Seth Ackerman has a really strong article at Jacobin on the Hostess shut-down. Much of it has great value for showing just how rare it is for companies to ask workers to take pay cuts. The reason is simple–it would destroy worker morale and production. But Hostess did this and it helped destroy the company. But I think the real insight gets at why Hostess would do this and how people buy into this idea of competitiveness.
But the union got blamed instead, and that points to a fascinating aporia in neoliberalism. The competitiveness ideology keeps a double set of books. On the surface, it celebrates free individuals making voluntary agreements on a footing of formal equality. But look just a little deeper and it turns out to be a musty, medieval system of morality that venerates human hierarchy and inequality. If taken literally, an accusation of insufficient “competitiveness” would refer to a failure to buy or sell on the terms objectively demanded by the dispersed actors of the marketplace. But nine times out of ten, this literal meaning is just a facade for the real underlying meaning, which is all about policing the socially accepted rules concerning who is a worthy human being and who is not. Workers at an industrial bakery are losers. They need to take a pay cut — not so much to make the numbers add up (that’s a secondary consideration for all the commentators and columnists) but as a ritual affirmation of their debased social status. The refusal to take the cut was shocking and revolting — an act of lèse-majesté. It’s in that sense that the union was uncompetitive. The workers didn’t know their place.
So much of our ideology about workers is looking down on blue-collar labor. They aren’t educated so they deserve to be at the bottom. Plus I have a college degree and I have an unpaid internship. I am so lucky to get this “job” and I am so valuable with my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan. So if I’m not getting paid, certainly those losers should be getting even less.