“Because we can…”

Paging Barbara Kopple (director of Harlan County USA and American Dream)… why not come to Wayne County and make it an even trilogy?

In Mott’s Strike, More Than Paychecks at Stake

The story in a nutshell: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the company that owns the Mott’s apple juice plant in Williamson, says that their unionized workers make too much, even though the company is enjoying record profits this year. Apparently, Mott’s workers are supposed to be embarrassed that they’re not being paid like peasants, like the rest of their working-class brethren in harder-hit industries. (This attitude can also be found among bitterly unemployed master’s-degree holders as well, I’ve noticed.)

Kopple’s first film, Harlan County USA, was about labor struggles in an industry where the workers had yet to partake of the pay and security that other American workers enjoyed in the 1960s and ’70s. Her second film, American Dream, was about the confused Hormel plant strike where American workers began to lose their grip on what they’d won. This would make a great final chapter: the Mott’s workers as the last men standing, the tall poppies, with no one in America left to cheer them on in a clear fight that the coal miners in the first film would have well understood.

Dr Pepper Snapple has vigorously defended its stance. “The union contends that a profitable company shouldn’t seek concessions from its workers,” the company said in a statement. “This argument ignores the fact that as a public company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs and builds communities.”

It would be interesting to parse what this corporation really means about “generating jobs” (are they saying they will be generating more, but lower-paying jobs for the community? Highly doubtful – they just want to pay the same amount of workers less) and “building community” (maybe they’re talking about building a company store).

However, Dr Pepper Snapple is, on another level, being honest. It is the duty of a profitable corporation to screw its workers over as much as possible. And it is the duty of a union to resist a blatant and open screwing. If you can get more than $14 an hour (or one billion dollars) for whatever work you do, it is self-evident that you are worth that much to someone powerful enough to pay it. It’s a fact of life that many Americans (despite their college educations) still don’t understand: you don’t get to be adequately paid just because you possess a piece of paper that says you’re in the club. If you must rely on a piece of paper, rely on a contract – and even then, not too much.

This is war, and it always was, despite many decades of niceties that are now past. Whose side are you on?