I Have Met The Capitalist, And He Is Me
|2007 International 8600|
Those who know me or read this web log know I have no love for Capitalism. I haven't had any for most of my life, having been radicalized almost as soon as I started attending community college in Michigan. I've identified myself as a Socialist for most of my life. I've written many posts on this web log that express my distaste for Capitalism and some have expressed my hope that someday it will be overthrown and replaced with a more just economic system. Now, I'm going to be a Capitalist myself.
About a month ago we got news at work that the part of the company we're in had been sold to another company. Not much will change, we were told, except for the few hourly employees, like me. Our jobs will cease to exist because at the new company everything, except what management does, is done by independent contractors.
We're in the Eexpedited business, is, I think, how it's referred to in the industry. I'm not really versed in that end of things. They needed someone with a commercial license and I got the job. I tell people we're a small version of Fedex or UPS. We deliver things they won't, or can't do as cheaply maybe. It's a niche market in trucking. We deliver pharmacy supplies, clothing to retail stores, various supplies to various distributers, etc. Things that small businesses order. Some is highly miscellaneous, like big blank canvases that go to art supply stores, and office furniture some of the reservations order.
We have "hubs," or warehouses, in cities like Albuquerque, Phoenix and El Paso. Semi trucks do the bulk hauling between these hubs and that's what I do. When I back the truck up to the dock, the delivery drivers start unloading and sorting it. The delivery drivers own their own mini vans. They have always been independent contractors.
My boss, who was offered a job with the new company, encouraged me to work up a proposal for the new management for what I'd charge for doing the job as a contractor. I eventually did, but only after two or three weeks. Although I've been in the trucking industry for almost 20 years now I didn't think I knew very much about the business side, having always been what's called a company driver. I always drove someone else's truck and was paid hourly, or more often, by the mile.
I didn't even think I knew much about trucks themselves. Many truck drivers do. When they congregate at places where they're all waiting to get loaded or unloaded, the conversation often turns to trucks, and truck engines. When it does I usually walk away. I just have other things on my mind. There's reading to do. I might be someplace I've never been before and it needs to be explored.
Not knowing about diesel truck engines is significant. The engine is the truck, as far as I'm concerned. When you see a semi truck on the road, if it's, say, a Freightliner, it doesn't have a Freightliner engine. The engines are all made by a different set of companies -- Detroit, Daimler-Benz, Cumins, etc, as are the transmissions and some of the other major components. The engines usually last multiple hundreds of thousands of miles, because they're used that much -- over the years I've easily averaged 120k to 130k miles per year -- but a series of anti-pollution regulations have come into effect over the past several years and some of the engines made during that period have had problems with reliability and fuel economy. The engine companies are always playing catch-up and have sometimes rushed things to market.
I also knew little about running a business, which is what buying and operating a truck amounts to. It would be a simple business, I was told by an accountant friend, but it wouldn't be like running my checking account, which runs itself, actually. I haven't balanced my checkbook in many years.
Besides the business aspect there are many state and federal regulations that apply to trucking. It's interstate commerce. It also comes under many post 9-11 regulations having to do with safety and security. There's drug testing. There's documenting that employees, even one, have been trained in this and that. You have to do things like apportion your fuel taxes yourself according to how many miles you operate in which states. I wasn't really sure what that meant.
If I was to submit a proposal I'd have to overcome my lack of knowledge about trucks and engines and the business and regulatory aspects. My ignorance of those things only heightened my natural lack of confidence, and over those or three weeks I changed my mind about submitting a proposal several times. I vacillated. I'd start researching things and get overwhelmed with the amount of things to be learned and their complexity and stop. I'd consider my savings and my age, 60, and stop.
But I ultimately did submit my proposal, and it was accepted by the district manager of the new company. They've kept us hourly employees on until things can be switched over, but as soon as I get my new used truck on the road I'll be submitting weekly invoices, according to the terms of my proposal, which they accepted as written.
I did do a lot of research, and I scoured the country for the kind of truck I wanted (the engine was the main thing -- this has a Cummins ISX -- but I also wanted it to have a low rear-end ratio, which should translate into better fuel economy, large fuel tanks, cruise control, a/c and a few other things) and I found it at an International truck dealer in Amarillo, which is where I took the picture above. On this past Monday I drove over there and looked at it and test drove it, and another one they had with the same engine but which was a Kenworth, made the deal that evening, and paid for it on Tuesday. (Basically, when you add it all up, they threw in a two-year extended warranty and paid for part of the sales tax.)
I Have A Dream, Too
I have become familiar enough with it all to take a calculated risk, but I finally submitted a proposal because in the back of my mind were always a couple things besides what I've already mentioned. One, of course, was that this would be Capitalism. If you've read my web log very much you've heard me rail against it and especially against Neoliberalism, which is the academic term for the stage Capitalism is in now.
In short, Capitalists have made tremendous gains against the forces opposing Capitalism, which in the US amount the the Labor Unions, which have declined dramatically since the 1980s, and politically Left leaning people, of whom only a minority are politically engaged. They represent a smaller part of the Democratic Party now than they did 20 or 30 years ago, and of other institutions through which they might be able to exert power and influence. The Left has been in decline over the entire course of my life, in the US and everywhere else, and so much of what is written by Leftists over the course of my adult life has naturally had to do with that decline and what to do about it.
At some point it occurred to me that the reason there's so much injustice in Capitalism might have something to do with the Capitalists. People go into business, it seemed to me, not to spread wealth around, not to provide well paying jobs for their fellow citizens, not for any other reason except to get rich. The problem, I once wrote, is that we leave Capitalism to the Capitalists.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about the decline of the Left. I've read quite a bit about the Labor Movement and the Liberal surge of the 1960s and 70s, the anti Vietnam War movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Womens Movement, the Black Power and Chicano Power movements, but especially about the Labor Movement, which is the one entity that has taken on Capitalism most directly and indeed is in a position and has reason to do so.
With movements, there are a few elements that have to be in place before any movement grows large enough to have any affect. First, there are always a few people devoted to any cause and they keep agitating, and arguing over and advancing the theoretical framework a future movement will take. Then there has to be a reason or reasons for masses of people to get involved in the movement. The conditions have to be right, the social and economic conditions, that is. Increasing numbers of people have to start feeling the need to do something, and they have to be able to see that there's a chance that taking the risk of getting involved will bear fruit.
I'm not an organizer, or a participant, or a foot soldier or a follower, or a leader. Realizing this I've tried to do what I could to advance my beliefs through writing, but I'm not much of a writer, either. But maybe ten years ago, I came up with an idea. If I could get a business to be successful I'd be able to experiment with different ways of worker participation and with collective and cooperative organizational structures; basically, with ways of implementing worker control of business. If you and your workers came up with a model for organizing businesses collectively, that model might spread. The model could be designed with that in mind. People might start up their own companies and leave their Capitalist owned companies. It would be like taking Capitalism over from the inside.
Unions, which would constitute an independent power base, would be part of the strategy. Workers could be encouraged to form them, or would join unions on their own. Unions would help spread the movement to other businesses. I could help increase union membership myself. If I controlled a large enterprise and signed a union contract with the workers at one location, the other workers could be given the choice of joining the union and enjoying the benefits of the contract, or they could work for the minimum wage. The union would soon represent almost the entire workforce. My plan amounts, in some ways, to an inside-outside strategy.
It would take days to lay out the ideas I've come up with. Of course, I've never been in business and don't know what it would be like, so I'm aware that those ideas would have to change or be adopted to reality as I came across it. But also, possibilities that haven't occurred to me would occur to me. And I've worked for businesses, of course, and corporations, and I've observed how they work, how they are structured, how people adapt to and shape those structures. I haven't been sitting idly by while I got up the courage and found the opportunity.
In the end it was this dream, this fantasy, this idea that made me decide to submit a proposal. It's what overcame the reluctance to make the financial commitment to buy a semi truck and to go into business. It will just be a simple business -- one employee, a relief driver. I have to have a relief diver -- but I had to put almost my entire savings in hock to finance the truck.
The Peculiar Institution Of Trucking
To do this job I had to get what's called an operating authority. I got it online on Thursday. It's issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission and is what every trucking company has to have to engage in interstate commerce, whether it has one truck or 10,000.
I've noticed, about the trucking industry, that companies come and go. Some of them get big quickly, then either go out of business or are swallowed up by or merge with other companies. Trucking seems to be relatively fluid, as industries go.
There's one other thing about trucking. It's absolutely essential to the operation of an economy. Virtually every business, and many organizations, rely on trucking, to obtain their raw materials and their supplies, and to send out their finished products. Fuel, food, clothes, building materials, all the critical things and most of the other things that go into making up an economy are shipped exclusively by truck. I've hauled it all myself. Because of trucking's central role in the economy, if you control trucking you can bring the economy to a halt, almost instantly. You can control the economy, and you can control Capitalism. Not by yourself, maybe. They'd come after you, they'd jail you, they'd kill you. But that's where the collectives and the unions come in. The independent centers of power.
Whether or not I accomplish any of this remains to be seen. Whether I can run a simple business remains to be seen. I think I'll do at least that much. But what I learn from trying to do the rest can be passed on as a blueprint, an idea. I can record it, put it online, print it out and leave it for those who come after me, and there will always be those ones, who, like I and millions of others, will come talong and who won't love Capitalism any more than I do and will want to find a better way.
Was Marx Right About Everything?
Karl Marx was a determinist. He argued that the material conditions of our lives determine who and what we are. He said Capitalists aren't by nature bad people, or evil or greedy, but Capitalism makes them that way. They have to be that way to succeed at Capitalism.
So there's one other question, besides whether or not I'll succeed in this particular endeavor or in my greater scheme, and that's whether I'll change Capitalism or whether Capitalism will change me.