Monday, December 01, 2008

Dee-troit Breakdown

Jim at Sweet Juniper! has the best takedown of the Big Three Haters I've read's a chunk of the mirror he holds up:
I have been surprised by the anger and disgust expressed by so many at the workers (and their unions) for their role in the current state of the American auto industry [...] how all kinds of people---conservatives and liberals---have such a visceral, angry response to the idea of the [...] lazy, do-nothing UAW member sitting in a room doing cross word puzzles instead of working on the line, collecting $70 an hour salaries with better health and retirement benefits than the CEOs of the company.

[...] I think this ugly response to a mythology perpetuated about blue-collar workers is particularly shameful because so many American white-collar workers in both the public and private sectors are incredibly lazy themselves. God forbid a factory worker should step away from her job twisting the tops on the toothpaste tubes for a minute, but just because someone has a Bachelor's degree that apparently entitles them to dick around on the internet all day with impunity.

I once wrote (somewhat in jest), "Thank goodness almost every office worker in America has virtually unfettered access to the internet. Imagine what would happen to our economy if employers started taking away internet privileges and people were forced to actually work. The sound of crickets would reign at fark, digg, and reddit. Entire fantasy football teams would stand around on their virtual sidelines with nothing to do. Projects would get done way earlier than they needed to be. Soon there wouldn't be enough work to go around. Bureaucracies would actually become efficient. Massive layoffs would follow. The entire American economy is balanced precariously on the fact that the average American office worker spends only about 20 percent of his or her time actually working." This is corporate America's dirty little secret. Anyone who's ever worked in an office environment knows that it is at least somewhat true. Add to all that internet time the Sisyphusian piles of meaningless paperwork, unproductive conversations with coworkers, endless meetings, pointless conferences and worthless training seminars, and I think there's enough fodder for a stereotype of the lazy, do-nothing middle-class white-collar office worker who may not have a union to protect him, but who hardly deserves his salary. Where is the animus towards this mythical being?

The thing is, he's not a myth. He is real, and right now he is spitting on the men and women who still make things in America because they dared to believe they could be just like him.

Read the whole thing.

Also, here is Jim's previous post on the auto companies, complete with some of his amazing, eerie and haunting photos of Detroit. More of those can be found here.

Hell, I just spent an hour gazing at photos and reading fascinating tales of the Detroit Book Depository—they're going in the blogroll.

Photo © Sweet Juniper Media, Inc.


Toast said...

Interesting. On the one hand, his comments about lazy office workers who spend too much time fucking around on the internet are spot-on. (Hey! I resemble that remark!) On the other hand, I've never had anything but a positive view of America's blue-collar union workers, so the indignant bit about people like me "spitting on" them doesn't apply. Simply put, I think hard work and productivity are overrated virtues in our work-obsessed society, and I begrudge no one their right to slack off.

Mr Furious said...

LOL! That white collar/internet part hit me right between the eyes, too!

Seriously, there is something to his point about the liberal backlash regarding this bailout though—there's plenty of that mixed in with the GOP union-busting rhetoric.

I think much of the liberal opposition to a Big Three Bailout is a combination of corporate resentment (ie: "I say LET 'em crash!") coupled with a desire for penance for the Era of the Hummer. But underneath that, there is an empathy gap for the workers because of a lack of understanding of the value and history of unions in this country, and the impact a collapse of this industry would have. It won't be confined to the blue collar, union sector. And it won't be a ripple effect on the economy, it will be a tsunami.

And like you, I have a real appreciation of blue collar union workers—I think that comes with the territory growing up in NEw England as opposed to the South or Northwest, plus my dad was a firefighter and Local President of the IAFF—but many people are under the misconception that unions are like diplomatic immunity for slackers and underperformers. The media and the right-wing have successfully pushed that as a narrative for over a generation now.

That framing, coupled with the very real decline in union membership and influence means many "liberals" in the blogosphere-sense of that term are not in unions, don't know people in unions, and have no positive association with unions.

Mrs Furious said...

At least you didn't write this at work ;)

Smitty said...

Again, conservatives win the PR War, in that the average American's idea of the function of a union is overwhelmingly negative. That Mitt Romney (who loves to hail from Michigan when it suits him) blames UAW for the problem is evidence of that.

My favorite response so far is from today over at Balloon Juice. Well done.

Toast said...

like you, I have a real appreciation of blue collar union workers—I think that comes with the territory growing up in NEw England as opposed to the South or Northwest

I suppose so. I've never really understood the antipathy towards unions that's so prevalent the last few decades. And this predates my politically-active years. From as long ago as I can remember, unions have always been the "Good Guys". And as an adult? I mean, frankly, the term "collective bargaining" seems self-evidently rational to me.

Deb said...

None of this surprises me, because I think people who have never gotten their hands dirty for a living or grown up in a home where their parents did have no appreciation for the labor involved and the almost-indentured nature of pay scales blue collar workers face. I have to say that what always baffles me is when blue collar workers (especially union workers) vote Republican and truly believe the party is out to protect them. The real myth is that the Republican party wants anything to do with the American dream and the raising up of the middle class.

(Sidebar: I may not be guilty of the pissing, but back when I had a paying gig, I was definitely guilty of the dicking around. Isn't that why the internet was invented? You can't tell me it was for the thoughtful exchange of ideas.)

Mr Furious said...

If you're blue collar and aren't in a union, you feel like you've made it on your own without some union protecting you, and it builds resentment.

If you're white collar or management, see above, or even more likely, you view unions as adversarial.

This applies to whole swaths of the country. Growing up in New England, then living in NYC and Michigan, unions are common and in most cases not viewed negatively.

Once again, it all seems to break down into red vs. blue states...

The liberal pile-on that surprises Jim is part projection or guilt preventing empathy with the worker; but mostly—I think—a desire to penalize the corporations. The free ride given to the financial sector has only intensified this.

Most people, myself included, don't understand the intricacies of the credit meltdown, but everyone can relate to that crappy K-car they had in the 80s and drive by the dealer lot filled with Yukons and make a clear judgment that the car companies fucked themselves, so screw 'em.

Anonymous said...

Actually, we factor at about 40% productive work form software developers and testers. Add on top of that the meetings, phone calls, emails, etc. and you get pretty close to 70%. 30% dicking around is acceptable.

Not sure why my identity isn't working. This is Wilde.

Elizabeth said...

The pictures are amazing.

I drove all around downtown for my job last year. I never had the courage to stop and take pictures, even from inside the car. I wish I had though, it's so hauntingly beautiful. It's really heartbreaking.