Local capitalism is still capitalism

Over the course of the 100 bloody years that it took the U.S. labor movement to win the eight-hour workday, labor militants struck, rioted and were executed for what was then seen as an overly radical demand that would destabilize industry and ruin the economy.

Capitalism has undergone massive restructuring on a global scale, including the outsourcing [of] labor to other markets to keep costs down, the proliferation of extremely flexible, nonproductive work and new surveillance techniques in the workplace. While the labor movement has weakened almost to the point of extinction, the interests of capital are as robust as ever, albeit with a more friendly face.

In Asheville, local businesses are valorized as a more ethical form of capitalism. It might seem that local businesses are better than their alternatives. In reality, they can be as exploitative as non-local businesses. As convenient as it is to gloss over, the fundamental class relationship between owner and producer still prevails (wherein the owner tries to extract as much cheap labor as possible from the employee in order to maximize the production of value or capital). This doesn't make the owner a horrible person; unfortunately, these are the conditions of capitalism. As workers, it's important that we aren't fooled by the charade and protect the gains made by our predecessors.

It's regrettable that Kila Donovan had to be fired from her job at Buchi for us to be able to see local capitalism for what it really is: totally integrated with the globalized system of exploitation. It's embarrassing the way people, especially service workers, cheerlead for local business in this town, as though by their proximity, businesses can escape the ruthlessness of capital.

Ultimately, organizations like Just Economics serve to perpetuate wrongheaded thinking about small businesses by giving them a free pass to mistreat their workers, and then cry foul when their practices are called into question.

— Alice Zamboni
Asheville

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32 thoughts on “Local capitalism is still capitalism

  1. bill smith

    I have a hard time taking someone who calls a small company with a handful of employees “totally integrated with the globalized system of exploitation.

    Theory sure is fun. Good luck in reality.

  2. Tom

    Alice:

    Many good points. Its hard for me to even want to argue with a lot of what you say.

    Except for the part about Buchi.

    I know the owners. I happen to know Kila was not fired for a phone call. I happen to believe Buchi does not, never has, nor will ever mistreat its workers. I also know the meaning of a triple bottom line company, such as Buchi. Research it for yourself. Its a new, more socially and environmentally responsible way to run a fair business, created by hard working activists who were sick of the injustice laden system which you so righteously rail against.

  3. Betty Cloer Wallace

    @ Alice Zamboni: “It’s regrettable that Kila Donovan had to be fired from her job at Buchi for us to be able to see local capitalism for what it really is: totally integrated with the globalized system of exploitation. It’s embarrassing the way people, especially service workers, cheerlead for local business in this town, as though by their proximity, businesses can escape the ruthlessness of capital.”

    I’d think that most of the small business owners in Asheville, especially those struggling to stay afloat, would be surprised to hear that they are “totally integrated with the globalized system of exploitation.”

    I’d also think that “people, especially service workers, cheerlead for local businesses in this town” because the businesses do provide jobs—and there’s nothing “embarrassing” about that.

    The more troubling underlying issue, though, is that as long as Asheville markets itself as a Keep-Asheville-Weird tourist attraction, as fun as that might be, local employment is going to be largely concentrated in service jobs to keep those tourists happy, while other significant potential employers searching for a stable and committed workforce will look elsewhere.

    We need to raise our economic aspirations considerably in order to attract a wider range of industries and employment opportunities, to become more creative in starting up our own businesses, and to actively encourage economic diversification.

  4. AshevilleAreaArtist

    @Tom – That is EXACTLY what Alice is saying [“the interests of capital are as robust as ever, albeit with a more friendly face.”]. I have had great interactions with the owners of Buchi too, but the point of this article is to say that the issue is a fundamental underpinning of capitalism, not an issue with the individual companies or owners.

    Especially in a job market like this, in Asheville, where owners can replace anyone with 10x other people, anyone speaking up for themselves can be cut loose. It happens (illegally) with union organizers on the larger scale, and it happened with Kila on the smaller scale.

    Asheville purports to be a progressive community, but if we gloss over business practices like this, then how are we better?

    To me, what is better about small-scale businesses is that there are faces behind it, and when owners do something illigal(?), immoral(?), then they can be taken to task for it. that is whats happening. I dont want to see Buchi sunk over this, but i want them, and other small business owners, that they dont get a pass just because i know them.

  5. Here’s a sad fact…..small business will rarely pay much more than the minimum going wage. In order to get beyond that we must begin attracting business and industries that requires some higher level of skills. Skills are where the real money is.

    It’s a sad fact that our Chamber, elected officials and organizations like Advantage West have done very little in attracting well paying jobs into our area. Though they talk a very good game. If you look at the demographics, you’ll see that Mission, the school system and local government are the largest employers. Those are a given, all cities have these. Now what are the local leaders going to do about this sad state of affairs??????

  6. antelope

    Thank you, AshevilleAreaArtist. Well said. I feel exactly the same way.

    If Buchi truly stands for what they say they do, then there should be no problem with their practices being held to the light by the community.

  7. Joshua

    Alice if you really care about what your speaking you would go check out the B-Corp website .. from the Buchi website you can see they have been in the process of becoming a B-Corp.

    Doing away with capitalism is about the most ridiculous thing ive ever heard. The B-Corp people are constructively fixing the injustices in capitalism you outlined, one company at a time; and its working! Check it out for yourself, its not some cheap “comb-over” its the real deal and will effect real peoples lives in positive ways.

    With B-Corps investors can invest & customers can patronize knowing the company does well by its people, its community and environment; as a matter of ratified company policy! A holistic approach for combating institutionalized debauchery is far more powerful then screaming from the sidelines.

  8. Lucy Parsons

    @ alice
    honestly this letter is just too intelligent for the letters to the editor section of the xpress, or at least the comment section of it.

  9. bill smith

    [i]honestly this letter is just too intelligent for the letters to the editor section of the xpress, or at least the comment section of it.[/i]

    That’s certainly an opinion. Of course, one could easily and as accurately say the letter-writer’s sentiment is just too juvenile and undeveloped for the real-world outside of a college campus or parent-subsidized worker’s co-operative.

    Where did you self-proclaimed anti-small-business types come from, anyway? And how do you pay your rent?

  10. Lucy Parsons

    most of us were born and raised here, and we work in both local and corporate dead end service jobs

  11. Lucy Parsons

    or some people engage in the “informal economies” as well

  12. Bill: I am someone you would absolutely hate. I detest almost every small business I have ever had the misfortune of working for, and I see the same abuses over and over again at small businesses all over town. I personally dislike all the bobos who are trying to push that “local” nonsense about their own shops while rarely ever even showing up for work themselves.
    I cannot stand spiritual people. I support the Asheville 11. I am a communist of sorts. I am a member of the Socialist Labor Party. I believe the pages of Atlas Shrugged would make better toilet paper than reading material.
    I don’t pay rent. My lovely young partner and I pay a mortgage on a wonderful house in the suburbs. I work in a factory. I make $14 an hour with awesome benefits, and I am getting ready to get a raise!
    How ya like them apples?

  13. Athena

    “Ultimately, organizations like Just Economics serve to perpetuate wrongheaded thinking about small businesses by giving them a free pass to mistreat their workers, and then cry foul when their practices are called into question.”

    Huh?

    Do you know what Just Economics does? First of all, they have absolutely no control over how an employer chooses to treat their workers. Employers in Asheville that choose to treat workers like crap can do so because of the local economy and the plethora of people who need to settle for the job they get/have.

    The only area where JE has any influence with employers is in getting them to pay a nationally calculated living wage.

    I personally think it is awesome that a bunch of dishwashers recently got bumped to over $11/hour. Or that a bunch of women cleaning houses for a cleaning service can get paid a living wage rather than minimum wage.

    Maybe you should surf over to the employment page and have a look at the job reality in Asheville. It ain’t pretty. Tearing down small business owners and local non-profits isn’t either.

  14. bill smith

    [i]and we work in both local and corporate dead end service jobs[/i]

    So you willingly enter into a submissive role with evil capitalists? By some standards, that makes you complicit in their alleged crimes.

    All of this vague criticism of ‘capitalism’, aimed at some of the smallest fish in the barrel sounds awfully privileged. Where are your functional alternatives and why are you all not completely extricated from the capitalist system yourselves?

    I’m hardly defending ‘capitalism’. I’m just wondering why you folks seem intent upon marginalizing yourselves into a niche instead of creating allies in far larger, more meaningful and productive struggles against far more real ‘enemies’.

  15. Can you count the number of references to Marxism in this letter? I can. I guess Alice went to college.
    ………………..

  16. And Bill, one more thing I forgot to mention: I forgot to answer your question about where we come from. I, for one, was born and raised in Hickory, which is a small town about an hour and 20 minutes east of here. Hickory and Asheville are the only two places I have ever lived, so I am a native of western North Carolina. Almost all radical types I personally know are native. And I intend to stay right here in Asheville for the rest of my life.

  17. BigAl

    “…the fundamental class relationship between owner and producer still prevails (wherein the owner tries to extract as much cheap labor as possible from the employee in order to maximize the production of value or capital…”

    When did the terms “employee” and “producer” become equivalent? Without the raw materials and business plan provided by the owner, the employee “produces” NOTHING.

  18. LLJK

    Buchi is a bad example of capitalism! They’ve shown some pretty unethical behavior in the past few weeks. Don’t think all local businesses follow in their footsteps.

    Some of the local companies do practice profit sharing, employee ownership, and other perks. No one is stopping you from doing your own thing, like starting your own co-op or social based business project. They can do quite well for those involved! Just don’t say ALL for-profit companies are like Buchi, which gives capitalism a bad name (which they definitely did!).

  19. @BigAl:
    You wrote, “Without the raw materials and business plan provided by the owner, the employee ‘produces’ NOTHING.”
    You are correct. In a capitalist society, the entrepreneur is the only person who produces anything at all. Labor is a resource to be harvested from the masses. The question, then, is, who owns the capital? And how did that person come into possession of it? In this capitalist society, the power belongs to the owning, employing, coordinating class(es). The question then is, is that power legitimate? Is that power sustainable? Is that power even human?

  20. jose`

    If Asheville weren’t such a progressive community, might we not have more employers, more employees and better-paid employees? I say this because I look at our neighbors in Greenville, SC. What might we learn from them? (hint: it ain’t more rigid liberal politics f-ing with the business community).

  21. bill smith

    oh! Thad, you really had me going until that last one! Nice job. You got me.

  22. dpewen

    I am retired and love Asheville just the way it is … keep it freaky!

  23. Paul -V-

    @Jose: Yes. Let’s compare them!

    http://tinyurl.com/4hjokvd

    UNEMPLOYMENT
    Greenville: 13.9
    Asheville: 6.6

    TOTAL RATE OF VIOLENT CRIME
    Greenville: 2.2 (x nat avg)
    Asheville: 1.6 (x nat avg)

    Sooooo according to your logic, the people of Greenville, SC would be lucky if they had “more rigid liberal politics f-ing with the business community”.

    – pvh

  24. john

    @Thad: No, I don’t realize that. There has been much scholarly debate and writing about whether Orwell was a socialist, anarchist, etc…, even depending upon the phase of his life you are referencing. I’d say read ‘Animal Farm’ and draw your own conclusions.

  25. @John:
    Well, he risked his life in the P.O.U.M. fighting for the people of a country he didn’t even belong to. I’d say that’s pretty good evidence.

  26. bill smith

    @Thad–As I recall Orwell became quite exasperated and disillusioned with the ‘movement’ while fighting in that conflict.

  27. bill smith

    [i]Which ‘movement’ was that? The fight against fascism? [/i]

    The ability of the ‘movement’ you refer to to not be as bad as those they fight against.

    Have you actually even READ “Homage to Catalonia’?

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