By Stephen Millies
Published Jan 30, 2011 9:47 PM
Dracula shouldn’t be put in charge of the blood bank. Yet President Barack Obama named General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to chair a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
GE is one of the biggest job killers in U.S. history. Just in Schenectady, N.Y. — where Obama announced Immelt’s appointment on Jan. 21 — GE has axed 22,000 jobs since 1978. That’s according to Thomas F. O’Boyle, author of “At Any Cost: Jack Welch, General Electric, and the Pursuit of Profit.”
The United Electrical Workers union reports that GE shut 29 U.S. plants and one Canadian plant in the last two years. This was GE’s thank-you note after the Federal Reserve rescued it with a $16.1 billion handout in 2008. A big player in the military-industrial complex, GE got over $967 million in Pentagon contracts in 2010. (militaryindustrialcomplex.com)
Immelt was paid $14.2 million by GE in 2007. That’s what 942 minimum-wage workers make — if they’re lucky enough to work 40-hour weeks for a full year.
Immelt replaces former Federal Reserve Board chair, Paul Volcker. Under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Volcker drove up the prime rate to 21 percent as part of a job-killing, union-busting strategy.
Neutron Jack Welch
Jack Welch, Jeffrey Immelt’s predecessor as GE’s CEO, was called “Neutron Jack” by GE workers. Like a neutron bomb, Welch destroyed people’s jobs while leaving the plants intact.
Welch got rid of 112,000 jobs at GE. He argued that, “Ideally you’d have every plant you own on a barge” — so it could moved to wherever the lowest wages were. Welch broke a strike of 2,800 NBC technicians in 1987. In Massachusetts alone, according to O’Boyle, GE fired 7,000 workers in Lynn and 8,000 in Pittsfield. Erie, Pa., saw 6,000 GE jobs evaporate while Fort Wayne, Ind., lost 4,000. Twelve thousand people in Evandale, Ohio, were thrown out of work.
Welch also wanted to evade environmental laws. GE fought for decades against any Environmental Protection Agency-imposed cleanup after dumping more than 1.3 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals into the Hudson River. (cleanup.org) GE poisoned Connecticut’s Housatonic River and the Coosa River Basin in Georgia. While running the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, GE started in 1949 to release radioactive material to see how far it would travel. In 1963, GE began radiating 64 prisoners in Walla Walla, Wash., to test the effect on their reproductive organs. (corpwatch.org)
Welch is a sexist pig. According to O’Boyle, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Welch asked a woman being interviewed for a job at GE Plastics in 1973, “Would you f — k a customer for a million-dollar order?” Instead of being prosecuted, Welch has a fortune of $720 million.
Light bulbs and loan sharks
GE is the oldest member of the Dow-Jones industrial average. In 1893, it became the first manufacturing corporation organized by Wall Street’s biggest banker, J.P. Morgan.
This was an important step for finance capital, which began dominating the economy. Big industrialists like steel baron Andrew Carnegie used to finance themselves out of their own profits instead of turning towards Wall Street.
GE made nearly 100,000 products, including 30,000 types of light bulbs. But it turned itself into a bank. In recent years, close to half its profits came from GE Capital.
This morphing of industrial capital into finance capital almost sank GE. Its stock valuation plunged from $400 billion in 2007 to $210 billion today.
Racism and union busting
Long ago, GE actually had a liberal sheen. GE towns like Schenectady and Bridgeport, Conn., had socialist mayors.
GE research labs employed the electrical wizard Charles Steinmetz, a militant socialist who left Germany because of political persecution. Steinmetz was planning to help electrify the Soviet Union before he died in 1923.
But after World War II, GE used redbaiting to try to destroy UE, the electrical workers union. Ronald Reagan became GE’s spokesperson. It took a 102-day strike in 1970 to bring GE to the bargaining table.
In the 1970s, Workers World Party members fought to get a union in GE’s Portsmouth, Va., factory. GE defeated this union drive by threatening to move the plant to Taiwan — which it did anyway, a few years later.
The electrical industry lagged behind steel mills and auto plants in hiring Black workers. African Americans accounted for only 3 percent of the electrical jobs in 1960. (“The Electrical Workers” by Ronald W. Schatz)
GE built “Appliance Park” in Louisville, Ky., in the 1950s as a “runaway shop” operation. Thousands of jobs moved there from Northern union strongholds. The National Negro Labor Council, led by future Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, fought to get jobs at Appliance Park. Between 1973 and 1998, GE axed 16,000 jobs in Louisville. (Time, Nov. 9, 1998) Thousands of Black workers must have been fired.
Meanwhile, GE built a complex employing thousands to make CT scan, x-ray and magnetic resonance machines in Waukesha, Wis. Less than 1 percent of Waukesha County’s population is African American. Waukesha is home to immigrant-bashing congressperson, James Sensenbrenner.
As head of GE’s Medical Systems Division — now called GE Healthcare — Jeffrey Immelt ran this apartheid operation before becoming GE’s CEO in 2001.