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Paperback Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor Book

ISBN: 1565846591

ISBN13: 9781565846593

Capital Moves: RCA's Seventy-Year Quest for Cheap Labor

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Book Overview

Globalization is the lead story of the new century, but its roots reach back nearly one hundred years, to major corporations' quest for stable, inexpensive, and pliant sources of labor. Before the largest companies moved beyond national boundaries, they crossed state lines, abandoning the industrial centers of the Eastern Seaboard for impoverished rural communities in the Midwest and South. In their wake they left the decaying urban landscapes...

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

An Original and Interesting Book!

The other reviewers rightly commend this original, interesting and highly readable book. As this book shows, RCA's readiness to shift factories to areas of cheaper and more tractable labor sowed the seeds of decline for America's consumer electronics industry long before the Japanese onslaught started in the 1960s. Couple this with a series of critical management mistakes, product development failures and hundreds of millions of mis-spent dollars, and you begin to understand why RCA sought out GE as a buyer in 1985. By the mid-1980s RCA management backed the company into a very tight box and it was either voluntarily sell the company or wait for a possible hostile takeover. "Capital Moves" illustrates the grim capitalist logic underlying the processes of globalization -- in RCA's case on a regional and later an international scale.Related books are Margaret Graham's "RCA and the VideoDisc," Robert Sobel's "RCA," and Alfred Chandler's "The Electronic Century." Although each of these has a diffent purpose and scope, they are all good books about RCA. Jefferson Cowie's "Capital Moves" perfectly complements them and fills a gap in understanding why some American industries "vanished" in a generation. It is a sad story that didn't have to be.

Capital mobility trumps local worker power

"Capital Moves" is both a geographical history of the Radio Corp or America (RCA) from its inception in Camden, NJ in 1929 through its several relocations of factories to various regions of the US and beyond and a work of sociology as it examines the nature of the various local communities and the workforces both before and after the arrival of RCA. RCA, like many industrial concerns in the so-called Rust Belt, has always been concerned with operating in locales with favorable labor relations. It was the community characteristics of having a large pool of unemployed workers with limited wage expectations and no history of industrial activism that impelled RCA to move the production of its consumer products, mostly radios and televisions, from Camden in the 1940s to Bloomington, IN, and ultimately to Juarez, Mexico beginning in the 1970s. But the mass production regimes that were established had the unintended effect of significantly altering the social environments into which they moved.Certainly anti-unionism triggered some of the plant closings that began in the 1970s in the Rust Belt, but RCA actually tolerated the compliant unionism that they recognized in Bloomington and then in Juarez. It was the very nature of the production process instituted by RCA that triggered the worker discontent that they so ardently sought to avoid. The speedup and deskilling under scientific management, the petty authoritarianism, the ignoring of work rules and job classifications, and gender inequities - all sparked resentment and resistance; but did result in some alleviation of the complaints. But a key point is that the ability of a corporation to invest or disinvest literally globally simply transcends the ability of a locally rooted workforce to counter corporate practices, a point amply demonstrated by RCA.The author is wont to discuss the broader issue of worker solidarity especially across borders, as in the Mexican border. But it is acknowledged that interpersonal relationships on which worker solidarity is built, not to mention local customs or even language, do not translate well internationally. While the author is most assuredly on track to criticize simplistic protectionism to counter run-away factories, there is no commentary on the feasibility of political solutions that are grounded in working class solidarity. The political knowledge and activity of the various workforces encountered is not discussed. The fragmented pockets of resistance that may be found in local communities regarding corporate policies is simply no match for the ideological consistency and political influence of the capitalist class. Without a broad-based worker politics strong legislation to require corporations to absorb the costs to communities of shutdowns and downsizings and to require enforced labor and environmental standards to be reflected in the cost of imported products will not be attained. The book is most significant in demonstrating that the cross-border moves

RCA Corp. from a Labor/Management Perspective

This book discusses RCA from a different perspective than the book "RCA" by Robert Sobel, instead concentrating on labor-management interactions. RCA started out in Camden, New Jersey, but as labor got more organized the company relocated it's operations to reduce labor costs, first to Bloomington, Indiana, and later to Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso. Of particular interest to CED VideoDisc enthusiasts will be the chapters on Bloomington, as that was the location of CED Player manufacturing. RCA announced on March 5, 1984 that VideoDisc player manufacturing was moving to Mexico, but a month later on April 4th the RCA Board of Directors voted to phase out player production completely. The book also discusses the post-RCA era in Bloomington and how conditions deteriorated, particularly under GE and to a lesser degree under Thomson, until electronic manufacturing finally ceased there in 1998.

His Master's Voice: A critical look at RCA

Cornell University's Jefferson Cowie has penned a critical look at the business and labor history of RCA. In this work, Cowie traces the communications giant's business and labor history from the late 20's in Camden, N.J. to Bloomington, Indiana, to Memphis,Tennessee to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.Combining interviews with displaced workers with statistical information, the author effectively explains the playing out of a consistent corporate strategy in the company's migration in search of low wages and compliant workers. Particularly moving is Cowie's examination of the closing of the Bloominton, Indiana factory.Both managers and line workers are given voice in recounting the traumatic experience of plant closing and its subsequent impact on the community. This significant work should be read by members of any community trying to come to grips with the issues of NAFTA, plant closings, and corporate responsibilty. Cowie has produced a substantial and readable book.
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