My wife and I both come from (different) upstate New York factory towns. My family moved to San Jose when I was nine. Mary moved to California after high school, while her brothers stayed in Rochester and went to work for Kodak. In the early ’70’s, that was a reasonable path to choose. Kodak was a solid Dow Jones company and historically, one of the first to offer generous benefits to workers.
Over the last three decades, Mary and I have gone back for fun, for weddings, and funerals. Rochester isn’t the same city. Weeds grow in the parking lot of many silent factories. Birds fly out of smokestacks once touted as the tallest in the country.
Kodak is a textbook example of a successful company blindsided by a “disruptive technology.” But textbooks are the last thing on the minds of many of Kodak’s 38,000 retirees. Late to the digital party, there is now talk of Kodak going bankrupt, and unfortunately, Kodak retiree health care is tied to the company’s fortunes. http://www.npr.org/2011/10/12/141257737/the-picture-isnt-pretty-for-some-kodak-retirees
There are way too many stories like this in the news. This one caught my attention because I know the town a little bit, and know people who are affected, people who played by the rules and now find themselves getting screwed. A week from now, their story will be forgotten.
I found myself thinking again of the Occupy Wall Street protestors and some reactions from our “leaders” to their attempt to give people like the Kodak workers a voice.
According to Paul Krugman of the New York Times, Eric Cantor has called the protestors a “mob” and denounced them for “pitting Americans against Americans.” Mitt Romney accused them of “waging class warfare.” Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” Senator Rand Paul fears the protestors will start taking iPads from the rich, and according to the talking heads on CNBC, they are “aligned with Lenin.” http://www.sacbee.com/2011/10/11/3973680/plutocrats-fearing-scrutiny-demonize.html
Hard times bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. These days I find myself paraphrasing the Serenity Prayer – asking for “the wisdom to know the difference.”