Our Great Economic U-Turn

An excerpt from the opinion piece by Thomas Frank that appeared in the WSJ on May 14, 2008, page A19:

I confess that I am fascinated by the mechanics of this huge social reconfiguration – in the same sense that I am fascinated by the industrial procedures of a slaughterhouse, or by the strategies that enabled small Confederate armies to win victories for slavery over much larger Union forces. How the big change was brought off is the subject of Steven Greenhouse’s important new book, “The Big Squeeze,” which is also my source for many of the statistics in the preceding paragraphs. Aside from the outsourcing, offshoring, and firing-at-will that make up the best-known weapons in the corporate arsenal, Mr. Greenhouse reveals how managers extract unpaid work through an array of ingenious tricks, from eliminating bathroom breaks to electronically erasing hours from workers’ records.

The most extreme cases are described in a remarkable book by John Bowe called “Nobodies.” Mr. Bowe’s subject is “modern American slave labor,” a term he uses without hyperbole, since his book tells how certain of our fellow Americans have actually forced others to work for them involuntarily. The trademark contrivance these bosses employ is debt bondage, the oldest management trick of them all. Their victims are generally migrant or “guest” workers, whose labor they have exploited from the tomato fields of Florida to the garment factories of Saipan.

The feeling I get from absorbing all these facts about the state of labor comes close to the nauseated dread that washes over me when I stay up late to read one of those what-if stories in which Hitler wins World War II. Could this really have happened to my country?

It has not merely “happened”; it has been done to us. The distinction is an important one to keep in mind as we survey the ruins of the affluent society. What has overtaken America’s working people is not a natural disaster like “globalization,” and not even some kind of societal atavism in which countries regress mysteriously to their 19th-century selves. This is a man-made catastrophe, a result that proceeded directly from the deliberate beatdown of organized labor and the wrecking of the liberal state.

Read the whole thing online on WSJ.com.

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One response to “Our Great Economic U-Turn

  1. Pingback: firing union workers

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