April 16th, 2011

It’s official: U.S. workers in the south are cheap, exploitable labor

Sweden, the heavily unionized and regulated society where the American Dream of social mobility is actually realized, is the home to the global home furnishing giant IKEA. The corporation chose the small rural Virginia town of Danville with its 45,000 people and 10% unemployment mostly because the state and local governments showered the corporation with $12 million dollars in tax exemptions.

A funny thing happened to the ostensibly good employer with a solid reputation of superior corporate responsibility when it crossed the Atlantic and opened the Virginia plant 3 years ago.  It left back home its code of conduct called IWAY that guarantees workers the right to organize and to allow overtime to be voluntary. It left its Swedish traditions of honoring workers and acted like locals who test the limits of what American workers will take and exploit them to the max. Swedish workers at IKEA also enjoy 5 paid weeks of vacation thanks to local laws.

At the Virginia plant, the starting hourly salary was $9.75 in a region where the average is closer to $15 (no great shakes, either). This year, IKEA decided to cut the salary to $8.00. Overtime is mandated. Disagree and you’re fired. Its 335 employees wanted to unionize and affiliate with the Int’l Assoc. of Machinists. But the corporation called in the union-busting attorneys at Jackson Lewis (who probably do not have a branch in Stockholm). Employees were ordered to attend management-run lectures on the evils of unions (how many of you knew employers have this right?).

The resultant mistreatment, a.k.a. bullying, has led to a slew of lawsuits. Nothing IKEA did is considered outrageous or illegal in the USA, especially the nearly union-free southern states. But the company’s conduct, so unbecoming for a Swedish firm, made news iIN SWEDEN! The press there believed it wrong for IKEA to act one way when the workers were Swedish and another way when the workers were third-world exploited labor, in America, as it turned out.

IKEA treats workers like commodities. Go where they are cheapest, as if they are resources like sugar, oil, cotton, or wheat. All of the corporations that use Chinese labor do the same. To do so is to treat the country that provides the workers as if it is 3rd world. To Sweden, America is that 3rd world provider of a cheap commodity.

The double irony for those of us in the workplace bullying movement is that Sweden is the home of the international movement. It is where Heinz Leymann conducted his research, treated the oppressed and traumatized workers, and the country that created the world’s first law against “Victimisation At Work” that went into effect in 1994. Sweden is the Seneca Falls of the movement. It breaks our hearts — for the exploited southern workers, for the southern cities who whore out their people willingly, for the globalized employer mindset that corrupts even the best of the best companies in the world to lower themselves in search of profits.

Read the initial report in the Los Angeles Times.


<-- Read the complete WBI Blog

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 16th, 2011 at 6:06 am and is filed under Employers Gone Wild: Doing Bad Things, Fairness & Social Justice Denied. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Having trouble? Click Here for Comments Guide

Facebook Comments


Disqus Comments

This site is best viewed with Firefox web browser. Click here to upgrade to Firefox for free. X