April 19, 2011
America Goes Third World

An occasionally reliable source in Stockholm tells me he called Ikea the other day to complain about a sofa that was insufficiently bland. The woman who answered spoke excellent Swedish with just a hint of an Appalachian accent. “My name is Moonbeam McSwine,” she said. “How may I help you?”

David Sirota reports on Alternet:

Buried in the Times report is the troubling story of why Ikea opened a plant in the United States in the first place. No, the decision wasn’t made to take advantage of superior workforce skills or productivity — positive attributes that once drove our manufacturing sector and built our middle class. Instead, it was made to exploit our decreasing wage levels and weak worker protections.

Though company factories in Sweden produce the same bookcases as the plant in Virginia, the Times notes that “the big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation (while) full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days” — and that doesn’t count the one-third of Danville workers who are paid even less because they are subcontracted through temp agencies.

Ikea’s exploitation motive evokes memories of General Electric’s Jack Welch. He famously said that in an era without strong international unions and with standards-free trade pacts, profit-maximizing companies would end up putting “every plant you own on a barge” and trolling the world for the lowest wages and workplace conditions, knowing they would no longer face tariff costs.



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at April 19, 2011 10:04 AM
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Watch out! IKEA used to produce in the German Democratic Republic. They are exploitative commies.

Posted by: Peter on April 20, 2011 6:15 AM

They could just as well have offshored production to my home state, Alabama. You can't beat the states of the Confederacy when it comes to docile work forces. Now that I think of it, though, you can beat them. We just adore being beaten. Every two years we gather at polling places throughout the South and beat our own selves.

Posted by: Mamasan on April 20, 2011 9:37 AM

Other stories have pointed out that the IKEA factory's managers here are mostly US MBA-types. Figures...

Posted by: darms on April 20, 2011 10:50 AM
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