Uggh More Economic Woes

And the economy continues tanking. Northwest announced layoffs for 2500 workers, in all sectors of the company, ranging from pilots, mechanics, and flight attendants. Of course no union is putting up a fight because as I said before, airline unions don’t care or can’t put up a fight. Steve and Barry’s, a cheap clothing store with high end brands, is going into bankruptcy, perhaps full liquidation. Apparently its business strategy of loans, loans, and irrational growth was a smart idea. Despite racking in 1.1 Billion in annual sales, the company can’t pay its creditors. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are precipitously loosing value.

Once again the economy doesn’t seem to like normal people. At the first sign of trouble its layoffs, liquidations and attacks on one of the few low cost mortgage avenues. Though of course, no one is saying anything about it. The economy is hurting but, its “hurting” everyone. This is why when you read the newspaper they typically spend most of their time interviewing small businesspeople, not workers. Small businessmen typify that “middle class,” “middle America” resilient American citizen. It is funny how we all splurge for these people when by and large; hurting small businesspeople take it out on their employees. Gas goes up? Another get the axe.

In any movement of working people, we need to be wary of small businesspeople. They will always try to moderate the movement and turn it into some bland populism.   As capitalists, they want to join the big time owners.  They look at Warren Buffet types and orgasm all over themselves.  However the big capitalists are often throwing them out of their club, harming their business with big competition or even putting them out of business sending them back into the working class.  Thus its best to imagine small businesspeople as the big bully’s errand boy.  He thinks he’s big shit cause he’s in with big Murphy.  He idolizes big Murphy like a father.  But Murphy is always abusing him and making fun of him, sometimes ignoring him for weeks at a time.  Its an abusive relationship to say the least.

So what does this mean?  Well errand boy Jimmy really to kick down and to kiss up.  He domineers the little children, but damn, he knows when to tow Murphy’s line.  But when Murphy is being especially testy, Jimmy bands together with the other little kids to make demands on Murphy and Murphy usually accedes to those demands.  Of course those demands usually don’t help anyone but Jimmy.  And then after a few weeks, when Murphy has stroked Jimmy’s ego a bit, Jimmy goes back to being a little shit, kicking down and kissing up.

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American Airlines and Labor Union Bureaucrats: Both Dens of Evil

Surprise surprise everyone! As the economy takes a dive into the shiter for the umpteenth time, American Airlines announced that they will be cutting 900 jobs. This is pretty expected. American Airlines is getting slammed hard with the price of gas these days and with their general managerial incompetence. Remember, these are the same idiots whole stole their employee’s pensions because of “bankruptcy.” Pensions are considered part of a worker’s differed salary, so they were technically stealing, but who cares? Anyway, American is feeling the heat, and of course, the workers are taking the brunt of it. But guess who’s helping Corporate along? Why it’s the Flight Attendants Association and Transport Workers Union! Aren’t they just delightful?

Airlines and union officials said they would try to reduce layoffs through attrition or by employees voluntarily taking leaves of absence or sharing jobs…

American said it reached agreement with the union to offer voluntary measures such as leaves of absence to U.S.-based flight attendants 50 and older with at least 15 years of service. The airline said it struck a similar deal with the Transport Workers Union, which represents mechanics and bag handlers.

Because as you know, unions shouldn’t fight for their worker’s jobs, they should facilitate “profitability” i.e. getting fucked over by the boss. Of course it’s all because “times are different.” We live in an era of “increasing global competition” and we better realize that. If we don’t become better workers, then we should expect layoffs! Why can’t a flight attendant spontaneously produce gourmet meals on demand, out of thin air? Come on people, this is the technological revolution here; we need to compete with China somehow! Or at least this is what the union bureaucrats seem to think:

“We’ve all been sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for a number,” said Frank Bastien, a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. “Most of us were pretty pleased it wasn’t higher.”

God, what a bunch of pathetic little cowards, spokesman my ass, Frank Bastien is a shill for the ownership class. When workers organize unions that are democratic and bureaucrat free, then it’s a real representation of working people’s power. But most unions these days are woefully inadequate. They hire defeatist little tramps like Mr. Bastien and prattle on about “acceptable losses.” Especially American unions, which have layer upon layer of paid staff, many of them hired outside of the industry that their union represents! American union executives also make exorbitant salaries. Change to Win labor federation leader Andy Stern, annually earns around a quarter of a million dollars!

This is a real problem. When workers form a union, they expect that union to help them fight management. But labor has become fat with paid positions and cushy job security. These people don’t know what it’s like to work at these jobs everyday. They don’t feel the urgency of the long hours and painful work hazards. No, they are no longer workers, they have evolved into labor negotiation and organization “specialists” and they feel it’s their “job” or “skill” to deal with this stuff. When workers start taking action that’s too militant, labor “specialists” feel their positions threatened. Their job is to mediate disputes between workers and management; it’s the only justification for their cushy jobs and influence. When workers actually fight for what’s theirs, union’s bureaucrats are put in danger. Mediation is thrown out the window, and the real dynamics of class war come into relief. They start thinking: Why the workers might stop listening to us! The company might sue us! Or worse! The company will lose faith in our ability to speak for the workers! There go our jobs! By god! We need to rein these ungrateful factory grunts in!

That’s why any movement of working people needs to be a movement of working people organizations, run on bottom up democracy, not top down, undemocratic, professional driven fiefdoms. Otherwise we will see people co opted into bureaucratic positions. Suddenly fighting the boss won’t be a priority for them and the new boss will look just like the old boss.

There’s an old lefty phrase, “the people united can never be defeated.” We should make an addition to it, “the bureaucrats united will always be defeated.” So, if there any American Airlines reading remember that taking action on the job can stop these firings. Even if your union doesn’t like it, even if your union hates it, direct action will save your jobs. Stand up and fight back fellow workers, we will stand with you.

Our Friends at Starbucks

Here comes the crunch! Starbucks has finally ended its pattern of cancerous growth. Today, they announced the closing of 500 stores and a possible 100 more, along with the termination of 7% of its workforce. As I once stated, this will probably shoot up its stock and the Wall Street Journal agrees.

The store closures are likely to please Wall Street, which has called for more store shutdowns and swifter spending cuts.

So what does this represent? Well it is the culmination of Starbuck’s general strategy. They have expanded and expanded throughout the US as if they were some kind of monstrous blob. But now that they’ve devoured the whole country and eviscerated their competitors, Starbucks is loosing profitability in some of its stores. This is not a surprise since they deliberately over saturate an area in order to drive out competitors. Starbucks directly owns its stores so branches don’t have to make money to stay in business. Now that most of its competitors have either died or adapted, Starbucks no longer needs its excess stores or its excess employees. The article concurs.

But last year, as Starbucks sales began to soften, it became clear that the company’s growth was cannibalizing its sales in a way that was threatening the chain’s success, as well as causing the quality at existing locations to slip. Analysts have said that Starbucks lowered the bar on selecting new locations in recent years.

This is oh so hilarious, as Starbucks has long clung to its reputation as one of the “best” places to work. Of course the kind folks at the IWW beg to differ. They’ve been organizing Starbucks locations for years now, with varying degrees of success. But one thing is always the same; Starbucks comes in to brutally bust that union as fast as a cheetah shot out of a cannon.

Starbucks never did and never will care about its baristas. People have deluded themselves into viewing this as some sort of benign company. No company is benign. Capitalism, no matter the form, is always exploitative. Often the friendliest of corporate images cover up the most sinister of corporate practices.

All the Time in the World

Here’s an essay on the modern manipulation of time and its affects on regular people. It’s a bit grandiose sounding, but it was written for a literary magazine, so cut me some slack.

Yesterday I committed a great modern day sin; I forgot my watch. Not just any watch, this was my Casio “waveceptor”, a digital and analog wristwatch complete with a daily radio update from the atomic clock in Colorado. It’s not an especially expensive watch but it is imperative that I remember to carry it with me at all times. Why? Because without the ability to reliably tell time, I can’t function in this society and neither can you. Modern industrial society dictates that we all must be wary of the time at all times. We as a civilization have become time obsessed. We’ve subdivided our days and nights into progressively smaller chunks of regulated and restricted time. Without a direct connection to this time matrix we’re left adrift in a complex dance we don’t know or understand the moves to.

The measurement and regulation of time is the driving force in any modern industrial society. So much so that modern societies break down most all-natural elements of time and in their dust create new and far more intricate groupings of minutes, seconds and nanoseconds. In earlier epochs life was measured and largely regulated by the seasons, day and night, the shape of the moon etc. You sew the fields in spring, ate salted fish during the winter and harvested the crops in the fall. When it was day you were awake and when it was night you would go to sleep. All very simple things.

Yet with the continuous evolution of civilization, time became more and more artificial. Soon religious holidays and days of religious observance were introduced by the priest or shaman caste. You had to worship in this way on this date at this time. That is if you didn’t want the gods to smite you. Then the state got involved and started dictating that citizens perform this duty (normally forced labor of some sort) for a certain period of time and that x group of people must attend schooling for y number of years. Finally with the introduction of commerce, the rule of the market dictated that people show up to work at this time, eat lunch at another time and leave for home at a later time.

All of these changes are quite minor in comparison to the current state of things. Our status quo is the complete management of time and the definitive meaning of that time. That is to say that in our modern society all time is an artificial vacuum, in which each second is measured and counted so that every waking moment of our lives is spent in some of predetermined activity at some predetermined hour. It’s a not a hard thing to observe if you look out for it. First examine how our means of production have smashed all natural signs of time. What ever happened to the night? In all other ages of human development, day and night held near hegemonic sway. Now the night is a mere annoyance, a nuisance to be fought off with headlights and batteries. We could live in a underground bunker and feel little different if that was what was required of us. It might be a bit psychologically offsetting, but we could deal. For those of us in “modern society”, the concept of seasons is on the way out too. Remember how people used to get cold during the winter? Even in their homes? And how during the summer people actually wore pants and heavy woolen clothing? Nowadays you pop the thermostat up or down and all is right with the realm. Oh sure you wear coat or a T-shirt when you’re out “braving the elements”, but so long as you stay within the artificial confines of the human “habitat” and keep on playing halo, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Without the normal barriers and guideposts the natural world provides us, society has unceasingly drove towards a time that is ever more complex and ever more controlled. Think about any portion of your typical day. You wake up at a prearranged time regardless of the weather or the absence of sunlight. You do so, not because you want to wake up, but because it has been declared that you must wake up this time each day in order to arrived at school at your correct prearranged “start time”. If this time clashes with your “life” you’re most probably scolded and eventually punished by those who set the “start time”. Meanwhile in school you spend your hours situated in a series of uniform blocks of time in specified and predetermined subjects. English 8th period, government 9th period math 10th period etc.etc.etc. Once more, if you do not follow this appropriate time frame, you are singled out and targeted by those in authority.

After school you go to work, and begin your “shift”. You may or may not spend specified periods of time within this “shift’ doing various assigned tasks. You might even get some “break time” which is exactly 15 minutes long, no more, no less. After ours of drudgery you finally reach quitting time at which it is acceptable to “clock out”. Of course if you violate any of these time regulations you face stiff sanctions. Nobody wants anyone to come in late or take off early.

Most telling is the concept of “free time”. Free time is possibly the most deceptive of lures that our controlling forces have thrown in our face. “Don’t worry!” we’re told. ”You’ll have plenty of free time once work is over,” This is unadulterated bull. In a modern industrial society there is no free time. All chunks of time already have predetermined lengths and predetermined social meanings. Free time is that time you think is ‘free’, but actually is more akin to indirect control by same societal forces that already directly control all other aspects of your life. Examine any portion of your “free” time and notice how much of that free time was spent either consuming commercial products, or consuming commercial entertainment. Most people would say that the vast majority of their free time is spent in this manner.

And yet where is the freedom in that? Buying consumer products feeds the engine of commerce, the same engine that already controls your workday and work schedule. How is this time ‘free’ if we spend it feeding the forces of oppression? Watching entertainment is not much better. Where’s the freedom and originally in using all your time and scheduling your whole night, around the public relations spewing of commercial entities? Are you really free when you spend every Monday at 10 PM watching “Medium”? What’s so bad about all of this is that of all these favored pastime activities, few can be enjoyed for free? Last I noticed Loews Cinema costs 20 dollars for a ticket with some popcorn and soda, how much does it cost to feel a truly enriching experience? 2,000? 20,000? Unless you’re someone that sets the meaning of time (Corporate executives, the pope, the president, etc.) you don’t have much of a chance to earn that kind of money.

Now please don’t take this as a wholesale assault on the idea of time. Time is the 5th dimension of space. It’s a universal concept; you can’t just throw it away. However the complete hegemony of artificial time and artificially defined time is something that we as a society must address. Time is all that we have and to mismanage it for the benefit of a religious/state/corporate elite is the greatest crime against the human spirit. A truly free and prosperous society must acknowledge the need for extensive free time. Not a free time that merely mimics freedom but in reality bolsters the forces of control. But a freedom of the most exalted sort, where you can feel enthused and enriched every minute and every second. You may call it utopian, but what have you got to loose? More “free” time?

Welcome to the Wall Street Casino and Resort

I think it’s funny how everyone pays so much attention to the stock market and yet we know so little about it. The stock market is not an indicator of the health of the economy, not for real people at least. The stock market is an indicator of the speculative investments of a very wealthy few and the mutual funds of the poor schmoes trying to save for retirement. The stock market doesn’t really mean anything, its gambling with an MBA. Now some will argue that the stock market keeps companies honest, that it reflects their value and performance, while providing the necessary capital to keep them going. To some degree, yes this is true, but not really.

The stock market only represents the perceived value of a company. The perception of a company’s profitability is never its actual value. A company’s stock will go up and down according to the whims of stock traders. If they feel like a stock is worth more, they’ll buy/sell high and visa versa. Why they feel this way, doesn’t matter. Often it doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s why we have things like market crashes. Folk buy up stock on the assumption that they’ll keep going up. Not because the company is actually worth anything, but because investors think they can sell to the next guy for a higher price. That is until the bubble bursts and there’s no one else to buy the stock. A stock market bubble is essentially a pyramid scheme; the new guys fund the profits of the old guys till the whole thing falls apart.

What’s worse is that the stock market doesn’t really apply to you or me. Its health is never our health. Corporate stocks go up when profits go up, and raising profits is often accomplished through unsavory means. When GE lays off a thousand workers, it’s stock shoots up 2-3 dollars at least. New labor saving technology cuts costs, boosts stock and undercuts labor’s bargaining power. If a logging company chops down a national forest, then the money rolls on in. We all suffer from increased environmental destruction, but hey, DuPont’s up 3 points!

The media’s fascination with the stock market demonstrates its upper class bias. They don’t really care about the little people. If they did, more journalists would talk about unemployment, gentrification, and all the not so fun symptoms of a healthy stock. But they don’t, because the news media, especially the business media, is owned and controlled by 5 large corporations, staffed largely by relatively well off reporters and driven solely by profit motive. It’s a bit different at the local newspaper where reporters make pretty modest salaries, but those newspapers aren’t in the business of investigative reporting, corporate HQ wants to make money, and stories like that could only upset advertisers.

It’s all part of a growing and willful ignorance amongst most of the population on all matters of economics. Few people, let alone the reporters themselves, notice that capitalism today isn’t about making things anymore. That’s not where the big money is. Most investment today is in speculation. Now that may involve speculation on productive assets like companies and land, but its still speculation. The problem with speculation is that it doesn’t add any value. At least industrial capitalists build stuff and develop technologies. But speculation is just blackjack with much higher bets, an exclusive casino for the ultra wealthy.

The danger is that over speculation isn’t only unproductive, it’s also incredibly risky. Imagine the economy as a line on a graph, going up and down in a cyclical stable line. Well, the more speculation you add, the deeper and longer those bumps and troughs get. Speculation doesn’t create value, but it is very good at creating volatility. The reason is pretty simple, if you have 50 people trading a stock, its range isn’t going to differ that much over a day or a week, there’s only so many people and so much money. But if you had 50,000 people, you could generate wild fluctuations. Those are the fluctuations that cause a Black Tuesday or an East Asia crisis. If you don’t know about the East Asia crisis, basically around 1997 a bunch of currency speculators drained most of the capital out of the region in a matter of weeks. Factories were sold off piecemeal, bank after bank collapsed, there was hyper unemployment. It wasn’t very fun. Especially when it cascaded into Russia, causing the ruble to crash and eviscerating any gains those poor folk had managed to claw out of the capitalist “shock therapy” of 1992.

Obviously we’ve got a bit of a problem here. We have an economy built on speculation and it’s ready to blow. The cracks have already appeared; in fact they’re fissures at this point. The housing bubble was built on speculation and that has come back to destroy several large mortgage companies (Countrywide is a good example). Fuel prices continue to skyrocket. Why? In the long term its lower supplies and increased demand from India and China. But that’s not the case right now, actually right now its oil speculators bidding up the price and hoarding oil futures because they’re anticipating that increased demand. Food? Yeah that too, in 2004 there was 15 billion sloshing around the food commodities markets, now it’s 150 billion. Of course there are many other problems, but speculation is one of the root causes for about every economic calamity we’ve got right now.

This is dangerous, because speculation is not the cause of people’s problems. Capitalism, oppression, exploitation are the problems. But during these depressions and panics certain sections of the ruling class, the industrialists and the small time owners, start to wax about the power of the “evil bankers.” They start saying that all of you disaffected industrial workers are loosing your jobs and your way of life to that evil transnational banking elite. And we gotta ally together to fight those dastardly bankers, and secure the health of the nation, which only grows more powerful through the strength of industry and the hard working values of traditional heartland folk. If you haven’t realized, this is what we call fascism, add some comments about “jewish bankers” and you get Nazism. During times of capitalist crisis the industrialists and other capitalists co opt parts of the working class, usually the more disaffected, conservative sections, and then brutally assault leftist/revolutionary working people. There’s a reason why Hitler called it “National Socialism,” he actually brought some workers along with him. However Hitler did wipe out the more “socialist” elements during the Night of Long Knives. But hey, I’ll take a dead Nazi however I can get em.

Anyway, before this gets too meandering and silly, let me sum it up. Speculative capital is bad, and it is going to cause another recession, if not another depression sometime soon. The problem is we cannot allow conservative reactionary types to derail working folk into some sort of right wing, neo fascist movement. When the shit hits the fan, we need to articulate a vision that is revolutionary and makes it clear that speculation isn’t the problem, but a problem, a symptom of the larger disaster known as capitalism and hierarchy. Getting rid of speculation won’t end layoffs, wage cuts, racial hatred, etc. It just strengthens one section of the rulers against another.