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The US South’s manufacturing renaissance comes with a heavy price (bloomberg.com)
118 points by ayanai on Mar 23, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

> The team had a quota of 420 dashboard frames per shift but seldom made more than 350

For me, one of the most thought-provoking expressions of the perspective of the factory worker came from the Studs Terkel book, Working, where he interviewed a factory worker and UAW local president named Gary Bryner in the early 1970s or late 1960s. Bryner:

"In that little book of quotes I have: 'The workingman has but one thing to sell, his labor. Once he loses control of that, he loses everything.'" ...

"They use time, stopwatches. They say ... We know it takes so many seconds to shoot a screw. We know the gun turns so fast, the screw's so long, the hole's so deep. Our argument has always been: That's mechanical; that's not human."

"The workers said, We perspire, we sweat, we have hangovers, we have upset stomachs, we have feelings and emotions, and we're not about to be placed in a category of a machine. When you talk about that watch, you talk about it for a minute. We talk about a lifetime. We're gonna do what's normal and we're gonna tell you what's normal. We'll negotiate from there. ..."

"If the guys didn't stand up and fight, they'd become robots too. They're interested in being able to smoke a cigarette, bullshit a little bit with the guy next to 'em, open a book, look at something, just daydream if nothing else. You can't do that if you become a machine. / Thirty-five, thirty-six seconds to do your job - that includes the walking, the picking up of the parts, the assembly. Go to the next job, with never a letup, never a second to stand and think. The guys at our plant fought like hell to keep that right."


I'm not sure how much factory work is still like that, but imagine if that was your job today ... or for 8 hours per day, for the rest of your life.

I spent 3 months in a automobile parts factory in Japan as part of my new employee training. This was my job for 8 hours a day, less two 15 minute breaks and an hour lunch break.

I started to develop this mind-body separation where I could do the manual labor while completely disengaging the mind towards some daydreaming, because the routine was so ingrained into my body that I no longer needed conscious brain power to move my hands and examine the visual elements of my tools and parts.

Yes we were basically robots. At least the company genuinely cared about improving processes to prevent workplace injuries, even of the repeated stress category.

While their jobs were not the most important part of these people's lives, it did enable them to provide well for their families and pay for their hobbies and pursuits (I think a blue collar job at a tier 1 Toyota group supplier pays better than a below average whitecollar job in Japan). And they seemed to have a sense of pride in their work.

I work at a manufacturing company in the Midwest and, to me, the confusing part is where the modern push to treat workers like machines is coming from. In school, we were taught how Taylor was the "father" of scientific management, but that his ideas had mostly been superseded by those of Deming, who was a huge contributor to the post-war manufacturing miracle in Japan. And yet, the management at my current company---and from what I gather, many others---is decidedly Taylorist. It's like a race to the bottom where the prize is... something? I'm honestly not sure.

It's short term quarterly thinking. Get my review and bonuses and get out. If any manager thinks the company will be around, he doesn't really care. He's not in it to build a company or a legacy or pride, he's there to get his money and get out.

Driving your workers as fast as possible maximizes your bonus. Who cares what happens in ten years?

Yeah if you read the article what you see is companies saving $7000 to avoid installing safety devices that ended up causing injuries that costed them multi-million dollar payouts in lawsuits.

The thing is, the incentives to the executives making these decisions is skewed. If they avoid investing in safety equipment, they make their bonuses, which can add up as long as nothing too bad happens. Yet if there is a serious injury costing the company millions, the worst thing that can happen is they lose their jobs. For senior executives, the bonuses can be larger than their base salaries, so the upside is larger than the downside.

I think it's just easier to think that way and measure results. Empowering workers is more fuzzy and hard to measure.

The prize is more money for the shareholders.

In modern manufacturing, a person would be lucky to hold the same job for ten years without being laid off or replaced. Many of these people work for staffing contractors who contract with tier 1, 2, or 3 suppliers and everything is just in time. Even when things are just in time, suppliers often start an assembly line, run it until their warehouse is full and then shut the line down to reduce expenses.

In many parts of Alabama there is are millions of square feet of potential storage space in the form of obsolescent manufacturing facilities.

>Even when things are just in time, suppliers often start an assembly line, run it until their warehouse is full and then shut the line down to reduce expenses.

JIT is part of lean. What you describe is short term mass production, not lean and also not JIT because it implies continuity.

An auto-plant is probably just in time. As one steps down the tiers, 1,2,3 the more likely batch processing is because lower tier suppliers tend to supply multiple companies at higher tiers and it often makes more economic sense to set up and tear down production lines than to try to run them in parallel.

Having an inventory also means that a hitch in production will incur contractual penalties under a JIT supply contract. The customer doesn't care when the shipping container was loaded with parts at the supplier's facility, just when it arrives at their loading dock.

> I'm not sure how much factory work is still like that, but imagine if that was your job today ... or for 8 hours per day, for the rest of your life.

Sweat shops in Asia time their employees to 100ths of seconds for their tasks. I wished I was kidding, the timesheets for garment manufacture look like top sports results.

Do you know of any publicly-available reference for this? It's the kind of stark fact that effectively illustrates working conditions in those factories.

The movie 'the corporation' actually has shots of the sheets they got from the garbage of a factory (Nike or H&M iirc).

Is there a fundamental soullessness to certain cultures? Or is it endemic to all?

If you look at the labor history in any country, I would guess that the "soullessness", if I understand your meaning, is inversely proportional to how advanced the economy is and how much political power the workers have. The advanced western nations used to have brutal 6-day workweeks and children working in coal mines.

Which we fought against.

Then the powers started fighting back against unions to the point where it's a horrifying idea.

So people lose their arms and die because of poor training and safety regs. A union means that the guy never touches that machine, that the girl and her team just sit and wait for the maintenance guy.

These fines also seem pretty low.

If it can be done in a productive and enjoyable way, that might not be bad. I am sure that's not how it is.

If I had to work in sweatshop for whatever reason, it would make it suck just a little less if it were done in "events". For example get three people to have a race to build ten pairs of shoes. Take a breather, cheer on another group of employees, maybe a small prize for someone winning such a race. Have timed trials to build the fastest pair of shoes.

Don't take away your employees freedom, encourage them to do what you want, presumably make shoes in this contrived example. If people come up with their own ways to do it fast and they want to do more of it, then just maybe it will actually happen faster.

I think it works better with code. I like competing with my coworkers on optimizing things that pass our unit tests. We each try to optimize a given snippet of code in a unit test. Whichever is fastest and passes all the tests wins and gets committed.

EDIT - I know its shitty in these sweat shops, clearly what I described wasn't happening. I figured phrasing like:

> I am sure that's not how it is.


> it would make it suck just a little less

No need to downvote a silly idea so aggressively.

If someone needs to work in a sweat and if the person running it is decent they will try to make it not suck. That is why most sweatshops suck they aren't run by decent and this wouldn't work. Which is why I even contrasted it with software.

You really don't think the workers would see the "competition" as a transparent ploy?

FWIW, this was a well established practice in Soviet Union - top factory performers got prizes, medals and other rewards for beating expectations. [1][2][3]

Of course, this also tends to tempt the management to raise the required quotas over time.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_emulation [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shock_worker_of_Communist_Labo... [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakhanovite_movement

> You really don't think the workers would see the "competition" as a transparent ploy?

Even well-trained engineers miss this "transparent ploy".

Otherwise there wouldn't be such a culture of glorifying long working hours and almost no holidays in the US, or at least there would be much more push-back.

Nobody really cares about whether work can be done in a "productive and enjoyable way". If your company or engineering manager thought they could get away with turning you into human machine because that's your only option then they most likely would or someone else would eventually.

Be very thankful software developers are in such high demand because there will be a time when that little competition will not be viewed as some sort of team morale boosting exercise but just another bit of frivolous spending to be eliminated. It may not happen in mine or your working career, but it will happen eventually.

Funny, it's the software developers that are instrumental in implementing 'gamification' for all kinds of work related activities.

You mean the ones' who like programming too much and aren't even in academia. And don't realize it's a means to an end (it's a tool to build things.) Yeah those people suck.

I think you're being downvoted because you are somewhat making light of a horrible and brutish reality a great deal of the world's population has to endure so that developed nations can have widgets and experience growth.

The reason that you can have such activities at work is because you are providing a service, software engineering, that has a high demand but is in short supply. Also, this usually isn't done with the goal of increasing productivity... it is done to maintain morale and make the company fun to work at so you dont leave. Not many experienced workers particularly enjoy these races, like employee of the month because it eventually becomes a way to abuse workers.

In a former life, I was a claims rep for an auto insurance company. We had a competition to do the most claims per day at rhe lowest cost. It was terrible. We were mobile, so one component was driving through Los Angeles traffic to someone's car or body shop. It encouraged people to drive like maniacs, skip all their breaks, and to stiff the customer on auto claims, which was shortsighted because they lost customers from us stiffing them and evetually were sued because this competition essentially limited our breaks. These things almost always end in a race to the bottom once labor supply increases or demand for labor decreases.

History is replete with horrific examples of competitions and quotas amongst low skilled. workers/slaves. In the oxymoronic(al) Congo Free State, colonial Belgium enacted a labor policy demanding a quota of rubber. If not met, workers, their wives, and their children would have their hands amputated. Article if you are interested :http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/35/181.html

> That is why most sweatshops suck they aren't run by decent and this wouldn't work.

It has little to do with the moral character of people running the sweatshops, although that does not absolve them from being pieces of shit. It has more to do with the economic system, its incentives, and consumers turning a blind eye to the origin of their products. The Stanford Prison experiment showed how normal people could turn into monsters given the right conditions.

> I think you're being downvoted because you are somewhat making light of a horrible and brutish reality

That is actually a good reason to be downvoted.

This is not some kind of silly contest. Too slow by a little bit and you're out, also yesterdays 'peak' is tomorrows cut-off.

>yesterdays 'peak' is tomorrows cut-off

Obviously such a rule could not be applied for more than a few days. Humans have physiological limits no matter how hard you twist the psychological ones!

I am guessing it is somewhere in between. What may have started as a clever manager's way to motivate employees became another bureaucratic hoop for people to jump through.

> Humans have physiological limits no matter how hard you twist the psychological ones!

People will push themselves to the brink of death (and beyond, sometimes) when given a choice between meeting a quota and not having a job. The quota can be unreasonable, as long as the company is constantly firing poor performers and training new people.

The gamification is serious business. Any button the company can push, any knob they can twist, any game they can get you to play to get you to work faster, and shave another second off your time, they will push and twist and play.

I was questioning the seriousness of his comment. It is literally impossible to implement the system he described. You will never find talented enough people after, say, six days, regardless of who you hire. I am not claiming that working people to the bone does not happen at all.

Even if the contrived example above is impossible that hasnt stopped people from doing it.... As I stated above, punishing workers/slaves who didnt meet the quota meant less rations, cutting off hands, etc..which of course made it harder to reach the quota. The Congo Free State is an example of thia

It's not that much different from 'up or out'. There are always new entrants waiting to take over your job.

I wasn't stating how it is, I was stating a silly hypothetical of how it could be and decent for everyone. Clearly it doesn't work if the owners don't respect human rights as seems so common.

The article makes it sound very much like that, except 12 hours per day.

This is exactly why I correct people from treating other people as "cogs in a machine" to treating them as "cells in a much larger organism".

True but anyone who's done any "traditional" production engineering courses knows that for piece work you slow down when the time and motion guy comes round.

Let alone the Spanish practices my ex colleague who was from Red Clydside (makes Malcom Tucker look like a mummys boy) told me about "and the tea boy got a grand in a brown envelope"

I suspect most of that kind of stuff is automated now.

Is that better? Those guys made good money for the type of work they were doing. Now they're working at Starbucks or faking a back injury for disability.

Lots of work that could be automated still isn't. Furthermore, there are many jobs that are not technically factory work, but are essentially the same: dehumanizing, boring, conveyor-belt style work where you're treated like a robot.

I did tons of those types of jobs growing up, my little sister does so currently, and I've met quite a few highly educated adults who are miserable being stuck in this kind of job.

One good example would be the Amazon fulfillment center work, of which there are many articles online that paint a picture that I find horrifying.

Another example that might not come to mind right away when you think 'factory work' is call centers.

A friend of mine has a law degree but because she couldn't find work she ended up at a call center. While the work is less physically taxing, it's in some ways worse than a lot of factory work. She can't go on auto-pilot because she's talking to people, but at the same time she's forced to approach it as dumb factory work. Just complicated enough that you can't tune out, but boring enough that it gives no satisfaction.

Aside from high quotas, they track bathroom breaks and if she crosses some (equally unreasonable) threshold a manager will have a 'friendly chat' about it.

Aside from the fact that I've never met anyone who makes 'good money' doing this type of work, I personally don't blame anyone who does this long enough to eventually fake a disability or something. In fact, I'll happily keep paying high taxes if it supports that kind of 'disability'. No human should be forced to do that kind of stuff in this day and age, least of all in a developed nation.

That said, I think the 'faking disability to avoid factory work' type of person is mostly conjured up in support of particular political views. I'm just saying I'd not even be mad if it were the case.

I worked in a call center for a couple of years when I was still in school.

I hated it so very much. We had to do credit checks and stuff, so they wouldn't let us have anything to do when it was slow. Towards the end of my time there they changed something and we started getting more call volume, that sucked. It became just hours and hours of talking about the same thing again and again.

> Aside from the fact that I've never met anyone who makes 'good money' doing this type of work, I personally don't blame anyone who does this long enough to eventually fake a disability or something. In fact, I'll happily keep paying high taxes if it supports that kind of 'disability'. No human should be forced to do that kind of stuff in this day and age, least of all in a developed nation.

So apparently the call center in the bigger city a few hundred miles away had a union. Doubt it made the work better but they were getting several dollars an hour more than us. We got 10+bonus, they were getting 15 or something.

These jobs are really important for an equal, balanced economy, too. Not everyone has the mental capacity or discipline to get a highly technical career, but plenty can do this kind of work. This leads to a higher demand for lower class work, which raises lower class wages and lowers poverty. A major problem in the US is that most of these kinds of jobs have either been shipped overseas or concentrated to a few urban areas in the country. This combined with a few other things have gutted demand for lower class work, which lowers lower class wages and adds to the inequality in the country.

I did that kind of work in my teens and twenties as well, and my impression at the time was every job is a shitty job right up until it isn't there any more. There's been a lot of discussion about heroin and suicide and the soda economy on HN - that sort of stuff makes the affected communities long for the days of soul-crushing factory work.

>That said, I think the 'faking disability to avoid factory work' type of person is mostly conjured up in support of particular political views. I'm just saying I'd not even be mad if it were the case.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say here, but let me explain why I included that: In a lot of small towns that used to have coal mines or were factory towns for one company there simply are no jobs, so it's not that they're faking disability to get out of factory work. They're faking disability because they need money and they don't want to move away from everything and everyone they've ever known.

>Elsea was 20 and not easily deterred. “She thought she was rich when she brought home that first paycheck,” Ogle says. Elsea and her boyfriend got engaged. She worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, hoping to move from temporary status at Ajin to full time, which would bring a raise from $8.75 an hour to $10.50. College can wait, she told her mom and stepdad.

And I wasn't contemplating having a family unless I was making at least $150k/year...just goes to show how out of touch one can get in your own network.

$150k/year would be a small fortune in Alabama.

Can anyone comment why so many positions are temporary and contract nowadays?

How did such a shift happen whereby full-time permanent jobs became a luxury?

I can think of a few things:

- global competition, in that factory workers are competing against the pay/living-standards of those in poorer nations

- no unions

- a preparedness of employees to work for a pittance, towards unobtainable quotas, in unsafe conditions, for dangerously long periods of time.

I'm not sure work gets any more full-time than 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. "Full-time permanent" sounds like semantics and a loophole for companies to exploit.

You probably need to add the continually evolving automation and mechanization tech to the list.


Companies realized they could avoid a lot of costs by making peoples temps and contractors. Unions won't stop them, government won't stop them. People just need to get a job, so they can't really stand up and say screw you. Oh, and that whole "it's hard to fire people" idea. You keep someone as a temp for a few months and then hire them if they can do the job. THat's not the worst thing in the world if you do it right.

My first job in tech I was a "casual" position. So non-union, and not full time. I was working 40 hours a week, but it didn't really count. No benefits (health, pension, etc...), no vacation, my boss told me one day he was slashing my hours in half.

It sucked. I didn't go to the dentist for about 2 years (that was real fun when I did go back, fortuantely nothing bad happened) because I didn't have coverage. Taking a day off for a trip with my friends meant either losing a days pay or having to make it up (my boss was real big on flex time). When he slashed my hours I went from making decent money to borrowing from my parents for bills.

On the other hand, the union people had health benefits (this was canada, so not as big a deal as the states), pension, vacation, etc... Government job. OT and on-call pay too.

The nice thing was when I got my hours cut I smartened up and applied for a much better job, which I got.

Right to work and Reagan era deregulation.

Temporary and contract workers can fill in holes in the workforce and are easier to get rid of. Also, you push hiring and firing accountability to the contractor.

Lack of faith in the future.

By keeping things in temporary and contracts, you can easily downsize if a big problem happens. And you do not need ot invest in infrastructure that much.

It is a problem of cost of liability and fear of the future.

My guess is it's just there are more people and proportionally fewer jobs. Wealth and power concentrate into big players who have more leverage.

I think one reason we see more entrepreneurs today isn't just because it's easier - many people feel it's the only option. And in the same vein as above, a few VCs hold most of the money and get to dictate terms.

A few years ago I moved to a different city and through circumstances made a lot of friends who are just-post-college, usually in their mid-twenties. At first I was quite excited that so many of them wanted to be freelancers and entrepreneurs, because in my post-college days I often felt like the odd one out, choosing freelancing and (minor) entrepreneurship.

My views changed as I got to know them better. Most of them didn't really choose entrepreneurship or freelancing, but saw it as the only way out of the low-wage, unschooled college side-jobs that they were still doing. Most of them would've probably benefitted from a few years of work experience in an existing organization, and most of them, when asked, would take such a job over freelancing or their 'startup'.

What I find most disturbing is the rather popular narrative (around here) of how self-employment and entrepreneurship are things to aspire to and preferable over employment. A lot of these friends buy or bought into this narrative without any idea of what a 'real job' is actually like. Quite a few of them are doing this whole bootstrapping thing by choice, or claim they do, but I can't help but wonder how much 'choice' this really is when they're actively pushed in this direction and where there are really no good alternatives.

I get the same vibes from this situation that I get from the perennially single people I know who claim it's by choice; they prefer being alone. It might be true, but it feels like a lie (or at least a way to feel a bit better about things).

The thing is: this is all wonderful for me, in theory. I have a huge supply of very smart, motivated people who are willing to work for a pittance or even just 'intern' for me, all just for the promise that my shitty startup-idea will take off. I don't take advantage of this, but it's tempting and I'm sure many others do.

Manufacturing is dangerous everywhere. In Europe it is safest the US is also quite safe. China is much worse, and India is a catastrophe. By doing metal work in the US and not in China or India, you are saving lives. Fewer Americans will die then Chinese or Indians would have. The woman who died, according to the article, "and entered the screened-off area around the robot to clear the fault herself." She actually went into an area that was marked as unsafe. Of course, there is a simple fix for this, which is implemented in many good factories, you can have a gate which you have to open to get into that area, and by opening the gate you flip a dead switch which must be manually turned and pressed again in order to restart the robot. Either that, or there are mats which either turn the machine off or mats which you must be standing on for the machine to stay on.

I am, however, wary of safty regulations that, for example, make it so that there has to be a shield with a saftey switch on stamping machines. Here is a video of how they work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_WITEHwjqI you can imagine how an unsheilded one is dangerous, but to open the polycarbonate casing for each part and close it again before stamping is far slower.

I think that instead, there should be tabular fines for companies. If an employee loses their finger in a press, then they get fined $200,000 no mater what tech was used. That leaves it up to the company to figure out a good way to prevent injuries.

> I think that instead, there should be tabular fines for companies. If an employee loses their finger in a press, then they get fined $200,000 no mater what tech was used. That leaves it up to the company to figure out a good way to prevent injuries.

In red states, that's known as oppressive regulation where useless bureaucrats are telling business owners how to do their job.

Using a fine is oppressive regulation or having standards is?

Both. If you are incredibly libertarian you view all business as contracts between consenting adults that the government should only be involved in if one side welshes on the deal

Gov shouldn't even be involved then except insofar as it is necessary to establish the rule of law. Lawyers and courts can resolve those deal disagreements. If a buyer owes the seller money that's the seller's problem. (in this worldview)

China is buying far more industrial robots than anyone, so I would expect its safety to be rising rapidly.(Source: UN report[0] released October 2016)[1] The two large factories I visited in Dongguan last week were extremely well automated already.

[0] http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/presspb2016d6_en.pd.... (page 3, citing UNCTAD secretariat calculations, based on International Federation of Robotics, 2015, World Robotics 2015: Industrial Robots, available at http://www.ifr.org/industrial-robots/statistics/ (accessed 19 October 2016))

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12991293

I was not expecting that. Something out of a science fiction movie.

"She died the next day. Her mom still hasn’t heard a word from Ajin’s owners or senior executives. They sent a single artificial flower to her funeral."

It sounds like a cultural thing.

Rust Belt checking in here. My hometown's in a northern union stronghold where waves of plant closings starting in the 1980's completely wrecked the local and regional economy. Which still hasn't recovered -- and seems to be getting worse, after being rocked by the financial crisis a few years ago and the currently ongoing drug overdose epidemic.

Laws or union restrictions can stop firms from getting away with extremely low pay, treating their employees like crap and shitting all over the environment. But only if those firms don't have the option of relocating to other places that don't have similar restrictions.

I fully recognize Donald Trump has many very obvious shortcomings as a person and as a politician. But if his election finally results in shutting down the global free trade policies that have utterly wrecked my community, then all the negative things I'm sure he'll do likely won't outweigh that single positive achievement.

Rust Belt checking in here, too. If you're letting the future of your community ride on hopes of traditional manufacturing jobs coming back, you're never going to get out of the hole you're in. Getting rid of free trade isn't going to stop China from roflstomping our manufacturing economy, and whatever they don't crush, robots will. The future doesn't lie that way, and hoping a pathological liar was lying to everyone but you is a recipe for disaster.

Even those not in the rust belt have a good reason to want those jobs to stay here: current account and exchange rates.

The more jobs move abroad, the more money flows out of our economy, bolstering the purchasing power of those other economies, helping them invest in ways roflstomp our economy in more ways than just manufacturing.

Rising exchange rates will only hurt those US businesses that rely on exports when the cost of manufacturing the same goods is higher in the US versus elsewhere in the world. That said, fully automated businesses should have approximately the same cost anywhere in the world.

The better our current account, the more our money buys both here in the US and from the rest of the world.

> Even those not in the rust belt have a good reason to want those jobs to stay here: current account and exchange rates.

Yes, everyone wants those jobs, or, jobs, to stay. But almost no one working today has a job that looks anything like a job of 100 years ago, and I doubt anyone would want those jobs.

Almost every job worked today is going to disappear, or change beyond recognition that it's still the same job.

Those lost manufacturing jobs are just among the first of the current set of jobs to disappear. Yes, it's painful and tragic; not because those specific jobs were lost, but because we have mis-managed the idleness of the people whose jobs vanished.

The fix is not to cling to jobs that the free market says should not exist, and that consumers also say should not exist by buying the cheapest available products, often products not previously available. Some of those consumers are the very ones that have lost their old jobs.

The only way for those manufacturing jobs to stay or come back is to never buy anything that didn't exist 50 years ago, and to stay out of Walmart and Amazon and everywhere else that sells anything at all from outside America.

Who starts?

We've lost the recognition that the reason we band together into communities and governments is to support each other. We've come to act as if "I've got my support, sorry you lost yours" is the proper way to treat each other.

We need to stop being so punitive and miserly, automatically blaming people for their condition. How anyone got anywhere doesn't much matter. How we move each other to the next better thing is what we should be focusing on.

I despair that we can get anywhere near that as long as quarterly, my bonus, my election thinking allows the few to stay a few steps ahead of everyone else. We treat each other as social petri dishes, and we're quite willing to throw the experiment materials out if it doesn't fit our data, our view of how we think the world is and how it ought to be.

Trump may bring manufacturing back to the US but no way the workers will get any benefit from that besides maybe minimum wage jobs that are dangerous in addition. All.i have seen so far is a push to reduce environmental and safety rules because they are too burdensome for the capitalists. The workers will get nothing but tough talk.

> But if his election finally results in shutting down the global free trade policies that have utterly wrecked my community, then all the negative things I'm sure he'll do likely won't outweigh that single positive achievement.

What makes you think that a) he'll do it, and b) he'll succeed? Because he said he would?

Parent here. I want to clarify a few points.

The issue here isn't manufacturing jobs. The issue here is that I want to live in a stable and prosperous society. Among other things, that means ordinary men and women need to have a narrative template. A basic plan for a reasonably safe and effective strategy to live a life that's productive, materially satisfying, and allows a person to independently support oneself and one's family through their work.

If the manufacturing jobs are never coming back, I'm fine with that -- as long as we get some replacement that fulfills the same social function. The function of giving ordinary folks a job they can do that allows them to make enough money to support themselves in a comfortable middle class lifestyle.

History seems to weigh on the sides of global trade deals for maintaining a stable and prosperous society. A lot of the Pax Americana economic experiment (including, but not limited to, the Marshall Plan) can be seen as a sort of "growth hacking" in heavily encouraging deep global trade for overall world prosperity, and maintaining "at home" prosperity by constantly growing/changing (new trade agreements, new places and ways to both buy and sell goods, replacing industries that move with entirely new industries, ...).

The interesting thing is that for the most part, that worked.

The worrying part is that from that view, the current reactive inclination to shut down global trade deals seems like it will only make things worse. Cutting off trade deals cuts off both potential suppliers and potential customers, cutting off potential growth. The more global trade deals you cut, the more potential growth you cut, the harder to growth hack your way back to prosperity and the more likely you snowball into depression...

That's just the prosperity side, the stability side of the argument is much simpler prospect ever since the Marshall Plan: the deeper your economy is entwined with your neighbors the less likely you are to go to war with them. To date, that hypothesis seems to hold.

The real questions left are "Why has the growth hacking seemingly slowed or stopped?" or maybe more accurately "Why has the growth hacking stopped benefitting low class/middle class laborers so well as it used to?" because the statistics show that everything has still been growing, on average, in the economy except for low/middle-class wages and job opportunities. The growth continues, but perhaps the hacking has been negligent. We've lost whatever hacked controls were once keeping the growth, or at least we stopped adding new controls, from entirely fueling the classic adage that the rich get richer.

I don't know how we fix the growth hacking model, but I sure do feel that a return to the zero-sum morality of "no trade deals with my neighbors, no trade deficits, just good old fashioned local jobs" seems like the very wrong direction from stability and prosperity given the point of view of the last century or so of American economic successes in growth hacking.

If you want to talk history, from 1850-1950 America was explicitly protectionist and went from a primarily agricultural society to the world's premier industrial superpower.

- The Marshall Plan (1950's?) was mostly with Europe where there were/are reasonably strong protections against exploitation, so there wasn't the same "race to the bottom" dynamic as there is with, say, China/Mexico/SE Asia today.

- Europe's population is a lot smaller than China and their industrial base had just been destroyed by WW2. An economy that's overall protectionist and otherwise strong can absorb the costs of a little free trade, it's doing a lot of free trade that dials up the pain society-disrupting levels.

- Costs of transport have gone way down since the 1950's (more available capital, technology, standardized shipping containers, cheaper/better communications, etc.)

1850-1940 America also had terrible income distribution (the Robber Baron age), barely a middle class, and suffered through it's greatest economic depression.

If the goal is to preserve middle class American prosperity/stability/existence as people would recognize it today, the suburban dreams of the 1950s/1960s/1970s we're looking at the post-1940s post-Marshall Plan ever increasingly global free trade, not a return to 1850-1940 protectionism and Robber Baron politics.

As I tried to note before, the Marshall Plan and free trade with Europe was as much simply the start and the emblem of the era, many free trade deals followed the Marshall Plan. China today, other than red scare reasons, isn't much different from India decades ago, as one example. Mexico today is healthier than when the US first started free trade deals with them decades ago...

The "race to the bottom" has always been a part of the post-Marshall Plan expansionist era: find new cheaper supplier countries, complexly wire them into the global economy, slowly encourage smarter regulations and a greater cost of living, use a "rising tide floats all boats" bootstrap to better civilization both at home and abroad.

For the most part that strategy seemed to work. Better at least than many economic experiments in the history of human civilization.

Are you checking in from Erie?

My son's were recently offered a job setting up these robots and turned it down for non-safety reasons. Like it or not, robots will take 80% or more of the jobs that are returning to the USA from overseas.

The solution we should be thinking about is how to make it so that you don't have to turn off a robot for it to know a human is in range. Problem solved.

This is exactly what the manufactures are working on. Google: Collaborative Robotics

How does this compare to 50 years ago, at the "peak" of US manufacturing? Obviously, there weren't robots back then to crush people, but there was still heavy equipment, corrosive and carcinogenic chemicals, etc.

Fifty years ago, industrial workers in Alabama had mill jobs. Those jobs moved to China around the turn of the millenium when the US Chamber of Commerce was supporting outsourcing. Mill jobs were generally unionized -- living wages, benefits, and pensions. Kia's plant in West Point Georgia draws from the same labor pool as the Lanier mills did a decade or so earlier.

Perhaps another useful comparison would be to look at statistics from Mexico, and elsewhere, today - the places where we manufacture now and are, ostensibly, trying to bring back jobs from.

Calling these machines "robots" is new, but the risks aren't. Workers 50 years ago would probably recognize most of these machines, and their hazards, given different names: mill, press, lathe...

And there are cartoons from about 100 years ago about the same hazards: https://www.google.com/search?q=bull+of+the+woods+machinist&...:

It's proving surprisingly difficult for me to find a good source right now, but workplace injuries have steadily decreased both in absolute numbers and in work-hours adjusted terms. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupational_safety_and_health...

Fifty years ago potential competitors had their cities bombed to ash from the air.

Remember, one of Trump's promises is to reduce governmental regulations on businesses, and presumably that includes in the factory safety area. Plus you can expect the Republican-dominated congress to help him out here.

It'll get worse with all these regulations being gutted or ignored over the next 4 years.

What's Bloomberg's agenda here?

An article exactly like this one, graphically describing bloody car accidents from last week, could make the case that driving comes with a heavy price.

Or an article detailing the aftermath of failed surgeries paid for by the ACA: "universal health care comes with a heavy price".

Terrifying anecdotes are provocative, but unenlightening.

The article notes that safety precautions are routinely ignored. It also cites statistics in addition to the anecdotes. The agenda is to show that cheap manufacturing is maybe not worth the societal cost due to an injured workforce. We're supposed to be better than that.

The article also mentions (briefly) that things are improving:

> [OSHA] cited one year, 2010, when workers in Alabama parts plants had a 50 percent higher rate of illness and injury than the U.S. auto parts industry as a whole. That gap has narrowed, but the incidence of traumatic injuries in Alabama’s auto parts plants remains 9 percent higher than in Michigan’s and 8 percent higher than in Ohio’s.

Down from 50% higher to 9% higher.

You’re comparing different stats. The article should have been clearer, but here’s what they’re saying:

In 2010, AL parts plants had 50% higher rate of illness and injury than the national rate. That gap has narrowed since.

The incidence of traumatic injuries (a different category) in AL is still 9% higher than Michigan’s.


> In 2015 the chances of losing a finger or limb in an Alabama parts factory was double the amputation risk nationally for the industry, 65 percent higher than in Michigan and 33 percent above the rate in Ohio.

(Emphasis mine).

This article could do a much better job laying out the numbers, that’s for damn sure.

I mean, there are stats in the article - specifically some that claim that the rate of injuries is substantially higher in the south than in Ohio/Michigan for example.

I mentioned Ohio/Michigan in my reply to another comment; here, I'd also like to point out that the stats aren't discussed impartially. For example:

> Alabama has been trying on the nickname “New Detroit.” Its burgeoning auto parts industry employs 26,000 workers, who last year earned $1.3 billion in wages

An average of $50,000 per year. Assuming that suspiciously round number is accurate, those are good wages in Alabama. Yet the author writes in the next paragraph: "Pay is low".

Is that simply because the author lives in New York and can't imagine a place where $50,000/year buys a good life?

averages aren't all that interesting given how skewed salaries tend to be. i agree that (in general) 50k isn't so bad in alabama.

The hidden agenda is promoting more laws and regulations. It's like the lawyer who insists to you that "The more court cases we file, the more justice there is in the world."

Lots of unsexy but well-paying jobs exist in regulation compliance in the USA. In fact it's a huge industry that has its share of tech startups with below average risks of coming up empty.

Sure beats being treated like a robot.

is there a laws and regulations lobby?

Why lobby when such pieces designed to prick the public's moral indignation work so much better?

The cognoscenti recognize that lobbying is but one of multiple levers they could pull.

What agenda do you think a magazine owned by a billionaire targeted at Wall Street professionals has?

What sort of enlightenment were you expecting that you did not find?

That is to say, what is your agenda?

I can see how this story would play to Bloomberg's audience of wealthy professionals and would like to offer a different perspective.

Having worked in that field, coming from a family that's worked in the field, I know it can be dangerous work. At least, the occasional carnage makes for a more graphic story than the health consequences of sitting at a desk for 40 years.

That doesn't mean the jobs aren't appreciated, even enjoyed, or that blue collar workers (not Bloomberg's audience) would rather not have those jobs.

Also, I'm genuinely curious why Bloomberg has taken up this story. Is it simply an attempt to hurt Trump (who has made restoring American manufacturing a big part of his platform)?

>Also, I'm genuinely curious why Bloomberg has taken up this story.

To provide a counter to the idea that "bringing back manufacturing" will be a panacea to that which ails the middle class. I think the article is transparent in its agenda.

Perhaps. There are people on the left whose goal is to make jobs unappealing.

"Jobs Americans won't do" so corporations can hire illegal immigrants and pay them pennies, or ship the jobs overseas and pay workers there pennies.

There's profit in that, I suppose. If so, is the agenda of this article, as you see it, to send those jobs to Asia or Mexico, where labor is cheap and OSHA has no authority?

Or perhaps laying the groundwork for Democrats to reach out to blue collar workers (many of whom turned to Trump in the 2016 election) with a push for worker safety?

For your

> will be a panacea to that which ails the middle class.

IIRC, Trump's campaign statement was "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs." Each time I heard him say that, I wondered, what kind of jobs, for how much money?

All I could think of was that OHSA, unions, various labor laws and inspections, and, then, likely most important of all, lawyers suing companies that have injured workers, would largely determine what kinds of jobs and for how much.

On the "how much" part, broadly we will have to continue to use the old forces of supply and demand: Or, with enough new manufacturing jobs, there will be a worker shortage. Then there will be more robots and better trained and paid workers to run the robots.

From the figure that the US has 90+ million people who could work not working, I suspect that the US is now essentially digging itself out of a big, black hole that it never should have gotten into in the first place.

IMHO, nearly all of Trump's campaign statements are simplistic in the extreme (I make this as something easy to observe and relevant but without a value judgment except that maybe such simplicity can be effective political speech making). But, maybe he is correct about manufacturing: Maybe to dig out of the hole the US needs to have a lot of the 90+ million working in factories. I would hope for better than that.

That factory work chews up people is a 100+ years old story. Maybe with enough in robots, good employers, etc. factory work can be made humane. Maybe the situation is better at, say, Boeing or Lockheed.

To me, that factories result in lost fingers, limbs, and worse is such an old story that there is little or no excuse for such things now. Lawyers that have laws suits that specify $1 million per finger should get the safety switches installed, the inspections done, the oil leaks fixed, etc.

IIRC, there are cases where the CEOs are saying that there are big shortages of well qualified, e.g., trained, workers. Of course, maybe the CEOs just want the taxpayers to pay for the training. Whatever, if training is needed, then it stands to be the case that the workers will be more highly valued by the CEOs.

We don't want bad situations. Maybe if nearly all of us are smarter from our educations, jobs, political participation, etc., we can do better.

For Bloomberg, both the person and apparently the publication, apparently they don't much like Trump. Mike Bloomberg has given $100+ million to medical research and education at Johns Hopkins University so is a good guy in at least some respects! Maybe he was on balance a good mayor of NYC. Of course, in NYC he was for (A) rules to reduce salt in restaurant food, (B) rules to forbid selling really large sugar sweetened soft drinks, and (C) putting wind turbines on the tops of the buildings in NYC. Gee, Mike, all those wind turbines -- would look like some hideous scene from a Gothic Batman movie! Maybe Mike just wanted the wind turbines only on the tops of Trump's buildings?

And the average auto worker probably thinks well its not like a "snake" in a steel rolling mill or a marsh gas explosion in a deep mine.

A snake is where a red hot slab of steal comes off the rollers and flails around the factory floor.

Is this what you're talking about: http://imgur.com/7rP7q5r.gifv

Their agenda is to unionize workers in Japanese and Korean auto plants in the US. The reason American car brands are not competitive with Japanese and Korean US-made cars is that the US-brands owned plants are unionized while Asians are not.

Do you have any research to back that up? How much could someone save on a car if American car makers had Asian carmakers labor costs? I think American car manufacturers have bigger problems with their products.

I think they recognized that (finally), which is why they're offering more of their European or other international models in the US.

American car brands are not competitive because they are poorly managed.

>What's Bloomberg's agenda here?



Could you elaborate on that a little? You are responding to an article containing hundreds of words and the best you can do is three letters? Why is it in Bloomberg's interest to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt? Where is the article spreading uncertainty and doubt? I'm not seeing anything.

It's obvious that the article is spreading fear. It's full of terrifying stories.

Why is that in Bloomberg's interest? Great question. That's what I'm wondering.

FUD means fear, uncertainty, doubt.

I don't think the point of the article was any of those: like most media I'm sure Bloomberg's interest was ad impressions. Which they got from me, and will probably continue to get from me because they publish interesting articles like this that inform of things I didn't know.

Some of the other commenters have spent more time dissecting the writer and publication than the content of the story. If the story contains false or objectionable content I could see the reason for bringing this up, otherwise I personally can't really understand the point.

The article mentions plenty of things to indicate possible motives including wages, unionization, and safety regulations. Besides that these seem to be real stories that I honestly would've probably never heard about otherwise. Naively I didn't think most of these jobs were very dangerous, especially after reading stories about Chrysler workers caught drinking and smoking weed at the plants. After reading those stories I assumed these jobs were maybe demanding, but how hard could they be if they can be done while under the influence..? This story brought new perspective for me. Where I see new information, others are only seeing ulterior motive and maybe there's a bit of both.

I don't think Bloomberg founded a news agency for the profit from ad impressions.

News organizations have agendas, particularly when they share the name of a nationally known politician.

When Bloomberg was founded, Michael Bloomberg was a politician yet. He was a man trying to make money.

Honestly, I don't think it necessarily has to be something in Bloomberg's original interest as a business-focused news outlet.

In the past few years, individuals with a strong SJW mindset have infiltrated so many media outlets resulting in the promotion SJW values with near religious fervor.

Look at other stories from this same author: https://www.bloomberg.com/authors/APuwLdDPlj8/peter-waldman

According to his LinkedIn, his focus is on long-form investigative journalism for Bloomberg living in San Francisco.

With this in mind, the question remains, why is it in Bloomberg's interest to have a writer like Peter Waldman?

I suspect the reason is just to remain competitive for clicks with other news sources like HuffPo, Vox, etc. These days, Bloomberg isn't as focused on their original market as the WSJ or the FT.

The US consumer doesn't give a shit about worker's safety, even if those workers are American. The only people fighting for workers' safety are unions and no one likes unions.

Yes... I agree on some level. But I don't think that's entirely fair. The marketing industry has done a very good job of seducing people into willful ignorance.

Recently my mother went to a protest against potential copper mining in the boundary waters. She was giddy to inform me that she was riding up in with her friend in his brand new shiny name brand car. I felt a kind of irony there in that. The amount of environmental and human sacrifice that goes into people buying brand new cars every 3-4 years is enormous. Its very similar to my own hypocrisy around computers and cell phones. I know full well that this thing I'm holding in my hand was born out of human blood. It's deeply embarrassingly and I struggle to face it.

People complain that stuff is expensive. We worship it. We demand it. But there are reasons why some things are expensive. It's because they take time and effort. If we live in a world where we aren't able to extend the patience these things require, why should we depend on them, much less go demanding them as basic rights?

This, I think, is the core issue. While unions have their faults, they have also fought for workers' rights and for reasonable conditions, promotions, etc. In our drive to demonize unions and fetishize business we've forgotten that there is a powerful "drive to the bottom", and it doesn't care about who (or how many) people are in its path.

The problem with unions is that over time they devolve into yet-another-powerstructure whose main goal seems to be self preservation rather than to protect those workers rights leading to all kinds of abuses and nonsense regulations that in fact harm those workers.

You can say this about many/most human-led organisations, right?

I've wondered when we might see someone pitch to YC a technical solution to what unions do, without the cruft that can come from human influence (losing sight of purpose, developing corruption, etc). Is there even a way to do it?

> You can say this about many/most human-led organisations, right?

Yes, that's true.

> I've wondered when we might see someone pitch to YC a technical solution to what unions do, without the cruft that can come from human influence (losing sight of purpose, developing corruption, etc). Is there even a way to do it?

These are social problems, not technical problems. Solving social problems requires the cooperation of all the parties involved. Democracy is one nice example of a technical solution to a social problem, money another. Both rely heavily on everybody playing by the rules.

I have no great love for unions, but they're a necessary evil. "Harm those workers" as in "sell them out" is a better place to be than "harm those workers" as in "they lose limbs or worse".

Unions create fat cats at the top, but it's still better overall for the rank and file to have them than not have them.

US manufacturing workers overwhelmingly supported Trump who has made no bones about his intention to deregulate and de-unionize everything he can. I'd say even US workers don't give a shit about US workers' safety.

This is the result of globalism and a liberalization of nation state markets to trade freely without fear of tariff penalties. It's not hard to see why blue collar workers would rather work in 'poorer' conditions rather than sit idle and lose hope in their futures. If the west has to compete with manufacturing from abroad, that will mean a lowering of work place safety and environmental standards until domestic manufacturing is cost competitive. The end result will be an equalization of living standards between free trading nations, the west will have to capitulate to the lowering of living standards at some point if it hasn't already.

>It's not hard to see why blue collar workers would rather work in 'poorer' conditions rather than sit idle and lose hope in their futures.

Trump's promises have never included the caveat of poorer conditions or lower wages, as far as I'm aware, and I see little evidence of blue collar workers intending to make any sort of tradeoffs in that regard. What he has promised, however, are "more jobs and better wages."

To be fair, Trump didn't offer much in the way of actual policy with stated goals. The 'How' of his plans were seemingly filled in by both imagination and the media.

Saying one is going to put a stop to job killing regulations is deliberately non-specific and some who support him believe he will make things better without acknowledging potentially negative consequences. There are many who supported Clinton or Obama with the same magical thinking, real life is messy and anyone promising simple or easy solutions is a fool or thinks you might be.

Trump did offer quite a bit in the way of policy. On his first day he shuttered the Trans Pacific Partnership, a monumental shift away from the movement towards globalization. He's pledged to renegotiate trade with Mexico and China, both countries have extremely unbalance trade deficits with the US. I would suggest that President Trump's promises have been more reflected in reality than his predecessors. The effectiveness of his policies can be questioned, but he's set out a path achieve or has achieved many of his core objectives (namely trade and immigration).

To be fairer, people don't vote for policies, they vote for promises. Trump made few policies, but he made a ton of substantial promises. "I'm going to stimulate the economy by twiddling this lending regulation" means nothing to the general public, whereas "I'm going to ensure you'll get paid more" is easy to digest.

This is something I don't understand at all. Both how people could vote for Brexit with no plan for what it even means, and how people could vote for a Trump healthcare without any concrete plan or knowing if the GOP would even agree with what the President has promised!

The reality of the situation has already been set. I think President Trump's move to stop the current trend of opening trade between countries with wildly dissimilar economic standings is the right one, but much of the damage has already been done. Something like 95% of all metropolitan areas in the US have seen a shrinking of the middle class between 2000 and 2016 [1]. If that's not a powerful indictment of the past 30 years of drawing back on the protectionist stance that the US gov't had held over the 70yrs prior, maybe the popularity of unconventional politicians is.


That might be a consequence of people in the US being encouraged to identify as consumers rather than citizens over the last twenty+ years. Identifying as taxpayers rather than citizens laid the groundwork for it a generation earlier.


Smearing a large group of people like this is uncivil and will get your account banned, so please don't post like this here, regardless of how strongly you feel about an issue.

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