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Are Factory Jobs Good Jobs?



No, not unless they are backed up with worker power that ensures a safe workplace, good working conditions, and a decent wage and benefits. It took a century of struggle to make that happen in the United States. Even though industrial unions have been largely crushed in this country, the residual effects of those unions are not reversed overnight. So we talk about good factory jobs today, even in nonunion southern states, because they do tend to pay better than a job in Walmart or McDonald’s. But that’s because unions made them that way and the employers can’t completely reverse that overnight. However, they can slowly reverse it and that brings us to this horrible story out of Alabama, where a dead worker is a window into how everything that made those jobs good is disappearing.

On June 18 2016 — a Saturday — a robot that Elsea was overseeing at the Ajin USA auto parts plant in Cusseta, Alabama, stopped moving. She and three colleagues tried to get it going, stepping inside the cage designed to protect workers from the machine, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When the robot restarted abruptly, Elsea was crushed. She died the next day when she was taken off a life-support machine, with her mother, Angel Ogle, at her side. After an investigation, Osha concluded that the accident that killed Elsea was preventable.

The life and death of Regina Elsea points to a national predicament as President Trump seeks to “make America great again” by increasing industrial employment. With automation on the rise and unionisation on the decline, manufacturing jobs no longer guarantee a secure middle-class life as they often did in the past. Much of the new work is low paid and temporary. Staffing agencies sometimes supply factories with workers who have little training or experience — and who can quickly find themselves in harm’s way.

Elsea’s factory status was indicated by the colour of her clothing. Although she worked at Ajin, a Korean parts maker that supplies Hyundai and Kia and is Chambers County’s largest private employer, Elsea was not an Ajin employee. She wore the blue shirt of Alliance Total Solutions, which along with another labour agency, Joynus Staffing, provides roughly 250 of the nearly 800 workers at the plant.

Starting in early 2016, Elsea worked Mondays to Fridays, her family says. But the demands increased. In her last weeks, she worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, hoping to qualify for a full-time position and an hourly wage of about $12. The only respites were a half-hour for lunch and sometimes an eight-hour shift on Sundays. Otherwise, she was on her feet all day. “She was always tired,” says her mother, who lives near the parts plant. “She would come over here and take her shoes off and I would rub her feet. She said her feet hurt.”

Elsea’s death came less than a year after David Michaels, the assistant US labour secretary for Osha, warned Hyundai and Kia officials during a 2015 visit to Korea about hazardous conditions at their suppliers. Osha records show that accidents at Hyundai and Kia parts makers in Alabama and Georgia in 2015 and 2016 resulted in 12 amputations — one of a worker’s foot, the rest involving all or parts of fingers.

In December, Osha levied a $2.5m penalty against Ajin, accusing it of 23 violations of federal safety rules, most of them “wilful”, in Elsea’s accident. Osha alleged that Ajin failed to put in place the proper controls to prevent machinery from starting up while being serviced or when workers entered robotic cells. Elsea’s family has also filed suit, seeking damages from Ajin and Joynus.

This is the type of job that Trump talks about when he goes MAGA. These aren’t good jobs. They are terrible jobs. They are also the only even halfway decent jobs in the rural South. Because of capital mobility and the inability of unions to organize southern industrial plants (which may be changing but we will see), these jobs are unsafe and they are getting worse, not better. The lack of any real industrial policy in the United States for a half-century combined with the desperation of American blue-collar workers to take anything they can get these days contributes to this situation. There aren’t any easy answers either except to fine the living hell out the suppliers, the subcontractors, and the auto plants who buy supplies from these factories. Of course, that’s not going to Make America Great Again so you can forget that for the next 4 years.

But we need to remember is that there is nothing inherently good about a factory job. What makes any job a “good” job is a union or at least competition with unionized workplaces. Whether it is McDonald’s or Kia suppliers, only a union can protect workers. Promoting union workplaces needs to be the left’s primary goal, not creating specific types of jobs except in areas that already having a union presence that would make their creation automatically a pretty good job.

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  • mds

    the desperation of American blue-collar workers to take anything they can get these days

    Well, except those pansy service sector jobs for which white male blue-collar workers still have nothing but contempt.

    • DrDick

      Nothing says “soft” like second and third degree burns over large portions of your body. I think what most blue collar types hate about service sector jobs is the amount of individual abasement, arbitrary and controlling oversight by managers, and shit wages.

      • Solar System Wolf

        Who doesn’t hate those things? The problem is that blue-collar types think some people deserve those kinds of jobs, just not them.

      • Helena Handbasket

        Well, there’s that, but I also think a lot of high-school educated blue-collar men don’t want service sector jobs (even if they were well-paid) because it’s way too likely that in, say, a healthcare job, their immediate supervisor could be a woman. Of color. With a college education. GAAAH!

        I suspect a big part of the nostalgic appeal of the stereotypical good-payin’ union factory job is that it’s a de facto all-male, non-college environment. Real Murkin’ workin’ white men want to be supervised by a white foreman with the same high-school background as they have, whom they can slap on the back and pound beers with after work — not, say, a no-nonsense black lady who’s much better educated, and whom they have to call Ma’am.

        • Ronan

          I don’t know about that. I don’t know why people are so surprised that *some* men are reluctant to get service jobs. On the one hand we hear often about how a sexist society socialises people into gender roles that put men and women into hardened categories that are difficult to escape from. On the other hand we seem to expect people to automatically discard these identities easily with shifts in the labour market.
          It’s not overly surprising that groups who might (1) have been suited to more “masculine” (manual labour) jobs , and (2) who based a lot of their identity around them (not just in the negative, ie due to sexism, but also the positives that come with having a well paying Relatively high status job), would fight to retain their position.
          And service jobs often expect a completely different skill set than manual labour jobs. It can be pretty difficult to transition from one to the other, or develop the skills needed for one if you’re better suited to the other.

          • heckblazer

            The skill set definitely shouldn’t be overlooked. I currently wait table at a restaurant, and one of the bussers was fired because he didn’t smile enough when serving food/clearing people’s tables.

            • Helena Handbasket

              I totally get what you both are saying, but you are missing my point. Of COURSE, service jobs involve a different skill set than factory jobs! No question, it is difficult to switch from one skill set to another.

              What I wish to emphasize is that a certain set/group of white males with a high-school diploma or less want very much to be considered the Lords Of The Universe. They very much want their LACK of higher education to be the reason why they are considered More Macho than the Pussy little Faggots who actually read Fuckin’ Faggy Books

              • heckblazer

                More like we’re talking past each I think :). I agree with the point that not only do many guys not have the skills or temperment for service work, they’re also hostile to those skills for reasons of machismo.

  • Ok, I think we have the first draft for that episode…

    I’ll add that when factories were beginning to rise, they were universally seen as bad jobs: unskilled, low wages, poor working conditions, unstable (lots of seasonal layoffs), lots of wage theft staffed by women, children, or immigrants (or all three at once!), spending all day tightening the same damn nut. In spite of what people remember about Ford’s $5 day, most of his workers in the early 30s were basically earning McD’s wages.

    And then the unions came. And they made them living wage jobs where you had some dignity and self-government. And then people forgot that it was the union, not the job that makes it so.

    • DrDick


    • It should be noted that Ford’s purpose in all this was to break jobs down to the point that literally anyone could be brought off the street and taught the job in a matter of minutes. Craftsmen were expensive to hire and train. Ford’s workers were basically the ‘mindless’ robots of today.

    • Dilan Esper

      I’ll add that when factories were beginning to rise, they were universally seen as bad jobs: unskilled, low wages, poor working conditions, unstable (lots of seasonal layoffs), lots of wage theft staffed by women, children, or immigrants (or all three at once!), spending all day tightening the same damn nut.

      This is incomplete. They were also seen as much better jobs than agriculture. You can see this process play out precisely in developing countries now. Factory jobs in China and Bangladesh suck, but they are still better than agriculture and attract tons of workers.

      • Murc

        This is incomplete. They were also seen as much better jobs than agriculture.

        No, this is incomplete. There’s substantial evidence that people moved to take those industrial jobs because they were forced out of their former agrarian lives, not that they willingly abandoned them.

        • Correct.

        • Shantanu Saha

          This. Farmers at least could grow enough food to feed themselves, barring crop failures or appropriation by thieves or landlords. The factory workers of the Gilded Age did not have that luxury.

          • Murc

            And to expand on that… most people don’t cross an ocean to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture and where much of the populace views you as an alien interloper because you’ve decided an opportunity is marginally better there than the ones you have at home.

            You do it if your life at home has been made so grotesquely intolerable and unsustainable you have no other choice.

            That’s an extreme example, of course, but even within a polity… people are super reluctant to pick up stakes and uproot their whole life for a better job. It not only has to be better, their current circumstances have to be REAL REAL bad.

            • Ronan

              But this doesn’t seem to be true, or at least needs complication. The case I know best is ireland, but ireland was part of a broader European migration and so is probably generalisable(and has parralels in contemporary developing world movements)
              A few things:
              (1) we shouldn’t overstate the agency of people fleeing poverty,but there is evidence (through letters, historical documents etc)that a lot left fairly willingly. They saw emigration as a way to escape a relatively stifling society, earn more money, etc. And they did seem to follow the labour market , ie they knew when jobs were plentiful and wages better in the US than ireland, and left in droves when discrepancies emerged.
              (2) emigration was a *function* of the society. The modernisation of irish agriculture meant there wasn’t enough land to go around, so those who didn’t have anyway (the non inheriting, the poor, women) left. It was basically expected of them to leave, so those who stayed could prosper. (And before the response that this proves the point, bear in mind that prior to modernisation the surplus population just starved or lived in extreme poverty )
              (3)it’s difficult to argue that, after the famine, most were “forced by grotesquely intolerable circumstances” to leave. Life was very difficult for the poor, but relative to what had gone before the economy was actually expanding and becoming more prosperous. This is also true, afaik, for the other European migrations of the period. For a lot of people industrial America was genuinely a more desirable place to be than rural ireland/Italy/Sweden etc.

              • DrDick

                Given the grotesque dispossession and marginalization of the Irish by the English, I would say that it really does fit Murc’s scenario. The largest numbers also came over during the potato famine.

                • Ronan

                  Large scale Irish emigration preceded the famine and continued for a century after (including into the newly independent state). So this doesn’t go too far.

                • Ronan

                  The post famine “modernisation” of ireland was in large part an internal affair. It was the development and expansion of a domestic Catholic Bourgeoise and land owning class, and the marginalization of those who were cut out of the new arrangements. (Either cut out societaly, or within the family)
                  Emigration as ‘exile’ from British oppression remained a common enough way for people to understand their leaving , but this was more a cultural motif (in part pushed by a growing nationalist movement) rather than objective description of reality.

          • Dilan Esper

            Farmworkers have, throughout human history, been desperately poor and had terrible working conditions. You guys are way off here.

            • guthrie

              It’s possible to have terrible working conditions and a bad living in agriculture* and also end up forced off the land because of lack of work and end up in bad horrible working conditions in factories because otherwise you die. 2 or 3 days without water, a week or two without food. How long would you last?

              * Note though that early industrial evolution England was repeatedly portrayed as a nice place with well founded yeomen farmers and productive agriculture.
              Also the Scottish situation was simply that there were too many people on the land to survive from it’s fruits. That their labout in factories wasn’t any better is besides the point; they simply did what they had to to survive, and many didn’t or died of disease or suchlike.

              • DrDick

                Oddly enough the Inclosure Acts had dispossessed thousands of small farmers during this period.

              • Brett

                I think sooner or later that would have broken the British open field system, even without enclosure. Population would have grown to the point where they’d be exporting people to the cities anyways (and abroad), piling more and more on to communal lands, and stripping more marginal lands bare for cultivation – and then eventually you’d have a die-back from mass disease and/or warfare. They needed the major productivity gains of the British agricultural revolution.

            • Lost Left Coaster

              Yes, but there’s a difference between being a farmworker in an industrialized agriculture context that relies on a mostly immigrant, perpetually underpaid workforce, and being a small-scale farmer who owns his/her own land.

              • Dilan Esper

                Would you like a pony with your small scale farmer who owns his or her own land?

                First of all, such people were never as widespread as people’s rhetoric implies. Many countries had slave labor on farms, and even the countries that didn’t had sharecroppers, tenant farmers, serfs, and other arrangements.

                Second, the consolidation and mechanization of agriculture was inevitable and irreversible. I mean, this is like arguing that those factories shouldn’t have opened and we should still all be riding horses with handcrafted saddles.

                The fact is, for MANY people who worked on farms, even the 19th Century factories were a distinct improvement. (And I’m not even getting to the cultural aspects of getting off of the farm and being able to live in a metropolis.) Same with the factories in developing countries.

                You want people to work on farms, that means you want to keep the boot of poverty stomping on a whole bunch of people, forever.

                • bweest

                  Take a view of Danish movie Pelle the Conqueror. Powerful story of boy and father emigrating from Denmark to Sweden to find work. Landing at “Stone farm” with a brutal owner. Very moving tale of an immigrants plight.

          • Ronan

            I don’t really buy this. Most people weren’t farmers, and so didn’t really own land or grow food in any great abundance. relationships in agrarian societies could be extremely oppressive, whether based on class (who owned land and who worked it) gender, or some other religio ethnic characteristics.
            You’d be hard pushed to argue that a good bit of the movement off the land, whether in developed countries in the past or developing today, wasn’t desirable to many who fled.
            And bear in mind most agrarian societies survive by exporting their surplus (labourers, the non inheriting etc) Most agrarian societies can’t maintain large populations, and so depend on there being somewhere for those without land to flee to, so they don’t make any demands on the society (for example demand changes in land ownership norms etc)

            • MacK

              Too tired to respond to all of that. However, it’s worth mentioning that there was a fair amount of light industry in the South pre-1921 and prior to the economic war. High quality optics, fine machinery, turbine design, etc. in Dublin and Cork. Some of it was strategically important for military purposes, and was encouraged to move. But the big factor was the departure of a lot of the Protestant Anglo-Irish business class, combined with the economic war.

        • Brett

          In Britain and Italy, that was true. Not as true in other countries that industrialized in that period, where it was more like Chinese migration to the cities: you go to the cities to work and theoretically earn enough money so that you can go back and be better at home (of course many of them ended up staying, or bringing their families over).

      • Mike G

        Watch the documentary ‘Manufactured Landscapes’ to get a taste of how dehumanizing factory work is in China.

        • That is a hell of a great documentary

        • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

          I recently read a story about guys crammed 16 or more to a room filled with bunk beds working for tech companies in CA. Sounds like dehumanizing work isn’t limited to China or factory work. (Though I guess an argument could be made that coding is similar to factory work.)

        • Ronan

          Noones saying it can’t be dehumanising, but so is the alternative

          Leslie changs factory girls (though there are always problems with selection bias and difficulties generalising with these kinds of books, her claims are backed up in different studies) is good on the how people make choices in these contexts, and how although the reality is bad, the alternative is often worse


    • Procopius

      Thank you for the point about Ford’s workers. I get so fed up when people talk about his famous $5 a day and ignore that hardly anybody qualified to get it. He was a serious union buster, too. Anybody who does not recognize the name Harry Bennett needs to read some history. Battle of the Overpass.

  • DrDick

    I would add that this is true for most jobs, even the high paying jobs (as Campos has discussed for lawyers).

    • Dilan Esper

      Most jobs suck, actually. Very few people get to do truly pleasurable work.

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        And many of the people who do “truly pleasurable” work are self-employed, which means that some aspects of their jobs suck, such as keeping records for business and tax purposes, marketing their product, collecting payments due them, etc. (I’m thinking of creative people like artists and writers who experience a great deal of satisfaction in the creative aspect of their lives, but have a bunch of mundane stuff they have to spend a lot of time doing also.)

  • Linnaeus

    The lack of any real industrial policy in the United States for a half-century

    Somewhat tangential, I know, but I think there’s a good argument to be made that the US has had a de facto industrial policy under the rubric of defense spending, which contributed to the growth of the information technology sector.

    • Yeah, the military-industrial complex is the closest thing we have had to industrial policy for a long time.

    • Brett

      It even has the politically motivated distribution of production. The F-35 has parts sourced from something like 40-ish states.

      They could do that with other stuff, although there’s some bad examples of that (Amtrak’s “Buy American” requirement on cars has been not so good IIRC).

      • BiloSagdiyev

        They must be slipping. I thought such weapons systems were sourced with parts from fifty states.

  • I’m sure our new labor secretary will be talking up the pride of sacrificing a finger or half a foot in order for the company to meet its production goals. I mean, if your fingers and toes were all that important to you, you’d just go work somewhere else, right? Why should profit-killing OSHA regulations stand in the way of deciding the importance of your fingers and toes (and life)?

    • Hogan

      Can we start talking about “worker-killing deregulation”?

      • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

        Trump prefers workers who don’t die or get disabled. The ones who do are weak and pitiful. Sad.

  • Gone2Ground

    I was wondering what this group thought about the story I saw on 60 Minutes a while back on “The Golden Triangle” and economic development projects in Mississippi, including (ostensibly) high skill, good wage factory jobs.

    I’ve detested 60M for a looong time (esp since Mike Wallace died), so I wasn’t sure what to think about the story, other than, “Sounds too good to be true!”

    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      I didn’t see it, but it sounds like stories about someone who has found “the answer” and makes his/her school in a poor community into a shining example where almost everyone excels, or some prison warden turns their prison into a place of growth and redemption, etc.

      Of course, the problem is that when others try the same methods in their organizations it doesn’t work. Little or no replicability. But the stories serve to make people feel good that the intractable problem has been solved and pretty soon everyone will have a pony.

  • MacK

    What’s remarkable is that this article was in the Financial Times and the degree to which it’s mostly business readership was appalled at the attitude towards workplace safety, and the temporary employment, very different from the Wall Street Journal.

    • Asteroid_Strike_Brexit

      The FT has a centre-left editorial line and the commenters there tend the same way.

      • MacK

        No, the FT is centre right – only exposure to the US, UKIP and the current Conservative and Republican parties would lead someone to see it as centre-left.

        • guthrie

          Yes; it’s the sensible slightly nice face of capitalism, forever bemoaning the fact that actual real life capitalists aren’t as nice or efficient or clever as theory says they should be, but unable to work out why.

          • They do publish Martin Wolf, who is one of the most prominent Keynesians this side of Krugman. But yes, overall they’re fairly centre-right; they just look centre-left in today’s political landscape.

  • Jon_H11

    There was a piece of garbage story on NPR the other week about Trump country. It involved a factory that made plastic containers up in PA.

    They interviewed the workers and then the owners. The workers talked about the job, mentioned it paid $8-12 an hour. The interviewer asked (paraphrase, but pretty close)
    “So… is that a pretty good wage around here?”
    “Oh, yeah, that’s pretty good for here”
    “So you can raise a family and own a home and such?”
    “…? Oh God no! You can’t do that on $10 an hour. But its okay for single people if they have a roommate or something”

    They interviewed the owners, who were gleeful that Trump would mean Obamacare was repealed. Then they mentioned how worried they were about Obamacare when it came out. Casually brushed aside the fact (the interviewer didn’t push at all) that the business has grown multifold since it was implemented (and that the “bad” Obama times for the business they mentioned were 2009!). And talked about how they had set up a health care plan now, but they weren’t planning on renewing it for the next year.

    No follow up by NPR on that last bit with the employees. It was a shameful piece by NPR. I haven’t listened to them (not even car talk reruns) since.

    • sigaba

      To be honest it sounds like NPR handed the factory owners the noose and they threw themselves off the platform. The reporter could challenge them a little harder but if someone’s telling you they’re a monster with a grin you pretty much have your story.

      I mean like, you have to trust people hearing the story to put 2 and 2 together. You did, after all.

      • JKTH

        That assumes other people will see them as a monster. I’m not so confident.

        • sigaba

          That’s not Steve Inskeep’s job.

      • Jon_H11

        I think this entire election was based on trusting people to put 2 and 2 together, that didn’t work out too well. They should have at least gotten responses from the workers about the healthcare being revoked.

        Joke must be in there somewhere about Donald getting 2 and 2 and coming up with 5 million illegal voters, but I’m just too exhausted now to figure it out.

        • sigaba

          A lot of really smart people but 2 and 2 together and thought Hillary would win by about 4 percentage points. It would be a mistake to use this election as evidence that voters are irrational and must be led by the nose to liberalism.

          Keep in mind that this was a 20 year-low in turnout in 2016. I break down the voters this way:

          * 27% voted for Hillary and wanted the Democratic agenda
          * 6% voted for Trump and couldn’t put 2 and 2 together
          * 20% voted for Trump and actively want the Republican agenda
          * 30-40% stayed home, and weren’t going to vote if it was Hitler and Jesus on the ballot
          * 7-17%, the remainder, were principled Republicans that wouldn’t vote for Trump, and purity pony Democrats who thought Hillary had it in the bag and didn’t want to soil their hands

          There is not a lot of outright stupid here, there were people who thought Trump was the MAGA savior of the WWC but I really don’t think it was that many. There was TONS of tactical stupid in the election, and some evil, but I really don’t know how much outright deception of intentions occurred. I don’t trust the radio interviews or roundtables of “Trump supporters” because these just aren’t methodologically sound.

          In any case, the balance of the elections hang on swing constituencies, and it’s not a surprise that the swing constituencies are incredibly uninformed, informed people would know rather quickly who they’re for or against. But this doesn’t mean we dumb down the media discourse or the message to attract them.

          • Jon_H11

            But this doesn’t mean we dumb down the media discourse or the message to attract them.

            In what way does would pushing the business owners on how exactly Obamacare hurt their profits (timelines didn’t match up), or getting a response from the workers as regards to the managements intent on nixing the healthcare plan now that Trump won amount to dumbing down?

            there were people who thought Trump was the MAGA savior of the WWC but I really don’t think it was that many

            No, maybe not, but there were many, may others who simply heard he was for them and assumed all was well. It actively hurt that institutions like NPR did not explore and inform people as to what that meant and what the facts were.

            • sigaba

              I haven’t heard the story so I don’t know, but if the factory owner says in the same breath that their wage is “pretty good” but you can’t raise a family on it, that’s kindof a QED. It doesn’t do any good for the reporter to grind it home, some people believe work should support families, some believe if it doesn’t, tough shit. Taking one side or the other of that wouldn’t be objective.

              I mean, I repeat, you got it, all of the facts you needed were there, and it sounds like you drew completely reasonable conclusions. Why was the report sufficiently informative for you but sufficiently informative for the next man? What did you actually want? An interview or a trial?

              • Jon_H11

                It was the workers saying it was good for the area, but there was no chance of raising a family on it. No follow up, and no follow up with the workers about losing their healthcare. The manager was played up as a relieved businessman, not in the slightest bit callous.

                Why was the report sufficiently informative for you but sufficiently informative for the next man? What did you actually want? An interview or a trial?

                I have a graduate education, am a news junky and am well informed about healthcare and economic policy. They had people being interviewed who were working for poverty wages and about to lose their healthcare, and that was brushed over while 70% of the interview was they manager gloating about taking it away and “how rough” it was under Obama.

                I was able to tease out that in the depths of the recession was when they had dwindled to “a few employees” and had grown to scores since then, after Obamacare was passed.

                When a factory owner, whose business grew many times over during Obama’s term is about to cut health insurance for his employees who barely make poverty wages is portrayed as a success story in Trump’s America, that’s not an interview or a trial, it’s spineless obsequiousness fluff.

                I know you didn’t hear it, but trust me, it was not playing on the irony of the situation in the slightest. It was truly just saying these are Trump’s people and this is why they’re enthusiastic.

                I guess I should praise them for leaving in slight kernels that a dedicated, informed liberal could tease out into the facts? But why not just report the realities themselves?

                Edit:”It doesn’t do any good for the reporter to grind it home, some people believe work should support families, some believe if it doesn’t, tough shit. Taking one side or the other of that wouldn’t be objective.”

                Calling them out on it and making them defend it is the essence of objectivity. Acquiescence to peoples opinions is not objective journalism, challenging them and letting them defend them openly is.

                I’m afraid NPR shares your opinion on the matter though.

              • liberal

                Taking one side or the other of that wouldn’t be objective.

                I am so, so, so fucking sick of listening to shit like this.

                • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

                  I question the objective of being “objective”.

                  Beyond a few facts such as the earth does revolve around the sun and not vice versa, it’s all opinion when you get down to it.

                  Moral vs. immoral is a value judgement when applied to almost every situation, and to pretend that the reporter has somehow arrived at the objective truth is ridiculous. A reporter is just as subject to human foibles as anyone else.

                  The Chuck Todd excuse is just that, an excuse for not pushing the interviewee with in-depth questions.

                  But opinions differ, and we’ll just have to leave it there. /s

                • MAJeff

                  Taking one side or the other of that wouldn’t be objective.

                  I am so, so, so fucking sick of listening to shit like this.

                  Journalistic objectivity is merely both-siderism.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Such flatfooted moments raise the questions of:

      * too timid to ask further, pointed questions?

      * too ignorant of the territory to ask further, pointed questions?

      I’d say your and my patience for either explanation is fairly thin.

      • Gizmo

        I’m going to go with both.

    • DrDick

      NPR has generally been pretty shameful for quite a while now. I think ever since the Koch brothers “bought” them out.

  • Brett

    But we need to remember is that there is nothing inherently good about a factory job.

    There might be one difference, but it depends on the possibility for productivity. Let’s say you unionized a McDonalds, for example – the actual profit margin of a McDonald’s location is pretty slim. There’s not as much margin for raising wages without raising prices as there usually is with factory production.

    Of course, there may be unfulfilled potential for productivity in service jobs that could change that. We’ll see.

    • SamChevre

      I think this is key. I’ve seen plenty of mansions built by someone who owned a single 19th-century factory; I’ve never seen a mansion built by someone who owned a single McDonald’s.

      • Brett

        Or a single non-franchise restaurant, aside from some top-flight clubs/bars and those with other hustles of dubious legality going on.

        • Procopius

          Been trying to recall his name for some time now. There’s some Democrat mega-donor, a multi-billionaire, who started out while still in college by borrowing money to buy a single bar in the town where his college was. I’d love to see an explanation of how that worked.

    • Bill Murray

      which is why you need to unionize the entire sector or raise the minimum wage. Keep the freeloaders like Puzder from under cutting wages

  • Joseph Slater

    I swear, I make the point of the OP (in much less detail, but still) at least once a week.

  • Mike in DC

    What makes a job great:
    1. High wages and good benefits
    2. A pension plan
    3. Workplace safety
    4. Potential for upward mobility
    5. Solid wage growth year over year
    6. Job security

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Mine has 1-3 and 6 but is still great tbf.

    • First Time Caller

      7. Accessible to people without a four year degree

      I work in the apartment industry and the degree to which working class residents are held in justslightlyabovecontempt by property owners is notable. I think that’s because HS and AA graduates are seen as easily replaceable. I’d prefer we do away with false screening requirements like a BA for jobs that require training, not formal education.

      • sigaba

        I’d prefer we do away with false screening requirements like a BA for jobs that require training, not formal education.

        It’s become, or is becoming, a class thing, not a qualification thing.

        • First Time Caller

          Fully agree that it’s a class thing. It drives many into the financial trap of the college-industrial complex unnecessarily. In Western NC we’ve had some success in training for those jobs, but people are afraid that they’ll train only to have the jobs disappear after 2 years. I don’t have an answer there.

      • Srsly Dad Y


    • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

      I’d add: A sense of doing something worthwhile at your job.

      Of course I’ve worked about half my life at non-profit companies, so maybe I’m biased towards this.

  • Booger

    Ah! If only she could have gotten up to Elysium, everything would have worked out okay. I didn’t realize that was meant to be a documentary.

  • Murc

    No, not unless they are backed up with worker power that ensures a safe workplace, good working conditions, and a decent wage and benefits.

    It’s worth noting that even a lot of those decent wage and benefits jobs in safe workplaces also had terrible working conditions.

    Factory work was boring and repetitive and mind-destroying. This one time in high school, my AP American History teacher did an exercise that’s stuck with me: he had these small rack of childrens blocks of various shapes, like squares and triangles and stars and things. He split us up into groups of five and gave each person a specific order the objects had to be in, at which point we had to pass the rack to our right and receive the one from our left.

    Now, initially, this was somewhat interesting as each group had to figure out the most efficient way to do it with their particular members. But that lasted about five minutes. About twelve minutes in, someone asked him “How long do we have to keep doing this?”

    And he replied “Eight hours. There’ll be two fifteen-minute breaks. Eyes on your work please. No talking.”

    Now, obviously, he couldn’t keep us doing that for eight hours; indeed, at that point he allowed us to stop and we took our seats back and the lecture about the industrial manufacturing economy continued.

    But that exercise stuck with me. It was an excellent illustration of just how soul-destroying do that sort of work for forty-five years might be. Even if you were making a good living at it. No wonder so many people were drunk on the job.

    • First Time Caller

      I went to the Museum of Industry in Manchester, UK a few years ago. They’ve got an entire hall devoted to the machines required for fabric making, with the actual machines salvaged from nearby mills. Most of them have been cut down by 2/3rds to fit in the hall.

      The docent started at one end and talked about the raw cotton, then through the yarning and dyeing process, pointing out where children and their small fingers were most useful and where the fires would start. Then she talked about the lead-tipped shuttles and the effect that had on the workers, how kids could be beaned or killed if they poked their head up at the wrong time. Finally, she turned all of the machines and created the lost ungodly din.

      I was there with my 10 year old who was a bit shaken.

    • Gizmo

      This is why a boring, repetitive job deserves a decent paycheck.

    • Mellano

      The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes recounts how some factory workers finagled ways to read complex books at their jobs, like schoolkids hiding paperbacks inside textbooks. Not only did they have the time to read, say, the Bible, or JS Mill, while assembling sprockets, but they were utterly determined to do so as a way of escaping their situation, even if only in the form of mental exertion.

      Today I expect most factories are designed to minimize that kind of wastefulness.

  • Mart

    Do not overlook the ongoing war on OSHA, which is on the Ryan/McConnel death spiral list. Every factory I go to has a rigorous Lock Out Tag Out (LOTO)system to assure energized equipment will not do what that robot did. Basic rules are to assure any stored energy is released. Electrical switches that could energize the equipment are locked open (de-energized) with locks from all members of the team (with their own keys) that will be working on the equipment. After work is complete, and the area is confirmed cleared, team members use their keys to unlock and energize the equipment. LOTO takes a bit more time, but it saves lives and serious injuries. I have sat in on excellent Union training on this topic.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      LOTO takes a bit more time,

      Which is why business loves China and Republicans hate OSHA.

  • Joseph Slater

    Anyone interested in this sort of thing who hasn’t already done so should read Ben Hamper’s book, _Rivethead_.

    • Seconded.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      +1 Howie Makem, The Quality Cat.

  • sigaba

    Apropos of nothing but possibly relevant to the conversation:Michael Faraday’s indenture to a bookbinder. It was easy to find cheap labor for your small manufacturing concern in Regency England, you enslaved it!

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  • dcoffin

    “A new presidential administration [that is, Trump] almost certainly will mean a new direction for OSHA, legal experts agree. Regulations could be undone. Funding could decrease. Strategies for worker safety could shift 180 degrees.”

    “…many industry and political observers expect the Department of Labor under Donald Trump’s administration to back away from any commissions, studies or federal workers’ compensation standards. They expect to see few, if any, new safety and health regulations proposed and also much less emphasis on enforcement of existing regulations.”

    In addition to the declining strength of unions (and the continuing attacks on unions, Trump is certain to weaken or eliminate existing legal protections for workers. Not just OSHA–which imposes a “regulatory burden”–but workers’ compensation are certainly going to be targets of this administration. And note the obvious interplay between OSHA and Workers’ Comp–weaker OSHA enforcement means more on-the-job injuries and occupational diseases (and deaths); the coming attack on Workers’ Comp means injured and sick workers will be, increasingly on their own.

    (Every time I think about the progress that was made on workers’ rights between 1900 and 1970, the more depressed I get about the next few years.)

  • Mr. Sparkle

    One bait-and-switch claim that these auto plants (and associated suppliers) use is that they bring high-paying jobs and thus are worth the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and other incentives they get from poor states like Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina or wherever. However, as intimated in this story, most workers don’t actually work for Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, or BMW (to name but a few) but for a pet contractor, in this case called Joynus Staffing, for very low wages and poor benefits. They dangle the possibility of getting a job with the bigger company with better money and benefits, but actually make life miserable to maintain turnover and keep a large proportion of the staff at the lower cost contractor.

    A friend’s daughter went to work for the pet contractor for BMW in Greer, SC and was treated very poorly, although I don’t know of any safety issues as described here. I seem to recall several years ago that a state legislator in Tennessee wanted to claw back some of Nissan’s tax incentives because they had misrepresented the wages that were going to be paid in exchange. I’m sure this went nowhere. I wish the media would cover the staffing contractor scam that these plants use in more detail; I would like to learn more myself.

    Since my friend’s daughter’s experience and what I’ve learned about the transplants, I have endeavored to purchase vehicles manufactured in plants where the workers are represented by the UAW in the US or Unifor in Canada. I do this even though I know many of the components are purchased from suppliers who themselves may not be unionized. But, I figure it’s better than nothing.

    Here’s a list if anyone else is interested:


    • BiloSagdiyev

      Never forget that the capital spent to build that BMW factory in SC… is being paid back by the BMW employees there, via payroll deduction.

      Also rarely mentioned in American auto production is child labor, through the backdoor of piecework. Farmers and farm wives get a part time gig doing piecework, say, pressing wheel bearings into steering knuckles with a hydraulic press, and the family’s children wind up enlisted in that effort. (My info may be 15-20 years outdated, but I don’t see how that situation got better. And I’m certainly understanding of the people who take on the piecework jobs and why, and I’m quite tolerant of child labor on family farms, too.)

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    It’s somewhere between sobering and depressing to realize how many safety procedures and equipment exist because someone, often many someones, died.

    • Gizmo

      The history of railroad unionization is written in blood. Dead employees were just ledger items.

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  • monoglot

    Thank you for this.

    My daughter works in a factory in Missouri. She, too, works for a temp agency that supplies workers for the factory. When she was initially hired, it took three months to become a permanent worker. That rule is now gone, and the factory hires have dropped off considerably.

    She works mandatory overtime, gets 20 minutes for lunch, and has been doing nine hour days six days a week for two months now. She has health insurance through the ACA because as a temporary worker she has no benefits. She makes $9 an hour.

    These jobs are shit jobs, and this is the first place I have ever seen anyone say so.

    Rat fuckers, all of them.

  • GCarty

    Weren’t the “good” factory jobs from 1945 to 1970 predicated not just on unions, but on the fact that offshoring was far more difficult than it is today (due to the lack of standardized shipping containers, plus the Bretton-Woods capital controls)?

    It is pointless for unions to fight for higher wages or better working conditions if it simply means that their employer is outcompeted by cheaper imports.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    New rule in Bilo Land: Unless you lost a finger working in a Korean-owned auto factory, you capitalize every letter in OSHA.

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