Monday, January 23, 2012

Apple's un-emancipation proclamation

Karl Denninger isn't quite sure that the late secular messiah, Steve Jobs, and the company he steered were quite the benefactors of humanity they are widely proclaimed these days. In fact, he suggests that our wonderful World of Cool Technology is largely built on a moral disaster.

First he quotes from a New York Times article:
Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
Denninger homes in on a small consideration that doesn't trouble Apple-bots:

It's easy to be "speedy" and "flexible" when you effectively own your "employees" as slaves!

How many of you caught the paragraph up there?  At midnight, without warning, the factory foreman went into dormitories in which the workers were sleeping, roused them and effectively compelled them to work a 12-hour shift with nothing more than a biscuit and cup of tea.

Did you get that?  These are not employees, they're slaves.

People on my end of the political pasture are given to hand-wringing about the impoverishment of the American working class by business's use of immigrant labor, legal and illegal. Quite right. But the human cost of unfettered corporatism isn't confined to population replacement at home; the outsourced manufacturing work in countries where it's managed by Inhuman Resources departments is almost beyond imagining.
What Apple (and other companies) want are employees that are housed in dormitories, can be roused at midnight to work a 12-hour shift on demand fueled with only a cup of tea and a ten cent biscuit, paying them $17/day. THAT is what Apple and these other firms demand.
It is absolutely true that America cannot fill that demand, because at one dollar an hour you can't manage to put the food on your table for a family of four, say much less pay rent, electricity or gasoline for your car to get there and back!
Once again, from the Times:
“We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries,” a current Apple executive said. “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.”
Legally, I suppose that is true. But what does it say about America's most revered corporation when its mission excludes any consideration besides its products? Have we -- including all us consumers of Apple's undoubtedly attractive devices -- no other values left? And of course it's not just Apple, it's practically all the companies whose brands are thought essential for our lifestyle.

Sure, they all run ads telling you how "Green" they are, how they "give back," how they "make a difference" (usually with projects on behalf of certified victim groups). Meanwhile, factory labor has reverted to a Dickensian world, far enough away from most of us that we don't need to see or think about it.


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