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Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

H.Bradford

2/2/17


There are a lot of confused and disturbing ideas in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.  I get it.  People want answers.  People want hope.  But, one of the more disturbing things in the past few days has been the amount of praise given to corporations that have come out against Trump’s policies.  Once again, there seems to be some confusion about how to evaluate what is just and good in society.  It seems that many people believe that anything that stands up to Trump is positive.  At the same time, anything that Trump is for or associated with is negative.  In other words, Starbucks and Nike are viewed positively because they stand up to Trump.  They are corporations.  Corporations are not our friend.  This is why.


Starbucks:

trump_cup

A few days ago, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks announced that Starbucks would hire 10,000 immigrants over the next five years.  These hirings would take place within the 75 countries.  Suddenly, Starbucks became an icon of rebellion.  Don’t be deluded.  Starbucks has 7,600 stores and 160,000 employees in the U.S. alone, so a commitment of hiring 10,000 immigrant employees in 75 COUNTRIES, really doesn’t amount to much.  Even within the U.S., it would only amount to 1.3 people per store in the next five years.  But, numbers aside, Starbucks is a non-union workplace which pays an average of $9.34 an hour for a barista and $11.65 for a supervisor.  While employees may qualify for benefits if they work over 20 hours, many of them are not given enough hours to survive.  This prompted over 11,000 people to sign a barista driven petition in California last summer, which decried the “gross underemployment” that they experienced at their jobs.  The CEO who is so adamant about standing up against Trump was also against the $15 an hour minimum wage bill in Seattle.  The store also has a reputation for using prison labor.  The company notoriously used prisoners to package its holiday coffees through a sub-contractor. So, basically, Starbucks profits from the slave labor of our largely racial minority prison population.  Starbucks has gotten a lot of flak over the years.  It is an icon of globalization and homogenization.  The company has faced lawsuits for disability discrimination, as one store refused to serve a group of 12 deaf people and an employee was accused of falsifying documents when she had dyslexia.  Starbucks has even gotten into trouble for failing to recycle its cups!  It seems that if there is a corporation that is clearly TERRIBLE, it would be Starbucks.  However, it promised to hire those refugees….so maybe we can all forget the environmental, labor, criminal justice, and disability rights issues.  The CEO did come out in favor of same sex marriage, but this does not redeem the corporation.  If anything, it is pink washing, or using LGBT support as a veil that hides other injustices.  In the same way, support of immigrants is a branding ploy to sell more coffee and hide the numerous ways in which Starbucks promotes injustice in the world.


 

Nike:

nike-sweatshops-05 Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, came out against Trump’s immigration ban with the statement,  “Nike believes in a world where everyone celebrates the power of diversity. Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole. Those values are being threatened by the recent executive order in the U.S. banning refugees, as well as visitors, from seven Muslim-majority countries. This is a policy we don’t support.”  Well, this might seem encouraging, it does not redeem Nike from its history of sweatshop labor and environmental issues.  Just as Starbucks was equated with the dark side of globalization in the 1990s, Nike was equated with sweatshop labor.  Because of pressure from protests and boycotts, Nike has sought to clean up its image by increasing the wages of its workers and inspecting factories.  However, most of its factories continue to be located in Asia in countries with low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of union representation.  For instance, in 2014, workers at a Chinese Nike factory went on strike.  They made just over $1.50 an hour and often worked over 60 hours a week.  In response, Nike threatened to move production to Vietnam.  Nike was also accused of dumping hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze river in 2011.  Globally, ⅓ of Nike’s employees work in Vietnam.  Certainly the CEO of Nike was looking forward to the TPP, as this would have ended the $3 tariff placed on each shoe.  Trump’s backing out of the TPP was probably met sourly by the company hoping to extract more profits from Asia.  Perhaps this is where the critique of Trump’s immigration policy really comes from.  In any event, Nike may have cleaned up its image, but it continues to operate in countries with notoriously awful labor conditions.


All Corporations:

kfc

Nike and Starbucks are on my radar this week because of their recent announcements related to Donald Trump.  I felt that I should write about them to offer some clarity on the issue of corporations.  Really, all corporations are terrible to varying degrees.  This is because all corporations seek profit.  Profit inevitably and essentially relies on the exploitation of workers.  This is the source of all profit.  Thus, corporations like Nike and Starbucks seek out the lowest wages or cheapest coffee beans (materials).  That is, they do this until enough public protest mounts and they must change their ways or risk losing business.  Or, they do this until workers organize and demand better wages and conditions on their own behalf.  In either case, there is nothing good or noble about these corporations.  If they change for the better, it is a survival strategy.  At the same time, I do not want to overstate the power of consumer sovereignty in changing corporate practices.  While you can “vote with your dollar” to some degree, due to the alienation of labor a.k.a. our separation from production, the exact conditions of production are often unknown to us.  I do not know the exact wages and conditions of Nike factories.  This is information that I must research and even then, it is not always easy to find.  Since we come in contact with thousands of products each week, it is impossible to know every aspect of the production process.  Some consumers may be more knowledgeable than others, but none of us know the full picture.  Further, even if we have a good idea of the conditions of production, there are larger social forces such as trade policies, advertisement, and government interventions which play a big role in what appears in the market, how it appears on the market, and social desire for these goods.


It is true that some companies attempt to give more consideration to workers and the environment.  Some companies may sacrifice some profits to pay better wages or have better worker conditions.  Some may invest profits into better environmental practices.  But, at the heart of each company is a reliance on the conditions of the larger economy and a drive for profit.  So long as a company seeks profit, workers will not be paid the full value of their labor.  In harder economic times or under greater competitive pressure, those companies that seek to be more ethical will always have to chose between survival and profit.  At the same time, many companies brand themselves with progressive causes to attract more consumers and draw attention away from labor conditions.  For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken put pink breast cancer awareness ribbons on their buckets.  How much does KFC really care about breast cancer or women?  What does eating a bucket of fried chicken do to further the cause of ending breast cancer?  Perhaps if KFC cared about women, they could instead provide a living wage and health benefits to workers.  Another example is greenwashing.  Everything from oil companies to bottled water companies have tried to greenwash their products.  That is, they promise consumers that their product is environmentally friendly.  Green packaging and promises of re-investment into nature trick consumers into thinking that somehow buying the product is ethical.  This newest trend of “Trumpwashing” is just the latest version of pinkwashing and greenwashing.  It is part of a corporate tradition of deceptive branding.


Trumpwashing:

The biggest lesson I want to impart in this post is simply to beware corporate driven rebellion.  The CEOs of Facebook, AirBnB, Twitter, Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Netflix, and others have come out against Trump.  Some of these, like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks, certainly benefit from open borders and free trade, especially in Asia, since this provides access to low cost labor.  While I am certainly for immigration, so are many corporations, as it provides a cheap supply of labor!  If companies know that people are angry, they will co-opt that anger by building a rebellious brand.  There is no rebellion in buying.  Thus, just because a company is against Trump, it does not make it good or ethical.  Take these corporate announcements with a grain of salt and a dose of skepticism.  In the meantime, continue to build the power of the people by organizing in protests, boycotts, petitions, labor organizing, and the like.

Vote Shaming: Privilege, Conscience, and Third Parties

Over the years, I have often been either annoyed or indifferent to the election cycle.  Elections are more or less something to be endured.  Time and time again, I watch from the sidelines as two capitalist puppets duke it out over just how shitty the country gets to be over the next four years.  It is sort of a Punch and Judy Show.  No matter if Punch or Judy wins, the work is always the same.  The difference each election makes tends to be who and how many people show up to activist events.


One unique characteristic of this election, however, is the amount of shaming there seems to be against those who do not support Hillary.  I have seen various articles which argue that people who vote for third parties are selfish and privileged.  This seems to be a very popular argument this election cycle.  Generally, the argument goes that only those people who could weather the storm of a Trump presidency, could possibly consider voting for a third party.  Anyone with something to lose must chose the lesser evil.  It is a privilege to vote for your conscience.  It is a privilege NOT to vote for Hillary.  Those privileged folks who vote for third parties are really all about themselves.  They are selfish.  Their individual identities are more important than the social responsibility of voting for Hillary.   This rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons beyond simply being called privileged and selfish.


I certainly have privilege and my selfish aspects.  I am privileged by being white.  I am privileged by my education.  I am privileged because I do not have a disability.   I am privileged because I am single and child-free.  I have a tremendous amount of freedom.  I am privileged that I am not obese (which is shamed in society) and not too ugly (again prejudiced against).   The list could go on.  Yes, I do have privilege.  But, my privilege is not a function of my politics.   If you decrease x (x=privilege) it does not increase y (y=democratic party support).   I have been a socialist for around fifteen years.  This was before I had completed a college education.  I was a socialist while on food stamps.  I was a socialist through major episodes of depression.  I was a socialist when working at a hotel.  I was a socialist for the 10+ years that I didn’t have health insurance.  At no point did my support of the Democratic Party increase as my desperation increased.  I imagine that if I became homeless, disabled, unemployed, or any other major drop in my privilege, I would continue to support socialism.  While arguably, certain privileges allowed me to become a socialist to begin with (exposure to different ideas, the intellectual wherewithal to make sense of political theory, living in an area where there was a socialist party, etc.), my politics do not change when I have more to lose.


On the other hand, if my privilege is not a function of my politics, perhaps selfishness is.  I don’t know how selfish I am compared to other people.  I write blogs…about myself.  I shamelessly take selfie photos.  I forget birthdays.  I lose contact with old friends.   I don’t always compromise and do what other people want me to do.  Sure, I have my selfishness.  I genuinely enjoy doing helpful things.  I live in a house with a food shelf on the porch!  Next summer I am building a free garden in our yard so that strangers can just take vegetables!  I try to be involved in my community.  I have done AmeriCorps three times (making less than minimum wage).  I’ve worked with homeless youth, at-risk youth, and survivors of domestic violence.   I think that as a whole, I am probably a mixed bag of selfishness and selflessness, like anyone else.  It is true that being a socialist shapes my identity.  So there is some “me-ness” involved.  But, I became a socialist because I was upset with the suffering in the world.  I was deeply upset by poverty and war.  I feel angry when I think about the way in which most people live in this world.  This comes out of a place of empathy.


Let’s suppose that I am privileged and selfish, which has caused me to vote for socialists all these years.  I certainly don’t think that this would be true of other third party supporters that I know.   I am not a Green Party supporter, but generally speaking, I have never met a Green Party supporter who I thought was particularly self-involved or privileged.   In Mankato, the Green Party tended to be well-meaning older adults on fixed incomes.  In Duluth, those who support it tend to be life-long activists who have tirelessly worked on various campaigns often without reward or recognition.  In Mankato, I found that the anarchists were also nice and pretty dedicated to working for political change.  They tried to work with other groups.  They certainly weren’t that privileged, as they worked long hours in service industry jobs…and ate food from dumpsters.  This week, I even met a nice Libertarian who spent the day picketing anti-choicers with me.  As for my own Socialist Action party members, they tend to be hard working, intelligent people, who are also life long activists…who again have worked tirelessly trying to build social movements across the decades.    Is Adam selfish and privileged?  He works as a janitor cleaning up poop and disease.  He spends his money to fund a food shelf on our porch!  Is my friend Mike selfish and privileged?  He enjoys working low paid jobs at group homes as he is passionate about helping people with disabilities. Socialist Actions VP Candidate Karen Schraufnagel is brilliant, kind, and has dedicated herself to fighting Islamophobia and promoting Palestinian rights!  The point is, in all actuality, within my party, but across other political groups, there are nice, selfless people, who want to better society…and who devote their lives to doing this.   Calling their dedicated work for social change selfish and privileged is offensive to me.  Rather than critiquing these alternatives to the two party system on the basis of their principles, it reduces politics to ad hominem attacks.  Finally, everyone has some privilege.  There are privileged Democrats.  Many of the least privileged people in society may vote for Trump.  Rather than witch hunt privilege across parties it is more constructive to focus on the ways in which systems of privilege could be dismantled.   But…that is beyond the scope of two party politics.


No, my politics really aren’t about my privilege and my selfishness.   I simply have a different vision of the political world.  In my world, it truly doesn’t matter if Trump or Hillary win.  In my world, the Punch and Judy show really isn’t where change is made.  In fact, it is a distraction from where and how change happens!  Politicians grant nothing that hasn’t already been won in the streets.  Woodrow Wilson did not GIVE women the right to vote.  This was WON through 80 years of struggle in social movements.  It was WON by millions of people in the streets demanding this.   So it is with the labor movement, environmental movement, or Civil Rights movement.  The Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, Endangered Species Act, OSHA, and Equal Employment Opportunity Act were all passed under Nixon.  This wasn’t because Nixon was a progressive guy!  It is because there were social movements at the time.  Change is something that is won through struggle.  It is not something that kindly politicians give us from time to time.  I believe in the power of the people.  History is a history of people struggling for their rights.  This is why I am not afraid of Donald Trump.   We have nothing to fear if we mobilize.  Nothing is made or moved in this country without workers.  We have a tremendous amount of power, but lack the vision and organization to use it.


Part of this short sighted vision is the excessive focus on elections!  Elections are a coconut game where everyone is a loser.  At least from a socialist perspective, Trump and Hillary are both representatives of capitalism.  We all lose under capitalism.  Sure, there are some qualitative differences between them.  But, imperialist wars will continue, Blacks will be killed by police, carbon will saturate our atmosphere, corrupt banking will continue, pipelines will be built, immigrants will be deported, and abortion rights curtailed no matter who is in office.   The pace and extent of these miseries is not a function of the party in power, but the people in motion.


Let’s suppose though that Trump is elected and things truly suck.  Rest assured, I will go out and protest every injustice.   I cannot substitute myself for a mass movement, but I can do what I can in my capacity as a human being to fight for a better world.  This is something I try to do already and something I do no matter who is president.


With that said, the shaming will not change me.  My political world view is based upon the power of people and critique of capitalism.  Elections play a very small role in true social changes. When the elections come, there will be people who don’t vote.  That’s okay.  There are voters who will vote for third parties.  That’s okay.  Voting is not a holy quest through which one purges themselves of evil.  Yes, people died so I could vote.  People also died so I could have safe work spaces, they died to protest imperialist wars, they died in those wars, they died to end slavery, they died for basic democratic rights, they died in failed revolutions…people across the world and across history have died for many movements.  Movements are the key.  The right to vote was won by a movement.  Voting was attained, but the story doesn’t end there.  Voting was not the end of history.  The act of voting is not the highest and holiest act, but one small expression of democracy and the realization of a singular demand.  Voting is not self-immolation before the altar of lesser evils.  It is victory, not an idol.  Because my goal is the liberation of oppressed people,  my eye is on victories greater than the promises of capitalist politicians….the sort of victories that won’t be won in elections.

punch-and-judy

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