The only good kind of Smog
(H/T to Official Blog Brother Kevin O’Neill for this)
The Foxconn plant being planned for just north of the Illinois border in Racine, Wisconsin, is a sort of Ground Zero for the labor and environmental arguments we’re going to be having in this country over the next few decades. It isn’t unique, and it isn’t the first, but it is emblematic of what we’re seeing and what is to come (and also close to home for this here blog, so we’ll focus on it).
To keep it short, about a year ago Foxconn, the tech giant that makes products for Apple, among others, when it isn’t too busy driving employees to suicide, announced that they would be opening a plant in southeastern Wisconsin, a poor and battered area, an area tossed around by the decline of manufacturing and the shifting of labor to cheaper areas overseas.
This could be seen as a blessing, of course. Although there are some signs of life in downtown Racine and nearby Beloit, both towns are still hurting, with shuttered factories and broken-curb streets just blocks away from cheery riverwalks and aspirational downtowns. These areas are the quintessential victims of capital flight and the attendant ills of post-modern capitalism.
The problem is that the Foxconn plant, while it might create jobs for 10,000 people, it won’t be hiring the uneducated of Racine and Beloit for long-term jobs, if at all. That 10,000 is illusory: most will come from short-term construction jobs (a good thing!), and the long-term will be engineers and other jobs recruited from around the country and around the world. And most of those will be “automation specialists”, since Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou dreams of a workerless factory.
So yeah…those jobs don’t seem like they’re really going to boost the region in the short or long term. Sure, there will be some security jobs, some minimum wage cleaning jobs, and I am sure there will be some mechanics, shoulders free from the burden of collective bargaining, making sure the robots are oiled and happy or whatever, but not jobs that carry the pride of work we as a nation rightfully celebrate.
And in order to create this robo-paradise, Scott Walker, who has already demolished the rights of workers in his state, an absolute prerequisite to attracting jobs for the vampiric business class, also gave away literal billions in tax incentives to a subsidiary of trillion-dollar Apple, broke the Great Lakes Compact, and stripped away environmental protections.
The latter, though, is where he might get tripped up.
Two lawsuits filed Thursday urge a federal appeals court to force southeast Wisconsin and northwest Indiana to comply with the latest limits on lung-damaging smog, targeting a Trump administration rollback intended to benefit Foxconn Technology Group and a handful of other big industrial companies.
The legal challenges — one filed by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and another by two Chicago-based environmental groups — cite the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s own records and data in seeking to overturn the exemptions.
The lawsuits say that, according to the EPA’s own science, the pollution of SE Wisconsin is having a material difference in the life of the region, and the Foxconn plant will make it even worse. We know it will make it worse because, in order to get the plant approved, the Trump EPA had to carve out exemptions so that Foxconn, which again is really rich and has billions in tax incentives, wouldn’t have to make “improvements” to a plant which hasn’t even been built yet.
That’s right: it would be too burdensome for a rich and powerful company to meet the very minimum of clean air requirements. At least that’s the argument. It is nonsense, of course, but a very particular kind of nonsense, and one that is among the central arguments in our era of capitalism.
Look at what had to happen in order for Foxconn to build a plant. First, they wouldn’t have even considered it is Walker hasn’t destroyed organized labor in the state. But then they also had to get massive tax cuts, have environmental laws rewritten for them, break treaties, and be able to refuse to comply with any regulations. All for a few jobs that won’t even pay very well!
It isn’t that Foxconn couldn’t pay workers more, or be forced to guarantee employment for human workers, or recognize the right to collectively bargain, or build a brand-new factory that wouldn’t poison the air. It’s that they don’t want to, because then they might not be quite as rich. And in late-stage capitalism, that matters more than anything else.
We’re at the point where a large number of people, including an entire political party and a substantial chunk of another one, agree that corporations should be able to do whatever they want, and that their prerogatives are far more important than those of workers or people who have to breathe or drink clean water.
The Trump administration is trying to do whatever it can to make this paradise a reality. It is fighting labor and rolling back any and all regulations. They’ve never made any secret of this. In one of his earliest post-election lunatic press conference, Trump made it very clear.
But you’re going to sell through a very strong border — not going to happen. You’re going to pay a very large border tax. So if you want to move to another country and if you want to fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place, you can move from Michigan to Tennessee and to North Carolina and South Carolina. You can move from South Carolina back to Michigan.
You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.
He wants states to race each other to the bottom, creating very few low-paying jobs without any regulations. He wants to see who can race each other to become Bangladesh. This isn’t pro-worker in any reality. It is “creating jobs”, sure, but only by making the lives of those workers as challenging and brutalized and meaningless as possible. It is nothing other than pro-capital, pro-corporation, and pro-boss.
That’s where we are. The Foxconn deal is a prime example of this, and the lawsuits might be the only way to gum it up. We can demand more. We can demand that states not take away our rights to a decent life so that Foxconn shareholders can get a little richer. We can redefine our relationship to power. In this new race, that might be the only way we can win.