It’s now a part of commonplace wisdom that globalization and economic slumps in the U.S. have created a buyers’ market when it comes to labor, and that the folks selling their only asset, their time and effort, are at a new disadvantage that is eroding the hard-won successes the labor movement enjoyed in first half of the 20th century. Jobs now regularly move to areas of the world where impoverished and often politically powerless folks cannot afford to make demands – and the power of our own citizens to demand equitable treatment is correspondingly diminished.
We have a national version of the same game going on today, where corporations pit cities, states and regions against each other in bidding wars. The prize is jobs – which may or may not materialize, and which are often yanked away a few years later when a new round of bidding is engendered. The losers are usually the taxpayers who subsidize the enticements that are offered and labor, which is either cajoled or forced to play the part of sacrificial lamb.
This situation is now being played out in Missouri which is desperately trying to lure a new Boeing factory that would most likely bring with it a boatload of jobs. Governor Jay Nixon, who somehow had the internal wherewithal to hold fast against stupid tax cuts earlier this year, is nevertheless in a tizzy to let Boeing walk all over any progressive aspirations he may have fostered – and he is aided and abetted by a legislature where almost all except for a few on the left and right are willing to abandon principle. And we can’t really blame them – the playing board has been tilted to such an extent that this is now the way the game has to be played; until we can change the rules, the Boeings of the world can and will run roughshod over taxpayers and workers.
The Boeing demands, though, are extreme even in this era of compulsive corporate welfare. Notable in the Boeing wish list is the demand that the locale they chose provide the site and facilities at “no cost, or very low cost” and pick up the tab for “infrastructure improvements.” As Matthew Iglesias observes:
That’s a little nutty. If your strategy for attracting the construction of an airplane factory to your town includes footing the entire bill for an airplane factory, then you might as well just launch an airplane manufacturing company. You can read the whole list here. They are ideally looking for a highly skilled yet low-wage workforce at a location with a dedicated railroad spur and a seaport. Plus low taxes!
This situation suggests the following to me:
1. A corporate buyer’s market is not good for the large majority of Americans.
2. Rightwing efforts to enact right-to-work laws, to lower or eliminate corporate taxes, weaken regulations, etc. are intended to create just such a market.
3. This is a problem that progressives have to approach systematically at the federal level. Ameliorating this market situation has to be a major progressive goal that needs to be dealt with in a strategic fashion.
4. Meanwhile, we have to hold the line in the fight against the highly organized network of corporate influence peddlers such as ALEC and its Missouri affiliate, the Show-Me-Institute – and accept the fact that until we have dealt with the issues above, we will loose as often as we win.
5. “Opportunities” like that offered by Boeing will continue to present themselves and we will continue to weaken our social and labor infrastructure until we have dealt with the larger issues.
Years ago I was part of the administration in a non-profit on the West Coast. Our salaries were higher than elsewhere because the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area where we were located was also higher. Frequently, staff from one of the East Coast Ivy League schools would apply for jobs in our organization with no intention of accepting. The goal was to get a job offer which they could then take back to their own organization as fuel in salary negotiations, a surefire ploy since their school had an articulated policy of bidding to keep high-performing employees. To say that this left a bad taste in our mouth was an understatement – we were out the time and expense of interviewing candidates in name only. Since we were capable of learning from experience, we soon stopped selecting individuals from this school for interviews. The issue of corporate extortion of the Boeing variety is far more complex, but what this past experience suggests to me is that there are solutions to such problems, although they may be far from perfect. We can learn from experience, and we can develop strategies for coping.
It is unlikely that Boeing will actually locate in Missouri – we do have some remnants of a labor movement, some few of our legislators realize that they’re playing a chumps’ game, and, most significantly, we don’t have the seaport that figures on Boings list of secondary preferences. Nevertheless, Missouri’s political class needs to learn from this experience and come up with a real job-creation strategy for Missouri that doesn’t involve allowing thuggish corporations to work over Missourians.
*Last sentence edited post-publication. Point no. 2 also edited for clairity.