Manuel: I still can’t believe the horrible, horrible homicide and suicide that took place at the DaimlerChrysler Stickney Avenue plant last night, Wednesday, 26 January, on the second shift.
Peter: Yeh, say it. Let’s try to think about it.
Manuel: How Myles Meyers, 54 years old, came to work with a double-barreled shotgun hidden under a long black coat and wrought terror in the body shop. That he shot one of his supervisors, Roy Thacker, point blank in the head and wounded another boss, an area manager. He wounded a team leader as a third victim, before putting a slug into his own head. This man, Myles, the shooter worked at Jeep for 31 years.
Peter: Yes, I read about it in the paper, The Blade, and everyone was talking about it after the evening news. It was horrible tragedy, so horrible we couldn’t discuss anything else at our Marxist study group this morning when, originally, we were to talk about Sections 3 & 4 (“Branches of English Industry without Legal Limits to the Working Day” and “Day and Night Work”) from Chapter 10 on the Working Day in Capital Volume One. During our conversation, a Jeep worker told us that the media was circulating the company’s lie about Myles’s motive for “going postal” at the plant, as when the Toledo Blade says he “recently faced disciplinary action by the company because he reportedly argued with a supervisor”; in fact, Myles’s fellow worker told us that the bosses Myles shot were those who carried out Daimler-Chrysler’s policy of eliminating jobs by headcounts.
Manuel: And Myles’s job was his life. He was a skilled worker, a skilled metal worker: a welder, a cutter, a sheet metal specialist. He was the fix-it guy, the go-to guy. “Take it to the repair hole, Miles will fix it.” Last year, after the company got rid of the inspectors, he fixed 300 hundred cars; he fixed the frames which had hairline fractures in them. They made him a floater. That was a month ago. Myles was a fisherman, a hunter, and a generous neighbor. He was a model worker.
Peter: So why did this happen? The company DaimlerChrysler wanted to say it was an individual pathological accident. The police let it be known that Myles Meyers was under arrest warrant to appear in court on a charge of possessing a small amount of marijuana. The press, the corporation, and the police are casting terrible story in a predictably, but when we talk to other workers, their explanations seem insufficient.
Manuel: Well, friend from Jeep has sketched in the deeper background of Myles’s motive that the media is not mentioning and the company is actively concealing by already calling this killing and suicide on the shop floor an “isolated incident.” Ever since the new union leadership in the UAW at Jeep had come into power last May, management and those in the thoroughly corrupt, previous union regime have done all they could to discredit and humiliate them. Democracy? The Union contract a year ago was more or less rammed down the throats of the ‘collective bargaining members’. It seems to install for the future a kind of domestic out-sourcing for everything except final assembly.
Peter: Yes, so when the company tried to fire Myles on false drug charges (allegedly for “smelling of marijuana”) and the new leadership succeeded in defending him, the management went ferociously after Myles. Management moved him from job to job taking his equipment and continually humiliating him by putting up degrading signs and pictures around his workplace to show him how to do his job.
Manuel: In fact, Myles was constantly under surveillance for any mistake he made, any reason that would serve as rationale for firing him. By the time he was on his third job and accused of making a couple of mistakes, management called Myles into the office and grilled him for five hours. That was Tuesday night, the day before he took his shotgun to work.
Peter: The third person Myles was after was a young female foreman whom the company had newly hired and ordered to keep an eye on him. Myles, a worker with twenty-some-year seniority whose jobs kept getting chopped. “That’s how the company divides the workers: hire in younger people who know nothing about what’s going on and use them to cut off the older workers’ seniority, insurance, security, you name it,” our friend told us.
I noticed the atmosphere in Toledo has become poisoned with the usual suspects, particulate pollutants, and also something more insidious to our memory and our spirit.
Manuel: Yes, a week before this shooting on 10 January a statute was unveiled of Governor James Rhodes who was responsible for the Kent State shootings of four students by the National Guard both by ordering the Guard to the campus and by his inflammatory speeches in May 1970. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. Marines were invited into downtown Toledo to practice urban warfare in preparation for Iraq, or other cities. The governors of Toledo have put the city, otherwise desperate financially, at the service of empire. Peter: Reading such stories of death and torture under the regime of terror reminded me of the pamphlet we put together several years ago. Do you remember that?
Manuel: Yes, we wrote a pamphlet in 1999. We began to explore the relationship between the acquisition in 1998 of Jeep by the Daimler-Benz company and the resumption of capital punishment in Ohio a year later in 1999. It was about slave labor in the camps and in the plants of Germany. We uncovered systematic working to death and the exemplary hanging to death of workers in the slave labor factories of Germany. This was back when the swastika and the Mercedes star symbol were virtually interchangeable in company advertisements.
Peter: You recall how we searched for graphic image of production in Daimler Benz plants during the Third Reich, and couldn’t find anything largely because the archives are so closely kept. However, we did get a description from a French slave, Ives Beon, of production of Dora where the V-2 rockets were built: “In cadence, with little fingers against their trouser seams, the men pass the SS man, and he counts them by tapping his whip against their shoulders. The column passes in front of the final control hall, which is very deep and contains the V-2 set on their fins. Then the promised spectacle meets the gaze of the prisoners. Just beyond this point, a rolling bridge blocks the whole gallery. It is used to lift the rockets from their cradles and bring them inside the hall. For the moment, this rolling bridge is blocked halfway up, at about twelve feet above the ground. All along is length dangle an obscene bunch of hanged men, a dozen. Most of their bodies have lost both rousers and shoes, and puddles of urine cover the floor. Since the ropes are long, the bodies swing gently about five feet above the floor, and you have to push them aside as you advance. As you make your way through, you receive bumps from knees and tibias soaked in urine, and the corpses, pushed against each other, begin to spin around.”
Manuel: I think this starkly horrific image of death and terror on the shop floor perfectly compressed the point of our pamphlet: we were arguing how Daimler-Benz’s use of death and terror in its labor camps had critical elements of continuity with what was going in Daimler-Chrysler’s Jeep plant in Toledo. At the time it may have appeared as something of rhetorical hyperbole to have made such a connection but, as if to prognosticate a deadly future in the present, since then death and terror did visit upon Jeep the plant, didn’t they?
Peter: Yes, they certainly did. 50-year-old Lazaro “Larry” Fuentes was crushed to death between the transfer rails as he was repairing a robot welder on May 17, 2000; and now Myles Meyers’s killing and suicide in the plant on Jan. 26.
Manuel: At the Marx study group today, a UE union organizer succinctly summed up the latest tragedy in Jeep: “lean production led to this working-class killing and suicide” while a Jeep worker called the war in Iraq “a lean production war” with the U.S. military use of subcontracted torturers. Democracy in Iraq and in Ohio this weekend is fraught with bombs or bullets. You told us that we need to cultivate a politically parallax view that brings together the war in Iraq and the war on the shop floor at Jeep. I’m wondering how might we start developing such a view.
Peter: We can start by looking at this morning’s Blade. One headline shouts “2 killed, 2 wounded in Jeep plant shooting” and the other headline, more muted, says “U.S. suffers its deadliest day in Iraq: Helicopter crash, attacks claim the lives of 37 GIs” and the President talks about “a global march towards liberty.” Our Jeep friend said, “Peter, tell them there is blood on the upholstery of the Jeep Liberty!”
As the blood runs from the upholstery of the Jeep Liberty, blood also flows in the wake of this global imperialist march for securing oil and the running of capitalist Liberties. As our Jeep worker friend said, “Lean production is to work longer, harder, faster, for less.” Lean production at home, and lean warfare in Iraq: outsourcing, private mercenaries, private contractors to help with the torture, logistics and laundry and food preparation privatized, shoddy equipment, jerry-built vehicles, the poverty-draft, stinting on safety. The comparisons are easy to make.
Manuel: You know, one of the co-authors of our pamphlet, Jeff Howison did his M.A. thesis on lean production at Toledo Jeep in 2000. He has a telling quote from a DaimlerChrysler worker at Jeep who associates the language of team concept in lean production and prison: “They’re calling the teams ‘cells’….It suggests working in a prison environment…To a lot of people, working in a factory can be pretty drudgerous. You wake up in the morning, you do your job, and you go home. It’s like being in prison. In some of the areas where we work, there are no windows, you don’t see the outside, there is very little time to get away from your work, so they think of it in terms of being in a prison, you know, where they are making good money!”
Peter: Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the Toledo Jeep Plant: daily degradation of the proletarian prisoners and capital punishment, self-imposed or otherwise. Michaela pointed out to me something interesting. In the same issue of The Blade there was a story of humiliation at one of the Toledo charter schools which if it happened in Abu Ghraib would be called torture. A 17-year old student was strip searched and forced to remove her underwear on suspicion of stealing.
Manuel: I think your London Hanged can help us considerably in illuminating these relationships. In the new afterword you wrote how workers, atomized and divaricated from their fellow workers, have been forced internalize ruling-class terror as a means of dealing with their defeat and humiliation. Myles appears to have done this.
Peter: “Lay then the axe to the root,” said Tom Paine, “and teach governments humanity. It is their sanguinary punishments which corrupt mankind.” Or, as people say, shit rolls down hill. A generation has grown up under capital punishment which teaches that death is the punishment for crime. And youth now are coming of age during war when the cerebral functions meet a tremendous set of obstacles. Lean production is the pedagogical instrument that the ruling class wields against the workers to teach this state terrorist ethic of capital punishment. By the way, didn’t lean production originate in Japan?
Manuel: Yes it did; it was developed by the Toyota auto company and known in Japan simply as “Toyota seisan hÙshiki” (“Toyota production system”). War, oil, and lean production. I believe there is a certain historical logic in this unholy trinity of accumulation. What prompted Japan to enter into World War II was the oil and raw-material embargo that competing Western imperialist countries imposed on Japan in the 1930s. This pressure of inter-imperialist rivalry resulted in acute reduction of living standards among Japanese workers and prompted their embrace of the country’s war as a pan-Asian “war of liberation” centering on emperor worship. The Toyota automobile company was established, in 1937. After World War II Japanese industrial capitalists, impressed by the Fordist method of U.S. bomber manufacturing that produced the B29s which razed their cities to rubble and drove them to unconditional surrender, started to study U.S. production and the Statistical Quality Control practices developed by people like Ishikawa Kaoru, Edwards Deming, and Joseph Juran, those postwar gurus of Quality Control or Kaizen celebrated so sanctimoniously in business and management literature today.
Peter: You are describing the post-war Japanese class relationship in production, the sort of thing that Marty Glaberman brought to U.S. auto workers.
Manuel: Yes, the Japanese industrialists’ objective was to contain the insurgency of postwar Japanese workers, whose struggles revolved around seisan kanri or “production control” (workers took over the workplace and ran it under their own control) to circumvent the U.S. Occupation’s no-strike rule. Japanese business finally beat this working-class strategy in 1960 by repressing the Miike coalminers’ struggle against the “rationalization” of their labor process and the anti-Ampo (U.S.-Japan Mutual Security Agreement) movement of the same year, two struggles that gave birth to the first Japanese New Left.
Peter: Go on.
Manuel: So repression of Miike allowed capital to micro-manage the labor-process and the repression of anti-Ampo for it to macro-manage the framework of Cold War military industry (Korean and Vietnam Wars) through which the accelerated rate of postwar Japanese corporate profit was achieved. Yeah, and the Toyoto Production System offered an ideal model of the “rationalization” initiated in Miike and it was generalized throughout the Japanese economic system in the 1970s when the New Left was defeated and the oils shocks, along with new use of the microelectronic technology, of that decade enabled Japanese auto industry to force lean production down their workers’ throats with a vengeance.
Peter: this is very important. Why don’t we know about this?
Manuel: I think lean production can be summed up in the seven “non-value added”–a telling phrase!–(muda) wastes that Toyota Production System designates itself to combat:
1) waste of overproduction;
2) waste of time on hand (waiting);
3) waste in transportation;
4) waste of processing itself;
5) waste of stock on hand (inventory);
6) waste of movement; and
7) waste of making defective products.
Each of these non-value added category, you notice, requires squeezing as much mental and physical powers from the workers’ labor process as it is possible to densely pack their working time (chapter 10 again!) with the work of adding (i.e. surplus) value. Namely, the imposition of faster, harder, more concentrated work. I believe Iraq and Jeep are a continuation of such a lean production strategy against the working class through the bloody and fiery circuits of war, oil, and terror.
Peter: Speaking of war, working class, and terror, when I was driving down this morning from Ann Arbor, I turned on the radio, and there was a story about the holocaust survivors from Auschwitz. There was no memorial yesterday in Toledo for the liberation of Auschwitz. But I do remember a Polish Jew, a friend of mine, who was a survivor of Auschwitz. I used to play chess with him even though he was mainly a go player. He said he only survived because he had the constitution of a boy and he was able to make some kind of deal to obtain pieces of bread from a physician. He knew all about the crumbs and scraps producing the ‘lean and hungry look.’ He was anti-capitalist on the grounds that all human misery produced by capitalism was stupid and inefficient. He was not at all sentimental about it. It was a question of understanding surplus value, he would say. This was in the days before the extermination of the Jews, and the untermenschen, was known as the holocaust. It was part of “the struggle,” he’d say. Getting bread in winter death camps, retaining your job as systems analyst for IBM, learning English and political economy from Trotskyist comrades in the 1950s, and refusing the war in Vietnam: they were all part of “the struggle.” He and I heard Isaac Deutscher speak “On Socialist Man.”
Manuel: Like Alex, my maternal grandfather also played go at home when he was alive. He was not political but his soldiering in the Japanese army during World War II left a bitter taste in his mouth. Collective punishment meted out in Japanese military, having to drink piss to survive in the battlefield, being shot in the thigh and the leg. Once he was ordered to kill a woman and her child; he couldn’t do it, letting them escape when the commander wasn’t looking. He was in China, from whence Mitsui and other Japanese businesses captured people and, like Daimler Benz, forced slave labor on them. My grandfather was not fond of talking about his war experience; he opened up only after imbibing sufficient amount of sake.
Peter: Alex didn’t like talking about his experience in Auschwitz, though it was not what interested him. He pointed to Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale when they carried arms for self-defense into the balcony of the California legislature in Sacramento. Alex said, “That’s class war.” We parted company in 1969. That was the year of implosion, that was the year of the Days of Rage and then the “suicidal” SDS convention in Chicago. Perhaps similar phenomena happened elsewhere? What about Japan?
Manuel: A passage that Marx translated in 1846 from the writings of Jacques Peuchet, French police administrator, economist, and statistician comes to mind when I think of Myles: “Above all, there must exist a kind of greatness of soul in these beggars who, fixed on death as they are, destroy themselves rather than choosing the detour of the scaffold on the way to suicide. It is true that the more progress our economy makes, the more rarely do these noble suicides occur, and conscious hostility takes its place and the unfortunate recklessly chance robbery and murder. It is easier to get the death penalty than to get work.”
In 1969 suicidal implosions were also underway in Japan. On May 13 of that year the radical rightwing writer Mishima Yukio went to the student-occupied Tokyo University to debate the radical leftwing Zenkyoto students there. Mishima told the students that he would have willingly joined their occupation if they had uttered the word “emperor,” whom he viewed as the indigenous revolutionary principle of the Japanese cultural unconscious, and, afterwards, affirmed his belief in armed insurrection on the basis of Mao’s notion of “people’s war.” And there was Tanigawa Gan, the charismatic Maoist poet and organizer at the Miike coalmine, who posed the Asiatic commons as the utopian antithesis to capitalist rationalization found in lean production.
Peter: Let me try to understand this. You’re saying that there was a tradition of political suicide in Japan?
Manuel: Well, year later after the Zenkyoto dialogue, in 1970, Mishima occupied the Ichigaya headquarter of the Japanese Self-Defense Force with three members of his private army and committed ritual suicide, decrying the materialist culture of postwar Japanese capitalism. In 1969 as the Zenkyoto student struggle fragmented, many militant Maoist workers and students came together to form the Red Army Faction and Keihin Ampo Kyoto, combining their forces the year after to establish the Red Army Union (Rengo Sekigun); in 1972 the Red Army Union went into the Japanese South Alps mountains for military training and, during its internal purges, fourteen of their own members were killed, followed by a ten-day shootout with the police at Asama-sanso in Karuizawa City. Sixteen members of the Red Army Union were arrested, two of whom, Nagata Yoko and Sakaguchi Hiroshi, were sentenced to death in 1982. Its topmost leader Mori Tsuneo hanged himself in his prison cell on New Year’s Day in 1973.
Peter: What do you make of these suicides?
Manuel: I think Mishima’s suicide symbolized the end of the emperor-based insurrection for the indigenous commons; while the Red Army Union’s organizational suicide the failure of the Japanese New Left to confront the historical legacy of the Japanese commons, striking a fatally traumatic blow upon the movement as a whole.
Peter: How does this relate to the murders at Jeep? Or to lean production? Manuel: On the basis of these suicides, Toyota and other companies found a way to turn the tide of our class to their advantage. In 1972, the year of the Red Army Union’s auto-destruction, a working-class investigative journalist Kamata Satoshi went undercover for six months as a “seasonal worker” in the Toyota auto factory in Toyota Town in Toyota City (“the only place in Japan where a city took on the name of a family, and where a town took on the name of a company”). His vivid account of this experience is translated into English as Japan in the Passing Lane (I much prefer its original title, Jidosha zetsubo kojoóAuto Factory of Despair). In this cutting-edge plant, hailed as the fatherland of lean production, Kamata reveals that the innovative labor process there consisted of nothing more than leaner, meaner, and faster Fordism for less. Over thirty years later, in 2004, Kamata revisited the company town and observed the increase of morbidity, suicide, and depression in the Toyota “factory of despair.” Listen to what Kamata said,
“The conversation among my friends turned to an accident one early morning in May, where a 33-year old worker was crushed to death in a metal press, followed by talk of suicides, some from overwork, among elite technicians in the development division and among leaders of the labor union. Over the last decade, they said, they’ve seen a dramatic increase in depression among their coworkers.”
So we find, not at all coincidentally, a recurrence of suicide, death, and depression wherever lean production is implemented, from the fatherland to its offspring factories everywhere in the world, including Toledo Jeep. Peter: We don’t really have a name for the phenomenon of joint homicide and suicide in combination. ‘Going postal’ gets at some of it, but it is unfair to the post office. Working conditions play a part in the context of the homicide-suicide. Speaking to a Greek philosopher, he suggested “ergocide,” or the killing of work, and he compared it to the murderous rage which possesses some guys who will kill their wives and then themselves when their wife leaves them. The unspoken logic seems to be if I can’t have you no one else can either, or applying it back to the situation at work, ‘if I can’t have this particular job, no one else can either.’
Manuel: When Myles Meyers entered the Liberty body shop he knew who he intended to kill, and it was clearly with a horribly misplaced sense of redressing injury. If one continues the analysis based on the work situation, we would remember what Frederick Engels said at the beginning of the industrial revolution, when he outlined the stages of working class resistance to the unquenchable thirst of capitalisms for more work. The first stage is individual resistance, a later stage is organizing with fellow workers ñ union ñ and still later is a politics to terminate the voracious appetite of capitalism and bring to an end its social system that has failed.
Peter: ‘going postal’ now is a kind of struggle Engels didn’t know about. One generation ago people struggled to open up the plants and the Keynesian wage to people of color. A generation before that people struggle just to get union recognition, and before that they struggled for safety on the job.
Manuel: The nihilism of multiple suicides was a theme of Japanese kabuki drama in the Tokugawa period. ‘Star-crossed lovers’ who were forbidden to marry by the rigidities of class convention formed and carried out a mutual suicide pact, jo-shi it was called. How does this compare to the “ergocide” at Jeep?
Peter: The slaughter at Jeep is unforgivable. It is individualistic, that is true. It is also egocentric to the extreme. It represents the opposite to class solidarity with fellow workers which includes the people in your shop, during your shift, in your city, in your state, in your family, in your children’s school. Did you see that the Union president recommended prayer? Who was it who said ‘don’t mourn, organize’? Going postal is an irrational, individual, act of desperation. What is our species to become? That’s the question. The whole world knows that the governing class in Ohio is incapable of fair elections. The capitalist class is also proving itself in Ohio incapable of schooling, cooperative labor, health care, or providing clean air and water. How can we bring about, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson’s plan for the Ohio Indians, a termination of that class’s history?
What happed at Jeep yesterday represents a vast institutional failure. The plant has failed, the government has failed, the union has failed. The plant has installed lean production. Man cannot enter his true species being. Once the Jeep was the engine of liberation. You can still see the photographs of the Jeep at the gates of the concentration camps. But those days are long gone!
Manuel: Instead of liberation, we have aggressive cupidity, an unquenchable thirst for surplus value that Marx compared to that of a vampire in Chapter 10. Kamata has noted that Toyota is “the most profitable company in Japan” and its net profit for the fiscal year 2004 was “reported at 1.16 trillion yen ($10.5 billion),” occasioning “for first time in the history of Japanese capitalism that a company has passed one trillion yen in profits.”
Peter: Daimler-Chrysler, too, proudly proclaims that it has achieved record sales of commercial vehicles for the year 2004, garnering “a 42% increase from 2003 (501,000 units), a new all-time high for the sale of trucks, buses and vans” (according to its press release from Stuttgart, Germany on January 27, 2005, the day after the tragic killing and suicide in the Jeep plant).
Manuel: Between such triumphal balance sheets of corporate profit and the seeping blood on the shop floor lies the capitalist strategy of “lean production,” blood of labor-power being squeezed into surplus value through the seeming alchemical mediation of oil, making us realize more than ever the salience of that anti-war slogan “No Blood for Oil.” But, of course, it’s no alchemy, just the class struggle, though the I believe latter can change the blood spilled on Wednesday night into qualitatively something different. A Jeep worker told me on the phone today, “Fear prevails among management now; it’s time the workers arm themselves collectively in their workplace: ‘bring your guns to work!’ will be our new slogan.” What Alex Szejman immediately understood as the “class war” that the Black Panthers were waging.
Peter: Marx, too said, “Suicide reduces the most violent share of the difficulty, the scaffold the rest. Only completely recasting our entire system of agriculture and industry can sources of income and true wealth be anticipated.”
Manuel: How do you think we can help our class in Toledo take a step toward such a “complete recasting” of our entire agricultural and industrial system?
Peter: Well Dr. Marx might be able to help us after all. In his section on night work he quoted Dr Strange in whose 1864 volume called Health we can find this passage:
“The muscles of animals, when they are deprived of a proper amount of light, become soft and inelastic, the nervous power loses its tone from defective stimulation, and the elaboration of all growth seems to be perverted… In the case of children, constant access to plenty of light during the day, and to the direct rays of the sun for a part of it, is most essential to health. Light assists in the elaboration of good plastic blood, and hardens the fiber after it has been laid down. It also acts as a stimulus upon the organs of sight, and by this means brings about more activity in the various cerebral functions.”
We need to be able to use our cerebral functions in the day light, collectively, responsibly. The city of Toledo, the State of Ohio, needs to take responsibility for lean production and abolish it! It has proved itself dysfunctional. That’s just a start.
Manuel Yang can be reached at email@example.com
Peter Linebaugh teaches history at the University of Toledo. He is the author of two of CounterPunch’s favorite books, The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bernard Bellon, Mercedes in Peace and War: German Automobile Workers, 1903-1945 (Columbia University Press, 1990)
Ives Beon, Planet Dora: A Memoir of the Holocaust (Westview, 1997)
Jeffrey D. Howison, Explorations in Lean Production at Jeep M.A. Thesis (University of Toledo, 2000)
Satoshi Kamata, “Toyota: Suicide and Worker Depression at the World’s Most Profitable Manufacturer,” trans. John Junkerman (November 1, 2004).
Karl Marx, Capital: Volume One (Penguin)
Yukio Mishima and Todai Zenkyoto, Bi to kyodotai to todai-toso (1969)
Tom Paine, The Rights of Man (1792)
Eric A. Plaut and Kevin Anderson, eds., Marx on Suicide, trans. Eric A. Plaut, Gabrielle Edgcomb, and Kevin Anderson (Northwestern University Press, 1999)
Manuel Yang, Jason Hribal, and Jeff Howison, An Historical Sketch of the Class Struggle at Daimler-Chrysler from 1905 to 1999: Some Materials for Thinking Aloud (1999)