Kunshan’s 60,000 Layoffs Recall U.S. 1960’s Gloom

In the News
May 28, 2016

Computers silently stalked the Kennedy years with millions of job losses

“I am involved in mankind,
and therefore never send to know
for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
—John Donne

Are we involved?

Seemingly femtoseconds following the announcement that Foxconn had laid off some 60,000 workers—in a single factory!—and replaced them with robots, the online world was crackling with stories, most of which were aghast at the spectacle of humans getting switched out for robots on assembly lines in a factory in the city of Kunshan, China.

At the risk of being too somber

The tenor of the articles dripped with doom, as if announcing the epicenter of a long-expected plague that had suddenly burst forth with rapid contagion and no cure. No one was safe. Witness these 60,000 poor souls turned out of work for no earthly reason except that they were human.

Well, human but highly paid; ageing rapidly; and unable to offer up the kinds of productivity levels that drive flashy revenue increases. All of which are in disfavor in New Factory China.

In actuality, we’re “re-witnessing” the plague years of the early 1960s in the U.S., when computing and Information Technology began to run amok, except back then there was no Internet with groping browsers, no YouTube videos going viral, no Facebook hey-look-what-happened-to-me updates, and no Tweets to spread the word of what was going down in rapid, excruciating and persistent detail.

Millions lost their jobs silently. Only the unemployment filings gave a good reckoning as to what was happening; and even at that, there were no easy reasons why.  When President Kennedy addressed Congress in April of 1961 asking why the U.S. unemployment rate was a persistent 7 percent, especially amid general financial prosperity, Congress shrugged. Its members had no clue.

Even Kennedy had not taken notice until things got to 7 percent; the plague had had its beginning years prior to his addressing Congress. The nation was oblivious to what was happening. Only the dispossessed knew, and they only at the last possible moment.

Assembling telephones for Western Electric was a good, middleclass job (see photo above).  The ladies were human but highly paid; ageing rapidly; and unable to offer up the kinds of productivity levels that drive flashy revenue increases. All of which were in disfavor with corporate America. 

One by one the Western Electric ladies got wacked, and then there were none.

Kunshan’s loss of 60,000 jobs in a single factory seems dreadful, but it isn’t.

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