Tuesday, September 13, 2011 Rochester, NY - About a decade ago, way down under (no, not that far down under; not Australia), Argentinian factory workers, stung by right wing business and labor policies, decided to stage sit-ins at their former places of employment. The corporations that had recently shut down their manufacturing facilities wanted to liquidate not only the land on which the factory stood, but everything: the structure, and all industrial fixtures and machines (sometimes simply to adhere to bankruptcy edicts).
Through protracted but sometimes successful court battles--often between the workers and the Argentinian federal government--the skilled but unemployed factory workers lost more than they won, but for a few, victory could not smell sweeter. Today, nearly a decade later, some of these worker owned factories are still in operation, manufacturing goods that sell not only in Southern South America, but all over the world (SEE the Canadian documentary, "The Take"-2004).
Does Kodak 'Owe' Anything to Greater Rochester?
Since Kodak hit its peak employment figures in Rochester around 1983 (about 62,000 local employees), we have seen, through chronically bad management and short sighted product development, our community's flagship company dwindle to about 7,000 local workers today. Our region's largest employer, the University of Rochester/Strong Memorial Hospital, now has nearly three-times as many employees as Eastman Kodak.
In 1989, director and political activist Michael Moore released his first feature film, "Roger and Me". Along with witty and at times outrageous visual observations about the Reagan years and the anti-labor practices of that era, Moore posed an interesting question to both interviewees, and audiences alike: Does/Did General Motors 'owe' something, anything, to its birthplace, Flint Michigan?
In the late 1980's, GM shut down the Buick assembly plant in Flint, after being the mainstay of Greater Flint's employment base for generations. Clearly, by shutting down the large and historic facility, even though, as Moore pointed out, GM was making a profit, GM's answer to Flint was a resounding "No". So, do corporations like Eastman Kodak and Xerox, morally, owe anything to their place of birth, Rochester, New York?
Maybe, at this late stage of manufacturing-based capitalism in America, the answer to that all important question is irrelevant. Perhaps the better question we Rochesterians should ask ourselves is this: What do unemployed, and the chronically under-employed among us, owe themselves, and their loved ones?
Brother, Can You Spare a Factory?
Though it would be extremely difficult to pull off, is it possible that former Kodak, Xerox, B&L, etc., employees could re-open shuttered local manufacturing facilities, and manufacture---whatever product might be needed locally, nationally, and globally, in these economically challenging times? It seems to me, amateur and lay person economist that I am, the following would have to be addressed, and overcome, for blue collar workers to begin to regain the self-respect--and paychecks of Rochester, yester-year:
1.) First, workers must organize, but not necessarily as a union. Remember, the workers who would re-open and run these factories would be both labor and management.
2.) Once enough skilled, hard-working, and ethical workers are identified and organized (no, still not union-ized), the next enormous task is to decide (through extensive research and an equally expert business plan) what product(s) is/are needed by which consumers, in which regions and nations, and in what amount.
3.) This step is probably the most difficult and time consuming: Financing. Despite federal bail-outs of venerable, holier-than-thou national banking institutions like Bank of America and Citibank, American banks have been loath to lend money. That has to change, but meanwhile, it doesn't mean that worker owned and operated businesses and factories have to wait indefinitely. Financing of these new and quite different manufacturing facilities is desperately needed, in a country (community) that increasingly cares little for the needs of the individual, all the while bending over backwards for the needs of the almighty corporation.
What You Can Do While the Truly Motivated are 'Taking Back Our Country'
No, this is not some nauseating ad or sickening bromide for Tea Party crackpots. In this context, 'taking back' one's country means that the "Little Guy", the average middle class, and lower middle class worker and citizen must stand up and be counted, or continue to be bulldozed into submission by the corporate oligarchy that runs America.
But, what if you have a job, and you're not likely to join a worker's movement to own the means of production? You can make damn sure that whenever possible, you ALWAYS purchase American made goods and services. If you really care about who runs--and owns--this country, and you're interested in changing that paradigm, then you must always look at origin of manufacturing labels on any product where that information is available (which means most).
In addition, average Americans--and Rochesterians--who want to shift power from those who abuse it (banks, Wall Street types, and corporate fat cats), can prove their commitment to a new and better America by frequenting smaller, locally owned businesses. In terms of restaurants, that's easy to do, since Greater Rochester is awash in fantastic and tasty locally owned and operated, 'Ma & Pa' style cafés and eateries.
Need something from the hardware store? Try to stay the hell out of Home Depot and Lowe's. Visit locally owned hardware stores like Mayer's on Winton Road, at Blossom (no, Mayer's doesn't advertise with the Smugtown Beacon).
The point is, 'big box' retailers and chain restaurants are simply bad for the local economy; and, in a macro sense, bad for the national economy. Buy, and grow, local. Remember, when you want produce, maybe skip Wegmans and Tops, and visit America's best public market: In the City of Rochester.
Finally, corporations are not inherently evil, any more than all small businesses are worth frequenting. But, if you want your job back, and are willing to put your money where your mouth is, shop at locally owned stores, like Simply New York.
Okay, they do advertise with us.
-Christopher J. Wilmot, Pittsford, NY
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