Bob's Links and Rants

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003

More on the Borders strike
From the WSWS. Also, Rob has posted this letter to the Michigan Daily from a strike opponent:

When I was a teenager, I used to drive to downtown Ann Arbor to buy books that I could not get at home. There was no or Barnes and Noble. Nowadays the retail book environment is extremely competitive. Customers are very price conscious and expect discounts. Borders's net income is only 3.2 percent of sales and was only 2.6 percent the year before.

Employees should realize that a union cannot negotiate away competitive realities. If Borders were to let its cost structure get out of line with its industry they will become uncompetitive and eventually fail. We have all watched favorite independent stores evaporate. They disappeared because you and I preferred the discounts the larger chains and online sellers were able to offer. It is our buying habits that decide which stores survive and which do not. These are market realities that every retail company must face or they must die. The cost of labor is one of those realities.

Frankly, I have done work with Borders and know for a fact that it is most concerned with giving a voice to their employees. I know it has worked very hard to learn what matters most to every employee and to create a compensation package and a work environment that is optimal for the employees within the competitive realities of the marketplace. Borders works to continue to improve its offering.

We should all want to keep this great Ann Arbor institution competitive and growing.

Rob questions the provenance of the letter writer, thinking it may be a Borders management plant. I think it is more important to focus on the highlighted paragraph (my highlighting). This is a clear example of the thinking of what Conceptual Guerilla calls "cheap-labor conservatives." The argument is that if workers refuse to continually bend over and take it, there will be no more business. My concern is that in today's America, many (most?) people accept the highlighted argument as correct. Stores MUST screw their employees, or die. It's the race to the bottom, and all workers everywhere are now in competition with each other. I don't know the answer, but I know that the answer in the letter means that not only retail companies, but real people, will die if we don't change the current system. Extending the living wage requirements to all companies doing business in Ann Arbor would be a start. We really should fix this before the US is just one more dirt-poor third-world country.