The weekend of December 10-11, 2021, saw a reported 30 tornadoes hitting several states from Arkansas to Illinois; as of this writing, 74 people are confirmed dead and several buildings severely damaged or totally demolished.
All the cases of death and destruction are devastating; however, the most telling and unconscionable are the deaths of eight people at a candle-making factory in Mayfield, Kentucky, and six in an Amazon facility in Edwardsville, Illinois. What makes these two cases significant is that they most likely could have been avoided, but once again capitalism’s insatiable greed is significantly responsible for these people’s death.
The trade union is the most effective tool the working class has in confronting and challenging capitalism in its attack on workers’ rights and quality of life. The tornado catastrophe in Kentucky, especially at the candle-making factory, and the Amazon facility in Illinois, re-emphasizes this point. The respective companies took advantage of the financial position of the workers who, because of the monetary incentive, put themselves at lethal risk. In post-tornado interviews several surviving workers stated that the supervisors did not allow them to leave as warning sirens sounded; one worker was reportedly told by a supervisor that, should they leave, they most likely would be fired.
The factory, Mayfield Consumer Products located in Mayfield, Kentucky, was destroyed on Friday night, December 10, killing eight workers of the one hundred ten on the night shift. Workers were threatened that they would be fired if they left the factory even as the tornado bore down.
The company is the third largest employer in that part of Kentucky and reportedly, in its advertisement for workers, the company states that overtime is mandatory. Mayfield Consumer Products reportedly offers a starting salary of $8.00 per hour, which is 75 cents above Kentucky’s minimum wage. All this is against the background that, in 2019, the state’s safety and health agency fined the company $16,350 for 12 safety violations, seven of which were labeled “serious.”
In Edwardsville, Illinois, six of the fifty workers on duty were killed, mainly because of inadequate shelter preparations; workers reported that they were told to shelter in bathrooms. Compounding the problem was that workers were prevented from taking their cell phones onto the shop floor. In an area susceptible to heavy storms including tornadoes, the use of a cell phone is critical to receiving storm and tornado warnings and also communicating with family.
The cell phone ban policy is profit-motivated, maximizing production with little regard for safety. The facilities should not have been open due to impending severe weather conditions.
A non-unionized workplace is fertile ground for employers to engage in oppressive and unsafe labor practices, make unreasonable work scheduling demands, offer low and disproportionate wages as related to task difficulty, oftentimes not even close to the industry standards, minimal and inadequate safety training courses and, worst, no proper recourse for filing and resolving working condition issues.
Complain and, in numerous cases, you are fired, plain and simple.
Because of wide exposure and struggle by workers and activists, the National Labor Relations Board has ordered a new election for workers at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, because of illegal and intimidating union-busting tactics used by Amazon in the period prior to the April 2021 election.
From surveillance and the issuing of “vote no” merchandise to placing Postal Service boxes at the site, Amazon had spared no tactic in attempting to thwart the will and the right of the workers to unionize. While the calling of a new election is appropriate, the bigger issue is that, not once in the history of the labor movement, has any company been seriously punished for engaging in such illegal union-busting tactics.
More often than not these new elections end up in favor of the employers and this one is viewed with skepticism. The first one was so tarnished with irregularities and intimidation from Amazon that fear and mistrust can undoubtedly influence the new one in favor of Amazon as well.
For years workers at the various Amazon facilities have been complaining about oppressive and unsafe labor practices, which have gone unaddressed. The recent deaths at Amazon and Mayfield Consumer Products are the result of capitalists’ insatiable greed and unbridled drive for profits at any cost.
The profit motive of capitalism has no bounds to its arrogance and inhumanity; it is rooted in the most inhumane ideology and mode of production the world has ever seen. It is a system based on socialized production, but private accumulation of the benefits accrued from the exploitation and dehumanization of the workers.
The workers should not be forced or threatened with the loss of their jobs, or even fear losing their jobs, by going home or to some other place of safety, while severe storms are pending. The buildings themselves should have adequate shelter areas, constructed before being occupied, which have the potential to save lives. Storms and tornadoes are unpredictable in location and intensity; however, measures are available that can minimize material damage and loss of life.
After the dust has settled and the initial shock has abated, Mayfield Consumer Products and Amazon will undoubtedly return to business as usual, offering oppressive working conditions and threatening life safety issues.
Unionization is one of the first steps in breaking the back of unchallenged oppression and exploitation at the workplace. The ultimate solution to resolving the antagonistic contradiction between capital and labor is public ownership of the means of production.
Anything less is treating the symptoms and not the cause.
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About the Author
Richard Dunn is a retired construction professional, trained in Architecture and Energy Management.
He’s been a social justice activist since 1968 and was particularly active with the Walter Rodney defense demonstrations.
Richard is an author, a contributing columnist to newspapers, an editor for a music industry magazine and operates a social justice website.
Richard can be reached at: email@example.com.
I found your title about capatalism relating to this tragedy odd. It doesn’t even relate. Capitalism had nothing to do with the evil and ignorant decision of a supervisor to not heed an obvious safety warning, an alarm going off. Hopefully loss of life would have been avoided with people leaving but we don’t know that because we don’t know if leaving I’m a vehicle would have placed them in the direct line of the tornado. Now no one has a job. The buildings are destroyed. We don’t know if the survivors will have a job to come back to. Will owners have the money to rebuild. I didn’t understand the cell phone and safety. My son owns a business. He had to require them to put phones away or they would stay on them and not work. Women usually kept them in their purse close by. Men can place them close by but not be on their body. Government and unions have never produced anything or been responsible for a budget. In capatalism if expenses outweigh profit a business can not last and no one is working. Sometimes regulations can kill a business with unnecessary expenses. Capitalism and competition along with supply and demand drives consumer prices down andxkeeps costs to consumers in line.it keeps inflation down. When governments intervene with supply creating shortages we have inflation.. Super inflation will quickly close small and large businesses. Unemployment is high. No tax revenue coming in to support an out of control government
When does a good decision require selling of any kind? Perhaps the authoritarian capitalism model found in China is what is desired?
Thank you for your article, Mr. Dunn. The U.S. needs much stronger unions than it has had, historically — and unions whose efforts protect not just its members but all workers. Congress needs to repeal Taft-Hartley and write a new law that is much more pro-worker. Also, no category of worker should be prevented from forming a union.
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[…] Capitalism Contributed to Factory Workers Deaths in Kentucky and Illinois, by Richard S. Dunn […]
For a sociopathic response to this article, Tactical11 says it well. Hey, Taccy, join me on a Xmas spree bashing pregnant ladies and torturing babies. Just your kind of entertainment. You will be in ectasy.
Edging backwards away from the seriously disturbed Taccy, let me just say, as a former welfare officer, business owner, worker rights-activist, and also champion of private enterprise; that capitalism is an essentially exploitative ideology in which strong unions and good goverment can contain the cruel extremes caused by greed.
Unfortunately, unions have been crushed into oblivion or corrupted, and there are no governments of integrity in the West, so capitaism is now sliding towards the vilest form of slavery.
Taccy, I have been around a long time and I have witnessed the failure of the Courts and advocacy agencies to protect human rights. When invited, I will join the historically inevitable backlash and will return human rights by force. When I encounter your genre, let me assure you, I will be taking no prisoners.
The abhorrent actions of one company does not make Capitalism an evil thing. Wow what a weird article. I guess Covert Action is now sanctioning Communist supporting authors?