Let’s Not Kid Ourselves: It’s All About Leverage

The Corleone Family don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.

— Moe Green to Michael Corelone, The Godfather

A recap of recent events:  First you had a French company, Roquette Freres, announcing to its Keokuk, Iowa employees that management had decided to unilaterally cut benefits (pensions, health coverage, holidays) and slash wages by $4 per hours, despite the fact that its Keokuk corn milling plant was profitable and its workers loyal and efficient.

And when the BCTGM (Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers) Local 48G’s 240 members predictably balked at what they saw as a case of plain, old-fashioned extortion, the company immediately locked them out.  No talking, no compromising, no second thoughts.  They locked the doors on them.

I’ve corresponded by telephone and e-mail with Local 48G’s president, Steve Underwood, and while the stress level in Keokuk is understandably sky-high, Steve and his fellow members are still, somehow, hanging in there — which is remarkable when you consider that these good people have been on the street since September 28, 2010.

Unfortunately, the scabs that Roquette Freres hired as replacement workers are now doing the very jobs that these union members developed and had been competently performing since the plant opened its doors, some 20 years ago.

Summarizing:  A French company moves to the Great Midwest — to Iowa of all places, right smack in the middle of America’s heartland — and after setting up shop and getting the lay of the land, proceeds to assault the workers by putting a gun to their heads and issuing an ultimatum:  Accept this contract or be prepared to lose your jobs.  It doesn’t get much more basic than that.

So much for France.  Now let’s do Germany.  A German-based company (Jamestown Properties, with headquarters in Cologne) purchases the landmark Madison Hotel in Washington D.C. — right smack in the middle of the nation’s capital, home to its monuments and hallowed institutions, and the seat America’s government — and after taking over on January 19, 2011, proceeds to assault its workforce.

The company announces, on January 31, that it has decided not only to refuse to recognize the existing contract between the previous owners and UNITE-HERE, the union representing 150 workers, but to more or less “fire” everybody and require them to re-apply for their jobs.  Simple as that.  No talking, no compromising, no second thoughts.  The decision was unilateral and final.  And it was done in the shadow of the Capitol Dome.

Of course. the irony is staggering.  It’s suffocating.  Indeed, if it weren’t so tragic, it would be comical.  As U.S. companies continue to scan the globe for Third World workers willing to assemble its products for near slave labor wages, European companies continue to move to the U.S. knowing that they can pull stunts here that they could never get away with at home.

Question:  Why couldn’t they get away with this stuff at home?   Answer:  Because there is too much muscle resisting them — muscle in the form of federal labor laws and muscle in the form of union credibility.

No one is suggesting that Europe is a workers’ paradise or that European labor doesn’t have its own set of problems, but let’s be clear: European unions are perceived differently.  Not only do France and Germany have stronger labor laws than ours, they have a larger proportion of unionized workers, and these workers are, by and large, more militant and more respected by the public.

Oddly, the U.S. and Europe are now engaged in a sort of economic danse macabre.  While we continue to be lured by the Third World, whose weak labor laws make it enticing, Europe continues to be lured by us for the exact same reasons.  Ain’t that a kick in the head?  Welcome to America, folks, where a workers’ dignity is sold to the lowest bidder.

David Macaray is a playwright and author, whose latest book is How to Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows: Weird Adventures in India: Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims When the Peace Corps was New. Everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. He can be reached at: dmacaray@gmail.com. Read other articles by David.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. MichaelKenny said on February 7th, 2011 at 8:47am #

    The real difference between the US and Europe is that workers here enjoy a much greater measure of legal protection, harmonised at EU level to prevent companies playing off one Member State against another. I wouldn’t set too much store by levels of unionisation or the strength of the unions, or even the respect in which they are or are not held, which varies very greatly from on country to another. It’s the legal protection which makes the difference. American companies constantly complain about how difficult it is to sack people and how much it costs to make them redundant in Europe and, of course, denounce the EU as a hotbed of socialism. Hearing what American managers take for normal has undoubtedly inspired some European companies to set up shop in the US!

  2. Deadbeat said on February 7th, 2011 at 11:06am #

    The Corleone Family don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.

    — Moe Green to Michael Corelone, The Godfather

    I don’t know if I would have used this quote to make my point because the Corelone family had Moe Green killed in the ending montage. Thus when crossed the Corelone family flexed its muscle.

  3. Gary S. Corseri said on February 7th, 2011 at 11:42am #

    Personally, I like the quote. It does what an epigraph should do–catch the reader’s interest and lead into the article.

    And the article is fine. Short and sweet… or, not so sweet, as it captures ugly truths about our present world system–the debasement of organized labor, and the complicity of governments and corporations in that debasement.

    The speed and breadth of the internationalization of the labor supply–thanks to international trade agreements that supersede domestic protections, and thanks to new technologies of communication that have revolutionized banking–have seriously undermined world labor’s position vis a vis the elite and managerial classes, and gravely set back the hard-won gains of the 20th century’s labor movements.

    When the Left in Europe and North America can forge common ties to organize and internationalize their resistance, there may be some hope of overcoming the Gargantuan forces that oppose them.

  4. Don Hawkins said on February 7th, 2011 at 12:18pm #


    Overcoming the Gargantuan forces that oppose them not in this Universe. Live with it the best we can and so far there is no best we can. Let’s not kid ourselves.

  5. Don Hawkins said on February 8th, 2011 at 4:32am #

    No comment on the Sun my above post to much muscle yes we can certainly say the Sun has muscle. Last night on the Nightly New’s Brian Williams showed the Sun I liked my picture better and then said well if nothing else we know it’s round. What is that suppose to mean that looking at the Sun close up does little good or some think the Earth is still flat. Could a CME from the Sun take out the power grid here on Earth yes but the odds say we still have a few billion years if we wish to survive. Suppose a CME did happen well we human’s would use fossil fuels for the come back and how would that play out not well. Last night on Fox New’s Beck and his people seem bound and determined to start a war and who are his people maybe a few people we saw in Simi valley Sunday who are digging in for the long haul kind of like the regime in Egypt although the long haul in the first part of the twenty first century has talking on a whole new meaning. So what is the thinking of us here on DV and a few other places maybe that what we see in Egypt is the same thing that would happen here in the States if we tried to stand up to the tyrant’s. Even if we could get organized and demonstrate any real change or just more words on greatness and truth and justice then we would all get tired and just go home and go shopping? Again yesterday on CNN John King it did surprise me as I heard some truth one man did say the word indoctrination when talking about what Beck and his people do you know the Muslims are coming for us the third Imam and all that he didn’t say these people have there head up there ass but work’s for me. What’s next on the list of things to do from the so called elites here in the States the debt that’s right think of the kid’s and then those messages yes many more messages. Here’s one a message Earth to the human race Earth calling the human race.

    We have heard the rationales offered by the superpowers. We know who speaks for the nations; but who speaks for the human species? Who speaks for earth? … Sagan

    Just words so far yes just words. Might want to listen, understand this time. Put that on your blackboard Beck how do you like it up there?

  6. Don Hawkins said on February 8th, 2011 at 5:24am #

    Yesterday I saw some interesting pictures out of Egypt. Egypt was getting back to business and then I saw a picture of a shop keeper selling what looked to be little plastic pyramids and had his head in his hands no tourists. The pyramids the real one’s does bring up a few interesting questions. Then I saw people at the square in it for the long haul people helping people with food and medical care thank’s to the tyrant the long haul or a new way of thinking people helping people.

  7. Don Hawkins said on February 8th, 2011 at 7:10am #

    It’s all about leverage on CNBC this morning they had on a so called policy maker and the talk was fiscally conservative ism and what needs to be done so our kids can have a future. It was very touching to hear this knowing that our so called leaders have seen the light. The only thing they have seen so far is darkness can we tax carbon return the tax back to the people doesn’t fit with the whole fiscally conservative ism well golly gee you don’t seem to have a problem getting your head up in that very dark place not really fond of the light. Fond let’s use it in a sentence.

    A fond hope about something that is not likely to happen.