Pink Slip Doldrums
“But the worker has the misfortune to be a living capital, and therefore a capital with needs — one which loses its interest, and hence its livelihood, every moment that it is not working” (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts)
General Electric just announced in December ’17 there will be 12,000 lay-offs in its electrical power division. ArcelorMittal announced in September ’17 that 150 out of 207 workers in its Conshohocken, Pennsylvania steel mill will be laid-off. Teva Pharmaceuticals announced in November ’17 that 14,000 workers will be laid-off globally, including several thousand in the US. AT&T has laid-off approximately 1,400 workers since November ’17. DuraBond announced in September 2017 that 180 steel workers at its plant in Steelton, Pennsylvania will be laid-off. ESPN announced in November ’17 that 150 workers will be laid-off. From digital media to rolling steel, private sector to public sector, lay-off is becoming the watchword–particularly for workers in basic industry and those workers who have been organized for years.
Marx’s drafts that have since been collected as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts contain a number of wonderful descriptions of the social agony and aimless despair that finds its expression within innumerable personal tragedies across the globe.
“This class always has to sacrifice a part of itself in order not to be wholly destroyed” (ibid)
Of course, workers rarely have any say in which part of itself is to be sacrificed. That remains the exclusive domain of the capitalists. Most often, we are all left to simply accept what appears to be a fait accompli; a foregone conclusion.
Marx certainly knew what it all meant:
“Thus in a declining state of society–increasing misery of the worker; in an advancing state– misery with complications; and in a fully developed state of society–static misery” (ibid)
How low we must be to look upon those halcyon days of Keynesianism–that state of misery with complications — with such nostalgia.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
“Production occupations is the only major occupational group that is projected to decline. Employment is projected to decline 4 percent, with a loss of about 385,300 jobs from 2016 to 2026. Technological advancements are expected to continue to replace many of the manufacturing workers that make up a large share of the production occupations. Fewer workers are expected to be needed in the manufacturing sector as many processes have become computer-controlled.
The median annual wage for production occupations was $33,130 in May 2016, which was lower than the median annual wage for all occupations of $37,040.”
Some economic forecasts for 2018:
“U.S. manufacturing is forecast to increase faster than the general economy. Production will grow 2.8 percent in 2018. Growth will slow to 2.6 percent in 2019 and 2 percent in 2020.”
While at the same time:
“The unemployment rate will drop to 3.9 percent in 2018 and 2019 but rise to 4.0 percent in 2020. That’s better than the 4.1 percent rate in 2017, and the 4.7 percent rate in 2016. It’s also better than the Fed’s 6.7 percent target. But Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen admits a lot of workers are part-time and would prefer full-time work.
Also, most job growth is in low-paying retail and food service industries. Some people have been out of work for so long that they’ll never be able to return to the high-paying jobs they used to have. That means structural unemployment has increased. These traits are unique to this recovery. They also make the unemployment rate seem low.
Yellen considers the real unemployment rate to be more accurate. It’s double the widely-reported rate.”
Another observer notes:
“Manufacturing job flow to and from offshore has gone from net annual U.S. losses of about 220,000 (2000 to 2003) to a 25,000 net gain (2016)
This trend has helped drive a manufacturing workforce that is now about 2 million higher than would have been projected in 2007.”
An offensive by the business owners, shareholders and bankers (aka the bourgeoisie) that has spanned nearly 3 generations is bearing fruit. Far fewer workers are needed to produce even greater new value due to the rising organic composition of capital–via automation, increasing division of labor, etc.–and the generational drive to roll back all of the material gains won by the workers through their class struggles has reached a milestone. Automation, scientific management, technological innovation, commodification of education and health care and above all, union busting– it has all accumulated in the present moment for a new round of traditional capital accumulation: in factories, mines, mills and plants.
The old common sense economics has said for years that, “we just don’t make shit in this country anymore.” That has never been true. Production workers in America have continued to produce more even as their numbers have dropped. This disconnect becomes apparent whenever anyone bothers to ask about it:
“Manufacturing jobs in the United States have declined considerably over the past several decades, even as manufacturing output – the value of goods and products manufactured in the U.S. – has grown strongly. But while most Americans are aware of the decline in employment, relatively few know about the increase in output, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Four of every five Americans (81%) know that the total number of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has decreased over the past three decades, according to the survey of 4,135 adults from Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. But just 35% know that the nation’s manufacturing output has risen over the same time span, versus 47% who say output has decreased and 17% who say it’s stayed about the same. Only 26% of those surveyed got both questions right.”
The bourgeoisie is intoxicated by the promise of a return to the good old days. It has emerged from the crisis of 2007 in a much stronger position viz a viz the working-class. It will continue to browbeat, sortie, intimidate and harass the organized workers. After 2007-08, the weapon of choice was the lock-out. Now it is the lay-off, which gives the bourgeoisie a chance to shed what remains of the material gains won in the class struggle by earlier generations for unionized workers, and unfettered access to unilateral business reorganizations for non-union workers.
And yet, most of us–our co-workers, neighbors, friends, families–don’t know it.