Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Collusion and its Solution

Collusion is a product of corporate oligarchy; it occurs wherever there are large concentrations of economic power that can keep their operations secret. And when economic organizations become larger they proportionally gain more power over individual workers, who become smaller and smaller in comparison.  Bust the companies into smaller units, make them run democratically, and make all their records and operations public, and most collusion would go away. 

I switched to Apple products a few years ago because I got sick of all the popups, delays, and other failures of Microsoft Windows systems, and Apple generally makes user-friendly, reliable hardware and software.  But of course they could use much improvement in their production processes and business practices, as the New York Times’ recent exposure of the working conditions at their Chinese factories shows.  And given that they’re accumulating record profits, there’s simply no need to use wage slaves to do business. It would be nice if they would make a real effort to use labor that was paid adequately and had at least minimally safe working conditions (such as not have one’s factory blow up while one is inside it).  No, I take it back -- it wouldn’t “be nice”; it is morally obligatory that Apple improve its labor practices and those of its contractors, and it should be legally required as well, regardless of whether the violations occur overseas or not.  Competitive markets system drive business owners to minimize labor costs even if they want to be moderate about it, which is what makes capitalism an immoral system, and also one reason why government must intervene in its workings. Both history and current events show that capitalism drives workers into immiseration, which is why a free market for labor is the enemy of anyone who earns wages or a salary for a living.
Unskilled labor, apparently, wasn’t the only kind to precipitate business practices meant to drive down costs as far as possible.  Here’s an example of why collusion is so hard to beat: because it occurs behind the scenes, hush-hush, with a handshake or a private wink and a nod.  A civil suit is being brought by five engineers accusing Apple and Google of conspiring to keep employee pay low through non-competitive practices for skilled labor.  It looks like it cost someone his or her job:
   “According to an unredacted court filing made public in the civil litigation on Friday, the now-deceased Jobs emailed [Google Chief Executive Eric] Schmidt in March 2007 about an attempt by a Google employee to recruit an Apple engineer. Schmidt was also an Apple board member at the time.
   ‘I would be very pleased if your recruiting department would stop doing this,’ Jobs wrote.
   Schmidt forwarded Job's email onto other, undisclosed recipients.
   ‘Can you get this stopped and let me know why this is happening?’ Schmidt wrote.
   Google's staffing director responded that the employee who contacted the Apple engineer ‘will be terminated within the hour.’
   He added: ‘Please extend my apologies as appropriate to Steve Jobs.’“
This shows how capitalists don’t really believe in free markets: they just believe in making a profit, and as much of it as they can.  Or at least they don’t believe in free markets for labor, when they don’t work in their favor.  In this case “big gov’mint” stepped in with a 2010 Justice Department probe, which resulted in a settlement involving Google, Apple, and several other high tech companies that barred them from such non-recruit collusion.  A class-action civil lawsuit is currently being brought by some engineers:
“The latest court filing also refers to a 2007 note from Intel chief executive Paul Otellini discussing that company's agreement with Google.
‘Let me clarify. We have nothing signed,’ Otellini wrote. ‘We have a handshake “no recruit” between eric and myself. I would not like this broadly known.’"
It’s too bad that the completely immiserated Chinese laborers who risk their lives to build our iPads can’t turn to the U.S. Justice Department or our court system to attempt to air their grievances and seek redress, as relatively better-off and more educated high-tech employees can.  I wonder if there were any behind-the-scenes agreements, “nothing signed,” to keep their wages low also?  We’ll probably never know for sure -- and that’s the thing when companies collude to undermine the public good, or even just to undermine the competitive market that they claim to believe in and exemplify: collusion happens underground, where the cleansing sunlight of public transparency can’t shine.  In my view, economic enterprises shouldn’t just be publicly owned by their employees and/or communities, but they should be public in that all their records, meeting minutes, account books, and other internal data should be made public for all to see.  Someone might object that legitimate corporate secrets -- such as the proprietary design of an invention or formula -- would then be exposed for anyone to steal and use for themselves.  But if all corporate information is public, then so would be the attempt to violate copyrights and patents, which could then be punished fairly easily through the courts. So I don’t think that objection has merit.
Oh, and one other thing: the offending Google recruiter who was just trying to do his or her job well by going after the best talent? The person apparently “terminated within the hour” with an apology to Steve Jobs himself?  What an odious example of cringing corporate servility by Google’s staffing director. Capitalists like to say their system creates courageous independence and ingenuity, but inequality and concentrated wealth and power really foster cowardly obsequiousness and all the dysfunctions that come with it. Sometimes you have to kiss the boss’s ass to keep your job -- which is why all CEOs and other executives should be subject to regular and frequent elections by the workers in a firm: so they can be fired when necessary!

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