19 August 2005


Usually I'm pretty good at keeping my personal thoughts to myself during a departmental meeting. If I have something productive to add, I do, but otherwise I try to keep my mouth shut. The other day, however, we were discussing a client with whom we had just entered into a working agreement and who also, after having entered the agreement, had just declared bankruptcy. The company is ASARCO, a copper mining and smelting company. You probably did not read about their bankruptcy (heck it only entered my radar because it came up in the meeting). Here's the scoop: At a time when copper is fetching record high prices ASARCO declared bankruptcy to avoid environmental cleanup costs AND to avoid dealing with a union strike (chapter 11 protects companies from any sort of union negotiations).

Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this issue. The book I am currently reading is about a union strike in 1983 involving Phelps Dodge (another copper mining and smelting company). In the 1983 strike the workers were merely trying to maintain what they already had in the way of wages and benefits. They had already agreed to a salary freeze. They just wanted to keep the protections that they had worked generations to establish. Phelps Dodge wouldn't negotiate such a contract. They wanted to reduce wages, cut medical and retirement benefits (by half!) and get rid of COLA (the workers protection against cost of living increases and inflation).
The ASARCO bankruptcy news probably just pushed the right button. Without thinking twice I blurted out, "That's kinda slimy."


Immediately one of the folks who consults with our department responded that it was "a calculated business move." I agreed because 1) it wasn't worth putting up a fight on this one and 2) it was calculated, and it was a business move..but it was still very slimy.

Later I was talking to another person in our dept. who informed me that my responder was pretty pro-corporation...that he thinks when big business thrives, all our problems will be fixed. I couldn't disagree more. Free Market Capitalism works great in theory, but the fact that it is capitalism, involving money or capital accumulation, corrupts people. I have lots of thoughts about FMC, but those belong in another post.

The thing that boggles me here is that this guy is not a bad person, quite nice and intelligent actually, but somehow he seems to have a disconnect between being nice to people he knows and being nice to all of mankind. I just don't get it.


M.E.O'Kiersey said...

I think the fellow didn't observe the connection between "clean hands" and union movements.
His world is secure and he doesn't realize that by supporting this slimy policy he is actually making his world less secure.
"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link."


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