Wednesday, March 11, 2015

“I Owe my Soul to the Company Store”


So who has a target on their backs now?

Many towns and cities have their rulers.  They are those who own the biggest companies in town.  The University that dominates a city.  The one factory, mine or mill that employs most everyone in the ville. The industry that has settled in an area, like tech in Silicon Valley, Route 10 in Boston or Austin, TX.  Mining in Appalachia or oil in Williston, ND.  William Domhoff, in his ground-breaking 1967 work (for the U.S. that is) ‘Who Rules America?’ described just such a situation for the whole nation. (Domhoff updated the book in 2009.) It detailed the interlocking directorates and families that dominate the largest corporations of the U.S. and hence the capitalist economy.  Every country, city and small town has a profile like this.  Even in your one-horse town, you know the businessmen who seem to run everything.  And many times they are elected mayor.

Almost 50 years after Domhoff’s book first came out oligopoly and corporate dominance are even more apparent, and they have gone world-wide. No corporation worth its salt operates in just one country.  Most recent profitable expansions for U.S. corporations have been overseas, or in Mexico or Canada, thus belying a simple-minded Keynesianism that bases its analysis on purely national economies - which no longer exist.

International expansion does not always work.  It becomes over-expansion – a tendency built into capitalist functioning.  Target, one of the corporations that rules Minneapolis, MN, USA, attempted to expand in Canada after buying a retail chain there, Zellers.  Now they are pulling out of Canada, declaring the Canadian version of bankruptcy, laying off 17,000+ workers in Canada and another 2,000 in the Minneapolis area. Yesterday, the slaughter happened here in town – 1,700 let go after meetings every hour in the morning.  1,400 empty jobs will not be filled – for a total of 3,100 missing jobs in the U.S.  Remaining workers, as is normal in the U.S., will pick up the slack through forced ‘productivity’ gains.  Still a drop in the bucket compared to the carnage in Canada but it hurts no less. 

Our Democratic Party governor, Mark Dayton, is part of the family that started Target – which shows you the transparent intersection of commerce and politics in the U.S.  He just had a PR talking-to with the present Target CEO Brian ‘Hatchet’ Cornell about Target’s intentions.  He got a toothless pledge from them to ‘stay in Minnesota.’  Just like the one Northwest Airlines / Delta gave Minnesota and then ignored.  (Delta is one of the ruling anti-union corporations in Atlanta, along with Home Depot, Turner Broadcasting and the granddaddy of them all, Coke.)  The invisible mayor of Minneapolis, liberal Democrat Betsy Hodges, was nowhere to be heard in this situation.  After all, it is ‘at will’ employment, as no one at Target was covered by a union.  No long warning was needed either.  ‘At will’ is the legal term for the bourgeois employment dictatorship where you can be dismissed ‘at the will” of your liege lord.

The prior CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, who planned the over-expansion into Canada, also presided over the first large data breach for a retailer and ran an organizationally-troubled ship.  He got a $61M golden parachute for screwing up, according to Barrons.  How many Target employees facing the axe now will be getting that?  At best a severance check will be theirs.  The corporate press reported an ‘average’ check of $60k, which if true across the board from admin assistant to IT person, would be generous. "Average' can vary from high to low, so more info might be needed on these bonuses. However it is a drop in the bucket for a billion-dollar company - a readjustment cost.

Which shows you how different classes are treated under modern capitalism.  This has been obvious for years to anyone paying attention.  Criminals in Wall Street firms, the military, the government or law 
enforcement go free.  Everyone else pays – and pays – and pays. 

Mass layoffs or business closures like this have probably happened in your own town, and you are familiar with the ramifications.  One of these is the effect on small businesses.  These events expose the lie that small business is some kind of ‘job creator’ and the main engine of capital.  Every sandwich shop, rental property owner, retail outlet, sub-contractor, bar and restaurant in downtown Minneapolis is thinking about reduced business.  Target’s vendors are also looking at reductions in business.  This is because most small businesses are just feeder ramps for large capital.  They are the pilot fish around the sharks.

Target is the semi-hip version of Wal-Mart, with better advertising and ‘cooler’ designer products.  They use the same poverty-stricken labor in Asia and low-paid wage workers in the U.S. as Wal-Mart to make their profits, but that doesn’t come out in the ads.  Several years ago they got an exemption from the City of Minneapolis so they did not have to adhere to affirmative-action standards.  Recently Betsy Hodges, who is basically a front-person for Target and other corporations in the city, declared that she was against the $15 an hour wage in Minneapolis.  Which Target certainly applauded, as they have several stores in town.  The workers in ‘beige and red’ won’t be getting any support from Hodges. 

Monday some middle-management got the axe and no one is probably crying about that except their families.  Layers of useless management are legendary signs of inefficiency.  On Tuesday it was the turn of what is reported to be mostly older workers, some with 20 years of service.  They will find it hard to find a new job in this economy. Some young and enthusiastic Millenials hired at Target headquarters right out of the universities, like the University of Minnesota business school and the design and textile schools also were let go.  These schools serve as feeder-ramps for corporate work.

Welcome to capitalism.  Being laid off, being on welfare, using food stamps, going to jail, getting arrested, getting divorced, getting injured at work, being fired from a job or tear-gassed by police are all just part of growing up in this society.  Maybe if you are lucky you’ll even get to strike.  It is not your fault.  Draw the conclusions if you want.  Take it from someone who has been laid-off too many times.  You are unfortunately cogs in a machine – just another commodity to the rulers.  Like the stuff sold on the shelves at Target.  And when not sold, sent to the reseller. 

(Commentary on $15 an Hour campaign, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.)

Revised 3/14/2015)
Red Frog
March 11, 2015

1 comment:

AA said...

Great post. A lot of the people at our gym (Lifetime Fitness on 6th Street N.) are Target employees and there's been a lot of angst about the layoffs. But this being the USA, the polite commiseration from others has been a thin veil over schadenfreude ("better you than me, mate").