Saturday, November 24, 2012


A hearty “well done and well said” to Yellow Dog, (post below this one) who points out that American business can’t find skilled labor because American business doesn’t want to pay for skilled labor.

An equally large hurrah to Victor, who commented on the same post that once upon a time companies trained their workers, but these days want the training done at public expense in junior colleges. (To which I’ll add that not so many years ago, the companies with the best training programs were generally well-known, and attracted the best job applicants.)

But you won’t have much time to resent American serfdom. Slave labor is next on the horizon, and it may take its inspiration from the East Germany in the days before “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.”

Seems that back in the 1980s, Ikea, the cheap furniture company, was using political as well as criminal prisoners in East Germany as slave labor to build some of its assemble-it-yourself stuff.

Swedish guilt? Maybe a little.

Of course, Ikea is a Swedish company. It has done the right thing and ‘fessed up. Well, actually it waffled on its guilt a little. “Even though Ikea Group took steps to secure that prisoners were not used in production, it is now clear that these measures were not effective enough,” said a company statement, reported in the New York Times.

So okay, East Germany is history, political prisoners in that part of the world are presumably also history, and by now you’ve probably trashed the assemble-it-yourself chest of drawers that you used for storing your underwear in your college dorm room, or whatever it was they had the slaves making. So what’s the big deal?

Well, first of all, Ikea is still making stuff so shoddy that you almost have to assume they made it God-knows-where using God-knows-who. I went to Ikea’s website to see if I could find evidence that all their stuff is now being manufactured by Swedish craftsmen who get coffee breaks in heated workshops (hah!). Or better yet, that the stuff they sell in America is made by American craftsmen earning forty bucks an hour or better. But before I had a chance to look very far, I started finding, way down near the bottom of the page, Ikea recalls. And I quote:

Uh oh! Did you buy any
of this junk?

IKEA Recalls IKEA 365+ SÄNDA track due to risk of electric shock
IKEA recalls PAX AURLAND glass mirror door
IKEA Recalls to Repair High Chair Due to Fall Hazard

By the time you get to Ikea’s website to check it out, the recalls may have been removed. Or new ones may have taken their place. Anyway, don't sweat it. My point has to do with American companies.

Porn, pay and Walmart

Back in the sixties, friends of mine who made a better living then writing porn in a furnished room somewhere than Walmart’s workers earn today … hey that’s turning into a very long sentence. Anyway, back in the day, one pornographer complained that he couldn’t make anything up. “I don’t care what it is. Sex a greasepit. Sex with electric shocks. Sex on a pile of bagels. If I can think of it, somebody else is already doing it, and then writing to me about it, and telling me I described it wrong.”

So with downward-spiraling costs of labor replacing sex pornography as the new American scandal, I can bet you that at this very moment, some MBA somewhere is equating the growing prison population (nearly 2.5 million in 2006) with an uptapped opportunity to get things built and serviced at even lower prices than we can get from little kids in Southeast Asia.

Heck, we’ve already had chain gangs building roads and prison populations stamping license plates. Why not just extend the opportunities to enterprises ranging from Walmart the Waste Management? (Hey guys, I’m not making accusations here. I’m just alliterating.)

Slave labor in the name
of national defense

Heck, we don’t even have to use dangerous criminals. Thanks to the National Defense Appropriations Act, Amendment 1031, any American citizen can be held without warrant and held without due process. Neither the Congress (hah!) nor, to my dismay, President Obama has done diddley-squat to repeal this horrible law, enacted in hysterical reaction to the horrors of 9-11.

While the intention of the bill was simply to detain terrorists, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell. Come a future President like Romney, in as little as four years, the company chairman of, say, Crudpipe International will be able to ring up the White House and kvetch, “Hey Prez, my PAC gave you half a billion bucks during the last election. Now I need some workers to process raw sewage.

Kidnap ‘em yourself labor

And the President might say, “Hey, bigger companies than yours have already emptied out the prisons, and your guys in Congress cut my resources so badly, I can’t afford the U.S. Marshals to grab people off the street. Tell you what, I’ll deputize Crudpipe International to do it. Send your own private cops up to New York and grab a few hundred people off the street on charges of, I dunno what, maybe conspiracy or something. Just don’t seize anybody from the silk stocking zip codes.”

You say it can’t happen here? Who’d have thought Ikea in a nice country like Sweden would be using slaves, or that Americans would grant a Federal bureaucracy authority to grab anybody off the street without a warrant and incarcerate them without trial?

My advice to you is to buy a shovel and start practicing with it. You might have to tunnel your way out of prison, all the way to Canada.

Cross-posted to The New York Crank


Victor said...

I didn't realize that "law" could be applied that way!
And, from what I've seen of US companies in the 2nd half of my life, if they can - they do - or, will, when the opportunity presents itself.

I remember back in the early 00's, reading about women prisoners being used as CSR's to answer customer's credid card bill queries.
Yes, people were telling their credit card and SS#'s to people in jails.
Nothing BAD could happen by doing that, right?

Anonymous said...

You're behind the times, Crank. Corporations have been using prison labor for years.

The New York Crank said...

wefightback, you've made a good point. However, I did say, didn't I, that you can't make anything up?

And a time might come when government, at the behest of big business and big campaign contributors, will be grabbing people off the streets, holding them without right to a trial or hearing, and lending them to "employers" to work on the cheap. Or on the next-to-nothing.

Of course, the British navy did the same back in the very early 19th Century. They called it Impressment. Or you can call it enslavement. Or you can draw a parallel to the concentration camps of Hitler.

But hey, arbeit macht frei.

Very crankily yours,
The New York Crnk