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This Juneteenth

By Lydia Holt 

You can’t talk about Juneteenth without first talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln was primarily looking to “stick it” to the South by signing this document. It proclaimed all slaves in the rebelling states free. Read more...

Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Government's Response

By Sheryl Wright

Bradley Manning, the army private accused of releasing government documents to WikiLeaks, is facing 22 additional charges, including "aiding the enemy...through indirect means.” I agree with those quoted in the article who believe that this particular charge is setting up a dangerous precedent.

Read more...

Roundtable: America—Sweden’s Sweatshop

Sheryl: In a bit of irony, the U.S. is developing an unexpected reputation within the corporate world. Recent stories about an Ikea plant in Virginia indicate the United States—much like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Honduras—is now seen as a preferred destination for corporations in search of lower production costs. Read more...

« This Juneteenth | Main | On Speech: Hateful, Leftist, and Otherwise »
Friday
Apr152011

Roundtable: America—Sweden’s Sweatshop

Sheryl: In a bit of irony, the U.S. is developing an unexpected reputation within the corporate world. Recent stories about an Ikea plant in Virginia indicate the United States—much like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Honduras—is now seen as a preferred destination for corporations in search of lower production costs. Workers in a Swedish plant which manufactures products similar to those produced in Virginia earn a minimum wage of $19 per hour while Virginia workers start at $8 an hour. The Virginia workers have accused Ikea of engaging in a host of unfair work practices, including: instituting mandatory overtime: rescinding raises, engaging in racial discrimination; and resorting to intimidation tactics to discourage union-organizing.  

The events in Virginia are evidence of a new direction in the outsourcing phenomenon; who would have imagined a day would come when foreign companies would view the U.S. as U.S.-based companies view countries like Mexico. I worry about what this type of trend will mean for future American workers—people like my father and others in my family and the neighborhood where I grew up who parlayed their manufacturing jobs into decent, financially stable lives for themselves and their families. 

Lydia: How timely this is, given the upsurge in union-busting in America. Looks like Ikea is trying to get in on the ground floor on this one. It is equally surprising since they seem to treat their workers in Sweden with respect. I wonder if this is also a problem of Americanization? Are Americans primarily running the plant and making workforce decisions? From what I've read, Swedwood is a manufacturing subsidiary of Ikea and their spokesperson, Ingrid Steen, is based in Sweden and doesn't seem to really know details of what's going on Stateside yet Swedwood hired the law firm known for union-busting. The Danville plant is Ikea's dirty little secret no more. The Swedes back home are appalled and yet no one in the U.S. is talking about it. This is indeed worrying. 

Sheryl: Lydia, you’re right; Americans are the ones primarily responsible for the day-to-day running of the plant, and it is a problem of Americanization in that U.S.-based companies are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of American workers and workers all over the world. Come to think of it, is there any longer any such thing as an American company? With globalization, any companies that might still be classified as U.S.-based have multinational interests. These companies no longer have an allegiance to the U.S and American workers. They also do not have any loyalty to any other country and its workers. As you mention, what’s happening at the Danville plant is probably something the Ikea-corporate would rather not have the Swedish general public know about because they—the Swedish workers—have a higher expectation with regard to their treatment at the hands of their corporate employers than American workers and there is a possibility of some backlash toward the company.

The expectations Swedish workers have is a function of a government in Sweden that enacts regulations to control corporate activity and treatment of Swedish working people. Unfortunately, the exact opposite took hold in this country during the Reagan administration and continues to this day—with government at both the state (as we have seen over the past few months) and federal level intent on dismantling worker protections. I bet there are many workers in the Danville plant who voted for the elected officials who opened the door to their mistreatment by Ikea.

The world has been Americanized to a large extent. For corporations—Swedish, American, whatever—it’s all about access to cheap labor. Is it a stretch to say corporations are trying to revive slavery? Instead of snatching people up and transporting them across the ocean, corporations appear to be doing all they can to turn people into slaves in their own countries.

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