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Bayonet-point capitalism

(Story via to the barricades 2006-12-19.)

Here is the latest from the bowels of the military-industrial complex: the United States Army is now threatening to invoke Taft-Hartley to intervene on behalf of Goodyear management against striking steelworkers. That is to say, if the Army can’t reliably get the parts for its war machines on the free market, there’s always industrial conscription to smooth out labor relations for its suppliers.

The US Army is considering measures to force striking workers back to their jobs at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Kansas in the face of a looming shortage of tyres for Humvee trucks and other military equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A strike involving 17,000 members of the United Steelworkers union has crippled 16 Goodyear plants in the US and Canada since October 5.

The main issues in dispute are the company’s plans to close a unionised plant in Texas, and a proposal for workers to shoulder future increases in healthcare costs.

An army spokeswoman said on Friday that there’s not a shortage right now but there possibly will be one in the future.

According to Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House of Representatives armed services committee, the strike has cut output of Humvee tyres by about 35 per cent.

According to Mr Hunter, the army is exploring a possible injunction under the Taft-Hartley Act to force the 200 Kansas workers back to their jobs.

He proposed that they return under their current terms of employment, on the understanding that any settlement would be extended to them.

— Bernard Simon (2006-12-15), Financial Times: US Army might break Goodyear strike

As long as the bayonets stay sheathed, nearly 16,000 USW workers will remain on strike. In solidarity, you might consider making a contribution to the USW strike fund to help support striking workers while they stand up to the bosses and try to make it through a holiday without paychecks.

Nearly 16,000 Goodyear employees are facing the holidays without paychecks. These United Steelworkers (USW) members are sacrificing for all of us, fighting the fight for good jobs. Being without a paycheck any time is painful—but right before the holidays, it’s especially hard. Every penny of your contribution will go to striking Goodyear workers and their families.

Please help. Please take a moment now to make a generous donation to support the striking Goodyear workers and warm up their holidays. They deserve to know we care and we honor their fight to hold employers accountable to their workers and communities.

— Working Families: Support Goodyear Workers

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17 replies to Bayonet-point capitalism Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Ken Larson

    There are good points in your article. I would like to supplement them with some information:

    I am a 2 tour Vietnam Veteran who recently retired after 36 years of working in the Defense Industrial Complex on many of the weapons systems being used by our forces as we speak.

    If you are interested in a view of the inside of the Pentagon procurement process from Vietnam to Iraq please check the posting at my blog entitled, “Odyssey of Armaments”

    http://www.rosecoveredglasses.blogspot.com

    The Pentagon is a giant, incredibly complex establishment, budgeted in excess of $500B per year. The Rumsfelds, the Administrations and the Congressmen come and go but the real machinery of policy and procurement keeps grinding away, presenting the politicos who arrive with detail and alternatives slanted to perpetuate itself.

    How can any newcomer, be he a President, a Congressman or even the new Sec. Def.Mr. Gates, understand such complexity, particularly if heretofore he has not had the clearance to get the full details?

    Answer- he can’t. Therefore he accepts the alternatives provided by the career establishment that never goes away and he hopes he makes the right choices. Or he is influenced by a lobbyist or two representing companies in his district or special interest groups.

    From a practical standpoint, policy and war decisions are made far below the levels of the talking heads who take the heat or the credit for the results.

    This situation is unfortunate but it is absolute fact. Take it from one who has been to war and worked in the establishment.

    This giant policy making and war machine will eventually come apart and have to be put back together to operate smaller, leaner and on less fuel. But that won’t happen until it hits a brick wall at high speed.

    We will then have to run a Volkswagen instead of a Caddy and get along somehow. We better start practicing now and get off our high horse. Our golden aura in the world is beginning to dull from arrogance.

— 2007 —

  1. John T. Kennedy

    “These United Steelworkers (USW) members are sacrificing for all of us, fighting the fight for good jobs.”

    I strongly advise them to stop sacrificing for me, I’ll be happy to manage my own life.

    “Please help. Please take a moment now to make a generous donation to support the striking Goodyear workers and warm up their holidays. They deserve to know we care and we honor their fight to hold employers accountable to their workers and communities.”

    No way would I pay a cent for this. The owners are no more accountable to you than you are to them. Your strike is your choice, your business. I don’t expect you to fund any of my choices.

  2. Sergio Méndez

    Good for you Mr Kennedy. But since nobody is forcing you to do finance the strike, I don´t see why you seem so worried. And remember, as you are free to care only for yourselve, so is the rest of the world to support workers.

  3. John T. Kennedy

    “Good for you Mr Kennedy. But since nobody is forcing you to do finance the strike, I don´t see why you seem so worried.”

    I don’t see why you still seem to beat your wife.

  4. John T. Kennedy

    Rad,

    Can you offer a good reason why one should support the workers in this strike? Because I didn’t find one in your post. You seem to simply assume that any strike is a worthy cause that one should support.

  5. Sergio Méndez

    Mr Kennedy:

    Well, since I am not married….

  6. Sergio Méndez

    Mr Kennedy:

    In the post it says that the goverment is planning to force workers back to work. It appears collectivism can be a good word for you if it is state sponsored collectivism in favor of bosses, isn´t it?

  7. Rad Geek

    Sergio,

    Well. To be fair to Kennedy, it’s important that there are two distinct claims made in my post.

    1. The obvious injustice of the federal government forcing striking workers back onto the job in the name of national defense (or for any other reason).

    2. The worthiness of giving the strikers material aid in the form of a contribution to the strike relief fund.

    Given the specific question he asked, and on what he’s written elsewhere about other cases where the government threatened to use force against striking workers, I’m pretty sure Kennedy is questioning only (2), not (1).

    There’s nothing directly inconsistent about holding both (1) that strikers should never be forced back to work by the government, and also (2) that most people shouldn’t bother giving money to the strike relief fund (or otherwise materially aiding the strikers). I think that’s mistaken, but it’s a separate question from the one you seem to be addressing.

    Kennedy,

    The short answer is that charity and solidarity with victims of oppression are, as I see it, both virtues.

    The duties entailed by the virtues are imperfect duties, so if you think your interest and money are better spent elsewhere than the USW Goodyear workers, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. But I do think that there’s something worthwhile in supporting the workers, for two different reasons:

    1. Because they’re being threatened with State violence, and it’s (usually) worthwhile to aid innocent victims of coercion.

    2. Because workers are usually worth supporting over management in labor conflicts.

    I don’t simply assume that any strike, as such, is a worthy cause that one should support. But I do think that there are good reasons to extend prima facie suppot to workers unless there are compelling reasons to demonstrate that they are in the wrong. The full explanation of my reasons for thinking that are beyond the scope of a comment box, but they have a lot to do with the experiences that my friends and I have had in wage labor, Hayekian concerns about dispersed idiosyncratic knowledge, and concerns about the inefficiency, recklessness, and callousness promoted by the business models that flourish under American corporate statism (replete with subsidies to floundering behemoths, forced cartelization and other forms of economic regimentation, government strike breaking of precisely the sort that the Army was contemplating in this case, etc.) There are plenty of considerations that could lead me to be skeptical of, or indifferent to, or even actively opposed to, a strike, but I don’t see them in play here.

    I’m sure that’s not enough to convince you, but perhaps it may go some distance towards setting out where I’m coming from.

  8. John T. Kennedy

    “Well, since I am not married….”

    Then perhaps you’ll see the problem with embedding a false premise in your remarks?

    “In the post it says that the goverment is planning to force workers back to work.”

    It says this iis being considered.

    “It appears collectivism can be a good word for you if it is state sponsored collectivism in favor of bosses, isn´t it?”

    No, why would you think so?

  9. Sergio Méndez

    Mr Kennedy:

    What false premises have I assumed? That you seemed worried with the idea that somebody called for help -voluntary- for a strike? If that is a false premise, why you “strongly advised to workers not to sacrify for you”? Are they asking from you some sort of retribution that you OUGHT to give, even by force?

    It says this iis being considered.

    Knowing state antecedents, isn´t that BAD enought?

    Charles:

    You are right. And Kennedy should not be forced to accept(2). Nor should any of use be compiled to accept Kennedy view on the issue anyways (I know Kennedy is not trying to force it, but as Kennedy is free to put in question the support for workers, I am to question him for that too).

  10. Rad Geek

    Sergio,

    Well, of course we’re each free to state and argue for our position. As far as I can tell Kennedy was asking for some more justification for the idea that strike relief here was a cause worthy of support than I offered in a brief post.

    There are certainly lots of folks asking for money who I would never give money to, and who I think it would be foolish for anyone else to give money to, as well–because they are doing things that are actively harmful, or because they are frittering money away on nothing in particular, or because they are chiselers or flim-flam men. (See for example the so-called American Indian Relief Council.)

    I actually don’t have that much more positive a view of the big AFL-CIO-affiliated unions like USW, truth be told, and I don’t usually give money to their general funds or to most of their campaigns. The money is too likely to be wasted on indulging union bureaucrats, or on actively promoting economic statism. But giving money to strike relief funds is a different proposition, and in this specific case the threat of government force offered another important reason for solidarity.

  11. John T. Kennedy

    Rad,

    “Because they’re being threatened with State violence, and it’s (usually) worthwhile to aid innocent victims of coercion.

    I’m routinely being threatened with state violence, so why not ask people to send me their money?

    In any case, your piece was solicitiing contributions for them standing up to employers, not the state.

    “But I do think that there are good reasons to extend prima facie suppot to workers unless there are compelling reasons to demonstrate that they are in the wrong. The full explanation of my reasons for thinking that are beyond the scope of a comment box, but they have a lot to do with the experiences that my friends and I have had in wage labor, Hayekian concerns ….”

    And there is no shortage of examples of the state intervening by force on behalf of unions either.

    I find the best way to address any major dissatisfaction I have with an employer is to get another job. I don’t expect anyone else to subsidize my transaction costs.

    A couple of years ago I worked at a union plant where the workers had recently gone on strike for higher wages and increased benefits. They got their heads handed to them when management demonstrated it could run the plant profitably without the striking workers. They eventually came back to work for less than than the offer management originally had on the table, and even less than they’d originally been making.

    Is there any reason why I should have subsidized them in their quest for wage and benefit increases? Seems to me they discovered the market value of their labor.

  12. Sergio Méndez

    Mr Kennedy:

    And there is no shortage of examples of the state intervening by force on behalf of unions either.

    Well, I suspect it is the case the state intervenes far more in favor of bosses than in favor of unions.

    *I find the best way to address any major dissatisfaction I have with an employer is to get another job. I don’t expect anyone else to subsidize my transaction costs.

    Is there any reason why I should have subsidized them in their quest for wage and benefit increases? Seems to me they discovered the market value of their labor.*

    Hmmm…isn´t it part of the market the hability of workers to form unions and negotiate for better salaries for themselves?

  13. Sergio Méndez

    Charles:

    I am not sure Kennedy was initially asking for reasons to support the strike. He was more lecturing the author of the article about how “he is not going to support his or her choices”. Good for him, but then there are others who certainly don´t see it that way.

  14. John T. Kennedy

    “What false premises have I assumed?”

    That I’m worried.

    “That you seemed worried with the idea that somebody called for help -voluntary- for a strike? If that is a false premise, why you “strongly advised to workers not to sacrify for you”?”

    I advise them for their own good. It seems a terrible waste of effort for them to make sacrifices for me that I don’t want. Do you see how it would be a waste for you make sacrifices to buy me purple pony, when in fact I don’t want a purple pony?

    Ever been solicited by a police charity? I get these calls every few months and the solicitors always talk about how much police sacrrifice and how they put their lives on the line…

    My answer to them is the same: Don’t sacrifice for me.

  15. John T. Kennedy

    “Hmmm…isn´t it part of the market the hability of workers to form unions and negotiate for better salaries for themselves?”

    I don’t have any objection to unions or collective bargaining in a free market.

    I was asking why Rad thought one ought to subsidize their choice. It turns out he doesn’t have an answer he’s prepared to give at the moment. Do you have one?

  16. Rad Geek

    Kennedy,

    I’m routinely being threatened with state violence, so why not ask people to send me their money?

    Well, sure, if you want. I have.

    The point was a bit more narrowly focused, though. It’s not just that the Goodyear workers were being threatened with coercion, but that the money was going directly to supporting the activity which the government was threatening to suppress by force. For similar reasons I think that aiding illegal immigrants is a fine thing to do if you have the opportunity, as was helping fugitive slaves reach Canada back when that was a live issue.

    And there is no shortage of examples of the state intervening by force on behalf of unions either.

    Sure. That’s wrong, too, and I’ve written elsewhere about that. But I do think corporate bosses are usually bigger net beneficiaries of economic statism than rank-and-file union members, though. (Union bosses in AFL-CIO unions like the USW are another story, but it’s the rank-and-file members who are the main beneficiaries of a strike relief fund.)

    I find the best way to address any major dissatisfaction I have with an employer is to get another job. I don’t expect anyone else to subsidize my transaction costs.

    A couple of years ago I worked at a union plant where the workers had recently gone on strike for higher wages and increased benefits. They got their heads handed to them when management demonstrated it could run the plant profitably without the striking workers. They eventually came back to work for less than than the offer management originally had on the table, and even less than they’d originally been making.

    Is there any reason why I should have subsidized them in their quest for wage and benefit increases? Seems to me they discovered the market value of their labor.

    Seeing as you know a lot more about the strike at your workplace than I do I wouldn’t have much idea whether the strike was a good idea or whether it was a bad thing that the workers lost. Like I said, I have a general presumption in favor of striking workers but the presumption is a defeasible one in some cases. It’s certainly possible for workers to be petulant, overbearing, ignorant, or foolish, either individually or in groups. But I think that, as a rule, bosses are as likely or more likely to be jackasses. One way to deal with a jackass of a boss is to leave that job permanently, but sometimes it’s smarter to try to drive hard bargains (just as it’s sometimes smarter for bosses to try to work things out with difficult employees rather than just firing them), and sometimes a temporary work stoppage is an intelligent means to that end.

    As for why a non-striking third party might contribute to strike relief (or otherwise subsidize their transaction costs by supporting unionism and workers’ organized efforts to make a better living), presumably it would be either because she expects to benefit materially from something involved in the activity, or because she expects it otherwise to contribute to the living of a good life, or both.

    Speaking for myself, seeing as I’m a union member, too, I figure that a culture of mutual aid and labor solidarity is in my material interest, and doing things like honoring pickets and chipping in for strike relief is part of participating in, and growing, that culture. So I contribute to it for the same reason that, say, Apple subsidizes the development of FreeBSD or Sun subsidizes the W3C, even though the direct benefits of those subsidies go to other people: because they think the project has promising upshots for their own bottom line. Of course, your mileage may vary here depending on your own conditions of labor.

    The other reason would be that helping decent people out every now and then, independently of its effects on your material interest, is a part of the good life (associated with the virtues of charity and solidarity). People generally recognize this at least in the case of family and friends; the only question would be why I pick, say, striking workers in this case as worthy beneficiaries as opposed to all the people in the world I don’t pony up money for. Some of the reasons for that connect with the broader reasons why I identify and sympathize with workers as against bosses, and with victims of coercion as against the government. (For similar reasons I support charitable projects that, e.g., place water depots in the desert for undocumented immigrants.)

    The underlying reasons why I identify and sympathize with workers generally and with organized workers in conflict with management particularly is something I’ve written about a lot elsewhere, and will probably write about more in the future. As I said, the full details run way beyond the scope of the comments here. (Kevin Carson’s written a whole book on some of the themes that I touch on briefly here, and I could probably write another book’s worth of material on some of the stuff he doesn’t much dwell on.)

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