An acquaintance did a Facebook revenge drive-by on me on my own turf (aka FB wall) because I dared to post an article critical of Apple’s co-founder and re-animator extraordinaire, Steve Jobs. It specifically critiqued his and Apple’s business practices — I offered it to balance the instantaneous postmortem beatification/deification of Mr. Jobs by the social media masses:
Here’s an excerpt of the piece I posted, written by Mike Elk and originally cross-posted on both Michael Moore’s and In These Times’ websites about a month before Jobs’ untimely death: “Remembering Steve Jobs’ Record on Workers’ Rights”:
“While Jobs’ designs for computers may have put humans at their center, working conditions for Apple’s workers put profits at their center. Jobs did indeed revolutionize the computer industry, but in a way that was negative for American workers, who for decades have seen manufacturing job prospects dwindle as jobs go to workers overseas, who in turn often labor in brutal sweatshop conditions.
Many people may find it distasteful to critique the life’s work of a man in poor health, but I think it’s necessary to critique Job’s labor practices: I’m certain most profiles of Jobs’ tenure will completely avoid mentioning systematic labor rights violations that occur at Apple.
The computer industry was seen by many as the potential saviour of American manufacturing. According to former Intel CEO Andy Grove, in the 1970s there were about 150,000 Americans working in the computer industry. Between the 1970s and now, the computer industry economic footprint grew from being a $20 billion a year industry to $200 billion a year. At the peak of U.S. employment in the computer industry, there were two million people employed in making computers in the United States.
Now, with most computer manufacturing being done overseas, there are only 150,000 Americans employed in the computer industry, according to Grove, who wants to reverse the trend.
As industrialists like Steve Jobs have shipped the bulk of their manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheap exploitable labor, the United States’ trade deficit in high-tech products has grown. (It was $31.2 billion last year, but is already $43.6 billion this year, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.)
The labor practices in most of those countries manufacturing Apple products would shock most liberal appraisers of Jobs’ legacy. Apple has continued to use a Chinese contractor, Foxconn, to produce its iPads and iPhones, despite allegations of the company’s horrific workers’ rights abuses. Foxconn routinely forces it workers to work two to three times the legal Chinese limit and to work in brutal and often unsafe conditions that have led to many accidents, as Michelle Chen reported for Working In These Times. These working conditions led to 10 Foxconn worker suicides at the company’s Shenzhen facility in 2010 alone.”
Very few others in the media or elsewhere are offering up a fuller and more balanced portrait of Jobs’ and Apple’s success, but there are some:
A blog in the New Yorker …and another one in Time magazine – “The Dark Side of Steve Jobs’ Dream”
Oh, and a one-man show already written and scheduled to open prior to Job’s death, “The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs”, by Mike Daisey — brought to my attention by a New York Times theater section piece . The show will open as scheduled, but with “changes” as reported in the Los Angeles Times’ Culture Monster Blog. Mike Daisey, in a press release, stated that “we live in denial about China: a relationship that so disturbs us that we pretend our devices are made in magical Willy Wonka-esque factories by space elves instead of the real human cost we all know in our hearts has been paid.”
Damn, blasted for thinking different? How do you like them Apples?