Today's 'Production' and Closing Walmarts
Well, I guess you're again in for another one of my offerings facilitated free time and by the only high-school course that I feel has best served me throughout my life: typing.
I once worked for a man who I personally termed 'successful'. His original profession was 'salesman' (rumor was in ladies' undergarments, and his nickname when I arrived on the scene was 'D-Cup'), but he found for sale a small metal-working concern specializing in the industrial uses of titanium (at first mostly for the metal-plating industry) that was running out of a two-car garage. He did his homework and bought the business.
He was actually a very conservative man, rather demanding but impeccably honest. When I started there in the early 70s, a hippie kid with a braid down to my ass with varied useful skills gained from working in custom shops, I found the 'old man' refreshing. He had taken that business from the garage to still a small concern that I felt was equipment-rich for the product he sold (Oh, but I was in for a surprise at how lucrative supplying the plating industry could be.) and had managed to own the building we used, half of which he rented to another small machine shop shop that specialized in rather larger work in steel. He didn't care outwardly what in hell I looked like. The whole shop at the time with a few exceptions were all young people just like me anyway. Comparatively, he paid quite well. I found later the man also disbursed very generous bonuses at the end of the fiscal year. (A couple of grand above one's salary was a lot of money in the mid-70s.)
Naturally, the whole family was involved in the business. I was hired directly by the man's eldest son, acting 'production manager' through the summer while in college. He had the naivette of the typical college kid who worked for his successful old man while being nothing like his father at all (the kid and I happened to be the same birth-age). He was distinctly aware of who paid the bills and so disgustingly archetypical of that storied son I was reluctant to have anything but a working relationship with him. I did in some respects feel sorry for the kid. Remember I said the man was demanding? I'd seen him take the kid apart right there in the middle of the shop floor in front of everyone, admittedly deserved for what the kid did, but unnecessarily demeaning and intentionally embarrassing. I befriended the kid, only to learn the physical resemblence to his father and surname at that point in his life was virtually all I found that those two shared.
The 'old man' had a sincere regard for people in general. Despite the demeanor and that honesty which those who didn't know him well felt was brusque and condescending, that was unmistakable. The perks of the job were excellent. While many just shrugged that off as 'tax write-offs', or some self-serving incentives to 'work harder', I was personally a testament to his benevolence and going beyond what was even remotely necessary. I was born with horrible dentition, in a medianly-employed lower middle-class family who could hardly afford the work to 'fix' it other than just struggle to keep up with the problems. Changing the landscape of one's mouth to accomodate more teeth than space was likely the same dollar amount that it was back in the 60s as it is today, while the dollar was worth exponentially more. You could buy a new VW for less than $1000. Besides, there were other kids to consider as well as myself and a stay-at-home wife. I lived with constant pain through my teen years and into my twenties, and by the time I began working for this man, my teeth had long before become so tightly packed they were literally falling into pieces. He helped me find a dentist without asking, who I visited then at least once a week for over two years, and also guaranteed payment if there was any question regarding the expense. Don't get me wrong, I paid for the work myself, but I didn't have to deal with collection agencies or hear a word about money from the dentist himself if I even got $1000 behind with the work.
Oh...The 'old man' and I had our contentions. They were handled in an adult manner, though. He paid for my expertise willingly that I never had to ask for a raise and gave trust on a level I hadn't experienced before, especially from the lackey know-nothing bosses that might work for such a man. We all know of those people, lips to the ass of the boss and boot up the ass of the worker. You have to admire those types just for their ability as contortionists.
Well, that business grew to another building, twice as large as the original, of which we took the whole space ourselves. We had had so much work I was running another shift just to keep the equipment producing in what was off-hours in the old building. That was about the time the eldest son graduated from college. Of course he then worked for the 'old man', though I believe his major was chemistry and only a minor in business. He was obviously being somewhat groomed to take over the whole show.
The reason I'm writing this is the ocassion of another reported round of Walmart closing and layoffs. Strikes me as very similar to the experience above. I'm also really disgusted at the impressions many have with the news. While I hardly think that those who visit Indymedia need any commentary regarding the true value of Walmart to its workers, or the impact of government largesse that is in truth the driver of Walmart 'profits', it deserves some mention for another reason. It seems really funny to me that even with knowledge of the underside of Walmart's wealth that many are truly mistaken about its 'problems'.
Actually, what really bothers me is the attitude that somehow blames this on the 'workers', even from working-folk.
Once the business I spoke of above became somewhat firm in the hands of the second generation, we began to see people like 'management consultants'. They roamed the shop with notepads and began to remove any resemblance of an intimate 'human' endeavor. Those 'managers' rearranged the shop floor in sometimes nonsensical patterns. Thecompany bought up attendant small businesses in the area, inherited old, worn out shop equipment and customer bases for which our salespeople hadn't a clue as to service well or competently, often employees over which they cared little if at all and to which I found myself being comfort as they phased out and scrapped every vestiage of that acquired business. I got to the point where I refused to take part in the hiring and firing process even though I ran two departments and it was my guys with varied skills that filled gaps of expertise in other departments when necessary. Those 'consultants' dictated the type of work that we did with the excuse of shedding 'less-profitable' endeavors when the problem of profits were the equally clueless salesforce that came with it. When I complained that the problem was the inability of an idiot to successfully bid upon a job they had know idea how to do, I was told to 'stick to my job' and do the best that I could to meet the unrealistic hourly estimates of the time required to do it. "They're salesman. They sell. You're a worker. You work..." The yearly bonuses fell by the wayside instantly. I had people that I relied upon being asked to swallow nickel raises ("Rob, that doesn't add a gallon of milk for my family" was the complaint I got from my main man, and worse, when I went into the office screaming about it, I couldn't even get him a dime. Not a lousy $4/wk.) Oh, but bonuses remained in place for the office people and the salespeople. I had had more than a contentious relationship with the eldest son ever since he had graduated and worked full-time, as he basically broke off my reluctant friendship (I even did dope deals for him for which I kept his 'secret' honorably and somewhat understandingly, and he knew I hated dope deals that I barely kept myself stoned.) with the excuse that now that he had such responsibility, he couldn't possibly be seen with the likes of me socially. That was it for me. I stuck around for awhile, a car accident that broke me up really bad and required a lot of necessary rehab added to that time, but on returning to work I lasted another 8 months or so while I planned to exit that area of the country entirely.
So here we have Walmart, and all the capitalist stooges are in big-time 'beat on the little guy' mode. As informed as they think they are, it seems to me they've missed what is glaringly apparent and just good sense even to another well-known hard-ass like Henry Ford.
I paraphrase, but that skinny old man realized that production relies upon people to be able to afford your product. Now, he was speaking of his own workers, but who can argue when it comes to common products in society? If the workers who produce can't afford what they produce you've a decided problem.
When Walmart employess, without the social benefits allotted to all, can't afford to even shop there in this contrived market environment but for basics and cheap, relatively inconsequential trinkets and electronic gear, one would think that a capitalist could put together the pieces as in the above story.
By the way, the business in the story was recently 'merged' (sold off) to some large east coast concern (like a Mitt Romney concern?). The business did have an attendant material warehouse in its overall corporate package, that in itself had great value, so I imagine the second generation is living very comfortably, thank you. But last time I visited in the early 90s, I walked into a ghost-shop. They were still running the few CNCs we had bought in the late 70s, and a CNC punch station, but basically still a shop in which a machinist from the 50s would feel comfortable. I guess the most basic area of production efficiency was ignored by them. (A CNC will have the cutter in the work up to 98% of the time, when the best I might realize on what may be much-less complicated jobs might be 30% of the time.) Even the basic equipment that served the plating industry to raise the business to this point were almost abandoned. That eldest son approached me, all smiles and quite a bit of extra weight on his body, but I'm sure couldn't mistake the disdain I had for him still existant, and raised ever-higher by what I saw before me. I tersely said 'Hi' and and turned back to continue my conversation with one of the few holdouts from the 'old days'. That man with whom I was conversing ran the machine shop, was there over 20 years, but I found out he was making less than what I did in a market in which basic costs were far above the market that I currently attended. I bought the land and built my own home myself for less than what he would ever hope to pay for just the thought of acquiring the land and a 50-mile one-way daily commute.
That eldest son was actually the antithesis of capitalism, and surely the antithesis of 'production'. No Henry Ford, that's sure. I was told all the money now was in the warehouse, wholesale mark-up, and a little production to keep up appearances. They had little boldness regarding the work, had principally given up larger chemical-process work in which we'd build packing towers, heat exchangers, etc. The shop morale there was fitting of an outfit existing for its tax advantages. I have to admit the floors were clean...Seems sanitation is one thing that such 'capitalism' is very good at. Walmart has surely been good at cleaning what is regarded as shit to these pontificating, overbearing economic bastards. Thing is that you don't add value without true production without considering the environment of the users of that produce. Walmart is the above story on a huge scale.
Personally, I see a decided 'plan' to the pandering of the Chinese masses, who are now finding out they weren't really in on the plan. Well, it was never intended that those dirty commies were so informed, was it?
Which brings me back to the real reason that I wrote this...The 'old man' had once took a vacation to Hong Kong. On his return, we were talking of that trip in his office, and he brought out pictures. What were they? Of factories...A few were from a tour he was 'privelged' to have on the inside, not smoking stacks or carefully-stacked and ordered material ready for work piled to high heaven, but of scantily and poorly clothed workers sitting cross-leggged on a concrete floor running bench-type mills and lathes also on the floor amid masses of chips. I asked him "Do you really think that this is an acceptable environment?" He admittedly said no, but then went on to place that environment in the light of the overall social environment. (Remember, this happened in the late 70s, early 80s.) I guess he felt that was acceptable in that light. I felt I knew his heart, and just dismissed it as that true belief and a measure of libido for actual production that I, in all honesty, shared with him.
The kind of 'capitalist' exampled by the second generation and so proudly prevalent now in America is part and parcel of the problem. A few of the honest might admit that fact. We've become a nation of 'busy-work', which in reality and urban society is quite natural to such a thing. Some just has to be accepted. But they have taken it to a scale that is truly breath-taking. 12% of the workforce is engaged in manufacturing. They've fucked the tit that fed them, artifically inflated it like the milkless breasts of porn workers. Just what do these 'thinking men' expect?
Well, since the early 90s in regards to my skills (I started sweeping floors and subject to the maliciousness of old men who had the same background, not some community college.) I'll admit that I could command more compensation for my presence. I could gain a personal reputation; people would call me, if only because I could do the math without a computer, was responsible and could work unsupervised, wouldn't ask stupid questions like "how do you convert metric degrees?!!!!!, and a Machinerys' Handbook (our 'bible') that wasn't on CD. Believe me, though, it was always bothersome to see that kind of 'machinist'. They have no intuition for the material or the work itself, just see everything is speed/feed formula and rote practice. Their tool boxes are squeaky-clean on the inside, as are the few tools they actually use, along with the few tools that most have just because they think the tools make the man. The machines do excellent work. Those malicious old men would have had a field day and driven most of those guys out of the trade in a week.
As much of a bastard as Henry Ford could be, one sometimes wish that his ghost would rise from the grave as something other than some idealistic god-like version of the man in their modern-day capitalist myths. Henry might teach them some true practicality. Fuck their endless charts and contrived philosophies. There's only one question that's relevant. How is the 'economy'? Not too good, huh? Funny, I don't see a chart of that failure, do you?
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