Part Eight - Improving the Goods
All that is made, bought and sold, with the exception of small home projects, is made by working people. That car that has been giving you hell since you bought it; that tape deck that ate your favorite tape; that house with the leaks in the roof; the road that gets new potholes every spring; or the tanker breaking up off the coast; sometimes it seems that things are designed to malfunction soon after they are paid for. The bosses will tell you that the problem is the lack of quality work, but the truth of the matter will be found else where. A little analysis of how and why things are made will reveal what the profiteers seek to cover up.
Are things made for the purpose of being used? No, all that is produced is made to create profit, and profit is the difference between the cost of production and marketing and how much the product can be sold for. Since the purpose is profit, the profiteer will try to create as wide of a gap between cost of production and the price of the product is sold for. They start off buying the material for the product from who ever sells it at the lowest cost. If production was for use, they would buy from whom ever had the best quality material. Lower cost material means lower quality material, in most cases.
Next, to keep costs low they will pay the workers who produce the product the lowest possible wages that they are able. Meanwhile, the workers are selling their labor to the employers, and they will try to sell themselves to the employer that pays the best wages. Wages are set by two factors.
First, since the employers compete with each other in purchasing labor, wages are set at the lowest point an employer is able to buy labor. If the work requires little skill, or the skills are learned on the job, and there are a lot of unemployed workers, then the price of labor is low. If the work takes skills that the worker must have before they are bought, and there is not a great availability of these skilled workers, then the cost of labor will be higher. So it all comes down to the availability of labor. This is the reason why the employers desire a large unemployed class of people. Full employment means high wages and lower profits.
The other factor in how wages are set is the amount of organization of self-interest of working people. Without organization working people are at the mercy of the labor market prices. What working people must remember is that to the employers workers are not people; they are a commodity to be bought, sold and discarded when not needed. In other words, the interests of the employers and the employees are directly opposite to one another.
Thus, the employers do not purchase the workers who are best qualified, but rather those who can do the job at the lowest cost. This factor is one reason why quality products are not produced.
Finally, at the point of production the employers desire all work to be done in the least amount of time possible to produce a saleable product. Again, if production were for use, then the amount of time it takes to produce any product would be based upon how long it would take to build a quality product.
There are some variations on what I have said. If a profiteer bids on a contract that allows cost overruns, then they may drag out a job to produce greater profit. They may try to monopolize the production of a product by such means as; under selling their competition, seizing control of the sources of material, paying a higher price for labor and thus monopolizing needed skills, or trying to acquire exclusive contracts of industrial resources. For the workers that buy into this system their self-interest may seem to lie in an individual pursuit of selling themselves to the highest bidder, and working in such a manner that produces the greatest profit for the employers. Thus, their purpose of production is for the employer's profit and not for use. If production is not for use, then how can you expect quality products? Plus, if you add into this the factor that the profiteers do not want products that last, because they seek to continuously sell you new products, you should be able to understand why things are not made as they should be.
As I have already stated, we working people have different interests than do the profiteers; for, not only do we produce the products, but we also consume the products. How often do we view production from the point of view that we should be producing as if we are producing for ourselves? If we looked upon the situation with the understanding that working people have a common interest, then rather than produce for the greatest profit, we would try to improve the goods in the interest of that which we hold in common.
Like most jobs everywhere, the greatest concern of the employers who own the shipyards is to get the job done! All other concerns take a back seat because the self-interest of the employers lies in receiving profit. I had never seen the employer's insanity more clearly than at National Steel & Shipbuilding (NASSCO), the new yard where I found myself working at in San Diego.
I, along with a helper and a welder, had the job of building a pump room on an Exxon tanker under construction. We had all the initial pipes hooked up and were working on a 16" pipe coming out of the sea chest (a big opening in the side or bottom of the ship for the intake of water). This pipe was a part of the ballast system and the water from the sea chest was used to place seawater in the cargo holes and double bottoms when needed. First, we put into place a large configuration of pipes that had been prefabricated. Then the layout department laid out the hole into the sea chest, and a burner came and burned the hole. Out of that hole ran a 90-degree elbow, then a valve, a 10" spacer, and another valve. The flange on that valve was to hook up to the prefabricated pipe. Somewhere along the line someone had made some mistakes, for the last two flanges did not match up. There was a 2" gap between the flanges, about 2" high and about 2" to the side. I went about correcting the mistake by laying out two cuts on the prefabricated pipe to add a short piece of new pipe. Correcting the pipe and having it welded out would take about a day, with the welding taking up most of the time. When I was about ready to go get a burner the foreman came up and saw what I was doing and asked what was wrong. I told him of the problem, which is not uncommon with prefabricated pipe. The foreman then said; "we don't have the time for that, I already have it on the books that this job was done, so make it fit!" The foreman was trying to impress upper management by writing up jobs as completed before they were, in fact, done. The reason for this is that all new construction jobs have a precise work schedule that everyone is pushed to meet. This often does not allow time for correcting problems.
Under the direction of the foreman, I put a 3-ton come-a-long on the pipe to pull it down. I put another one on it to pull it to the side and still another one to pull the flanges together. The come-a-long pulling down on the pipe snapped its chain, which meant there was over 3 tons of pressure pulling that pipe down. I got a 50 ton porta-power from the ship fitters and placed it under the second value to hoist it up. That did the trick and I was able to bolt the flanges together.
Since this hookup was under a hell of allot of strain, I asked the foreman if I could but some hangers on it to handle that strain. On larger piping systems the blueprint shows where they wanted hangers to go, so the foreman took a look at the print. He than said, "no, it does not call for any right there."
We both knew that in time one of those valves would crack under the strain. That would send a flow of up to 16 inches of seawater into the pump room. If the valve that broke was the first one, next to the sea chest, then there would be no way to stop the water until it reached the waterline. That much unexpected weight could cause navigation problems, which they would have to be corrected by using the double-bottom ballast system, but that would take time. If this occurred at the wrong time it could mean running aground or colliding with something and possibly causing an oil spill.
I tried to tell other supervisors and a few inspectors about the situation, but nobody cared. Production was all that mattered. If you do something that will directly cause a damaging result it would be called sabotage. In this case I was directed to commit capitalist sabotage for the purpose of the employer's profit. Workers are forced everyday, throughout the industries, to commit capitalist sabotage. When the results of this capitalist sabotage appear, it is always the worker who is blamed.
Whereas, the employer's interest is in making profits, our interest, as working people is different. It is in our interest to see that what is made is of the best quality possible. Defected products endanger our lives on and off the job, they can foul the environment in which we live in, and as consumers we end up buying back that which we produce. Given this, logic leads us to say that it is in the interest of all working people to improve the goods that affect our lives. Those goods that are only made to be consumed by the profiteers, well I'll let you use your imagination. Hence forth it should be included in the noble concepts of working class struggle the following watchwords; CREATE THAT WHICH YOU PRODUCE AS IF YOU WERE CREATING IT FOR YOURSELF, YOU ARE!