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Targeting the boss’s weaknesses is a successful strategy


The new issue of Labor Notes magazine includes an article by labor scholar Kim Moody about how global corporations are abandoning the “just in time” (JIT) model of production which they adopted from Japan in the 1980s. 

JIT is also known as the “lean” production system, by which products are  manufactured on demand rather being stored in inventory. Its abandonment shows how the boss changes management strategies in response to worker power. If we understand this we can learn how to adapt our tactics, strategies and objectives to fight on what Moody called the “new terrain” in his book of the same title

Moody uncovered a little-recognized change in corporate production strategies that is subtly spreading across the global capitalist economy. Following the disruptions to the global supply chains caused by the Covid pandemic and climate catastrophe, companies have begun to produce and store a surplus of products in inventory. 

Instead of locating them in a central place they are instead rapidly constructing a global network of warehouses positioned along a global supply chain to store them. This network is modeled after Amazon’s concentrated logistics hubs managed by merciless digital surveillance systems. 

This is the same global network of warehouses where workers have been organizing, threatening to strike or actually striking global corporations including Amazon, DHL, UPS and others across several countries. Learning their lesson from the pandemic, Moody argues, has led these companies to begin leaving the JIT production model to avoid further disruption. One of the main sources of disruption is by worker organizing at vulnerable choke points along every link in the global logistics networks. 

In other-words, as I wrote about in my last piece about UPS’s counter-attack against the Teamsters’ strike threat, companies are studying their vulnerabilities and adapting. That requires that workers also continue to study the terrain on which we fight and adapt our tactics and strategies to escalate our power to disrupt business as usual to achieve our objectives. 

While Moody doesn’t mention it, one cause for the shift beginning during the pandemic were the many wildcat strikes by “essential” workers in logistics, health care and the gig sector during the first few months of the pandemic, most of whom had no formal union. According to the Payday Report strike tracker, there were at least 600 in the U.S. alone and an unknown many more globally. These workers were taking direct action to protect themselves during the early days of the deadly pandemic by targeting the critical choke points of what little of the capitalist economy was still functioning with their labor.  

Moody’s research definitively shows how the boss transforms the composition of capital to decompose worker power I discussed in my last piece. That means that workers must always pay close attention to how the boss changes our work to see where new vulnerabilities emerge. 

Last month, Gifford Hartman of the Global Labour University and I ran our workshop on organizing a credible strike threat at key choke points at the Labor Notes conference. Gifford showed how the United Auto Workers’ stand-up strike last year was successful because the union strategically targeted vulnerable choke points as it escalated the pressure and the cost to each company.  

As we cheer the UAW’s bringing the big three, Daimler and soon VW and others to their knees, we also need to learn from their careful study of how the bosses are organized so we can outsmart and overpower them. 

When more of us begin doing that we will finally build the workers movement we need.        

Robert Ovetz is author of the forthcoming book “Rebels for the System” (Haymarket Press) about nonprofits, capitalism and the labor movement. He is also the editor of “Workers' Inquiry and Global Class Struggle,” co-editor of the new “Real World Labor (Vol. 4)” and the author of “When Workers Shot Back” and “We the Elites: Why the US Constitution Serves the Few.” Follow him at @OvetzRobert.

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