02.13.12

Self-serving corporate p.r. on manufacturing

Posted in Made in China at 1:58 pm by George Smith

A number of giant multi-nationals have finally figured out, or their CEOs have, that the mass downturn has soured a lot of the populace.

A decade of relentless outsourcing, squeezing out through automation and economic shrinking has done it.

People are figuring out corporate America really does hate them. It doesn’t like to pay even miserly American wages. It doesn’t like even minimal regulations preventing the fouling of the community.

So some have launched a massive p.r. effort in an attempt to convince those at the top of government that they’re not just offshore tax evaders.

Largest among the p.r. campaigns is that launched by General Electric.

The dancing people and elephants are gone — I’m glad to have had a very small hand in it — replaced by blue collar actors/workers in a bar telling the Joe Sixpacks they make the power, the electrical motors, so all can have Budweiser.

Hand in hand are regular news stories claiming manufacturing is coming back to the United States. Yes, very small increments here and there. However nothing to change the employment landscape in any major way.

From the wire, today:

Big manufacturers moved their production out of the country too quickly over the past decades and now see a competitive advantage in building up their footprints back home, top executives said on Monday.

The chase for lower-paid workers drove the migration, which resulted in employment in the U.S. manufacturing sector falling by 40 percent from its 1980 peak. But big companies including Boeing Co and General Electric Co are now finding that the benefit of lower wages can be offset by higher logistics and materials costs.

“We, lemming-like, over the last 15 years extended our supply chains a little too far globally in the name of low cost,” said Jim McNerney, chief executive of world No. 2 planemaker Boeing. “We lost control in some cases over quality and service when we did that, we underestimated in some cases the value of our workers back here.”


GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the largest U.S. conglomerate’s thinking evolved on the value of manufacturing inside the United States versus outside it.

“We’re basically moving our appliance manufacturing back from Mexico and China to basically Louisville (Kentucky),” he said …

Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE said at the event that it plans to hire some 5,000 military veterans over the next five years.

Manufacturers say they like to hire veterans because their experience in figuring out how to solve problems quickly is useful in high-speed modern factories.

It’s all crocodile tears. Jeff Immelt surely knows he’s detested by many who know his name as the CEO of the company the government paid tax bonuses to last year. More recently he was on 60 Minutes letting on that he thought Americans should cheer his company as his employees do when he visits.

Let’s do the math on the employment numbers attributed to GE.

GE will hire 5,000 veterans over five years. That’s 1,000/year.

Spread over a country the size of the United States at 311.5 million.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the employment/population ratio is 58 percent, which means 180.7 million people in the labor force this year.

Here’s the calculation:

1000 divided by 180 700 000 = 5.53403431 × 10-6

General Electric’s beneficent plan to bring manufacturing home to the US for veterans will contribute 5.53403431 times 10 to the MINUS SIXTH POWER to the work force.

When corporate p.r. arms and CEOs work these types of stories they must surely count on journalists and readers who won’t do any arithmetic.

The story also contains the usual received wisdom that Americans aren’t skilled enough for modern manufacturing jobs.

The wisdom expects you to actually believe the average Chinese worker has somehow been trained to be superior in the making of electric guitars, consumer electronics, or anything else formerly made in America.

I ask the rhetorical question, again: Do the line-dancing workers in my GE video look like they have or need any particularly special set of skills?

What special skills are on display here? Wiping glass screens with a squeegee soaked in hexane?

From the wires today:

Wintek gained notoriety for making workers use n-hexane, a toxic compound, to clean iPhone touchscreens because it evaporated much faster than rubbing alcohol, enabling workers to increase their output. In 2010 interns told SACOM there were 500 students at the plant who worked 11 hours a day, seven days a week with a maximum salary of 500 yuan, less than $80 a month. According to the report, “Wintek pays the students’ salaries in accordance with law, but the lion’s share goes to the schools directly.” Over the course of a year, 500 students could net a school more than a million U.S. dollars in income.

“Those jobs aren’t coming back.” — Steve Jobs, via the NY Times

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