Monday, August 25, 1997

Week of 08/25/1997

UPS vs Teamsters: Who Really Won?
- by David Matthews 2

I realize that this is a dated issue, but in all conscience I could not talk about the strike by Teamsters members against United Parcel Service until it was in its aftermath. I have been placed in the middle of some very heated disputes between unions and management in the past, and to be brutally honest this was one issue I couldn’t "shoot from the hip" and comment about as it happened.

From UPS’ standpoint, the issue was clear - they presented what they called their "last, best and final offer" for the employees, addressing all the issues the Teamsters said they wanted to clarify. The Teamsters refused to address the offer and instead acted as though they were told to drop dead. They didn’t even allow the offer to be put to a vote by the rank-and-file before ordering the strike. And as I understood it, it was a sound offer. UPS workers get paid more than the average cop on the beat as is, and the offer would’ve even given them a pay raise and maintain job security.

But the Teamsters had a different plan: get UPS to settle on THEIR terms, not to acquiesce to the terms set by management. Standard union plan. So they called for a strike, and that night they put the hurt not just to UPS, but also to the whole country. Small businesses that depended on those brown trucks to handle their packages suddenly found themselves either on the brink or in full-fledged bankruptcy because they could not get their products out.

Other carriers like Federal Express and Roadway Parcel Service either could not or would not pick up the slack. This was their opportunity to shine and they dropped the ball. I guess it would be understandable. After all, here was this torrent of customers who wanted their packages delivered and they couldn’t handle them AND remain faithful to their current customers. They were thinking long-term compared to a short-term situation and they simply weren’t prepared.

Then there was the issue of the Teamsters not letting the union members vote on the "last, best, and final offer" from UPS. This caused some serious dissension in the ranks, and forced some five thousand employees to quit the union and cross the picket line. Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and even some libertarians like WSB radio’s Neal Boortz were perplexed how Teamsters could call for a strike without letting the rank-and-file decide on the issue. It’s simple: union leaders speak, members fall in line. Standard collective mentality, no different than that seen in the gangs or in the mob or in a church congregation. If Teamsters president Ron Carey told them to walk off a cliff it would be an even bet that most of them would, especially if they didn’t know what was on the other side of that cliff. Some successful individuals have a hard time understanding the collective mentality.

Now I could go on and on about why I think the Teamsters wouldn’t let the members vote on that offer, but at this point it’s sort of moot. I’d rather vent some of the actual things that came out of the strike.

To the credit of the Teamsters, Ron Carey put on a good PR show. That Frank Gorshin look-alike made sure the radio talk shows were hit every day with union members to counter conservative arguments. He even pulled out a part-time mother and paraded her in front of the cameras to emphasize the human element of the strike and had her talking about the old tried-and-true "family values" and how supposedly UPS wasn’t allowing her to do that. And they had an eager-to-appease media to manipulate at their disposal. It was a good campaign, no different than any of the political campaigns they support.

Yet the messages the Teamsters spoke of often were either outdated or meaningless. One reported Teamsters member constantly spoke of job security. Job security? That’s a myth! Everyone from the CEO to your average wage-slave out there in the real world knows that there is no such thing as job security anymore! Maybe once upon a time it existed, but not any more. That’s reality!

When talk came about the pension, the Teamsters wanted to retain full control of that pension program instead of letting UPS manage it. As I understood it, under the Teamsters’ program, UPS would be funneling pension funds to the union to put in a general fund. That fund would then pay the pensions of retired UPS members. Problem being that UPS would fund even Teamsters that don’t work at UPS! (That IS the definition of a general fund.) How would you like to be forced to fund the pension programs of people who could very well work for your competitors? Of course, UPS never capitalized on that thought. So UPS offered their own pension program, which naturally the Teamsters rejected outright. After all, this was THEIR cash cow! And they said the union members couldn’t "trust" UPS? THEN WHY WORK FOR THEM??????

Personally, I know that pensions are yet another program that will soon be entering the extinct list. The pensions have been abused so many times that there’s no guarantee it’s still solvent, no matter WHO controls them. Not to mention they were created in an era when lifetime employment was alive. With today’s shifting job base, the concept of someone staying with one particular company long enough to draw a pension from will shortly be a rare sight indeed.

UPS could have had what they wanted.. but they fumbled the ball big time. They waffled worse than any politician ever could. Here’s a hint guys: Unless you’re elected to Congress, you NEVER use the words "last" and "final" unless you really mean them! The first sign of management’s waffling was their reluctance to hire replacement workers. That should have been the first thing UPS did after the strike. The Teamsters played a game of attrition, and unless you want to kowtow to them your strategy should be Mutual Assured Destruction!

Well, UPS did kowtow to them, and the strike is over.. for now. But who really won?

Ron Carey and the media both say that it was a big win for "workers." But was it really? There are plenty of UPS workers that are still out of work, some of them permanently laid off. They are now realizing that when UPS said there will be layoffs that it wasn’t just an idle threat.

And this whole affair may be repeated in a couple of months when the contract between UPS and the pilot’s union runs out. Carey said that the Teamsters will honor any walkout by the pilot’s union. "We reward our friends and punish our enemies," he said. So UPS will once again be forced to deal with a shutdown by unions unless they’re willing to kowtow to them.

I shed no tears for any future calamity that faces UPS. You get the union you deserve, and UPS got theirs by choice. Nobody forced UPS to acquiesce to the Teamsters. They did that themselves. It’s time for consumers to start looking at other cargo services that aren’t unionized. Build up their customer base now so when UPS and the unions start screwing with us we can tell both groups to drop dead not just by words but by our business.

Once upon a time there was a need for unions. You can’t deny that. They were needed in an era when both management abuses and lifetime employment were the norm. But that was a different era. A different society. It may still exist in third world countries, but not those in the Information Age. The workplace is too fluid and opportunities too numerous to allow such abuses to continue for long. But now the unions are nothing more than an anchor to the past, dragging down progress in the name of… what? By all accounts, unions are only doing it for its own futile self-survival.

Monday, August 18, 1997

Week of 08/18/1997

21St Century Hype
The road to the 21st Century is paved in political hype
- by David Matthews 2

Well, you knew it was going to happen. Bill Clinton has been hyping the coming millennia for so long as part of his non-stop campaign administration that he’s now decided when that millennia will happen.

Clinton has announced a new program that would prepare for the "21st Century" with a series of television spots, lecture series, free concerts, photo-ops, and presentations by children. It would all kick off in time for the start of the 21st Century in the year 2000.

What a minute… 2000? Doesn’t the 21st Century start in 2001?

Well yes, according to scholars and historians that always say that the new century or the new millennia actually begin in the first year, not the zero year. And Clinton is no dummy, is he? After all, he went to college. He married a lawyer. And he’s got plenty of smart minds to advise him on when the millennia will start, doesn’t he?

Yes, he does. Which is precisely why Clinton has decided the millennia will start a year early.

Believe it or not, there is a method to this madness. In 1994, Clinton was toast. His popularity was next to nothing. His party (if you can still refer to him as a Democrat without getting an upset stomach or rolling on the floor laughing) lost control of both the House and the Senate, and those Democrats that kept power either resigned from office or switched sides to the GOP. The GOP set their sights on the White House, and it seemed that nothing would stop them from winning in 96. But Clinton managed to turn the momentum in a year’s time by running TV ads by the Democratic Party promoting everything Clinton. The Democrats didn’t have anyone running against Clinton, so they could afford to spend the campaign money normally reserved for primaries. By the end of 1995, Clinton was back to being a credible candidate for re-election, with thanks in no small part going to Dick Morris and the Democratic Party.

Think about it for a minute. Clinton’s 96 theme was "building a bridge to the 21st century." That was the message he was hyping at every speech. He was looking ahead, forging a legacy, making a "better" world. Perfect political message for the next campaign; for the president who will succeed him.

Let’s be brutally honest about this - President Clinton’s White House Millennium Project is nothing more than a jump-start at hype for the presidential elections. Because when the real millennium arrives in 2001, it will be past the presidential elections. Bill Clinton will have to start packing his bags for departure. He can’t market it by then to help out his chosen successor. And if a politician can’t wrap it up in a neat little package and mainline it into the increasingly slimmer number of active voters to digest in his or her favor, then it doesn’t matter squat to them.

Never forget that Bill Clinton is a career politician. He may not be able to run for re-election again, but that doesn’t mean he can’t continue to do what he does best for a possible successor. And who cares if the millennium really starts a year later? Besides, that kind of thinking can best be used for more productive things such as political spin.

Monday, August 11, 1997

Week of 08/11/1997

Apple-soft or Applesauce?
Is Apple’s deal with Microsoft a deal with the devil?
- by David Matthews 2

On August 6th, something strange happened at the Mac World convention. In a meeting with all Apple investors, co-founder and former chairman Steve Jobs announced sweeping changes to the top level of Apple Computers in order to keep the computer giant from bleeding itself to death. The changes involved the ditching of all but two members of its board of directors, and the import of some of the biggest names in the computer industry. The chairmen of Intel and Oracle were now new board members, as well as the former chief financial officer of IBM, and of course the return of Jobs himself to the board. Jobs, who is also the CEO of Steven Speilberg’s Pixar company (the animation wizards behind the movie "Toy Story"), had already turned down an offer to be the chairman of Apple. He also announced that there would be no chairman yet so that that new board can set down the direction for the company.

But the biggest bomb dropped came from an unlikely figure - Bill Gates of Microsoft! Appearing via video from his office in Redmond, Gates announced that Microsoft was purchasing $150 million in non-voting stock in Apple and would also be on the board of directors. In return, Microsoft will provide Apple-compatible versions of Microsoft Office, and their Internet Explorer would be the default browser for all new Macintosh computers.

The news was shocking to the vast spectrum of computer users, investors, developers, and engineers. Some have dubbed Bill Gates as "BillGatus of Borg" for Microsoft’s assimilation into everything involved with computer software. Indeed, you name a software application and you’ll find a version made by Microsoft. Within a decade, the success of Microsoft and the meteoric rise of personal computers made Bill Gates the richest man in America. And many have accused Microsoft of succeeding by using unscrupulous measures. Personally I can’t say whether they have or they haven’t. If they have, they’ve managed to elude numerous government probes into their business practices - something rarely possible. If they haven’t acted unscrupulously, then the problem the critics have is not Microsoft but rather the brutally honest reality of business.

Still, here are some of the realities in this Apple/Microsoft arrangement:

  • Microsoft’s $150 million investment will be in non-voting shares of Apple. Despite having Gates on their board of directors, he will have no more power in Apple than anyone else on that board. And remember, the rest of that board is composed of some of the leaders of Microsoft’s competition, so they will hardly be intimidated by Gates. So all rumors of Gates "taking over" Apple are baseless.
  • Microsoft has guaranteed that they will continue to produce Microsoft Office for the Mac’s OS. Macintosh’s fatal flaw over the years has much to do with Apple’s rigid control of OS software development, and the lack of diversity in software (not to mention hardware) has hurt Macintosh sales far more than anything Microsoft could ever do.
  • Including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer as a default browser doesn’t preclude users from getting other browsers such as Netscape. And in fact, when it comes to browsers, Netscape is still the leader in usage at a ratio of 4 to 1. Even if all new Mac owners start using IE, it will not cause a major shift in that ratio. PC users still hold an overall numerical advantage over Mac users.

Once upon a time Apple held great control in the PC market. I grew up with Apple II and later with the first all-in-one Macintosh systems. I still use Mac computers on occasion. But Apple didn’t hold onto that lead because they didn’t see the changes that would happen. Apple thought their enemy was IBM in the 80’s, and Microsoft in the 90’s. They were wrong on both counts.

Apple’s losses were not because of IBM or Microsoft. Apple’s enemy was itself, and it’s rigid control over both hardware and software applications. That’s the secret not only of their losses, but IBM’s eventual downfall in the personal computer market. When Compaq and other companies managed to "clone" IBM’s computers, they shifted the focus of the market from hardware to hardware peripherals and software. Other companies such as US Robotics, Creative Labs, Hewlett Packard, and Diamond were able to produce their own portions of the computer such as modems, sound cards, scanners, printers, and video cards. Microsoft made money on the software, but so did Berkley Systems, Symantec, Lotus, and Intuit. Apple’s rigidity limited the number of programs and hardware applications available to the Macintosh, and thus those businesses turned towards the PC’s to market their products. All one has to do is check out computer stores like CompUSA and check out the space reserved for Macintosh compared to the PC section.

Even with Gates’ help, there is no guarantee that Apple will survive. However, I agree with Jobs’ statement in that it’s time for Mac users to deal with reality and accept that Microsoft is here to stay. Apple’s survival is in its own hands.

Monday, August 4, 1997

Week of 08/04/1997

The Battle Over Individualism
- by David Matthews 2

It seems with ever increasing intensity, there is a campaign being waged against the individual. Conservatives, liberals, politicians, theologians, teachers, professionals, laymen, from every corner there seems to be this endless tirade against what some people call "rugged individualism."

So you’re probably asking "WHAT IS rugged individualism?" Good question.

Basically, anything associated with you as an individual has been tagged as being part of "rugged individualism." If you believe in your PERSONAL rights, you’re called a "rugged individualist." If you believe that people should be responsible for their actions, then that’s being a "rugged individualist" too. Free speech? Same. Support a fair and equal tax system like a flat tax? Ditto.

The second question you should ask is "WHY is being an individual being demonized?" And indeed, that is what’s going on.

There are various rationalizations behind them, and all of them have to do with one common thread - the importance placed by these groups of COMMUNITY over the individual. Conservatives love to talk about family values or community values. Liberals love to talk about things in the larger scope, such as the environment, or relations with a certain minority group. Communists and tyrants will, of course, talk about "protecting society and maintaining order."

Their strengths rest in the notion of something larger than you the individual having superiority over you. They are essentially telling you "YOU are irrelevant! This group, this community, this society, this nation, this world is more important than you!" They consider individuality to be a luxury, and the individual to be nothing more than a tool for them to use.

Let’s accept the realization that no man is an island unto themselves, unless you can afford to be an island. We need some rules for society for the simple reason that if we don’t, we’ll end up killing each other. That, I think, is the simplest definition of government’s role - to make sure we don’t kill each other. It’s in how to implement that role that we all seem to have a problem with.

Individuality is something that has been scorned for centuries. Our identities have been wrapped around something external - a family name, the group we belong to, the town or community we live in, the state we’re born in, the people we associate with, even our occupation. And there is nothing more scornful than having those things altered on a regular basis. Just ask someone who has moved into a small towns in the past and I’ll tell you it sucks being considered just an "outsider."

Of course, now those external forms of identification are being removed en masse. Our identity as part of a family is being challenged because of divorce and a constantly altering family structure of stepparents and stepchildren and child custody. Our identity as who we are in the workforce is also being challenged because of the shift away from permanent employment to a temporary workforce. Because there is no such thing as job security anymore, we have to consider ourselves more on what we can provide in the workplace compared to where that workplace is. That is also having a domino effect on our identity in the groups we associate ourselves with and with the town we live in. A new job can very well mean a new location to move to. And remember, the average American will change jobs at least TEN times!

Make no mistake here folks, being considered as an individual IS a scary concept to some people. There is truth in the saying "there is safety in numbers." Safety in that you won’t have to worry about run the risk of being wrong. Comfort in not having to face challenges alone. Indeed, I suspect the rise in religion is a side-effect of this transition, since all other forms of identification are being purged on a regular basis. With the concept of being identified as an individual a horrifying one, many would turn to the last collective bastions that haven’t changed - that of organized religion, and government.

And yet, I feel now is the perfect time for individuality to emerge. There is strength in individuality as well. Strength in personal convictions. Personal ethics that are more than just "following the herd," but rather acting by conscious decision. Strength in personal responsibility, which is more than just finger-pointing and assessing blame, but rather taking command of your life. We’re not talking about a "me first" attitude but rather an "it’s up to me" mentality. These people need to be encouraged, and their qualities exemplified. Instead, however, they are being scorned by groups who tell them they are irrelevant.

It’s funny in that when I was a child, my parents gave me the "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?" speech. Today we’re being told the answer is "Yes." The call of the herd mentality is being drummed into us at all corners, telling us that obedience is more important than conscious decision, that it’s better to submit than to agree, and that you personally are irrelevant.

By the way, this message of an all-important collective is being drummed into our skulls by INDIVIDUALS.