Sunday, March 25, 2012

Whatever is Good For Business.. is "GOOD" ?

I love the essay form, and one of the best essays I ever read explored the adage "Whatever is Good For Business is "Good".  I found it in a paperback volume of the best 100 American Essays.

That's all I can remember. (Except that the volume was blackish and had another essay about Going to the A and P.)

This Essay about Business was I think from the 30's, I imagine.

Today, few people dispute this adage. Many believe Greed is good, turning a Deadly Sin on its ear.

Well, I think of this as I read about a company named Aveos, here in Quebec. It's the company that services Air Canada planes. Last week it closed its doors and laid off about 2,000 skilled workers, the kind of people who live in my middle class neighbourhood.

The company is an iffy one. It has unknown owners, (Hedge Fund? I heard rumours) headquarters in Luxembourg, so some European tax shelter place, and right now, despite having a bankrupt Canadian arm, it is expanding its operations in El Salvador, where some workers make 2.00 an hour, if news reports are right.

Gee, that makes me confident about taking Air Canada. I'm scared enough when I fly. All those funny noises the planes make.

Yes, we in the Western World have for decades been living a comfy lifestyle on the backs of the Third World, and El Salvador is not a too terrible country, that is experiencing rapid industrialization. And they have nice weather, so people  there don't need to heat their houses or buy snow tires, if they own a car.

And obviously this kind of thing is 'good for business' and allows the rest of us Canadians to take a break from the cold and fly cheap every winter to sun destinations. If we are lucky enough to have a job that pays a reasonable amount of money.

My story Threshold Girl is about Canada in 1911/1912, the Titanic Era. It is based on family letters. To research this book I learned a lot about the 1910 era. It was an era when the Western World was experiencing rapid industrialization which was really upsetting the status quo.

My story takes place in Richmond Quebec, Montreal and Ste. Anne de Bellevue.

Flora Nicholson, the main character, is at Macdonald College training to be a teacher.  There is a dire need for teachers, especially in the City, where immigrants are pouring in (mostly from the UK) to work in the factories.

Many new schools are popping up to accommodate the children of these immigrants. Flora is hoping to get a school in the City, as everything is new and clean. She ends up working at William Lunn, in Griffintown, and teaching Russian Jews.

Between the years 1908-1913 Henry Ford famously perfected the assembly line. He also worked out a big problem in the automobile industry, saturation.  By 1910, most people who could afford an auto, (about 2,000 dollars) had already purchased one. Henry Ford created a car, the Model T, for about 500 dollars that could be purchased by his own employees, who he promised to pay a fair wage. Even the Janitor makes 5.00 a day, he proudly proclaims in an (below) article from 1913.

In 1910, Richmond, Quebec, a once thriving railway town, was losing citizens to the City and to the West, where all the jobs were. Especially young folk. Some of these young men headed out the US to work in Mr. Ford's Factories.

Anyway, sun destinations are nice. This February I took Air Canada to LA for a bit of sun - and to see family. L A isn't a sun destination. It's just a fun destination. I could afford it, up to a point. My husband's union wage has been frozen for about 15 years! And it's not like food or gas is getting any cheaper. My husband's union has taken many concessions over the years. In fact, he gets no overtime, ever, they give it all to the "freelance" guys. But he's too old for overtime anyway.

It's a trade-off. I guess.

Aveos employees had a good deal. Good salary, plenty of overtime, great benefits, so I have heard. And now they have nothing.  Good for business, firing them all, but not good for the common good, here in Canada, here in Quebec, where winters are long and cold, usually, anyway.

"The Man and His Work" (Technical World Magazine 1913)

"The other day he notified his Men and Women that for the work of getting out a thousand automobiles a day they are to get ten million dollars more a year in the way of wages. Even the janitor who sweeps out, if he is an American Citizen and over 22, will receive a minimum wage of 5 dollars a day."

Of course, Mr. Ford believed in "Whatever is Good for Business is Good" when he worked with the Germans during the war.

What bothers me the most: Democracy is not good for business, even if the myth goes that free trade and democracy go hand in hand. A little bit of democracy, is good, perhaps, but not too much. You want good little workers, not free-thinkers, not critical thinkers. These types start unions.

In 1910, the Powers That Be were hoping to create a country full of good little workers, by educating the immigrant child in Manual Training. The goal was to keep him 'in his proper place'. He was to have 'right and proper' aspirations.

Manual training may be defined as special training of the senses, sight, touch and muscular perception by means of various occupations, not so much for themselves, or the material product of the work, as for the training of the mind. The aim of manual training is to instil a taste and love for  labour, to inspire a respect for labour, to develop independence and self-reliance, to train in habits of order, neatness, cleanliness and methodical work, to train the eye to a sense of form and beauty, to develop industry, patience and perseverance.”

My storyThreshold Girl also incorporates a Child Labour theme. I have a character who works in the Cotton Factory at Magog.

Dominion Textile, back then,  employed girls as young as twelve. I saw it on the Census page. Also according the Census EVERYONE there worked 60 hours a week, even part timers. (That's because the law stipulated 60 hours as the limit.)

It looks as if someone "doctored' the census document. The company was afraid of information on a  Census, that was only going to be released in 91 years. Imagine!!

We've come so far in 100 years, and now.......