Jack (fictional character) lives in Winnsboro, South Carolina. Jack was born in Winnsboro, and will die here if he has anything to say about it.
Jack’s story is pretty common in South Carolina, told and lived a million times, by a million Jack’s all over the state. He lives in the mill house he was born and raised in with his wife, three kids and his mother. He went to work in the textile mill alongside his Daddy when he was 17, leaving high school before getting a diploma because his girlfriend got pregnant. He knew that’s where he would end up anyway, it’s where his Dad works, and it’s where his Grandfather worked. The mill had always taken care of its people and he knew it would take care of Jack and his new young family.
But something changed about twenty years ago. The family members that owned the mill, the family members that had deserted their big houses in Winnsboro for cities like Charlotte and Atlanta, cities with class and culture, now had managers running the mill, managers with clipboards, and funny last names who didn’t care if Jack, Jr. was pitching tonight. This was a business Jack heard when he asked for time off to watch his son play baseball. And if the job wasn’t important enough to Jack they could find someone who thought it was.
Over the next few years Jack noticed more changes, namely his pay check wasn’t increasing while the health benefits that he and his family depended on decreased. Jack noticed something else, brown people who spoke Spanish started infiltrating the lunch room and work floor. He didn’t know these people or where they came from. They weren’t part of the community at least not part of his community and they didn’t go to church with him. Jack had heard these people worked cheap and he noticed they came in waves and pretty soon they started to out number the white and black faces or at least that is what he thought.
One summer a rumor started floating around that the mill was for sale. What Jack didn’t realize until the end of the year was that it had already been sold to some company in New York that sounded like a Jewish law firm. On January 1st he learned that his hours would be cut, and because of this the mill was no longer required to provide Jack or his family healthcare coverage. Jack’s wife, who had stayed home raising the children, now had to work and the mill wasn’t hiring so she got a job as a cashier at the Dollar Store working every other weekend.
In the past when one of the weaving machines broke down the old owners would get the parts to fix it. But that wasn’t happening now. When a machine broke it stayed broke and the people who worked in that station were let go. Jack didn’t understand this strategy. It was pretty easy to see where this business model was headed. But as Jack took stock of his options, 43 years old, no education to speak of, and no work skills other than working in dust and lint, where would he go, what else could he do and stay in Winnsboro?
Jack always assumed automation would replace him at some point but he figured that was years down the road. He never imagined a strategy of running a business into the ground would be his undoing, particularly a business, a company that had taken care of his community, and his family for so many years.
It didn’t take long for the new business model to play out, certainly quicker than Jack thought it would but one by one the weaving machines broke down, and one by one employees were let go and then it was Jack’s turn.
And then one day the mill shut down completely. A line of flat-bed trucks came in one Saturday morning and took the ancient weaving machines away. Jack heard they were headed to Mexico and he wondered if all those brown faces that showed up at work one day were headed back there as well.
Jack was pissed but he wasn’t sure who he should be pissed at. The old owners? The new owners? The Mexicans? Mexico? Maybe the government and all those rich, fat politicians up in Washington? Jack figured there was plenty of blame to go around but the one person Jack didn’t blame. The one person Jack didn’t put on that list, or point a finger at was Jack.
You see Jack was living in the past and Jack staked his future, and the future of his family on the past. And though he wouldn’t admit it, he and his neighbors were part of the reason those machines got shipped to Mexico and he would have figured that out at Wal-Mart paying ridiculously cheap prices for a pair of blue jeans or a dress shirt.
Jack put his trust and loyalty in a company expecting that company to treat him like it had treated his Grandfather. But what Jack forgot, that romantic view he had of the past, is he was in fact treated just like his Grandfather, as a commodity, just another part in the machine. When his Dad or his Grandfather broke down, they were replaced. Sure they might have gotten a cake and a certificate they could hang on the wall of their den, but they didn’t leave that mill with much more than what they started with.
Companies and corporations owe their loyalty to stockholders only. Their job is to make a profit, increase in value and pay a dividend. If treating employees fairly and with dignity accomplishes that goal terrific. But if firing the employees, closing down the plant and selling the equipment accomplishes that same goal so be it.
A company or corporations mission statement might include something about being a safe workplace, treating employees with respect and providing them with opportunities to grow or better themselves but never forget who their loyalty is to, and what their responsibility is, to make a profit, increase in value and pay a dividend.
Jack voted for Donald Trump but the hard reality is this, Jack didn’t elect Donald Trump as President, companies and corporations did. They are the ones that paid millions of dollars in campaign contributions. They are the ones who put Trump in front of Jack. Bought and paid for him with the promise of a big payback. They are the ones who benefited most in tax reform, decreased regulations, tariffs on goods from China and Mexico and they are the ones glowing over the increase in the stock market. Jack doesn’t own any stocks, not to many Jack’s do and the trickle down these corporations are enjoying will be distributed to the shareholders first because that is where their loyalties are, that is where their loyalties have always been.
Anger got Donald Trump elected, anger from a small segment of the American population who couldn’t figure out who to blame for their sorry lot in life. Never in million years did they ever think to place any blame on themselves. They saw in Trump the crazy “I am mad as hell and I ain’t going to take it anymore” messiah. He told them what they wanted to hear, without telling them how he was going to fix it while cashing the checks from the companies and corporations that put all the Jack’s in America in the positions they were so mad about.
What Trump pulled off is the greatest ponzi scheme the world has ever seen. And what do we know about ponzi schemes? They end badly, for all sides and that Jack my friend is where this one is headed. That is Jack’s story.