Capital moves: rca’s seventy-year quest for cheap labor
Capital Moves is an important book written with a clear scholarly and political objective. Working in the mid-1990s, after the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organization’s (AFL-CIO) defeat in the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) debate. Globalization is the lead story of the new century, but its roots reach back nearly one hundred years, to major corporation’s quest for stable, inexpensive, and pliant sources of labor.
Before the largest companies moved beyond national boundaries, they crossed state lines, abandoning the industrial centers of the Eastern Seaboard for impoverished rural communities in the Midwest and South. In their wake they left the decaying urban landscapes and unemployment rates that became hallmarks of late-twentieth-century America. Capital Moves takes us through the interconnected histories of Camden, New Jersey, Bloomington, Indiana, Memphis, Tennessee, and Juarez, Mexico four cities radically transformed by America’s leading manufacturer of records and radio sets.
In a sweeping narrative of economic upheaval and class conflict, Cowie weaves together the rich detail of local history with the national and ultimately international story of economic and social change. The RCA is a government supported monopoly financed by the biggest names in the electrical industry. Before world war first president Woodrow Wilson placed the industry under the monopoly power of the U. S. navy. Under an agreement pool aptents and capital forged by General Electronic’s Owen D.
Young, the ownership of RCA belonged to GE(30. 1%), Westinghouse(20. 6%), AT&T (10. 3%), and united fruit(4. 1%), with a variety of other holders accounting for the remaining 34. 9 %. As early as 1926 RCA broadened its original plan from’narrowcast’ communications to public ‘broadcast’ by organizing the National Broadcasting Company(NBC) . When RCA located in Camden, the city was known as the perfect home for industry. Workers there were plentiful, and the city’s factories had never seen a strike.
RCA right away began hiring those it presumed most compliant and least likely to organize a union: young, single women. At Camden and everywhere RCA subsequently located, the company used the rationale that electronics work was women’s work, requiring small hands, nimble fingers, and the sort of attention to detail that women were better at providing than men. Or so the propaganda went, not just at RCA but throughout the electronics industry. For most of the RCA’s history, at any rate, women have made up three-quarters of its work force.
The heavy jobs, and the R&D, remained the province of men, of course. But even the “docile” female work force would gravitate toward the labor unions when conflicts with management arose over job security, wages, and control of the shop floor. When this happened in Camden, Cowie writes, RCA used every dirty trick in the book to break the unions, including the threat to shut down the plants and move operations out of state, which when all else failed, was precisely what the company did.
The pattern was repeated in the decades that followed in Bloomington and Memphis: a community with little history of unionization, grateful for new jobs; feminization of the work place; a honeymoon period of docile labor; the inevitable demands for unionization; active resistance by management; labor conflicts; threats to leave; plant shutdowns; and capital flight.
It was capital flight that, years before NAFTA, took RCA over the border into Mexico where labor cost a fraction of what it did in the US and where an endless supply of workers largely poor, young, uneducated, single, and female—once again could be hired, trained, kept on the job for a few years, and then let go, before they could think about starting a union. When the first RCA plant opened in Juarez in 1968, workers made about $20 a week. Workers in 1995 also made about $20 a week.
Seniority brought more and more responsibility but no corresponding increase in pay. And if the Juarez factory hands didn’t like conditions, benefits, or wages if they became too much of a problem. RCA, now owned by a French electronics giant, let it be known that it could move its operations yet again, this time overseas to Taiwan. Cowie’s study is disturbing on any number of levels for those concerned about workers’ rights and economic justice.
Cowie throws down this challenge to American labor: to enlarge its under-standing of community, lose its isolationism and xenophobia , and instead see that workers in Bloomington have too much in common with workers in Juarez, and too much at stake, not to forge new alliances to protect worker’s rights across national boundaries. Capital Moves takes us through the interconnected histories of Camden, New Jersey, Bloomington, Indiana, Memphis, Tennessee, and Juarez, Mexico four cities radically transformed by America’s leading manufacturer of records and radio sets.
In a sweeping narrative of economic upheaval and class conflict, Cowie weaves together the rich detail of local history with the national and ultimately international story of economic and social change. Capital moves is a stunningly important work of historical imagination and rediscovery which links the present with the past in a fashion that is exciting and suggestive. One of the most provocative book which reshaped the American and global economies over the last half century. BIBLIOGRAPHY Jefferson R. Cowie. Capital Moves: RCA seventy year quest for cheap labor. cornell: cornell university press, 1999.Sample Essay of Edusson.com