Whenever I hear about a rampage massacre like the one that just took place in southern Alabama a few hours ago, so far leaving 11 dead and untold wounded (casualty numbers seem to tick up every hour), the first thing I look for is how the company treated the shooter or the workforce as a whole: did they recently fire him in the usual callous manner that companies do it these days, leaving him desperate and devastated? Has the company been following the typical post-Reagan management model in which workers are squeezed with endless downsizings, slashed benefits, and more time at the job for less pay, all in order to fatten the filthy-rich executives’ already-obscene bonuses?
The answer in the case of today’s Alabama shootings already appears to be yes.
It turns out that the plant where the rampage shooter, 27-year-old Michael McLendon, worked–Reliable Metals Products in Geneva, Alabama–just laid off a sizable portion of their workers a couple of weeks ago, devastating the local community. But so far little has been mentioned about it in connection with the shootings.
According to a report dated February 18 from a local TV station, WTVY:
Local prefabricated metal manufacturer lays off worker
Last Updated: 8:46 AM Feb 18, 2009
At one time, Reliable Corporation based in Geneva employed 800. We’re being told by those who work there that fellow employees have been receiving their lay-off notices.
Reliable Corporation has been manufacturing pre-fabricated metal products for more than 50 years. Over recent days, News 4 has received several calls from those who’ve been laid-off.
They haven’t been told if it’s temporary, or if it’s a permanent job loss. In one correspondence, we’ve learned that those who’ve been laid off will meet with a delegation of company and state officials early next month in Geneva. Following the loss of a body-armor company late last year, Geneva Mayor Wynnton Melton says any loss of jobs for his city is tragic.
News 4 was unsuccessful in getting a statement from reliable officials in Geneva. In the 1990’s, Geneva lost more than 2,000 textile jobs as they went to overseas’ countries.
At this time, we’re not being told if the layoffs are due to the national recession. We will continue to follow this story as details become available.
As the local news crew reported, it’s almost impossible to find out any news about the layoffs because Reliable was keeping quiet.
There’s something creepy about the way locals weren’t able to get any information out to the public about the layoffs, even though they happened, and even though it was big news in the non-official world there in Geneva. I wonder if this is symptomatic of some larger problem with Reliable’s treatment of its employees.
You get some clues to the answer via the three lonely comments at the bottom of the WTVY story:
Posted by: Rudy Location: New York on Feb 18, 2009 at 04:28 PM
My heart goes out to the layoff victims of Reliable Corp. I found immediate advice and strategies in an iTunes app called “Pink Slip.” It helped me know my rights and keep my head during and after the meeting with HR.
Posted by: Gwynn Location: Westville on Feb 18, 2009 at 07:56 AM
I have been laid-off from Reliable. I have not been informed of any meetings. We were told that the lay-offs were due to lack of work and that if work picked up,we would be called back to work. If work orders didn’t,we would be terminated at the end of the month.
Posted by: RELIABLE WORKER on Feb 17, 2009 at 10:35 PM
COMPANY LAYING OFF EMPLOYEES AND GIVING OVERTIME TO OTHER WORKERS IS MORE OF A LOSING BATTLE EITHER WAY YOU LOOK AT IT!EMPLOYEES WERE TOLD IF THEY WERE CALLED BACK BY MARCH 2ND THEY WOULD HAVE A JOB IF NOT THEY NO LONGER HAD A JOB!CUT OUT OVERTIME AND PUT PEOPLE BACK TO WORK , NOT ONLY ARE YOU HURTING YOUR EMPLOYEES BUT THE CITY OF GENEVA AS WELL.LOSS OF INCOME IS A LOSS OF SALES FOR THE CITY .NOT MANY JOBS IN THE CITY MAKES PEOPLE SEEK NEW JOBS ELSEWHERE . MAKES YOU THINK WE SHOULD HAVE VOTED WET ON THE WET DRY BALLOT. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A LOT OF TAX MONEY FOR THE CITY ,WHICH IS NOW BEINGG LOST BY LOSS OF JOBS!
Here you can see the anger, typical yet marginalized for decades, now expressed in the comments section. Reliable is following a classic Reaganomics corporate policy of treating workers like disposable assets rather than as human beings. After all, if you fire employees en masse, and squeeze the terrified remaining workers into overtime work, the result is that it saves rich shareholders and executives a few extra bucks. And that’s a good thing because the rich need to be taken care of first and foremost, or so we’ve been told for the past 30 years by all the vile little Ayn Rand kommisars who somehow worked their way into power in this country. We’ve been conditioned for 30 straight years to accept the insane idea that companies only exist to serve shareholder/executive interests, and that workers are there by the grace of the plutocrats, and if they don’t like it, well, they’re free to quit and find another job. Which is to say, anyone who’s not an executive can fuck off.
As I wrote in my book Going Postal, these rampage massacres at workplaces are an entirely new and distinct species of murder which first arose in the mid-1980s; it began with post office shootings, and quickly spread across America to the private sector, with rampage shootings at companies and factories from coast to coast, year after year. Why did it all start in that point in time, in the mid-1980s? Why did these shootings start then, and not in the 1970s or 1960s? What changed?
It wasn’t as though guns suddenly became legalized in the 80s, or that movies just started to get violent. No, what changed was the Reagan Revolution, and the massive transfer of wealth from the majority of America’s workforce up to the tiny plutocrat class. Reaganomics changed the corporate culture, and since we spend most of our lives working, it means our lives were changed–our lives were literally transferred into the offshore bank accounts and Aspen cabins of our bosses’ bosses. For the rich to get richer, they had to destroy the old corporate culture which emphasized a mutually beneficial relationship between company and employee, thereby limiting how obscenely rich they could get, and put in its place an ideology which dictated that companies only exist to enrich the executives and major shareholders. Workers could fuck off and die if they didn’t like it. So from 1981 on, companies squeezed workers of their “unlimited juice” (in the words of GE’s former CEO “Neutron” Jack Welch, nicknamed that for his firing of 120,000 GE workers while he took in hundreds of millions of dollars in personal bonuses), firing them en masse and stripping more benefits from them whenever the executives and shareholders wanted to drive up their quarterly earnings a few cents. This kind of treatment pushed people to the brink. While the executives’ lives got better and better, the average American middle-class worker’s wages stagnated, their benefits were slashed, and their work hours soared. The rich got so rich that they even left the rich behind to create a new super-rich class of their own, creating what the New York Times called the “hyper-rich”:
Richest Are Leaving Even the Rich Far Behind
When F. Scott Fitzgerald pronounced that the very rich “are different from you and me,” Ernest Hemingway’s famously dismissive response was: “Yes, they have more money.” Today he might well add: much, much, much more money.
The people at the top of America’s money pyramid have so prospered in recent years that they have pulled far ahead of the rest of the population, an analysis of tax records and other government data by The New York Times shows. They have even left behind people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
Call them the hyper-rich.
They are not just a few Croesus-like rarities. Draw a line under the top 0.1 percent of income earners – the top one-thousandth. Above that line are about 145,000 taxpayers, each with at least $1.6 million in income and often much more.
The average income for the top 0.1 percent was $3 million in 2002, the latest year for which averages are available. That number is two and a half times the $1.2 million, adjusted for inflation, that group reported in 1980. No other income group rose nearly as fast.
The share of the nation’s income earned by those in this uppermost category has more than doubled since 1980, to 7.4 percent in 2002. The share of income earned by the rest of the top 10 percent rose far less, and the share earned by the bottom 90 percent fell.
This isn’t rocket science. Workers from management on down had their wealth stripped and transferred up to the plutocrats. That’s why these massacres make so much sense to us. If looked at historically, these workplace-inspired shootings are a logical consequence of this savage ideology.
The details of today’s massacre suggest that over the past few months, as the Great Depression-2 deepened, a new pattern in these “going postal” shooting sprees has emerged: now, killers take their families down with them. In today’s rampage, the shooter began by killing his mother and torching her home, then driving to where other family members lived and killing them, before ending it all at his former employer’s, Reliable Metals. This sequence strongly resembles a couple of other recent high-profile family-massacres: one in Los Angeles which left 7 family members dead this January, and another in Ohio a few weeks later leaving 3 dead. In those massacres, the shooter and his family were left financially devastated by the Great Depression-2. It’s interesting that McLendon began his attack by taking out his family, but ended it off attacking the source of the pain–inside the company premises, where he ended his life. It was as if he didn’t want his mother to see how it ended.
For years, these shootings were considered “random acts” committed by people who “snapped for no reason.” Now, hundreds of dead victims and a massive financial collapse later, we know better: they’re reactions against corporate oppression. If the super-rich and the corporations constantly squeeze their workers of time, money and health, a few are naturally going to “snap” and fight back with guns.
These “going postal” shootings are, in many ways, like Nat Turner’s slave rebellion: gory, horrifying, resulting in scores of “innocents” dead, led by a nutcase (Turner was a paranoid-schizophrenic), but justified given the intolerable conditions that pushed Turner to rebel. People didn’t see it that way 1831, just as we don’t see these shooting rampages as rebellions today. Back then, Americans asked why did Turner have to slaughter so many women and children, entire families, while they were sleeping? What kind of “rebel” is that? Turner was considered the incarnation of evil, and was only celebrated much later. Just as Turner’s contemporaries were horrified, we’re shocked today by the gruesome details of the Alabama shootings and the scores of others. And some of us are wondering under our breaths why he didn’t kill the people who actually created the economic Armageddon that destroyed him? Why kill so many innocents, even desperate as he was?
When my book Going Postal came out explaining workplace massacres as rebellions against Reaganomics, and comparing the workplace shooters to slave rebels of the past, most people reacted violently or tried to dismiss my argument with a roll of the eyes. The total economic collapse over the last year has finally exposed once and for all the awful truth: that the last 30 years has been little more than a Roman plundering of America’s wealth, with America’s hyper-rich as the Roman colonials stripping the rest of the nation’s wealth while giving them a few coliseums and togas to divert their attention; a ruthless class war that in the end destroyed even our hyper-rich class, much as the Russian oligarchs’ boundless greed eventually led them to devour each other and their country with it. These past few decades have been nothing short of a one-way class war, and we’re all now kicking ourselves too late for not realizing it. Only those few workers who took up arms against their companies have any claim to posthumous dignity.
Schopenhauer was right as always: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
Today was just another bloody battle in America’s Thirty Years’ Class War.
Update: Newest reports coming in suggest that McLendon may have stoppped working at Reliable Metal a few years ago, rather than during last month’s layoffs. Instead it appears he lost a job at a different plant last week: sausage-maker Kelley Foods, in nearby Elba, Alabama. As predicted, the workplace is already being fingered as the trigger-motive. Kirke Adams, district attorney for Geneva and Dale counties where the shootings took place, told CBS’ The Early Show, “It appears to be something involving a domestic dispute plus a disgruntled employee from his former place of employment.“ Also, as so often is the case, the rampager wasn’t a Marilyn Manson-loving Guns ‘N Ammo psycho or a godless liberal moral relativist the way people want him or her to be after every such attack; instead, a fellow classmate described him as “an A student” who “never got into trouble.”
Latest Update: Now it’s official, the workplace drove him to murder, according to Bloomberg: “Authorities in southeastern Alabama investigating what prompted a man to kill 10 people in a shooting spree discovered a list of former co-workers and supervisors in his house, a prosecutor said today. While Tom Anderson, a Coffee County assistant district attorney, said he wouldn’t characterize it as a hit list, “next to those names he had written descriptions of having been reported for infractions or being reprimanded.” The descriptions of how McLendon carefully handled the bodies of his mother and 4 dogs suggests not a serial murderer’s rage but something much more tragic and painful: it was as though he was arranging a kind of funeral pyre.
Here is the first photo of McLendon that’s appeared. He looks like a casting agent’s idea of the “nice all-American kid.” It’s going to be hard to make him out to be a monster unless they can find a more villainous-looking photo.
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
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