Entry Submitted by Charles at 6:20 AM ET on August 27, 2022
I graduated from university in 1981, during the Reagan years, and I was a true believer in “Reagonomics” and the “trickle-down” theory, in which wealth is diverted to the already wealthy who will use it to create new production facilities and create new jobs. That’s also called “supply-side economics”. In theory, I believe, it works well … the notion that all of us, collectively, each of us acting solely in our own self-interest, create a “rising tide that lifts all boats.” I was almost religious in that belief during the Eighties and Nineties. Greed is good.
I, like so many other Americans during those years, abandoned the notion that “we are all in this together” and adopted the “every man for himself, and you are on your own” way of thinking. “You have not, because you strive not.”
Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.
It is a small section of my resumé:
Eaton Corporation, Arab Alabama Manufacturing Plant
System Analyst/IT Manager
May 1996 – June 1998
In 1996, I left a position as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense to take a job at a small manufacturing plant in a small town in Alabama. The Eaton Corporation was ranked about 250 on the Fortune 500 at the time, (it later rose to position 163). So it was one of the world’s largest corporations when I went to work there. The plant in Arab Alabama designed and manufactured electrical switches mostly for use in variable speed reversible electric-powered hand tools; customers included Milwaukee, Makita, Black & Decker, DeWalt, Skil, Wren, Bosch, Hitachi, Porter Cable and a few others sold in Europe only. I was hired to build a computer network for the plant and to manage the installation of new high-end CAD/CAM design computers for its engineering group. My goal was to become an important part of the company’s management team and to eventually retire there, in my community, respected, and to concentrate more time on other activities, such as writing a book (which I did). It was kind of an old-fashioned notion that led me to make the decision, after all, who plans, today, to stay with one company until retirement? That Eaton plant, though, seemed stable enough to me. Built in the early 1970’s, many of the company’s managers were lifers; having started their careers right out of the local high school, when that factory opened, and gradually moved to top management positions, having learned every aspect of the business and their trades. It’s what I wanted to do: learn it all.
I am still amazed at all the things I did and learned there. In a scant two years. I had the opportunity to work with statistical methods for quality control, production scheduling and control, inventory management and receiving, purchasing, engineering design software, laser control, digitally-controlled machine tools, the list is just mind-boggling; there was no area of that plant that I knew nothing about. During the two-week Christmas plant shutdown, when everyone else was on vacation, I was using a high-lift to pull wires and installing digital switches in every nook and cranny of the plant. It was fun. It was exciting. And as far as I was concerned, it was enough to challenge me for a lifetime. I bet I asked “What does this machine do?” at least 500 times.
Those were the 90’s, right? I was watching my investments increase in value, I was secure in my job, I lived only seven minutes from my work, there was more money, more leisure-time. I was gonna be a writer and maybe have a consulting practice and life was just a dream. I paid no attention at all to the storm clouds forming. The rumours that the plant was being shut down, everything being moved to Mexico, were just that as far as I was concerned, rumours. The plant was making money and had been profitable for the past two and a half decades. The plant managers were all home-town boys. Why get all excited about rumours that might not even be true?
But it was in the works. That was another aspect of the nineties, you’ll remember, the export of U.S. jobs. The words for it were “off-shoring” and “outsourcing”. And my employer was making plans to do the same. New assembly lines were set up in Reynosa Mexico (near Matamoros), and staffed with non-union workers only, which meant, in Mexico, completely unskilled and virtually uneducated workers. Eaton was paying the lowest possible wages, for the least capable workers they could find. And, as soon as those unskilled Mexican laborers got some experience, almost all left to work in a union plant which paid more.
I got a hard-schooling in “supply-side” economics … when I, like so many others, watched while my job was “off-shored”. At least I didn’t have to suffer the indignity that so many of our engineers (and my own brother-in-law) had to endure … of being forced to train the very person who would take my own job.
My story has a happy ending, though. I probably would have waited until they escorted me out the door, but the Plant Manager resigned suddenly. Jackie had worked at that plant since he was a young man. I knew, if Jackie was bailing, there was good reason to believe the plant was shutting down. I covered my own butt, and I found another job. Reluctantly. Sadly. 25 months I worked there. Good months.
And I learned an important hard lesson in life. Corporations (and governments) cannot be assumed to have benign motivations. They can never be assumed to have a heart. And Reaganomics assumed that corporations are the best care-takers of a society’s wealth; the best determiners of our collective future. Many Americans fully expect their institutions to exhibit the qualities of mature responsible adults; to control and to govern respectfully and responsibly. Democrats put their faith in government; Republicans put theirs in corporations. Both are badly mistaken if they believe either of those “institutions” has the welfare of the American people as its primary concern. It is wrong to attribute human emotions to an institution, either the good things that guide people to do right (like a moral conscience), or the bad things that drive people do wrong. Institutions are no more evil than they are good … they are incapable of being either.
Institutions/corporations are inherently “soulless”. And so was the Eaton Corporation I loved for 25 months.
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