February 28, 2013

The Logical Conclusion

                In their 2012 book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Chris Hedges and journalist/cartoonist Joe Sacco chronicle their exploration of what the writers have dubbed "sacrifice zones"; areas in America that the writers  claim "have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement." Through research and numerous interviews with locals, Hedges and Sacco attempt to tell the story of how incredibly poor communities like Camden, New Jersey (dilapidated manufacturing town) and Welch, West Virginia (largely abandoned mining town) went from thriving centers of commerce in the 40's and 50's to the crime and poverty ridden sinkholes they are today.
                Through the interviews, several common threads can be seen in the story of each town's decline. The town is built around a particular company that provides the majority of the town's jobs, which are often unskilled labor. In the 1940's and 50's, the workers at these companies unionize, resulting in higher pay and greater benefits which leads to a resulting boom in the town's prosperity. Finally, in the 60's and 70's, the company either closes or moves to a new location, resulting in the majority of the population being laid off. Those who can afford it move to a new town, while those who remain sink further and further into poverty, until the modern-day town is a shell of its former self.

                The writers are quick to blame the devastation on corporate greed, going as far as to likening the companies to vultures and parasites that consume a community's natural resources before moving on to new victims, leaving pollution and poverty in their wake. I, however, find it hard to believe that there could have been any other outcome for these towns. By unionizing, each town's residents forced their respective companies to pay higher wages and offer greater benefits to the workers, which result in higher operating costs that the company had not considered when choosing that town as its location. Since there was no corresponding increase in company profits, it is no surprise that the companies eventually  had to resort to moving to a new location, either in America or overseas, where people are willing to work for less. While the unions achieved short-term benefits for their members, in the long term they only succeeded in negotiating themselves out of their jobs.  Those who support greater union action in America, while simultaneously lamenting the ever-increasing amount of American jobs being outsourced, display a logical disconnect that I wound find laughable were it not so prevalent. 

1 comment:

Larry Eubanks said...

In addition to noting the implications you see concerning unions, you could also more directly confront the ideas you mention with respect to greed and parasites.