Saved Yer Jerbs?

So, Brother Bernie had an article in the Washington Post about the deal Trump is making with Carrier, the HVAC company. It’s fine. Read it, if for no other reason, to get some worthwhile info about United Technologies, the corporation that owns Carrier, and to get some links to more detailed coverage.

In the broad sweep, we have the typical case of a company looking to offshore its manufacturing. Carrier knows it can pay lower wages to manufacturing workers in Mexico, so it wants to close manufacturing locations in the U.S. and open new, cheaper locations in Mexico. End result, about 2100 U.S. manufacturing workers no longer have jobs because Carrier has terminated their positions and transferred those positions to manufacturing workers in Mexico.

But wait. In steps the Jolly Orange Fascist, and, with a wave of his minuscule hand, Carrier recants. No, Carrier won’t offshore those positions. Manufacturing workers in Indiana can rest a bit easier knowing they’ve been spared from the guillotine of corporate profit margins. Christmas came early, and Santa Claus wasn’t an asshole.

How could this happen, though? What kind of Making-A-Deal sorcery did Trump use to stop a publicly traded company from moving to cheaper labor, the sweet, pure crystal meth of the manufacturing sector? Before offering an answer, it’s probably worth noting that Trumblbumble was only marginally successful at keeping those Carrier jobs in Indiana. It looks like about 1000 of those positions will remain, less than half of them, and, without massive changes in domestic and/or international labor dynamics, it’s only a matter of time before those positions also leave or are just eliminated.

But what why are those 1000 or so jobs sticking around at all? The answer is devastatingly simple: public funds. Details are scant, but it appears that Carrier is slated to receive about $7 million in “tax incentives” from Indiana in exchange for keeping those position in the state. Or, put another way, Indiana is shifting $7 million of the tax burden away from Carrier and onto the rest of the public. Or, put another way, Indiana is bolstering Carrier with $7 million of public funds which could otherwise have gone to any number of public goods, social services, etc. Approach it from whatever angle you like. Trump’s masterful deal consists of dipping his hand into public coffers and holding up $7 million to placate Carrier and United Technologies.

There’s nothing novel or inventive in this approach, though. You’ll find similar behavior coming from governors’ mansions and state legislatures across the country, and municipal governments are generally playing the same game too. It’s bog standard neoliberalism. When a public official talks about “making a friendlier environment for business,” they’re almost always nodding toward deregulating a dangerous industry or providing similar “tax incentives” for cooperative businesses. Public funds, in this system, don’t exist for public goods, as such. They’re just the basis for negotiation with private, for-profit entities which will, I guess, provide for some public needs by providing jobs that give people income which will be taxed to create public funds to… damn it.

And that’s all very important stuff, of course. When public funds are the bedrock of what amounts to a sort of pyramid scheme, we might want to pay some attention to that. But there’s another dynamic, I think, worth some consideration. In the reporting I’ve seen so far, Donnie Cheeto and Carrier are presented as the only relevant actors, the only ones with power in this situation. But what about the workers? In a certain way, they’re the main objects of concern. Those positions at Carrier are their livelihoods, and that’s the primary reason we care about any of this shit. So, why can’t the workers tell Carrier to fuck off? Why can’t they say, “No, these are our jobs. You can’t take them anywhere.”

In the most direct sense, the workers can’t do that because it’s not in their contracts. Carrier, like most workplaces, is its own private tyranny. It’s structured to disempower its workforce and grant overwhelming powers to the upper echelons of management and those otherwise most suited to pursue the company’s profit mission. It rejects worker ownership for the same reason that political tyrannies disregard the consent of the public; they’re antithetical visions of power and responsibility.

But in our society, which professes democratic governance as one of its highest values, we take it for granted that Carrier owns those jobs. Both legally and as a matter of social convention, we imagine those positions belong to Carrier, that Carrier purchases the labor of individual workers to fulfill those positions, and that they will continue to do so only as long as the workers create acceptable profits. If Carrier stops being satisfied with the profits they’re getting, they can pick up their ball and go play elsewhere. That’s just “smart business,” right? And, by complete coincidence I’m sure, it’s power enshrined in law and defended in the courtroom.

So, the Trumple Monster didn’t save anyone’s fucking job. He offered public funds to temporarily sate the depravity of a private tyranny. The tyranny hasn’t been defeated or even undermined. It’s been fed and assured that we’ll soon have a federal executive willing to continue feeding it.

And, to skip ahead to the vaguely hopeful part, we already know that the only effective response to tyranny is democracy, the radical empowerment of the public, of those who exist within systems of power. In the workplace, democracy is synonymous with worker ownership.

The Lowell Mill Girls*, textile workers operating in Lowell, Massachusetts in the mid 1800s, were strikingly devoted to the cause of worker ownership. As pre-Marxist labor, they already understood that the interests of private business were at odds with their thriving, their development as people, and their dignity as human beings. In their own labor press, the Mill Girls argued,

“When you sell your product, you retain your person. But when you sell your labour, you sell yourself, losing the rights of free men and becoming vassals of mammoth establishments of a monied aristocracy that threatens annihilation to anyone who questions their right to enslave and oppress. Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.” (emphasis mine)

That’s about all the persuasion I need.

*They were awesome! Look ‘em up.

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