Corporations Shouldn’t be Masters of Our Fate

In any election, anywhere, 90% of the voters agreeing on any anything would be rare indeed. But, that is exactly what happened Sunday when John Deere workers voted down the agreement negotiated by the United Auto Workers (UAW) and John Deere management, an agreement workers said was slanted to the interest of corporate profit at the expense of working people.

One could ask why farmers should be concerned if Deere workers get a pay/benefit increase commensurate with the profits of the Deere corporation? Considering Deere is estimating 2021 earnings approaching $6 billion one would think workers are entitled to a fair slice of that? 

We know they will not be decreasing prices for the machinery they sell nor will they back off on their forced service policy, that farmers are required to sign, whereby service, no matter how trivial, cannot be done by the farmer unless it is approved by Deere. Only “authorized” mechanics or Deere dealerships can preform the repairs.

While the initial cost of a new tractor is staggering to say the least, $20,000 to well over $500,000, repairs can be expensive and the down time waiting for repairs can be even more costly, especially when the farmer is forced to wait for “authorized’ repairs while his crops sit in the field. Authorized repairs, a legal scam used by Deere and other equipment manufacturers to keep equipment purchased by farmers under the manufactures control further increasing their profits. The same profits they are so reluctant to share equitably with their workers.

Perhaps this another soul searching moment when farmers and workers need to realize that they are both fair game for the corporate interests that control agriculture. Workers need fair wages, farmers need fair prices and the right to actually “own” the equipment they purchase.

I’ve never belonged to a union or worked for anyone other than myself but I have owned several John Deere tractors. Those old two cylinder models were generally easy to repair yourself, no forced service contract, no computer chips and still, I think the workers that built them did OK. But workers and farmers doing OK told the equipment manufacturers there was too much money left on the table. As with most things in the corporate world they wanted more profit and were always looking for better ways to squeeze it out of anyone they could.

Right to Repair legislation would end the monopoly of manufacturers controlling the repair information, whether it was a tractor, a car or a cell phone and make it possible for an independent repair shop, a farmer or anyone to repair the equipment they owned. Ouch– that would mean lost profit, just as increasing wages for workers meant lost profit. 

There is no disputing that large agribusiness corporations like John Deere have made incredible profits from farmers around the world. Union workers, like farmers, are vastly underpaid relative to the profits made by the corporate entities that hold the power over those they employ and those they sell to. Whether it is keeping wages and benefits for workers low or forcing farmers into binding service contracts for the exorbitantly priced machinery they buy–it all comes down to corporate control over working people.

So, really we’re all in the same boat, under the thumb of corporations hungry for profit who don’t want to share it let alone lose the potential for more. Whether it’s food prices rising when farmers are loosing money, workers struggling to pay their bills, or anyone who wanted to fix their own stuff without asking the manufacturer for permission. 

Corporations want to control our lives, whether they’re agribusiness, technology or big pharma— getting bigger, getting more control and having too much influence over legislation. They really don’t care about how they make their profits, only how much they make. Perhaps it’s time for a Farm Labor Party that works for working people?

Jim Goodman is a dairy farmer from Wonewoc, Wisconsin.