had to do with it.

So you can't yet buy the house you want... it you'd like to talk about the distortion of the housing market relative to wages I'd be happen to kvetch for days with you. Up for a bitch session about prop 13?
posted by danl at 12:26 PM on July 23, 2012


It's counter to the energy realities that underlie our economic systems to reward intellectual workers like management with a massively disproportionate share of compensation. The actual real-world physical costs in our economy are disproportionately paid by the laborers because it literally requires more physical resources to replenish the physical resources required to fuel a day of physical labor than a day of intellectual or social labor of the kind management performs. In any kind of rational or scientific way of calculating economic value, people who worked harder, physically, would need to be compensated in a way that reflects the reality of all the extra food energy they'd need to consume to maintain healthy functioning. We don't even consider such practical physical realities at any level in our current economic thinking, so there's no justification whatsoever for pretending our economic values are driven strictly by the reality of physical resources and production methods.

Science tells us thinking harder doesn't cost as much in terms of actual, measurable physical resource costs than does working harder. If we ever want to have a way of reckoning economic costs and value in terms that are actually meaningful in the real, physical accounting of the world (rather than consisting merely in socially constructed shared fantasy), it seems to me you'd want to at least take into account that working people harder physically actually costs more energy than making them think harder.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:28 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That last is meant to be a reductio ad absurdum against the often argued notion that economic value somehow represents real value, in some independently meaningful sense, by the way, not necessarily a serious proposal for how wages should be determined. Not that I think we'd be much worse off if we just literally inverted the current wage scale pyramid.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:35 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


And this is quite a deal. It is unsustainable, if you like it or not.

Oh cool, I guess that's just the end of the argument and requires no statistics or evidence or anything. And here I was reading the very FPP about how Caterpillar someone seems to be turning a profit.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Two observations:

1) Most people who are indifferent or even supportive of people losing their jobs because others overseas can do them more cheaply are in professions that they believe cannot be offshored. I think there would be a lot less support for this sort of thing if, say, attorneys or hilariously-mustachioed New York Times economics columnists were faced with the same sort of multinational competitive environment they support for the proles.

2) For those who seem indifferent to the declining prospects for a secure retirement that increasing segments of the middle class are, what do you intend to do about your own retirement?
posted by jhandey at 12:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


, last thing I heard was 60% of the average of you last three years salary after 20 years in the system. And this is quite a deal. It is unsustainable, if you like it or not.

That sounds amazing. Which job is that, and why didn't you take that job?
posted by deanc at 12:45 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is an exceptionally weak argument. The economy is not a closed system where growth can only come at the expense of somebody else. It is possible to both maintain the living standards of one set of workers while raising the living standards of another.

In general, you're right. But when growth is negative, zero, or slow (as in, right now) that becomes impossible. And even if growth exists, it takes time for markets to do their thing and spread the fruit of growth around. Upthread, someone mentioned that as Chinese labor costs achieve parity with ours, more manufacturing jobs will likely come to and/or stay in America - with the added benefit that there'll be a Chinese middle class and an American middle class buying stuff.
posted by downing street memo at 12:46 PM on July 23, 2012


now, they make those big yellow things that are always gouging the earth, reducing mountains to rubble, mowing down forests and spewing black clouds of filth into the air, right? and someone wants to work for them?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 12:49 PM on July 23, 2012


valkyryn's comment is an excellent representation of my feelings.

I'm very surprised there's been so little talk of this issue relative to CAT's scale. Perplexity had some interesting thoughts on this. CAT has been around for barely 20 years less than the majority of major US auto manufacturers. It holds serious international power and continues to be a successful company. The same can not be said for Ford or GM. There has to be some recognition of CAT's ability to maintain 53,236 US jobs. For a comparison, Ford employs ~75,000 employees and has had well documented issues of late.
posted by fresheee at 1:01 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Posted links to users rather than posts. For the record, I meant valkyryn and Perplexity.
posted by fresheee at 1:05 PM on July 23, 2012


In general, you're right. But when growth is negative, zero, or slow (as in, right now) that becomes impossible. And even if growth exists, it takes time for markets to do their thing and spread the fruit of growth around. Upthread, someone mentioned that as Chinese labor costs achieve parity with ours, more manufacturing jobs will likely come to and/or stay in America - with the added benefit that there'll be a Chinese middle class and an American middle class buying stuff.
But lacking growth, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul at the very least, but maybe even losing everything. If Chinese workers get outsourced jobs, then there is less money in the US economy to purchase the products. You end up destroying high living standards in one country, so weakening existing demand to support the labor in China achieving higher living standards. It might still make good sense from the owners viewpoint as they can take the difference, but not from a liberal one. Why trade one working class and one middle class for two working classes? There's very little here for the middle class in developed countries to feel guilty about.
posted by Jehan at 1:08 PM on July 23, 2012


last thing I heard was 60% of the average of you last three years salary after 20 years in the system. And this is quite a deal. It is unsustainable, if you like it or not.

NJ public pension system I think they might have reduced the benefits.
A few years ago it was 60% of your last salaries (!) after 20 years. You got additional health benefits if you worked 25y.

You have to retire at the right time, long enough, before something like this happens..
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:08 PM on July 23, 2012


Let me ask you: who do you think puts together the projections and recommendations for the board at Caterpillar? Who do you think benefits from the performance of their junior staff? And to that end, do you not think they might be a little bit biased towards, say, compensating the people who help them hit targets vs. those who work in another area of the company?

Honestly? I don't think that the people sitting on the board of a company like Caterpillar give two squirts of piss about any junior manager, anywhere in the company. VP and C-level people? Sure; explaining their compensation (which generally is determined directly by the board) is pretty easy. But the rest of the management chain? Very doubtful. I've worked at big companies like that, and except for a cadre of top executives, who do get ridiculous packages determined directly by their golf buddies, everyone else is probably getting their raises out of the black box of HR, probably from someone tasked and heavily incentivized to keep the numbers as low as possible, using a formula that takes into account what competing companies are paying for someone with x years of experience and y level of education and then pushing them up or down within that band (playing a zero-sum game with their close coworkers) based on performance reviews or an immediate manager's discretion. It probably goes up or down a little every year depending on retention. But that's about it.

If proximity to the royal court and the throne were proportional to compensation, you'd expect to see some really, really highly-compensated secretaries and EAs and other minions, and that's almost certainly not the case. At least I have never seen it be the case, and I doubt Caterpillar is different.

The idea that the Board and the CEO cares more about Jane the Excel Jockey or Joe the Night-School MBA than Fred the Machinist strikes me as pretty laughable. I suspect they care about them in exactly the same manner, which is to say not at all, or only in some very vague and impersonal way.

But I'm not arguing that there's a disparity in pay between management positions and blue-collar skilled labor, and that the disparity has increased over the last quarter-century or so. But I don't think you can chalk that up to mere nepotism or mutual back-scratching; there's something fundamentally wrong with an economy that values Excel skills more highly than operating complex machine tools in a factory setting. And I think it's pretty clear that the reason for that is because the machinists' jobs have been outsourced and are effectively subject to international market rates, with the unions playing a slow but fruitless defensive action, while the Excel jockeys' haven't. Yet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


1) Most people who are indifferent or even supportive of people losing their jobs because others overseas can do them more cheaply are in professions that they believe cannot be offshored.

Or have already worked in more than one country, and accept that embracing greater efficiency (when it's genuinely long-term efficient - which clearly isn't always the case, and sustainable, which is hardly ever the case) it's the least-bleak future in the long term big picture. A problem with the way it's happening though is double standards allowing capital to be free to cross borders at whim while keeping labour trapped. That's naturally going to shit on working conditions.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:26 PM on July 23, 2012


That's naturally going to shit on working conditions.

And the alternative just destroys the stability of a society and culture in pretty short order and keeps everyone but the wealthy who can afford to phone their work in literally dancing around following the money around the world like puppets.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job.

that's the least likely option in today's economic climate - truth is, jobs at any skill level are hard to find these days and the money and time it takes to increase one's skill level can be downright prohibitive

option 2 - which is the one that i, a dues paying union member have taken, is to grit my teeth and suck it up

option 3 - which is something i'm seeing more and more of - is to say "fuck it", settle for a low stress, low wage job and/or disability, work under the table whenever possible, live as cheap as one can and refuse to even try to contribute one's skills and labor towards this corrupt corporate society

the underground economy was believed to be 8 % of US GDP in 2009

the wages aren't so great, but you don't pay taxes

this is what people who have been driven out of the aboveground economy are being driven to - and it's going to get a lot worse

this isn't a good thing for any of us - and i submit to you that people who can't survive aboveground are going to find another way - and by doing so, they're going to help themselves, but hurt our country in the long run

people who no longer have a stake in the system aren't going to work for it - and companies like caterpillar are going to find that if they allow their greed to lower wages enough, they're not going to be able to find anyone worth a damn to work for them - because they'll all be doing something else that isn't so demanding even if it doesn't pay crap
posted by pyramid termite at 1:31 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You have to retire at the right time, long enough, before something like this happens..

The problem, as always in retirement planning, is compound interest. Getting 60% back for 20 years on 40 years of saving would be somewhere in the region of a 15 percent savings rate at 6% return. Completely feasible, manageable and prudent to offer. To do that at 2% return? You'd be looking at a saving rate of over 40%. Completely unmanageable.

In this era of running the money tap wide open it has become that much harder to keep up with pension obligations.
posted by Talez at 1:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


okay, not "literally dancing around...like." sorry. that's one of my pet peeve's too, so sorry. point is, you can't make long term plans and build local communities when local communities are constantly being sucked away, chasing the capital wherever it decides to go. you can build shitty little old west style boom towns this way, but not permanent cities and communities with any economic depth to them.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


>> And this is quite a deal. It is unsustainable, if you like it or not.

Oh cool, I guess that's just the end of the argument and requires no statistics or evidence or anything. And here I was reading the very FPP about how Caterpillar someone seems to be turning a profit.

I said, I don't know about caterpillar but talked about the public system. Try here.

The problems with profits are: They are temporary. Benefits are "forever". One of the reason why GM collapsed were the pensions. If you feel like you can do a better business, open your own company. Then you can offer all the benefits in the world to your employees. Or if you feel like Caterpillar is taking a too big piece of the cake: Buy caterpillar stocks.

It actually remind me of a similar situation in Europe. The unions demanded more (salaries etc.), the company offered a additional compensation, based on the company performance. The unions rejected this. It would be "inappropriate to burden the employees with the entrepreneurial risks..."
posted by yoyo_nyc at 1:38 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


So you can't yet buy the house you want... it you'd like to talk about the distortion of the housing market relative to wages I'd be happen to kvetch for days with you. Up for a bitch session about prop 13?
posted by danl at 3:26 PM on July 23 [+] [!]


I didn't say that I couldn't buy the house I wanted. I cannot afford a mortgage at all (whether for a house or an apartment) and I struggled to find a rental apartment that I could afford -- and I have a good wage. Where does that leave people who are working for so much less?

I don't know what prop 13 is, but I'd rather bitch about the disgusting behavior of Caterpillar in shafting their workers on both sides of the border.
posted by jb at 1:47 PM on July 23, 2012


I think there would be a lot less support for this sort of thing if, say, attorneys or hilariously-mustachioed New York Times economics columnists were faced with the same sort of multinational competitive environment they support for the proles.

Well, two things. I'm a lawyer, so I feel some competence to speak on behalf of the legal profession. There are definitely people who will disagree with me, but I think what I'm about to say is a pretty well represented position.

First, this is exactly what's happening to the legal profession right now. Well, not exactly, because what's happening isn't moving my exact job to someone who will do it for a tenth as much. Instead, a lot of companies are realizing that they don't need to pay $850 or even $500 an hour for competent legal representation. They can either bring the work entirely in-house, or they can shift the work to cheaper firms. And you know what? A lot of document review is being farmed out to contract workers, some of whom are overseas! This used to be the bread and butter of the big firms, and the salad days are officially over.

It's still possible to make a decent living as a lawyer, as someone does, in fact, have to show up in court. But the number of people who will get rich as a lawyer is going to go way down as the profession purges itself of bubble-inflated expectations. Being a lawyer is, once again, going to be a way to make a reasonable middle to upper-middle class living, but that's it.

Second, there are a lot of lawyers, myself included, who were never really comfortable with the amount of money sloshing around in the big firms. It isn't just envy, though obvious I'd like to make more money. It's that it adds distorting effects to the market. Smaller firms who charge more reasonable prices are having trouble finding good talent, despite the glut of attorneys on the market, because they can't afford to pay what new law grads cost. It's not precisely that there are no legal jobs to be had, it's that the pay sucks, because there's no money in it, but all law students have student loan obligations which assume they're going to start out making $160,000, despite the fact that no more than 20% of them ever did. Most start out making less than $60,000. Or about what the union guys at CAT are making. Only the CAT guys don't have to pay $1,000 a month in student loan service.

So yes, the pain that a lot of larger firms are feeling--and it's real pain--is actually welcomed by many in the field. Maybe with the spoilers out of the way, the rest of us can go about running an actual profession instead of a bloated corporate parasite.
posted by valkyryn at 1:50 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


you can't make long term plans and build local communities when local communities are constantly being sucked away, chasing the capital wherever it decides to go. you can build shitty little old west style boom towns this way, but not permanent cities and communities with any economic depth to them.

If the colossal change had somehow been made, I doubt it would play out like that - once labour is free to move, then the bottom falls out of any market reasons for capital to move. Capital is only moving around because it can find better deals in trapped pockets labour - because they're trapped and isolated. At a guess, I'd think the eventual result would be geographical areas that specialize in certain industries, which would slowly wax and wane over time like everything else.
So yes, it would reshape the structure of societies, but I don't think you can just assume that's worse than the current mess.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:51 PM on July 23, 2012


It would all depend on everyone jumping into the boat at the same time. You're right; in the long term, the result would likely be capital having no more incentive to move around. But in the short to mid term, there would be lots of existing imbalances to exploit and everyone but capital would be left to pay massive uncompensated opportunity costs and yet again restructuring their social/personal lives.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:57 PM on July 23, 2012


there's something fundamentally wrong with an economy that values Excel skills more highly than operating complex machine tools in a factory setting.

In a sense I agree with you, because I'm firmly committed to the idea that wealth comes from the creation and distribution of stuff, real, physical goods, and that IP and the "creative class" don't make that. The idea that we can assign arbitrary values to anything we care to without any respect for their ontology is essentially idolatry, worshiping our own will.

In another sense, I'm not completely convinced this is the case. We do, in fact, need Excel jockeys. Even to run a manufacturing business. Not as many as we need complex tool operators, but we need them. But the thing of it is, more people can run complex tools than can efficiently and competently use Excel. As I've argued above, CAT could completely replace its factory workers inside of two weeks. It could not replace its Excel jockeys quite as easily. Workers for whom there is less adequate supply will be able to demand a premium that workers for whom there is an adequate supply cannot. There ratio of people who want and can do factory work to the number of factory jobs is far larger than the number of people who want and can do Excel work to the number of Excel jobs.

Marx tried to come up with a way of calculating the "value" of various types of labor. He couldn't make it work, and I don't think anyone else can either. But supply and demand are real forces. While I don't think we can necessarily do math with them, we can make general descriptions. Excel jockeys will probably wind up making more than factory workers. Can't tell you how much more, or if that disparity makes sense, but the fact that there is one doesn't bother me.
posted by valkyryn at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Or have already worked in more than one country, and accept that embracing greater efficiency (when it's genuinely long-term efficient - which clearly isn't always the case, and sustainable, which is hardly ever the case) it's the least-bleak future in the long term big picture.

That's the difference between theory and practice. If the theory isn't working in practice - if the practice is hardly ever sustainable and usually isn't even efficient in the long-term - maybe there's something wrong with the theory.

I do think you're right that there's a distinct asymmetry between labor mobility and capital mobility. But I also think that labor mobility's another one of those things that looks easier and more desirable in the abstract than in the real world. People are parts of communities, of families, of lots of things that money can't buy. Maybe instead of asking how we can increase labor mobility, we can ask how and when to more effectively regulate or even decrease capital mobility. Many of the countries that have rejected in part or in full financial orthodoxy after one or another of the financial crises of the past 15 years - Malaysia, Argentina, Iceland - have done pretty well for themselves.
posted by jhandey at 2:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to convince myself that this is not much different than cutting back my spending on restaurant meals despite increasing my earnings. Saving money when there's money to be saved is not a bad thing.

Yes, we're dealing with people here. People are more important than my eating habits. But CAT is still employing a lot of people.

I clearly need to educate myself further on CAT's prior treatment of it's workforce. Perhaps there's a consistent morally questionable treatment of employees that would change my mind.
posted by fresheee at 2:07 PM on July 23, 2012


Thanks valkyryn - that's a very, very thoughtful perspective on the legal profession...
posted by jhandey at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2012


Every economist up to and including Adam Smith has proposed ways of calculating the economic value of labor. It's one of the basic functions of economics, as a discipline, to propose theories about the value of labor. Don't go using a prejudicial example to make my position look more leftist than it is. Marx's position was only differentiated in that it took labor to be the primary factor underlying economic value. I'm not arguing that. Just that if we want to pretend our economic arguments are truly scientific, they should bear some meaningful and necessary connection to the underlying physical realities of economic activity.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:08 PM on July 23, 2012


In a sense I agree with you, because I'm firmly committed to the idea that wealth comes from the creation and distribution of stuff, real, physical goods, and that IP and the "creative class" don't make that.

I was too, but having thought about what level of changes have to take place for a sustainable standard of living - without mass population reduction - I've concluded that a likely way to sustain a wealthy standard of living into the future, even assuming greater efficiency, is for lives to become resource poorer but to have this offset by being service richer and IP richer. (Where IP includes the public domain).
posted by -harlequin- at 2:09 PM on July 23, 2012



If the colossal change had somehow been made, I doubt it would play out like that - once labour is free to move, then the bottom falls out of any market reasons for capital to move. Capital is only moving around because it can find better deals in trapped pockets labour - because they're trapped and isolated. At a guess, I'd think the eventual result would be geographical areas that specialize in certain industries, which would slowly wax and wane over time like everything else.
So yes, it would reshape the structure of societies, but I don't think you can just assume that's worse than the current mess.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:51 PM on July 23 [+] [!]


As long as all of the labour moves at the same time. That's not a bad idea though; if only there was some kind of organization that could help coordinate labour, ensuring that they all push at the same time and in the same direction, to leverage capital.

I wonder what that would look like... *cough*

I really think that people forget the fundamental nature of unionism. All it is at heart is organized employees working together for a common goal. That's it. All the rest is trappings, some of which we could do without frankly. It's just people, people working together. That should be a tough thing to hate on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:10 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Marx's position was only differentiated in that it took labor to be the primary factor underlying economic value.

And BTW, that was the classical economic view, before later economists rejected it, so it wasn't even a uniquely Marxist idea.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe instead of asking how we can increase labor mobility, we can ask how and when to more effectively regulate or even decrease capital mobility.

Agreed. And $21T+ vanishing into offshore accounts suggests there is a bit too much mobility right now...
posted by -harlequin- at 2:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The company had profit of $39,000 per employee last year.

It actually made $42k per employee if you take the average number of employees; the company went from 104,490 employees at the end of 2011 and added 20,609 jobs over the course of the year. Of those, 5,917 were in the US.

Meanwhile, CAT had average invested capital of $382k per employee. To compare that to what CAT earned, I'll add back interest expense after tax and I come out with adjusted earnings of $51k per employee. So CAT earns 13% on its invested capital. The company's cost of capital is probably in the range of 6-8% depending on how one chooses to calculate it. Using that range, CAT is earning between $20k to $28k per employee after meeting its investors' requirements.

Anyway, I thought I was going to come around to saying that CAT wasn't really adding much value beyond its capital costs. But actually there's a decent amount of "excess" earnings there that could theoretically be captured by labor and not hurt the company.
posted by mullacc at 2:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


As an aside, how many liberals were involved in demanding a boycott of Catapillar over the sales to Israel?

http://www.endtheoccupation.org/section.php?id=15

It was widespread and still continues
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


jb: I didn't say that I couldn't buy the house I wanted. I cannot afford a mortgage at all (whether for a house or an apartment) and I struggled to find a rental apartment that I could afford -- and I have a good wage. Where does that leave people who are working for so much less?

Left to fend for themselves? I'm not convinced there's something wrong with that.

My job does get outsourced fairly routinely. I have a mortgage and child costing me quite a bit. "Management" in my career has often started making questionable decisions that harmed me.

But if an outsider, even a well-meaning one, began trying to "help" through labor organization or political action I would not be happy. I prefer to be left to manage my own affairs.

What makes Caterpillar employees different any different?
posted by danl at 2:26 PM on July 23, 2012


... CAT could completely replace its factory workers inside of two weeks....
With what I've been learning about how to run actual metal working equipment, you're about as likely to get someone competent with the equipment in 2 weeks as giving a newbie excel with 2 weeks training. It's not as simple as you expect, because you don't respect the job.

I'm amazed at how inexpensive modern manufactured goods truly are. The amount of process required to make even a $2 toy fan is astounding.
posted by MikeWarot at 2:26 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Left to fend for themselves? I'm not convinced there's something wrong with that.

They can earn $20 by selling a fence goods from your car that costs society $2000 to replace (including fixing the smashed window)

Letting too many people get desperate is economically inefficient.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Those "better jobs" at Caterpillar were once in London ON...I remember the mayor of the American city getting a plant talking to the people at As It Happens about his sympathy for London workers -- and he sounded like a decent guy...

I was following the situation in London closely because London's my home town, and because what Caterpillar was doing there was probably the biggest act of corporate greed and heartlessness I could remember happening in Canada (our resource industries notwithstanding). And yeah, I was just amazed, listening to the interview with the mayor of Muncie, Indiana, where the work was being relocated, at what a warm and decent man he was, the genuine sorrow he seemed to feel for the workers in London.
The interview is here.
posted by Flashman at 2:32 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


They can earn $20 by selling a fence goods from your car that costs society $2000 to replace (including fixing the smashed window)

Sounds like extortion to me.
posted by danl at 2:38 PM on July 23, 2012


Every economist up to and including Adam Smith has proposed ways of calculating the economic value of labor.

Yeah, and none of them have been able to do it. Not a single one.

I didn't pick Marx to try to prejudice your argument. I picked Marx because he was the one who futzed around with the concept the most, the one who really thought there was something inherently valuable about human labor. But try as he might, he simply couldn't make the math work. To know the value of anyone's labor, you need to know the value of everything in the universe. Not only is this circular, or at least highly recursive--labor is valued upon things which are created with labor--but it's impossible. You have to make up the numbers somewhere. As soon as you do that, you're doing moral philosophy, or even art, but not science.

Frankly, I've always thought that economics was really moral philosophy in physics drag, so this doesn't bother me much. But the idea that economics, as a science, tells us what anything is "supposed" to be worth is just silly.
posted by valkyryn at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cat closed their Canadian plant, kicked out all the union workers and then moved to the states where lax labour laws let them pay peanuts to keep the place running. Then hired some of the union workers back on expensive term contracts to help them survive while they trained new cheap staff for 15$ an hour. Christ.

This was after the Canadian government had handed them millions in subsidies to help critical industry survive the recession.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:40 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like extortion to me.

No, there are no demands. It's just a predictable and observed result of desperation.

Similarly, someone can make $50 selling stolen copper that cost society $100,000 to install. Infrastructure crumbles when society arranges incentives so as to erode itself.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:43 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


As an aside, how many liberals were involved in demanding a boycott of Catapillar over the sales to Israel?


My college had a plenary motion to divest our portfolio of stock from Caterpillar on this account; I think it was never really resolved because at the institutional level you can't just separate things out like that. But yes, there actually is a group of people dedicated to making this happen.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


With what I've been learning about how to run actual metal working equipment, you're about as likely to get someone competent with the equipment in 2 weeks as giving a newbie excel with 2 weeks training. It's not as simple as you expect, because you don't respect the job.

No, I do respect the job. But all you're really doing is pointing out that workers get better as they get more experienced. I don't think anyone's going to dispute that. I'm certainly not.

What I'm saying is that running that equipment is something that anyone who is functionally literate and numerate could do, if given the opportunity to learn. It's a difficult process, but it's not an intellectually difficult one. Human beings are pretty universally good at getting the hang of physical tasks. The ability to do intellectual work is not so universal.

Here's the distinction. I'm not a carpenter. I'm a lawyer. But stick me in a carpenter's shop and give me six months and adequate training and I could probably be one. Not an awesome one, but I have no doubt I could get a basic job done. But you can't stick a carpenter in a law office and say the same thing. Heck, you couldn't probably send the carpenter to law school. I'd make a bad carpenter, but I'd make one. Most carpenters wouldn't make any kind of lawyer.

So while CAT would lose efficiency and productivity for a while if they had to retrain their workforce from scratch, they could find warm bodies to fill those spots who are capable of being retrained in a moment's notice. That can't necessarily be said of Excel jockeys.*

*Note that I understand "Excel jockey" here to mean "generic, white-collar work."
posted by valkyryn at 2:50 PM on July 23, 2012


What I'm saying is that running that equipment is something that anyone who is functionally literate and numerate could do, if given the opportunity to learn. It's a difficult process, but it's not an intellectually difficult one. Human beings are pretty universally good at getting the hang of physical tasks.

Indeed. It has to be remembered that many manufacturing jobs have been specifically tailored so as to eliminate the need for specialized, expensive skills.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:02 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, there are no demands. It's just a predictable and observed result of desperation.

"It's not threat, it's a promise."

Sorry, gotta call BS on this. None of this is any justification for threats of physical violence. Wasn't that a central credo of OWS?
posted by danl at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2012


What I'm saying is that running that equipment is something that anyone who is functionally literate and numerate could do, if given the opportunity to learn. It's a difficult process, but it's not an intellectually difficult one. Human beings are pretty universally good at getting the hang of physical tasks. The ability to do intellectual work is not so universal.

There will be low-end cases where that's true, but I think you've miscategorized an intellectual task as a physical task. Operating metal-working equipment is often a case of "here are the engineer's blue-prints for what the widget must be, it's your job to figure out how to make it", and often that job involves inventing or modifying or augmenting tools to do it. The routine of "tooling up" for a job doesn't generally refer to buying tools, it means figuring out and building custom tooling.
Even when it's a simple case of "here's a block of metal and here's a mill", I've noticed that it is a distinct subset of people who can mentally hold, rotate, translate, and operate on complex 3d shapes in their head. It's as distinct as any other kind of intellectual work.

At the same time, I've noticed people who just never get the hang of physical work. And some people have shaky hands. I really don't think these things break down as nicely as you do.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:04 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sorry, gotta call BS on this. None of this is any justification for threats of physical violence. Wasn't that a central credo of OWS?

This is what I said:
"Letting too many people get desperate is economically inefficient."

This is what I did not say:
"justification for threats of physical violence"

Quit with the silly straw man.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:06 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There will be low-end cases where that's true, but I think you've miscategorized an intellectual task as a physical task. Operating metal-working equipment is often a case of "here are the engineer's blue-prints for what the widget must be, it's your job to figure out how to make it", and often that job involves inventing or modifying or augmenting tools to do it. The routine of "tooling up" for a job doesn't generally refer to buying tools, it means figuring out and building custom tooling.

yeah working on a modern serial production like isn't like that and chances are CAT buys in a lot of its tooling. 2N2222 is right - they've intentionally designed a lot of skill and expertise out of the production process precisely so they can commoditize labor.
posted by JPD at 3:07 PM on July 23, 2012


We do, in fact, need Excel jockeys. Even to run a manufacturing business. Not as many as we need complex tool operators, but we need them. But the thing of it is, more people can run complex tools than can efficiently and competently use Excel.

I agree and that is definitely the case, but I think it's worth thinking about why that is, because it doesn't make a ton of sense.

Put this way: if a bunch of alien economists descended on the Caterpillar plant, they might find this situation rather odd, because it quite clearly is more difficult to become a skilled lathe operator than it is to learn Excel. Not because Excel is precisely simple (it's not), but just about anyone with a crummy old PC and an Internet connection and a willingness to use Bittorrent and spend a bunch of hours reading tutorials can figure out Excel. Not so with the lathe: unless you actually have access to one, you'll probably never figure out how to use one. And there aren't a ton of them around, compared to PCs, and as voc tech programs and metal shop classes are closed down, there are even fewer.

Of course, what isn't necessarily obvious if you're just looking at the job, is that most of those machine operators are probably older than the Excel jockeys. Essentially, we are burning through an apparent "surplus" of blue-collar workers, hence their lower wages. But that "surplus" is in scare quotes because it's not due to an overproduction of machinists, but because they were trained for jobs that suddenly evaporated out from under them.

Speaking as someone who is a lot closer to the "Excel jockey" end of the spectrum than a machinist (although I subscribe to the "wealth comes from making stuff, not playing circle-jerk in the service economy" theory also, so this is a bit sad to me), I think there's a rather huge cautionary tale here that's being ignored.

I've concluded that a likely way to sustain a wealthy standard of living into the future, even assuming greater efficiency, is for lives to become resource poorer but to have this offset by being service richer and IP richer.

And what does the end state of that look like? Because it seems pretty grim to me. We can trade my hour-of-labor for your hour-of-labor back and forth all we want, but eventually one of us is going to have to buy petroleum, or generic pharmaceuticals, or electronics to view all that IP, or something made from steel, or one of the many other products that we no longer (or soon won't) manufacture domestically. And the only way they're going to get here, is if something of value goes the other way. It would sure be nice if that was something other than corn and strip-mined minerals, which once we get done outsourcing our patrimony as the world's industrial powerhouse seems like probably the only things we really have a natural 'comparative advantage' in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:09 PM on July 23, 2012


I prefer to be left to manage my own affairs.

You appear to be under the illusion that this is within your power.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 3:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


This is what I said:
"Letting too many people get desperate is economically inefficient."

This is what I did not say:
"justification for threats of physical violence"

Quit with the silly straw man.


I was responding to how my car's window got broken and how people are "fencing" my property? Did I misunderstand an implicit threat there?
posted by danl at 3:33 PM on July 23, 2012


You appear to be under the illusion that this is within your power.

So far so good. And in any case, if I didn't have that power for myself how on earth would I have it for some abused Caterpillar employees?
posted by danl at 3:34 PM on July 23, 2012


I really don't think these things break down as nicely as you do.

Of course they don't. But the factory work we're talking about, the union workers, are frequently not doing the kind of work that you describe, because this...

Operating metal-working equipment is often a case of "here are the engineer's blue-prints for what the widget must be, it's your job to figure out how to make it", and often that job involves inventing or modifying or augmenting tools to do it.

...is certainly true, but as I understand it, that's not what the union guys are mostly doing. That's what the company engineers are doing. They're probably not unionized, they're better paid, and they may not even be company employees. It's their job to get things going to the point that the union guys can come in and run the thing on autopilot. They're doing the parts of the process that it's currently not efficient to automate, or supervising the parts that are, but they're not putting in the "hold, rotate, translate, and operate on complex 3d shapes" work.

Don't get me wrong here. They're still using amazingly complex machinery, and the work does indeed take skill. But I maintain that there are vastly more people with this sort of skill, or who can acquire it at any rate, than there are of the engineers' sort of skill.

Look, if you're trying to make the argument that blue-collar work is dignified and worth respecting, you'll get no argument from me. But if you're arguing that blue collar work is irreplaceable and the same sort of thing as being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, or even desk jockey, you're just not gonna win me over. For thousands of years, the vast majority of humanity has made its living doing things that didn't involve needing to know how to read and write. They worked with their hands, either grinding a living out of the soil or making things with the sweat of their brow and skill of their hands. What we're dealing with is the fact that we don't need people to those things any more. Instead of 80% of people farming and still having regular famines, we've got 2% doing it and see regular crop surpluses even in the face of drought and pestilence. We, as a civilization, haven't figured out what to do with the 78% of people who would otherwise be weeding all day. The fact that it was momentarily possible for factory workers to make a middle class living in the post-war period is a historical anomaly. It wasn't true before the 1940s, and it's increasingly not true today. It would really be convenient for everyone if it were, but it's not.
posted by valkyryn at 3:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


And what does the end state of that look like? Because it seems pretty grim to me. We can trade my hour-of-labor for your hour-of-labor back and forth all we want, but eventually one of us is going to have to buy petroleum,

The hard reality is that as the rest of the world starts competing with you. you're not going to be able to afford as much petroleum, or whatever. Of course that's grim, but there isn't an alternative universe where 9 billion people get to keep the status quo lifestyle on planet earth. Having your only metric of wealth being how much physical stuff you have, makes it far grimmer than the future needs to be.

People buy TVs for the IP. It's the IP more than the flatness of the screen that raises their standard of living. For many people, an old TV with great shows is better than a new TV with poor shows. (For other people, wealth is having a new TV when neighbors don't.)

The kind of wealth that matters is the wealth that raises the standard of living. In a world where we have to do with a lot less of one of kind of that wealth, we will prosper by recognizing and maximizing other sources of wealth.


And the only way they're going to get here, is if something of value goes the other way.

Such as IP, for example. Movies and video games are exported, oil is imported. Bit a trade deficit right now though... that deficit might not be sustainable...
posted by -harlequin- at 3:37 PM on July 23, 2012


Put this way: if a bunch of alien economists descended on the Caterpillar plant, they might find this situation rather odd, because it quite clearly is more difficult to become a skilled lathe operator than it is to learn Excel.

That's such an odd comparison. It's also harder to learn how to operator a lathe than it is to learn how to operate a pencil, but you wouldn't say a machinist is more skilled than a writer. A more honest comparison would be a machinist and an accountant.
posted by mullacc at 3:39 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was responding to how my car's window got broken and how people are "fencing" my property? Did I misunderstand an implicit threat there?

Yes you did. If anything, the car I'm talking about is my own. I don't expect you to care about my car, but all of our cars are in this together. I do not want my society to squander its wealth - and mine along with it - by doing what feels superior at the expense of what works, being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:43 PM on July 23, 2012


Here's an article from a few years back when Caterpillar threatened to decamp Illinois because the state was mulling an income tax increase. Caterpillar is not a nice company. Not fucking close. Like practically every hardcore "free-market" bellower who demands that the great unwashed need to work harder, they are at the front of the line for government handouts when it suits them.

But, hey, depressing wages and benefits is a sane and valid way of fixing things.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2012


[Folks, if you think someone is trolling, go to MetaTalk or use the flagging feature please. Anyone who is NOT trolling please try to make that clear at this point.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:48 PM on July 23, 2012


Did I misunderstand an implicit threat there?

(Also - our individual losses would be covered by insurance, and thus recouped against the population via insurance rates, basically a tax - except a tax that only buys pennies on the dollar. Desperation and unrest is bad bad policy all around.)

posted by -harlequin- at 3:48 PM on July 23, 2012


I was responding to how my car's window got broken and how people are "fencing" my property? Did I misunderstand an implicit threat there?

There's no "threat" there. Crime directly correlates with income inequality and poverty. You seem keen on looking out for yourself, so it would be sensible for you to take that fact and make the logical choice when making political decisions (i.e., advocate for reduced income inequality and poverty reduction).
posted by junco at 3:48 PM on July 23, 2012


So a company experiencing high profits should rewards their employees, customers, and shareholders. Okay makes sense.

Just wondering. If you feel the employees should get paid better when the profits are high, should their pay and benefits go down when profits are lower or when there isn't enough income to pay the promised benefits?
posted by 2manyusernames at 3:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


You seem keen on looking out for yourself, so it would be sensible for you to take that fact and make the logical choice when making political decisions (i.e., advocate for reduced income inequality and poverty reduction).

Good lord. I swear I'm not trolling, but this reads to me a bit like "you have a lot of nice things, it'd be a shame for something to happen to them." Maybe the broken car window point just totally threw me.

I actually would like to advocate for "reduced income inequality and poverty reduction", but from much more of a personal empowerment approach. I just don't see the personal responsibility angle getting any play in this thread and it alarms me.
posted by danl at 4:00 PM on July 23, 2012


Wow. There's no threat implied to point out that the larger the "disenfranchised" group of American workers becomes, the more things like crime and underground economic activities will become a reality. It's not like we haven't seen it before. People will do what they have to to get by. Often, that is a bad deal for society as a whole.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am genuinely curious to hear what "reduced income inequality and poverty reduction... from more of a personal empowerment approach" looks like.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:07 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I chose the car window example because it's an obvious example of something that can happen to any of us (not something that only happens to Poors or Others), and the economics are moderately stark between what that action actually costs us, vs how little money drives that action.

The copper theft example is more economically destructive, but people tend to think of their society's infrastructure as not their problem - something that isn't happening to them, even though it is.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just don't see the personal responsibility angle getting any play in this thread and it alarms me

It's musical chairs, it always has been, only it used to be there was only one fewer chair than people, for the past ~30 years those in power have been removing as many chairs as they possibly can. Unfortunately there are still the same (really many more) number of players needing a seat.

Do you see how "personal responsibility" is kind of a red herring here? Will you see it when you can't find a chair?
posted by Cosine at 4:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just don't see the personal responsibility angle getting any play in this thread and it alarms me.

While going on strike in the current environment is probably not the best long term financial move, the action those fellows have taken is pretty much the pinnacle of personal responsibility.

No reason to be alarmed. It's just a bunch of pixels on your monitor.
posted by notyou at 4:09 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs.

do you know what this sounds like, and why it's putting people off? here, it's like this:

DISCUSSION: we're here to talk about a dramatic uptick in gun crime.
PERSON: a guy tried to stick me up with a gun once but i ran away.

the reason this discussion is not going well for you is that you do not seem to understand how an argument works. it's irritating to people who do.
posted by facetious at 4:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just don't see the personal responsibility angle getting any play in this thread and it alarms me.

Fair enough. In other places I've lived, the American Dream is statistically more realistic (and it shows), because of things like social safety nets and healthcare. You can start a new business without gambling your family's health and survival. You can quit your dead-end job and try to get a better one without loss of healthcare or risking becoming homeless. The right safety nets and incentives empower people to strive, and if they fail, allow them to survive, lick their wounds, learn, and live to strive again.

For genuine personal responsibility to get full play, people have to be empowered with genuine options.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:21 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm morbidly curious to see how the student loan situation plays out. If, as I suspect, fewer middle class families decide to take on the financial burden and fewer banks decide to proffer the loans we could see a greater number of uneducated people in this country fighting over the table scraps.

Then with all the political power that has been handed to them on a silver tray, corporations can lobby to eradicate minimum wage legislation.

There will be plenty of people out there hungry enough to take on jobs that pay $5.00 an hour without benefits.

Of course the service industry will take a hit-- the wealthy only need so many pedicures and can only eat out 3 times a day. And if the middle class truly and completely disappears any manufacturing that takes still takes place in this country will need to sell their goods elsewhere.

A United States without a solid middle class will be a very, very different place.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:24 PM on July 23, 2012


Secret Life of Gravy: "I'm morbidly curious to see how the student loan situation plays out. If, as I suspect, fewer middle class families decide to take on the financial burden and fewer banks decide to proffer the loans we could see a greater number of uneducated people in this country fighting over the table scraps."

Or the free market can finally kick it and the fewer people able to get loans will mean that college costs come down dramatically till more people are able to afford a college degree.
posted by 2manyusernames at 4:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


do you know what this sounds like, and why it's putting people off? here, it's like this:

DISCUSSION: we're here to talk about a dramatic uptick in gun crime.
PERSON: a guy tried to stick me up with a gun once but i ran away.

the reason this discussion is not going well for you is that you do not seem to understand how an argument works. it's irritating to people who do.


IOW, let us get our bitch on.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:36 PM on July 23, 2012


DISCUSSION: we're here to talk about a dramatic uptick in gun crime.
PERSON: a guy tried to stick me up with a gun once but i ran away.


An employer enacting a wage and pension freeze is a far cry from violent assault, and as a result I have a very different response. AFAIK Caterpillar broke no law. Is what they did wrong? Maybe.

My central confusion stems from whenever I try to identify with union workers at the mercy of their employer I never can visualize my own response being the same as theirs. I never consider unionization, let alone striking. I don't personally know anyone who would consider those options. I have significant trouble relating to their plight and as a result do not support any political action to help them.

Other's in this thread seem relate to their plight and I'm struggling to figure out what it is I'm missing.

Is this a fair representation of the arguments so far?

1) Corporation like Caterpillar have a responsibility to provide a fair wage upon which it is possible to support a family. Primarily if the corp is profitable and can pay out significant bonuses or pay increases to management the onus is upon them to fairly distribute some of the profits to line employees.

2) Behavior like that mentioned in the article contributes to wage depression and economic depression which will incentivize widespread antisocial or anti-community behavior (the violence derail)

3) Skilled manufacturing jobs are a desirable commodity and it is worthwhile for us as a society (in the US) to enact political changes to preserve them.

If anyone is still reading and cares, was there anything I missed?
posted by danl at 4:39 PM on July 23, 2012


Good lord. I swear I'm not trolling, but this reads to me a bit like "you have a lot of nice things, it'd be a shame for something to happen to them." Maybe the broken car window point just totally threw me.

I'm not sure I believe you're not trolling, at this point, but I'll play along: you do probably have a lot of nice things, and it would be a shame for something to happen to them. Honestly. But you seem to be imagining a nefarious horde of... lazy poor people, I guess, who are extorting money for welfare from you, and threatening violence if you don't pay up. But that's not a helpful way to look at the problem. Property and violent crime rising as poverty and income inequality increase is a thing that happens, and it's easy to see why: the chronically poor are as much rational economic actors as anyone is, and as their situation gets more desperate and more deprived compared to their neighbors, crimes of opportunity become easier to justify and bear less opportunity cost ("would I rather risk a 10% chance (or whatever it is) that I go to prison for stealing this guy's car and selling it for parts to my shady friends, or do I starve?" vs. the considerations of someone who actually has something to lose in the first place). You can approach the resulting increase in crime with increased law enforcement presence and harsher penalties (maybe), but that's dramatically more expensive to do than enacting policies to distribute wealth more equitably in the first place.
posted by junco at 4:41 PM on July 23, 2012


Or the free market can finally kick it and the fewer people able to get loans will mean that college costs come down dramatically till more people are able to afford a college degree.

And the sooner we can get teachers and professors to work for next to nothing, the faster that will happen.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2012


MikeWarot: "The United States for more than 2 centuries had something unique... a perpetual labor shortage, which ended in 1978. It was this labor shortage that made the middle class possible, and enabled the rise of unions."

One look at a chart of the employment to population ratio and you would see how utterly wrong this is. From 1978 on, more of the population has been employed than before, not less. We are just now under the 1978 level, but that's to be expected with baby boomers retiring and being in the middle of a recession.
posted by wierdo at 4:42 PM on July 23, 2012


valkyryn: CAT could completely replace its factory workers inside of two weeks.

This would be funny if this weren't coming from a lawyer that is protected from free competition by the richest and most powerful union in the country. The ABA controls who and how many schools become accredited to compete in the legal market. Further, law schools are actually announcing that they are colluding in the market to reduce the number of slots in their schools to reduce what they perceive as a glut of lawyers that is depressing wages. The ABA limits foreign competition not just for the lower wage document review jobs but more importantly for the lucrative jobs as representatives in court. Even the highest paid legal jobs could be replaced for a fraction of the cost by the smartest people in the world but for the protectionism of the legal guild. The protectionist measures undertaken by lawyers to eliminate competition and increase their wages and the prices they charge for services are a direct transfer of wealth from blue collar workers to the protected class.
posted by JackFlash at 4:49 PM on July 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Property and violent crime rising as poverty and income inequality increase is a thing that happens, and it's easy to see why: the chronically poor are as much rational economic actors as anyone is, and as their situation gets more desperate and more deprived compared to their neighbors, crimes of opportunity become easier to justify and bear less opportunity cost

I guess some in this thread wish for a society with more equal wealth distribution and greater availability of high-wage employment.

I wish for a society where people respond to difficult economic circumstances by taking personal responsibility for the conditions they find themselves in and behaving in moral and honorable ways to navigate themselves and their families to some level of success and comfort. In that way I dream of a future where the link you describe can be broken.

I would never belittle or mock anyone who find themselves in difficult straits, nor anyone who has navigated them successfully. I know many people (including some I'm descended from) who have done exactly that and I admire them greatly.
posted by danl at 4:55 PM on July 23, 2012


My central confusion stems from whenever I try to identify with union workers at the mercy of their employer I never can visualize my own response being the same as theirs. I never consider unionization, let alone striking. I don't personally know anyone who would consider those options. I have significant trouble relating to their plight and as a result do not support any political action to help them.

Well, new (and hopefully better) tactics are always worth figuring out.

Let's say you have one of these jobs, there aren't any other jobs in the area (you've tried) but your kid is in school, so you don't want to move, not that you could anyway - because there are no jobs in the area, you probably can't sell your house any time soon, especially if you don't want to take a loss against the mortage, and as your wife's parents get more frail, it's important to her that she stay within errand-driving distance of them. The kids are young and best served by having a dad.
Inflation and wage freezes, and fewer hours of work being offered means that you're now actually losing money every month, despite cutting to the bone over the last year.

Or in a nutshell, improving your current job seems more realistic than finding a better-paying replacement.

What would you do to achieve this if the boss laughs (or threatens you) when you ask for a raise or more hours?

What you come up with has probably been tried, and it probably sometimes works, but who knows, maybe there is something better than unionizing, that would be pretty cool.

Have you ever watched "The Right Stuff?" about the Mercury 7 astronauts?
posted by -harlequin- at 5:02 PM on July 23, 2012


Bootstraps it is, then. Works well for the (white, male, straight) descendants of literate, middle class stock, after all.
posted by maxwelton at 5:05 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish for a society where people respond to difficult economic circumstances by taking personal responsibility for the conditions they find themselves in and behaving in moral and honorable ways to navigate themselves and their families to some level of success and comfort. In that way I dream of a future where the link you describe can be broken.

This rests on the utopian assumption that people are fully personally and morally responsible for the conditions they find themselves in. Sometimes, people are born into a rigged game, and the rigged game must accept some of the personal responsible for the consequences of its immorality. I take it as given that people should undertake responsibility, but that cuts both ways.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


bootstraps

Is everyone using this term doing so mockingly? Is there anyone here who did not bust their ass getting educated from an early age? Is there anyone here who does not work their ass off to maintain a good standard of living? How can you mock such things?

(white, male, straight) descendants of literate, middle class stock

So we shall loath and/or disparage ourselves then? For the record these may apply to me, but they quickly apply less and less with each generation back in my family. And for that particular line it was hard work and education all the way. I'm sorry if that offends people. I myself get disappointed that the answer is so f'ing cliched and condescending, but there it is.
posted by danl at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2012


rigged game must accept some of the personal responsible for the consequences of its immorality

I have a semantic problem there that may or may not be important: The game can't take responsibility, but the players must.

I take it as given that people should undertake responsibility, but that cuts both ways.

I agree wholeheartedly.
posted by danl at 5:16 PM on July 23, 2012


I'm morbidly curious to see how the student loan situation plays out.

No. Shit. An entire asset class valued in excess of $1 trillion turning out to be entirely worthless isn't going to make many people very happy. Except the students, like me, who are burdened by them.
posted by valkyryn at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2012


Is everyone using this term doing so mockingly? Is there anyone here who did not bust their ass getting educated from an early age? Is there anyone here who does not work their ass off to maintain a good standard of living? How can you mock such things?

We recognize that busting your ass from an early age is a necessary but not sufficient condition of prosperity. We mock those who assume that busting ass alone is sufficient, because it is so demonstrably false, yet so ego-stroking and self-serving that some people refuse to look deeper.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]


This would be funny if this weren't coming from a lawyer that is protected from free competition by the richest and most powerful union in the country.

I think you've adequately established your irrational beef with lawyers elsewhere on the site. No need to bring that noise in here.
posted by valkyryn at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2012


It's not that the idea of bootstraps is bad; it's that, as proposed by so many on the right, it's unrealistic. Mere will is not enough to make anything happen. We are social animals. We live in society. A single hand clapping accomplishes nothing.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:19 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


BTW, -harlequin-, your scenario is a difficult one indeed. It might be fair to say that I live my life meticulously planning and acting such as to never wind up in such a place. Seriously. I'm plagued by anxiety and that is one its few beneficial effects. Even then it's not worth it.

Unfortunately it's the only answer I've seen the works with any consistency.
posted by danl at 5:23 PM on July 23, 2012


I think you've adequately established your irrational beef with lawyers elsewhere on the site. No need to bring that noise in here.

Wait, you are the one who haughtily sniffs that you could easily take the place of a union CAT worker yet get bent out of shape when someone points out the only thing preventing your job from being outsourced is a rich and powerful protectionist union.
posted by JackFlash at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


The scenario can be changed such that you have a tough situation because of decisions made by people before you were born.

There is a lot of disadvantage - and advantage - that simply doesn't come from your choices or your hard work. A better society, to me, is one that more effectively overcomes this, and enables hard work to make a difference, Compared to the best places in the world, the USA is lagging in that regard. Room for improvement :)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not that the idea of bootstraps is bad; it's that, as proposed by so many on the right, it's unrealistic

I think this would be wrong. It's entirely realistic an undertaking. It's the most responsible thing one can do for oneself. And it may be the only thing one might truly have under control and the most powerful tool to make it. What it might not be is adequate. There's no denying getting some good breaks might be all it takes. But there is such a thing as making your luck happen.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:37 PM on July 23, 2012


Is everyone using this term doing so mockingly? Is there anyone here who did not bust their ass getting educated from an early age? Is there anyone here who does not work their ass off to maintain a good standard of living? How can you mock such things?

Yes, we are using the phrase "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mockingly, because that is what it means.

It is impossible to literally pull yourself up by your bootstrap. Go on, try - find a pair of boots with bootstraps (little loops on the back of the boot to help pull it on) and try to lift yourself off the ground - or out of a bog, as the good Baron Munchausen did. How high can you lift yourself, just by pulling on your bootstraps.

No cheating and doing it on an escalator.

Personally, I don't want to mock the concept - the myth, like that of other evil, pernicious myths - is too strong to mock. I want to kill it and dismember it and bury it.

The hardest working people I know are all still stuck in those terrible jobs -- because that's what being in a terrible job means. And they don't just work harder at their work - they work harder for everything in their lives, just like the poor pay more.

Why are they still in bad jobs? often because they don't have the freedom to go to school because they are too busy supporting themselves and their families and can't get any savings together because their wages keep ratting frozen. Or maybe they just aren't smart -- does that make them inferior people? NO.

but I can't argue any of this as well as Michael Young -- and anyone who thinks that a meritocracy isn't just another evil oppressive system should read the Rise of the Meritocracy.
posted by jb at 5:38 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


2N222:

I agree completely. I was (unsuccesfully) trying to say what you ( and -harlequin-) said.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:40 PM on July 23, 2012


This would be funny if this weren't coming from a lawyer that is protected from free competition by the richest and most powerful union in the country. The ABA controls who and how many schools become accredited to compete in the legal market. Further, law schools are actually announcing that they are colluding in the market to reduce the number of slots in their schools to reduce what they perceive as a glut of lawyers that is depressing wages. The ABA limits foreign competition not just for the lower wage document review jobs but more importantly for the lucrative jobs as representatives in court. Even the highest paid legal jobs could be replaced for a fraction of the cost by the smartest people in the world but for the protectionism of the legal guild. The protectionist measures undertaken by lawyers to eliminate competition and increase their wages and the prices they charge for services are a direct transfer of wealth from blue collar workers to the protected class.

This is so funny how wrong this is. If ABA was trying to restrict the number of lawyers approved by ABA-accredited law schools, there would not be over 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the country.
posted by gyc at 5:57 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Elites Are Unanimous: Lower Everyone's Wages and Standard of Living -- Except They Don't Say it Out Loud
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Personally, I don't want to mock the concept - the myth, like that of other evil, pernicious myths - is too strong to mock. I want to kill it and dismember it and bury it.

Ok I thought it meant something else. I don't see how the term you've defined is relevant here.

jb you've told a little of your story... requisite ass-busting, hustling, and resulting success.

You talk about acquaintances who work hard but can't improve their lot. I wonder what they have to say on the topic... truly.
posted by danl at 6:12 PM on July 23, 2012


If ABA was trying to restrict the number of lawyers approved by ABA-accredited law schools, there would not be over 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the country.

Why aren't there 400 or 800? There is a huge excess of people willing to go to law school for whom there is not room. Why are some of the most prestigious law schools currently reducing the number of admissions even though applications are up? More lawyers means lower prices for legal services.

This only comes up because people in privileged classes don't seem to mind putting blue collar workers in competition with non-union or foreign workers, yet do everything possible to limit competition in their own profession through a protective guild and restrictive licensing. This causes a transfer in wealth from unprotected classes to protected classes.
posted by JackFlash at 6:14 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


JackFlash -- there's a nice argument against the notion that the ABA has meaningfully cartelized the legal profession. The two biggest markets are significantly more liberal. California has adopted its own rules that, by way of low-tuition unaccredited law schools, permit essentially anyone who can pass the Bar to become a lawyer. New York permits anyone with a foreign law degree to take the Bar with zero (if from a common law jurisdiction) or one (if not) year of US law school. However, this reduced cartelization doesn't result in meaningfully lower legal fees or better access to justice.
posted by MattD at 6:34 PM on July 23, 2012


danl: That physically impossible process is what the term "pulling oneself by one's own bootstraps" refers to. jb didn't invent that definition.

The problem I (and I suspect others) have with your stance is: What does it say about people who have not been able to get and keep a good job like you have? Are they all lazy? Stupid? Would they rather be unable to keep up with their bills than be able to?

While there almost certainly are some people who fit each of those diagnoses, I don't believe that is the case for all of them.

The "rigged game" above is an analogy, but as you point out with your semantic quibble, is not a perfect one. Because the game is not a box full of cards and cardboard and wooden pieces, it's society. And we can and have collectively decided a number of things that are or are not society's responsibility. The point is that it is possible to change the rules of the game so that people who start at a disadvantage or roll snake-eyes twice times in a row still have a reasonable chance of coming back and achieving satisfactory results, of contributing to and enjoying the benefits of society.

Everything that shifts power to the people who already have power is contrary to that goal. But the people who already have power obviously have some incentives to take what they can. Maybe they're greedy, or maybe they're aware of how tough things are getting for everybody else and are deathly afraid of becoming "everybody else". Either way, more people come out behind than ahead.

Should this be illegal? I have no idea what changes to the rules are necessary to fix this. But if you are saying this isn't even a problem, then I very strongly disagree with you.
posted by aubilenon at 6:48 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


the only thing preventing your job from being outsourced is a rich and powerful protectionist union.

If you think the ABA is a union, your ignorance needs its own damn page. Even calling it a "protective guild" is a long way from the truth. If anything, the ABA is in cahoots with the law school industry to oversaturate the market with useless, unranked diploma mills. They aren't restricting the number of law schools, they're increasing it.

Why aren't there 400 or 800?

Because there aren't enough universities large enough to support that number.

There is a huge excess of people willing to go to law school for whom there is not room.

No, there isn't. Who says there is? Anyone who wants to go to law school can find a spot somewhere unless they're really not cut out for it. Only 27% of the population has an undergraduate degree. Less than 10% have a graduate degree of any sort, including Ph.D.s and MAs. Why you think there's some unmet demand for law school capacity is entirely beyond me. I don't think there's another person in the country who agrees with you.

Why are some of the most prestigious law schools currently reducing the number of admissions even though applications are up?

Applications are down. In the past two years there has been a 25% decrease in law school applicants and 26% decrease in LSAT testing. Law schools are reducing their class sizes because a huge chunk of their graduating classes--well in excess of the 8% national rate--for the last three years are unemployed or not employed in jobs requiring a law degree.

More lawyers means lower prices for legal services.

No, it doesn't. Legal services, particularly in the "retail" areas of family law, trusts and estates, criminal defense, immigration, etc., are about as cheap as it's possible to make them. Retail lawyers don't compete on price because they can't. They're almost uniformly charging as little as they think they can get away with.

This causes a transfer in wealth from unprotected classes to protected classes.

So we shouldn't license electricians? Or plumbers? Or physicians? All of those are "protected classes" under your analysis. Oh, wait, you think they provide a valuable service to society, but for some reason you don't think that lawyers do. Because of your irrational, inexplicable, fact-devoid beef with them.
posted by valkyryn at 6:56 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


There are plenty of people in this world who have never had and will never have the opportunity to 'pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and in reality, no one actually does because we all rely on the benefits of public goods that were created through common effort and sacrifice even to do that much.

And despite the Wall Street Journal's uninformed opinions to the contrary, yes, Big Government Really Did Invent the Internet.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:59 PM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there anyone here who does not work their ass off to maintain a good standard of living?

What happens when your job disappears?

What happens when your job disappears because your customers' jobs have disappeared?

How can you mock such things?

Because the idea that your economic well-being is entirely under your control, and that you can just work around any economic circumstances that come at you, is just incredibly naïve.

I live my life meticulously planning and acting such as to never wind up in such a place.

Again, this is not within your power.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:59 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Caterpillar has 652.5 Million outstanding shared at $81.25 today. If every one of those 780 strikers had purchased 1 share for every paycheck for the past 5 years (assuming they were paid twice a month), they would own .01% of the outstanding shares. Which means they should have started buying shares sooner. Like 20,000 years ago.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 7:16 PM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ironically, it is literally possible to hold yourself down with your own bootstraps.
posted by aubilenon at 7:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


valkyryn: Law schools are reducing their class sizes because a huge chunk of their graduating classes--well in excess of the 8% national rate--for the last three years are unemployed or not employed in jobs requiring a law degree.

Apparently you don't see the irony of declaring that the profession does not restrict competition when you have just stated that the profession is restricting graduates to reduce competition for jobs.

A while ago you said that union workers just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that there are lots of non-union workers waiting to take their job. Yet lawyers are forever whining that the law schools are creating too many graduates. They face perhaps 40,000 new graduates each year competing for $60K or $70K jobs. Meanwhile you cavalierly dismiss blue collar workers who face a billion Chinese willing to work for a few dollars a day. You think $12 an hour is too much for a union worker yet think $60K is too little for a lawyer. If you had a real competitive market for lawyers, law schools not restricting graduates, and the ABA not restricting licenses, you might find out what lawyers are really worth in free market.
posted by JackFlash at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


[JackFlash/valkyryn, this should probably go to MeMail or just wind down at this point.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:03 PM on July 23, 2012


Parts of this thread is making me a bit nostalgic for an old doctor girlfriend of mine and her doctor friends. Even though they were mostly liberals, when the subject of people facing hardships would come up, they'd often take the attitude of "why didn't they just go to med school like I did?"

I've had a decent degree of success in my own life and I used to think things about "personal responsibility" and all that crap. In the mid-90's, I decided to turn my life around, padded my resume, and hit the job market, and have had some great jobs since then. I worked very hard to learn new technologies and new languages and it all worked out. For the longest time, I thought I was absolutely brilliant in how I had made things work out for me. If my friends didn't have the same level of income, then it was probably their fault.

But there was so much out of my control. I started looking for development jobs at a time when the dot-com boom was starting to swell and tech jobs were easy to find. I found a great first boss who was willing to give a chance to an inexperienced kid and who took the time to do a hell of a lot of mentoring. I had the luck to know a semi-obscure software package, which was moderately in demand with few practitioners, but the only reason I had this knowledge was because of a chance meeting a year prior. And I had the right background solely because my mum decided computers were the future and spent money she didn't really have when I was very young.

So, now that I'm middle-aged, I'm not going to judge people for being less successful when they didn't get the same lucky card deals that I did. And I've seen too many old colleagues and old friends, who are smarter and harder-working than I'll ever be, fall into terribly dark times that they'll probably never completely recover from. They've hustled. They've sent out floods of resumes, started businesses, did what they could to keep everything together, but, fate was against them.

"Personal responsibility" is one of the codewords beloved of Republicans and Libertarians. I succeeded because I'm utterly brilliant. You have failed because you are a hopeless loser. An echo of the great American Koan: "Nothing succeeds like success." This sort of capitalist Calvinism is utterly disgusting because it's used to trample on and belittle those who have fallen by the wayside, and is used as a cover for those who are successfully looting. "Personal Responsibility" is why you don't deserve healthcare reform. "Personal Responsibility" is why my taxes need to be slashed. "Personal Responsibility" is why any form of social welfare needs to be eliminated. "Personal Responsibility" is why you're not rich. "Personal Responsibility" is why you can't find a job. "Personal Responsibility" is "fuck you", that's why.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:27 PM on July 23, 2012 [17 favorites]


But you can't stick a carpenter in a law office and say the same thing. Heck, you couldn't probably send the carpenter to law school. I'd make a bad carpenter, but I'd make one. Most carpenters wouldn't make any kind of lawyer.

As a lawyer I'd like to strongly disagree with this. With a few exceptions, the law is not particularly complicated or intellectually difficult, and that goes double for the practice of law, which is mostly a matter of following glorified checklists and filling in forms. Lawyers are not a special priesthood of intellectual giants beyond mortal men.
posted by jedicus at 9:59 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


But employees aren't exposed to any risk. They get a paycheck, week after week, regardless of how well the company does.

What? Employees are exposed to tons of risk. The risk that they'll get fired for any reason or no reason (at-will employment). The risk that their pay or benefits will be cut. The risk that, even if they have a contract, that the company will go under. The risk that they'll be asked to transfer to another location in order to keep their job.

What's more, all of those risks are much more serious risks than the 'risk' faced by a hedge fund manager deciding where to put other people's money. Or the risk of a billionaire thinking about where to invest a few hundred million. Even if those investors lose their entire investment they're still rich. If the employee loses his or her job, their entire life may be wrecked, as well as the lives of their family members.
posted by jedicus at 10:08 PM on July 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Collective bargaining is complex, and both sides are fighting a messaging war. I think the unions (especially in the current political and economic environment) are having a harder time making their case.

To me the case is very simple. Management is always engaged in collective bargaining, whether on behalf management itself, the investors, or both. To ask labor not to bargain collectively is to ask labor to handicap itself. Collective bargaining isn't about giving labor unequal leverage. It's about leveling the playing field.
posted by jedicus at 10:11 PM on July 23, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't know about Caterpillar, but public pension benefits are absurd in the US. You can try to beat mathematics, likely you won't. Many cities will have to declare bankruptcy to cope with this future burden.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 2:00 PM on July 23

The matter-of-fact, off-handed way that bailing out on pensions are talked about is just unreal to me, outrageous, outlandish, and, nothing personal yoyo_nyc, it's disgusting. To me; YMMV.

The people who earned these pensions -- yes, they earned them, it is part/parcel of their compensation, it is what their employer agreed to, it is what these people have based so many of their life decisions upon -- the people who earned these pensions absolutely deserve to get them, every damn dime.

I worked for the state of Texas for seven years. The pay was dismal, gross, unreal low, esp at the start. But -- the job had great benefits, and, if you stay til ten years you're covered for medical insurance for the rest of your life (co-pays of course but still, it's a sweet deal), and just on and on. Lots of days off. A government job. And if you stuck around, you would eventually make a decent dollar, not a great dollar but certainly enough to stagger through life on, feed yourself and a wife and a kid or three, whatever, buy a two-year-old Honda, etc.

People took those jobs and *stayed in* those jobs because of the pay that was coming their way, down the road. It was as sure as the sun rising in the morning -- you hang in, do your job, show up, keep showing up -- hey, it's not the best life but not the worst. For risk-averse people, it is the way to go.

The people who take those jobs, and stay in those jobs, they could absolutely made a *lot* more money out in private sector jobs. But maybe the person doesn't want the grind of a private sector gig, or maybe they want to be a teacher or a cop or fireman. So this is a good way out, a worthwhile thing to agree to.

But now, because there is no money left, all been hosed up into the war machine, everybody is hustling, and trying to cut out everyone, even if it is, um, what's that word ... Ah, yes -- stealing. Stealing money from people, money that they've earned in jobs they decided to stay in because of the benefits package and stability. All these people moaning about pensions, and saying they should be cut, they do not want to look at the root of the problem -- burning all the money in the war machine and the corporate beast that *is* the war machine -- rather than look at that, they say "Hey, we can cut these people's guts out; they don't have the lawyers to fight it off, they'll buy into it when we say 'Oh, it's the economy!' and let us run them over.

I'm betting no one reads this, sunk down at the bottom of a long thread, but I had to write it, as it just tears me out to see this thought of so carelessly.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:11 AM on July 24, 2012 [14 favorites]


valkyryn: Well the Labor Theory of Value certainly has not been empirically disproved AFAIK. It seems that there is some body of empirical evidence that supports it quite nicely (see also here and here)
posted by talos at 3:19 AM on July 24, 2012


Well the Labor Theory of Value certainly has not been empirically disproved AFAIK.

That's because it isn't an empirical theory. It's a moral theory.
posted by valkyryn at 4:05 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


valkyrn: If that is the case what about the empirical evidence supporting it as in the Econophysics link in my previous comment?
posted by talos at 5:06 AM on July 24, 2012


I'm betting no one reads this, sunk down at the bottom of a long thread, but I had to write it, as it just tears me out to see this thought of so carelessly.

No, no I read it and you spoke for me as well. Thank you.

Every time I read someone's careless comment about "ridiculous" pensions or read about a corporation like Bain or Enron which looted pension funds, I want to weep and/or gnash my teeth. How then are we to live? That's the question that runs through my head constantly. If the working class in America is not entitled to safety nets, pensions, medical insurance, and so forth, How then are we to live?

I presume the answer is to work as hard as possible and drop dead when we are no longer useful.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:40 AM on July 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


1. Don't stop working.

If you do stop working...

2. Die quickly.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:47 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If that is the case what about the empirical evidence supporting it as in the Econophysics link in my previous comment?

The fact that the world seems to support one's desired moral theory does not actually transform a moral theory into an empirical one.

Further, all of that "math" is made up. Take a look at Table 10.1 and tell me what in blazes is going on with those units.
posted by valkyryn at 5:49 AM on July 24, 2012


1. If it is empirically testable, if it makes empirical predictions, if it can be quantified, it is an empirical theory as well, not just a moral theory. Thus if it was empirically arbitrary then one would expect that the real world would demonstrably and quantifiably prove it wrong.
2. Table 10.1 is titled "Example input–output table" it is not meant to convey but the general form of the table used in similar studies. It is explained immediately above
posted by talos at 5:58 AM on July 24, 2012


What? Employees are exposed to tons of risk. . . . If the employee loses his or her job, their entire life may be wrecked, as well as the lives of their family members.

That's not actually what's going on. What you're describing is not a risk incurred by entering the workforce. You're basically arguing that the risk of unemployment faced by an employee is worse than the actuality of unemployment. A person who might get fired is, I suggest, categorically better off than a person who just doesn't have a job. Further, the risk of unemployment is better than the risk of getting evicted because one can't pay rent. So entering the workforce does not actually seem to carry any substantive increase in risk compared to not working. Not as far as I can tell.

On the other hand, capital kept under a mattress faces only the risk of inflation, equivalent to the risk of not working. But by being invested, capital faces the risk of actually losing value, of diminishing. None of the perils you describe with respect to labor actually destroy the thing being risked, i.e., labor. Investing capital always carries with it the possibility that it won't be there tomorrow. Even if you get fired, you still have your labor, for which you are free to accept whatever price you can command. Lose your shirt in the market and you're just boned.

What's more, all of those risks are much more serious risks than the 'risk' faced by a hedge fund manager deciding where to put other people's money.

You're conflating the risk of the hedge fund manager with the risk of the people whose money he is investing. I completely agree that finance, as an industry, is wildly overpaid. Doesn't change the analysis for the owners of capital though.

Even if those investors lose their entire investment they're still rich.

If they've diversified, perhaps. But it is possible for a capitalist to go bankrupt.

But you also seem to be sliding in some kind of other argument, i.e., that because unemployment on the unemployed than losing capital is for the capitalist, that labor "deserves" a higher cut. I say desert doesn't enter into it. Capital is scarce. Labor isn't. Capital can demand a premium for its risk, so it will. Labor of the type we're describing just can't. The universe isn't fair.
posted by valkyryn at 6:13 AM on July 24, 2012


So entering the workforce does not actually seem to carry any substantive increase in risk compared to not working. Not as far as I can tell.

There are other risks as well. The risk that investment in relocation or training will not pay off. The risk that being fired from a job means that it is harder to find new employment in the future (harder than it was when the worker was unemployed). The risk of being trapped in a dead-end job because the alternative (i.e. unemployment) is worse.

Capital is scarce. Labor isn't. Capital can demand a premium for its risk, so it will. Labor of the type we're describing just can't.

Yes, it can, through the magic of unionization. Consider a single applicant to a job. The capitalist says "take my terms or you get nothing." With a union, the labor force can say "take my terms or you get nothing." And this is how it should be. Yes, it's true that capital is scarce relative to demand and labor isn't. But without labor capital is worthless, and vice versa. So they should come to the bargaining table on equal terms.

Another argument is that capital is a fungible commodity, whereas labor represents the activity of human beings. Any economic theory that reduces people to a fungible commodity to be discarded when their supply outstrips demand is extremely morally suspect. There's a limit to how far free market fundamentalism can be applied to people, or else you get arguments like "Well, if a lot of people are unemployed then they'll starve to death and the relative value of the survivors' labor will go up. See, the market works!"
posted by jedicus at 7:03 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yes, it can, through the magic of unionization

You seem to have missed the last 20 years of globalization. Or is your plan to unionize India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc. etc. ... all at once?

The successful unions are those for whom the pressures of globalization are reduced -- those that are geography dependent or controlled by certain kinds of licensing: doctors, nurses, agricultural work, etc. For those professions, the obvious attack on wages and unions comes in the form of on-shored labor ("X shortage! we need to raise the H1b cap!" etc.) and uncontrolled illegal and unskilled immigration (which is why Chavez/UFW were so strongly opposed to it).

The left has a "have my cake and eat it too" attitude on this. Worldwide unionization is not going to happen, so the option is protectionism, but protectionism would need to be applied to both the market (goods) and the means (labor), and while they talk a lot about the former, the latter is a third rail.
posted by rr at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2012


Yes, it can, through the magic of unionization.

Unionization really only works when there's a labor shortage. It's the mechanism for demanding a premium for labor, it isn't the cause. You can't use laws to magically form an effective unionized workforce when the market won't actually support increased prices for labor. I'm not saying that we shouldn't change labor laws because of some moral or ideological commitment to free marketism. I'm saying we shouldn't change labor laws because it wouldn't achieve the desired outcome and would have many negative consequences. It's not that you shouldn't regulate here, it's that you can't.

If we want a unionized workforce, we need to do something which fundamentally changes the balance of power between labor and capital. Simply changing the legal relationship between the two will not suffice. There needs to be something that makes labor valuable again, as a means of production, not as a way of arbitraging regulatory environments to save a few bucks. I'm not sure what this is, but I am pretty sure that unless it happens, things aren't going to change much.

So they should come to the bargaining table on equal terms. . . . Any economic theory that reduces people to a fungible commodity to be discarded when their supply outstrips demand is extremely morally suspect.

I mean, okay, but saying that things ought/oughn't to be a certain way doesn't actually make them that way/not that way.

But yeah, this is why I consider economics to be a species of moral philosophy, not science. Ultimately, you get down to assumptions about the way we think things out to be, not about the way things are. I too agree that it would be nice if it made sense to pay factory workers and service employees $40 an hour. But it doesn't.
posted by valkyryn at 7:28 AM on July 24, 2012


I've had many jobs. I've quit many jobs that started to degrade due to various actions of other people: worse working conditions, worse pay, worse health care... you name it. Everything I think at stake here. I've always engaged the "hustle" and found better jobs.

do you know what this sounds like, and why it's putting people off?


Well, it's pretty much #5 and #4 on the Things Rich People Need To Stop Saying list combined into one concise "fuck all y'alls."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:06 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unionization really only works when there's a labor shortage.

That does not follow. If anything, unionization is more important when there's a labor surplus. When there's a labor shortage individual workers have more bargaining power compared to when there is a labor surplus.

I mean, okay, but saying that things ought/oughn't to be a certain way doesn't actually make them that way/not that way.

Right, that's why we use policy tools to make them the way they ought to be, or at least closer than they are.

I too agree that it would be nice if it made sense to pay factory workers and service employees $40 an hour. But it doesn't.

Why not? There's money enough to pay every worker in the country roughly $40/hour (that's ~$80k/year; per capita GDP is ~$48k, but only about 77% of the country is working age and many of them are stay at home parents, disabled, etc). You're operating under one set of assumptions about how to allocate the country's wealth, but it's not the only possible set of assumptions, nor is it even necessarily the best one (in utilitarian terms) or the most morally defensible one.

The example of European social democracies shows that the US is doing it wrong with regard to many economic policies. More progressive taxation, a better social safety net, less emphasis on criminal punishment, less spending on war, freer movement of labor, more support for labor unions, universal healthcare. These things lead to less income inequality, better class mobility, less crime, better health, and more happiness. Our decades-long experiment in doing the opposite has not worked, and it's well past time to fix that.
posted by jedicus at 8:07 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're operating under one set of assumptions about how to allocate the country's wealth,

No, I'm operating from the assumption that we can't make meaningful policy decisions about said allocation. That the fact that things are not the way we would like them to be does not automatically mean that a different set of policy choices would produce a different result.

Our decades-long experiment in doing the opposite has not worked, and it's well past time to fix that.

I, and many others, haven't concluded that (1) Europe is actually a success on those terms, (2) Europe's way of doing things is remotely sustainable, or (3) even if it were, that their model would work here.

But that's a derail I'm not going to follow. Suffice it to say that I don't think we can policy our way out of this.
posted by valkyryn at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2012


You seem to have missed the last 20 years of globalization. Or is your plan to unionize India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, etc. etc. ... all at once?

There's no need to. Unionization and better labor laws (e.g. mandatory paid vacation, mandatory overtime pay for all workers) in the US help the workers that aren't subject to the pressures of globalization. For everyone else we should have a better social safety net and guaranteed minimum income.

As for illegal immigration: I'm a firm supporter of the free movement of labor. Our immigration policy should be very simple. A clean background check means you can come to the US for six months. If you can find a job in that time, you can stay. As long as you are employed for at least X months out of the year (where X is sufficient to account for seasonal labor) and do not commit any crimes, then you can stay indefinitely. Naturalization is available after a short period, say 5 years. No limits, no quotas, minimal fees, and a simple process that does not require a lawyer.

Illegal immigrants hurt unions. Legal immigrants don't. The solution is not to try the impossible (preventing illegal immigration). The solution is to accept the free flow of labor.
posted by jedicus at 8:18 AM on July 24, 2012


jb you've told a little of your story... requisite ass-busting, hustling, and resulting success

I'm sorry to question your literacy, but really did you read my comment? I don't have resulting success, if success is measured by the ability to buy property (as it is for many people), nor do I have financial security. Moreover, what success I do have has not been solely due to "hustling" but to in greater measure to luck.

Nor did I list what luck I obviously have also had, which other people I know (many of whom are relatives) have not: lucky in genetics/health - no major disabilities, lucky to be born in a country with a great economy and never had to emigrate and learn a new language, lucky to be born into a non-abusive family who supported rather than thwarted by education, lucky to be born into a country with an excellent social welfare system which paid for my food, housing and necessities for 12 years through family welfare, as well as for almost all of my education.

As for what those other people would say, "truly" - well, since one is my mom, I know she'd say, "Life isn't fair and people who work hard often don't get ahead, so that's why we need to support good social welfare systems, worker's rights and unionism."
posted by jb at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2012


I too agree that it would be nice if it made sense to pay factory workers and service employees $40 an hour. But it doesn't.

Note, you haven't provided a single shred of actual evidence to support your intuitions on this matter, and every obvious counter-example proposed is, in your view, a special exception that doesn't demonstrate a rule (again, without any evidence for that view).

I would submit that it seems an awful lot more like you're engaged in a confirmation bias exercise than in really considering evidence and using the tools of analytical reasoning to draw conclusions from it.

It's hard to see alternative possibilities when you've already made peace with the idea there are none.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:28 AM on July 24, 2012


Illegal immigrants hurt unions. Legal immigrants don't. The solution is not to try the impossible (preventing illegal immigration). The solution is to accept the free flow of labor.

I'm pretty sure the companies all across America that are more than happy to pay sub-minimum wages to illegal immigrants have accepted this free flow of labor for decades.

Amazing how once again, this comes down to, "things would be better if it wasn't so easy for companies to pay slave wages to their workers."
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:29 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, I'm operating from the assumption that we can't make meaningful policy decisions about said allocation. That the fact that things are not the way we would like them to be does not automatically mean that a different set of policy choices would produce a different result.

Ah, so our entire system of labor laws and all of our labor-related economic policies (e.g. the earned income credit, progressive taxation), should be repealed then? After all, none of them are meaningful policy decisions, so it's all just so much unnecessary complexity in the legal system?

Or, alternatively, maybe we can, in fact, make meaningful policy decisions that produce different results.

I, and many others, haven't concluded that (1) Europe is actually a success on those terms, (2) Europe's way of doing things is remotely sustainable, or (3) even if it were, that their model would work here.

Okay, but that's not actually an argument, just a dismissal of empirical evidence and a couple of unfounded conclusions, all held together with a vague appeal to the majority.
posted by jedicus at 8:30 AM on July 24, 2012


I'm pretty sure the companies all across America that are more than happy to pay sub-minimum wages to illegal immigrants have accepted this free flow of labor for decades.

No, because the flow of illegal immigrants is not free. They aren't free to come and go, which is one of the main reasons those companies can pay below-market rates (they often make above the minimum wage but still well below the market rate for legal workers).
posted by jedicus at 8:34 AM on July 24, 2012


Ironically, it is literally possible to hold yourself down with your own bootstraps.
posted by aubilenon at 10:52 PM on July 23 [1 favorite +] [!]


I'm no physicist, but could you hold yourself down against another force? If you are holding yourself down just standing on the ground, really it's gravity that holds you down. But let's say that you were underwater and buoyancy is pushing you up, could you hold yourself down to the bottom of the pool by holding onto your bootstraps? Seems to me that you would just float up, holding onto your boots.
posted by jb at 8:36 AM on July 24, 2012


Ah, so our entire system of labor laws and all of our labor-related economic policies (e.g. the earned income credit, progressive taxation), should be repealed then?

Come on now. I didn't say that. Nor must I. Those things serve useful purposes other than wealth allocation unless you want to characterize the government spending any money on anything as "wealth allocation." That's not what I took you to mean.

that's not actually an argument

It wasn't intended to be. I don't want to have that argument here.
posted by valkyryn at 8:38 AM on July 24, 2012


also, my relatives who did get ahead and were successful -- die-hard union-supporting socialists to the end of their lives, because they know that's what helped them get better jobs and be able to buy a house and raise a family. Somewhere in heaven, my grandad is shaking his head and thinking how stupid people arguing against unions are.
posted by jb at 8:39 AM on July 24, 2012


IT really matters what success means to us as a society. If it means a few people get fabulously wealthy by creating a few billion dollar corporations that have great access to legislative bodies to make their way easier at the expense of others, then you and I are going to have an argument, because my idea of a successful society is one where everyone has a safe place to sleep, enough balanced food to eat to stay in good spirits, a health care system that focuses on maintaining wellness instead of just treating sickness, and an excellent chance of finding work that would enable each person to augment their lives with pleasantries such as they may wish to enjoy.

There's enough productivity in the population and raw energy hitting this planet to make either idea possible, the only real limitations are systemic -- so if you're defending practices and idioms put into place to advance the cause of "plan A" then I think you and I probably do not have much common ground for a discussion.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:53 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]





Illegal immigrants hurt unions. Legal immigrants don't. The solution is not to try the impossible (preventing illegal immigration). The solution is to accept the free flow of labor.


Illegal immigration only threatens traditional unions because they can't and/or won't represent those people. There is no reason that illegal immigrants can't organize against their employers; the stakes are higher for them, sure, but the stakes are always higher for them. Just like any other worker they control production, and it's in their employers' interest to keep production rolling. There are obviously a lot of complications in organizing people that can be arrested or shipped across the border in the blink of an eye, but it's not impossible to imagine. Worker solidarity, resistance and job actions happen in all kinds of unlikely places, and usually aren't formally recognized as unionism. It's a hell of a lot more likely than an expectation that America is going to open up their borders and start throttling the multinationals.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2012


If anything, unionization is more important when there's a labor surplus.

I don't see how this would work in practice. Unless, as I said somewhere upthread, you incentivized the unions to organize and compensate the unemployed-but-qualified workers, you're going to have a ton of very angry, unemployed people, who are going to be very willing (by virtue of being unemployed) to undercut the union's best offer.

This is exactly what's going on up at Caterpillar: the union and its members are trying to collectively bargain, but they're asking for (in resisting cuts) more than the market currently supports, because there are lots of equally-qualified people willing to cross the picket line and work for less. So Caterpillar is just using non-union labor.

You can try to prevent people from crossing the picket line and undercutting the union, either by moral arguments, regulations, or outright threats of violence, but none of those things are going to endear the union to the unemployed masses -- eventually, they're going to just route around the union. I think that's exactly what we're seeing today: union jobs are increasingly seen by the public as cushy and over-compensated, and there are plenty of people who would be happy to take less for the same work, if only because it's better than nothing which is their alternative.

Unions aren't a magic engine that let you suddenly ignore supply and demand, much as we may wish they were.

The problem, of course, is when the intersection of labor supply and demand produces wages so low that they're at or below poverty level for workers with an average skill level. I think we're looking at that very real possibility in the near future, absent some serious effort to create real, productive jobs that can be filled by most workers. Personally, I suspect that we've already hit that point, but have just papered over it by abusing the credit markets for a while.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2012


Why do you suppose the dynamic you're describing didn't hold in the Great Depression era, when labor organization was more active and effective than throughout most US history Kadin2048? That's not meant rhetorically; I'm really interested to know what you see as the deciding differences between then and now. The only thing I can come up with is that, as a culture, we're less likely to stand in solidarity with our economic peers--in other words, that it's the social, culture and political dynamics that have changed since then, not anything more durable or fixed in reality.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on July 24, 2012


jb: Perhaps I'm arguing against my own interests.

Both my grandfathers successfully raised families and gave them economic stability and I'm pretty sure they both worked in unions. My mother and father were both more successful than their parents but worked without any unions whatsoever. In my father's case I believe it worked to his advantage. I work without a union in a industry (entertainment) where my own grandfather worked and was unionized. My career is better off non-union (the majority of my coworkers across the disciplines share my opinion on this.)

Both my father and I worked in tech in times of great change, upheaval, and success. I believe unions would have imposed significant constraints on the industry in general and would have acted to diminish the overall success (even with the benefit of protection in times of bubble bursts.)

And, BTW, I will call anyone successful who has the significant wherewithal to post reasoned out arguments on metafilter about issues such as these. Yes, we're all winners here. It's like freakin' AYSO.
posted by danl at 10:17 AM on July 24, 2012


danl: Ok I'll be the unpopular one. If my employer started enacting things like this I didn't like, I would do whatever it took to get another, better job. Why is this not the preferred, recommended, standard answer in cases like this? Caterpillar would have no workforce, and the employees would be better off.
OK, let me give you some context. Imagine you are a 30-year Caterpillar employee. Born and raised in the factory town* where Caterpillar has one of its many worldwide factories, it is either the major employer, or the major industrial employer.

Your skills are marketable... IF you are willing to uproot your family, abandon all of your vacation** and pension seniority, and move somewhere else. Oh, and you won't even be vested in the new company's pension plan for 5 years, so you'd better hope there's no layoffs... BTW, if anyone in your family has preexisting conditions, and the Republicans get their way, that problem may go uninsured forever more.

Still want to just walk? Few would.

* Caterpillar builds its factories in areas that are often not heavily industrialized. It's world headquarters is in Peoria, Illinois, for instance; a small city with a small airport and mediocre highway access.

** (Non-US mefites: that means for the next five years you'll only have 10 days of vacation a year.)
posted by IAmBroom at 10:22 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perplexity: It seems like a very obvious question would be: how do the contract / wages / conditions / whatever compare for these workers versus other Caterpillar workers?
Caterpillar products are assembled in Illinois from parts made in Japan, Brazil, Wales, mainland China and India. It's not easy to compare wages and conditions across those markets, in terms of worker satisfaction.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:29 AM on July 24, 2012


saulgoodman: Somehow European companies have still been eating our lunch for years.
Um, no. Unless you mean as customers, in which case, "Voulez-vous des frites avec ca?"
posted by IAmBroom at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2012


dgran: Part of the problem is that the people who care about are very unlikely to have any influence on the corporation.
Almost.

Caterpillar's business is fourfold: farm equipment, roadbuilding equipment, mining equipment, and construction equipment.

The first is purchased by small businesses - single-family farmers. Of course, this group is decreasing, and the majority customer is probably now large farm corps.

The 2nd is purchased and/or hired almost entirely by governments. We have control over that.

The other two are out of our reach, alas.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:36 AM on July 24, 2012


Unions aren't a magic engine that let you suddenly ignore supply and demand, much as we may wish they were.

You've said it all better than I. May you piss off fewer people ;)

Why do you suppose the dynamic you're describing didn't hold in the Great Depression era, when labor organization was more active and effective than throughout most US history Kadin2048? That's not meant rhetorically; I'm really interested to know what you see as the deciding differences between then and now.

I'd venture to guess we've done a bang-up job exporting economic prosperity and stability. World Wars are in the past. We no longer have a third world. Instead we have a developing world and many of those economies are well developed and quite competitive.

We've exported our model and it's being used well and many jobs (manufacturing) are being done better and cheaper elsewhere.
posted by danl at 10:37 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


moammargaret: You do know that workers on strike don't get paid, right?
Actually, striking union workers get relief from the union. It's not full pay, and the healthcare benefits change for the worse (it's the US, that's an understatement), but they don't lose all income.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:40 AM on July 24, 2012


IAmBroom OK, let me give you some context. Imagine you are a 30-year Caterpillar employee. Born and raised in the factory town* where Caterpillar has one of its many worldwide factories, it is either the major employer, or the major industrial employer.
Right off the bat I (and everyone else in that town or working at that plant) have seen the writing on the wall for years. A move such as the one in the original article will be no surprise.

As a result I have been preparing for this for years. As such I would be somewhat well prepared. I'm not sure that preparation would include unionization and striking. To me that smacks of scarcity, hording, hunkering down. Not a position of power... quite the opposite indeed.

The reality is that this is a very simplified scenario and to live it is quite different. Which is why I'd love for someone who has lived it or anything similar to weigh in.
posted by danl at 10:45 AM on July 24, 2012


valkyryn: It's a mathematical fact that not every country in the world can be a net exporter.
No, it's not. It's not likely, but in an expanding market, net export can be positive everywhere.
downing street memo: "No, Chinese laborer, you have to continue living in your Stalinist concrete block apartment so US laborers can make $50 an hour" doesn't seem inherently liberal, at least not to me.
"Liberal" does not mean "wholly and completely self-sacrificing, without reservation". The word you are looking for is "saintly".
posted by IAmBroom at 10:49 AM on July 24, 2012


danl: bootstraps

Is everyone using this term doing so mockingly? Is there anyone here who did not bust their ass getting educated from an early age? Is there anyone here who does not work their ass off to maintain a good standard of living? How can you mock such things?
Are you aware of what that phrase actually means? It means that you intend to pull yourself off the ground by grabbing hold of the boots you are standing in, and pulling upwards. By the shear, amazing force of your own strength (in your imagination), you are somehow going to overcome gravitational attraction.

Like Pecos Bill.

Whom no thinking, rational, sane adult believes in.

So, anytime someone says "they should pull themselves up by their bootstraps," keep in mind that what they are really saying is, "They should achieve the impossible!"
posted by IAmBroom at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


JackFlash : This would be funny if this weren't coming from a lawyer that is protected from free competition by the richest and most powerful union in the country....

gyc: This is so funny how wrong this is. If ABA was trying to restrict the number of lawyers approved by ABA-accredited law schools, there would not be over 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the country.
Yeah, I'm going to have to side with gyc here. I know bar-passed lawyers who couldn't find a job pre-recession. If the ABA is bottlenecking lawyer availability, they suck at it.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:10 AM on July 24, 2012


Nor did I list what luck I obviously have also had, which other people I know (many of whom are relatives) have not: lucky in genetics/health - no major disabilities, lucky to be born in a country with a great economy and never had to emigrate and learn a new language, lucky to be born into a non-abusive family who supported rather than thwarted by education, lucky to be born into a country with an excellent social welfare system which paid for my food, housing and necessities for 12 years through family welfare, as well as for almost all of my education.

And lucky enough not to have to compete with people who didn't have what I have. There were just under 3 million people born in my age cohort. Basically, everyone who got sick without health insurance, everyone who developed some kind of health problem, everyone who ran up more bills than they could handle without a requisite high-paying job to pay them down got left by the wayside, allowing me to rocket past them.

Sure, I achieved many trappings of success, but a lot of that came from a limited pool of competition. And some people want to keep things that way.
posted by deanc at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2012


If the ABA is bottlenecking lawyer availability, they suck at it.

Well, the ABA in conjunction with the laws schools they regulate. These are valkyryn's words: "Law schools are reducing their class sizes because a huge chunk of their graduating classes--well in excess of the 8% national rate--for the last three years are unemployed or not employed in jobs requiring a law degree."

You know, people went to jail for trying to limit the number of memory chips manufactured to control prices, but apparently law school deans can plan price-fixing schemes with impunity.

The unemployment rate for manufacturing workers is much higher than for lawyers, but if they complain about an oversupply of non-union workers they are accused of being communists and told to just deal with it. Some lawyers feel they are a privileged class that should not be subject to indignities of free markets the way blue collar workers are.
posted by JackFlash at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2012


FWIW I have never and would never urge someone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps (either according to my erroneous definition nor according the correct definition.) I have only spoken of my experience and tried to identify with the strikers in the original story. I would never attempt to speak for anyone else nor give advice.

I'm saddened that phrases like "personal responsibility" and to a lesser extent notions like "hustle" have been abused for political purposes by so many for so long. I have no interest in judging anyone nor browbeating them over these concepts. I see them as perhaps the only workable approaches to the problems of living, at least for me. I don't see any other realistic responses to employment problems such as those confronted by the Caterpillar workers.

As an aside, I find the ABA monopoly topic to be a fascinating derail. But a derail it is. Anyone interested in doing a FPP?
posted by danl at 12:05 PM on July 24, 2012


danl: "As a result I have been preparing for this for years. As such I would be somewhat well prepared."

Oh yes, the myth that if only the workers did something the right way, they wouldn't be on the receiving end of that which they are receiving. Zombie ideas seem to be quite vigorously undead on this thread. It don't work that way. You'll note that the workers at Caterpillar have done the right thing, as evidenced by the vast sums the company makes from each employee's labor. (aka efficiency)
posted by wierdo at 12:07 PM on July 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


We no longer have a third world. Instead we have a developing world and many of those economies are well developed and quite competitive.

By the same token, we no longer have jungles bristling of natives, now we have rain forests that contain traditional peoples.
posted by Grangousier at 12:13 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find the ABA monopoly topic to be a fascinating derail. But a derail it is.

It goes to the essence of what we are talking about here. The original comment was not by me but by a lawyer attempting to argue why blue collar workers are low value and lawyers are high value. The argument was that blue collar workers are easy to replace but lawyers are not. This explanation ignores why workers are easy to replace and lawyers are not.

This is a perfect example of the problem. The priviledged create institutions that deliberately put blue collar workers at a disadvantage while protecting elites. Things like NAFTA, evisceration of labor laws, neutering of the NLRB, a Federal Reserve whose purpose is to suppress wages, Right to Work laws, banning of collective bargaining, etc. These changes are propagated by elites who are doing well because they are protected from the same sorts of brutal free market competition by rich and powerful lobbying groups that jealously guard their interests.
posted by JackFlash at 12:34 PM on July 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why do you suppose the dynamic you're describing didn't hold in the Great Depression era, when labor organization was more active and effective than throughout most US history Kadin2048? That's not meant rhetorically; I'm really interested to know what you see as the deciding differences between then and now.

I'm not entirely sure either. It may be in part, that your question answers itself: the unions were more active and effective at that period than virtually any other time in US history, and thus were able to survive better in a hostile, labor-surplus environment. But even then, there was a huge drop in union membership during the Depression, and it caused a lot of changes in the labor movement -- including a lot of lobbying for legislation like the NLRA of 1935.

In addition, the unions -- at least some of them -- were significantly...less restrained about using violence and threats of violence to maintain strikes and prevent strikebreakers from crossing picket lines than modern unions are. (Of course, employers used violence liberally as well.) My family has stories, perhaps apocryphal but certainly illustrative, about one of my grandfathers working as a "legbreaker" for the Jersey unions during the 30s. Whether he actually was or not, the fact that the word exists in the American lexicon suggest that there might have been significant disincentives for strikebreaking which would outweigh the economic benefits, even to someone who was unemployed.

My suspicion is that it's a combination of factors rather than any one, but that it was the sudden end of the Depression into the wartime economy, followed by the postwar boom and high demand for labor, that made the unions viable again. Had the slack labor market of the 1930s continued indefinitely -- and particularly if it had been allowed to fester without any of the jobs programs that were implemented (e.g. the WPA, which employed many of the same young men who would have been well-positioned to break a strike) -- then you would have seen anti-union sentiment grow among the unemployed in the same way that it has in the past several decades.

I'm open to more information by those who know more about the subject, but the broad outline seems fairly clear. The Depression wasn't a high point for the labor movement, at least at the time, and there were a great deal of concern about the corrosive effect that high unemployment and low union membership would have on organized workers.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:39 PM on July 24, 2012


JackFlash: Well, the ABA in conjunction with the laws schools they regulate. These are valkyryn's words: "Law schools are reducing their class sizes because a huge chunk of their graduating classes--well in excess of the 8% national rate--for the last three years are unemployed or not employed in jobs requiring a law degree."

You know, people went to jail for trying to limit the number of memory chips manufactured to control prices, but apparently law school deans can plan price-fixing schemes with impunity.
Avoiding stockpiling of unsaleable items (lawyers, chips) != price fixing.

A better analogy would be Ford reducing the number of Mustangs they're making, because they still have thousands left over from last year's model - and no one would fault Ford for doing that.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Avoiding stockpiling of unsaleable items (lawyers, chips) != price fixing.

I suppose the test would be if there's collusion among players that dominate a market. In a traditional goods and services market that would be illegal. I'm not sure that it is illegal in this case, but it does seem like colluding behavior.

Ford reducing Mustang production is not collusion because it's only Ford. If all car manufacturers worked together to control overall car production that may run afowl of the monopoly laws. IANAL.

Again, possibly good fodder for a FPP that is not polemic, but a pretty big derail here.
posted by danl at 3:56 PM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wish for a society where people respond to difficult economic circumstances by taking personal responsibility for the conditions they find themselves in and behaving in moral and honorable ways to navigate themselves and their families to some level of success and comfort. In that way I dream of a future where the link you describe can be broken.

I find people who say things like this morbidly fascinating. Either you are so privileged that you literally have never been confronted with the reality of a friend or family member who cannot find work, or you tell yourself lies about why other people cannot find work. And then you said this: I live my life meticulously planning and acting such as to never wind up in such a place. So then I understand--you're telling yourself lies.

What do you think people should do when they take personal responsibility and behave in moral and honorable ways to navigate to some level of success and comfort and still cannot find work? Do you even believe that such a situation is possible? Do you truly believe that if everyone simply took personal responsibility, behaved morally and honorably, and planned meticulously, that they wouldn't find themselves in poverty, unable to buy food or shelter, and stealing your car stereo to survive?
posted by Mavri at 6:27 AM on July 25, 2012 [8 favorites]



Caterpillar sounded a warning call on the state of the global industrial economy by lowering its full-year sales outlook, downgrading its growth projections and warning it could rapidly cut large numbers of jobs if the situation worsened.

posted by JPD at 6:58 AM on July 25, 2012


Weirdo:
Oh yes, the myth that if only the workers did something the right way, they wouldn't be on the receiving end of that which they are receiving. Zombie ideas seem to be quite vigorously undead on this thread. It don't work that way. You'll note that the workers at Caterpillar have done the right thing, as evidenced by the vast sums the company makes from each employee's labor. (aka efficiency)


It's actually a fact that the factory's efficiency level has increased with the influx of these temp (most of them management office workers) opertating the machines on the factory floor. Were the union workers doing something wrong? Not necessarily...but I figured it was well known that unionized factory floor workforces weren't exactly the shining beacon of efficiency. I mean they have rules (unsaid or not) about how many pieces they should make in a day. If you go over, you're looked down upon in that particular locale because you're making the rest look lazy.
posted by drewski at 1:31 PM on July 25, 2012


drewski, why don't you read the article again, which quite clearly states Caterpillar's profitability before the strike and this time try to come up with a thesis that accounts for that fact rather than ignoring it completely?
posted by wierdo at 4:43 PM on July 25, 2012


I have not given my opinion on the stance Caterpillar took with this particular union work force, I'm simply stating that efficiency, as you've stated, is not the reason Caterpillar was profitable.

If you're asking for a thesis, I can give you one:
Part of the reason Cat made it through the 2008 global downturn was because of the pay freezes their management workforce had no choice in receiving for several years, as well as the separation of a large amount of their management employees.
Now that this union contract is up and there are rising concerns for growth in Asia and uncertainty in European markets, why is it unreasonable to expect the other side of the workforce to make similar concessions? Caterpillar factory employees are among the best paid workforce without college degrees in central Illinois, it's not like they are standing still as all other manual labor work forces are blowing by them. They are still well ahead of the curve on the payment scale in the areas they live in.

My personal opinion is that unions have outlived their usefulness, which was originally, to stand up for the safety of their workers. Now it's used as a platform of entitlement. When office workers who've had no training in the craft are creating more output on a machine than a union worker who's been running the line for 20 years, you have to ask yourself where the values of the union are placed. It's certainly not for the best of the company they manufacture for, and it's certainly not for their individual workers who are passing on opportunities every day to showcase their work ethic and intelligence. It's to line the pockets of the long time union officers.
posted by drewski at 7:55 AM on July 26, 2012


My personal opinion is that unions have outlived their usefulness, which was originally, to stand up for the safety of their workers.

I know two different people who were seriously injured at work due to management negligence - one permanently disabled because she was not allowed to go to the hospital after being injured. Neither were unionized; the permanent disabled worker has received no compensation directly from her workplace (she had the basic worker's comp insurance, but that ran out after a couple of years - she has another 10 years before she qualifies for Old Age Security).

Unions never were just about safety - they were about defending the interests of the workers in terms of wages, hours and every other aspect of work, including safety. Their existence is what balanced the profits of capitalism between labour and capital - before widespread unionism, massive growth in the economy had still left workers in terrible living conditions. But clearly even your falsely limited definition of the purpose of unions has not been fulfilled.
posted by jb at 8:26 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think you can apply one-off experiences and attach them to some other company's safety record. Caterpillar is world class in it's safety measures - so much in fact, that some of it's facilities haven't had as much as an injury that caused time lost at work for 7+ years.

I focused on pay because that is primarily what the tiff is over in Joliet. My point still stands, those workers are the some of the highest paid non-degree holding employees in the area.
before widespread unionism, massive growth in the economy had still left workers in terrible living conditions.
I think we can both agree this is a non-issue today.
But clearly even your falsely limited definition of the purpose of unions has not been fulfilled.
I'm not sure what you mean here?
posted by drewski at 8:44 AM on July 26, 2012


As long as capital organizes and uses its collective power for leverage and advantage in the job markets, there will be a legitimate, and in fact, vitally important need for a countervailing force in the marketplace in the form of organized labor and consumer unions. Otherwise you end up with unhealthy job markets and boom and bust economic cycles that ultimately benefit no one over the longer term.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:07 AM on July 26, 2012


before widespread unionism, massive growth in the economy had still left workers in terrible living conditions.

I think we can both agree this is a non-issue today. I think we can both agree this is a non-issue today.


No, I don't agree at all that this is a non-issue, no more than I believe the up is down or the sky is green.

This is a HUGE ISSUE today - the division of profits between labour and capital has been swinging back heavily towards capital over the last 30 years, just as unionism has been declining. The productivity gains of the last few decades have gone disproportionately to capital and to management, not to the workers.

I am not an anti-capitalist. I have no problem with profits going to the investors - investment is essential to economic growth. However, as with all things in life, we need a balance - and the balance between labour and capital right now is very unhealthy, and destroying our economy. The weakness of our economy is due to a serious demand-crisis, and we have a demand crisis because wages of average workers have stagnated or fallen in the last 30 years, and those wages have stagnated/fallen because the balance of how much profit goes to capital and management has been skewed by the weakness and/or absence of unions and collective bargaining.

I study social history before there were unions. While I might admire the waistcoats and pretty dresses of the premodern era, I have absolutely no desire to ever live in a society without unions -- because the alternative is horrific. It really, really sucks. Life for the vast majority of people before unionism (which has had its effects on non-unionized jobs) was not always completely nasty, but it was seriously malnourished and short. You should immerse yourself in reading about labour and living conditions before unions before you spout off about how "useful" they are or are not.

But clearly even your falsely limited definition of the purpose of unions has not been fulfilled.

I'm not sure what you mean here?


I meant that even if I accepted your extremely limited definition of the purpose of unions which flies in the face of reality (unions never were just about worker safety), you are wrong that worker safety has been taken care of and unions have "outlived their usefulness". Caterpillar has a good worker safety record? Bully for them -- notably, they are unionized. People in non-unionized work places often do not have good worker safety and thus need unions to advocate for them.
posted by jb at 9:08 AM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


okay - the levels of malnourishment also varied. Things weren't so bad in c1000 AD in Britain, and then down and were absolutely horrible through most of the great economic boom period of c1500-1900. Historic average heights track this.
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on July 26, 2012


jb: There's really no need to be nasty, I apologize for my comment about unions outliving their usefulness- it may have been too broad, but I'm no more 'spouting off' about the usefulness of unions are than you are about what an evil corporation Caterpillar is.

The fact is this work stoppage was created not because of safety concerns (so I would be willing to set that out of the arena of this discussion), but because of pay. Management has taken their lumps, and they're liable to take more because of the economic forecast. Is it unthinkable that the manual workforce make the same concessions for the long term success of the company?
posted by drewski at 9:41 AM on July 26, 2012


I apologize if my wording is too strong.

Workers are upset because they are not taking a few cuts to help a struggling business - in Canada, the same company wanted to cut worker pay in half despite posting profits.

As for management: it depends entirely. If the upper management are paid more than the workers, then they can take way more cuts than the workers. It is unthinkable to ask a manual workforce to take the same concessions, because they don't start off with the same benefits.

Workers at many companies have "taken their lumps" for years - including unionized workers. What they object to is being asked to take paycuts when the company is profitable.

As for the fact that they already make more than other people in the region: that's an indictment of the low wages that other non-college jobs offer, not of the "high" wages that the unions have. All over the developed world, inequality is increasing - our economies are growing but the benefits are being paid out to the more powerful (the richer, the more educated), and it is a bad thing for us socially and economically.
posted by jb at 9:52 AM on July 26, 2012


I can agree that there is much more of an opportunity to recover some of the cost of an employee from an upper management salary - the margin is simply much larger. I also don't deny that a lot of the profitability Cat has received has been built on the back of it's factory workers. I don't believe that there should be a group of employees impervious to the flow of the world economy, however. Yes, Cat has been profitable lately. Cat was profitable when they froze the pay of their management also. Cat is successful because it's very good at judging correctly world markets.

It is my understanding though, that it wasn't a paycut, but a pay freeze. (I could be mistaken on this point though.) This is exactly what the management employees suffered the prior 4 years - many of them at the same pay or less than the 7+ factory workers, and in recent months there have been indicators of another economic collapse. (Although, maybe to your point, Cat has told Wall Street they don't see the same indicators of 2008.)
posted by drewski at 10:12 AM on July 26, 2012


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