Wednesday, April 11, 2012

WSJ praises South Carolina's factory system

What do these items have in common: rice, indigo, cotton, textiles and tires?

They're all products that South Carolina has used to turn cheap labor into high wealth for our state's evolving aristocracy. As the wealth bubbles created by each of the first four swelled and burst, the next took its place: Slaves tending rice gave way to slaves tending indigo, who gave way to slaves tending cotton, who gave way to slaves -- by now, re-titled "mill workers" -- turning out cloth.

And as multi-national corporations finished transferring that industry overseas, where children and the poor produce the same results for pennies a day, the slave-called-mill-worker has been replaced by the slave-called-factory-worker.

The masters may change; the products may change; but our state system of labor remains the same: Cheap.

Which draws toothsome praise this week from the ledger of masters, none other than the Wall Street Journal. As South Carolina gradually becomes the vulcanized rubber processor for the nation's automobile industry, the Journal salivates over our willingness to turn our technical colleges into tire-factory training facilities -- and our willingness to fund the training!

Tire makers say South Carolina’s high-tech workforce makes the state an easy choice for tomorrow’s factories, where highly automated plants require skilled operators.

Easy choice? How about easy mark.

Three tire manufacturers have laid plans over the next year to build new plants in the state. Michelin’s announcement Tuesday, of a new $750 million plant came after Continental Tire began construction of the new plant last month. And Bridgestone announced in September plans for a new 1.5 million square-foot plant in Aiken County, S.C., which will bring 850 jobs to the area.

The tire makers say they have chosen to expand in the state because of an education system that grooms students to work on an increasingly high-tech factory floor.

What nonchalance: South Carolina's education system, the Journal explains guilelessly, "grooms" our children to serve on the "factory floor."

And don't bother quibbling over the qualifiers they spin: "increasingly high-tech" and all that. The same qualifiers were used to praise the Africans we kidnapped in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to work in the Low Country swamps for rice, indigo and cotton, and the impoverished Appalachian families we coerced into textile mills at slave wages. Read our history; we marveled at the inventiveness, and speed, and manual dexterity of the little children we used in our mills through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries.

To pretend to admire our cheap laborers for being "highly skilled" is no different from praising slaves for withstanding malaria and mill children for having hands small and quick enough to work multiple looms without slowing down.

And my, how we're helping America to rebound after a loathsome recession:

The latest announcement from Michelin comes as manufacturing jobs are slowly returning to the U.S. after losing more than a million positions during the recession. The sector expanded by 37,000 jobs in March, in its 32nd straight month of growth, according to the government.

Bridgestone invested heavily in automation and technology during the downturn, in an effort to cut costs. And now those high-tech investments, favorable exchange rates, and the modest economic recovery, have helped make America a desirable place for expansion. “I can have the technology anywhere in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the workforce,” said Steve Brooks, chief project officer for Bridgestone’s Americas tire operations.

Translation: Recessions and depressions hurt the poor worst of all; they give up their ambitions for better education and better lives, and they'll accept both the demands of their corporate masters, and the wages and conditions that are offered to them -- because they know there's a line of folks out the door willing to replace them on the factory floor.

It's the mill world, all over again -- and our poor South Carolina laborers, constrained by our restrictive at-will laws, make South Carolina a "desirable place for expansion."

It gets better, because we're willing in South Carolina to bend over completely backwards to satisfy the needs of our corporate masters.

The state prepares students for more tech savvy factory jobs through a system of technical community colleges, which work directly with manufacturers to make sure students are getting skills they need for jobs that are open. For example, at Bridgestone’s plants, along with more advanced automation, most operators now have to operate a terminal that tells them whether machines are producing behind schedule for the hour, so they can continually make adjustments.

Gone are the days when a company had to provide training to its employees. Today, the state provides the training, through its convenient system of technical colleges.

Yes, Corporate Master, did you say you wanted a dozen employees trained this week to run your high-tech machines that turn cheap labor into big profit? We'll get right on it, and thank you for your business!

Best of all, notes the Journal, South Carolina's taxpayers pay for the training -- leaving our corporate masters only to skim the thick, profit-y cream off the top of our free market:

To prepare future workers, the state sponsors a technical scholars program, which allows students through a two-year apprentice program at a factory, while attending community college. Brooks says as much as 10% of his current maintenance staff graduated from the program. “These are workers that are very prepared to handle technology,” Brooks said.

No doubt. Our technical colleges know where their bread is buttered, so they turn out workers who are highly skilled at reading numbers and dials, and pushing buttons and levers as necessary, and at never challenging the dominant paradigm.

The state’s large supply of engineers, helped draw Continental Tire to South Carolina, where it will build a 1600-worker factory in Sumter. They will be needed to help set-up the highly-automated facility. “We used to position people strategically throughout the plant to do inspections,” said David Chesson, director of IT for Continental. In the new plant tires are checked for problems by automated scanners, with each piece individually identifiable.

Michelin declined to comment through a spokesman, saying the manufacturing process is “secretive.” The manufacturers also say state government is “easy to work,” and there are many potential employees with experience working at another tire factory, said Tim Rogers, vice president of finance at Continental. “South Carolina is really our logistics sweet spot,” Rogers said.

Read that again: "The manufacturers also say state government is 'easy to work'."

Easy to work.

Hard on workers.

Same as it ever was.

And it's a great day in South Carolina!

1 comment:

  1. ". . . never challenging the dominant paradigm."

    Yep. That's it, exactly.