Why John Deere Workers Needed to Strike - Who Profits from the Labor of Midwestern Workers? By: Edward Liger SmithRead Now
Today, Thursday, October 15th, Ten-Thousand UAW workers at John Deere set up picket lines and went on strike. The strike comes following the vast majority of UAW workers voting to reject the companies contract proposal, which would have increased workers’ healthcare premiums from 0-20%, ended a moratorium on plant closures, and put an end to mandated overtime pay for daily work beyond 8 hours.
After seeing this contract you might have assumed that John Deere was struggling to stay afloat and maintain profits during Covid-19. Why on earth would any successful company offer such a disrespectful contract and attempt to cut benefits for their most valuable workers? However, John Deere is on pace to rake in a record sum of profits of over $6 billion in this year alone. As a result of such financial success, the Company decided to increase dividend payouts for stock owners by 17%. This means that simultaneously as the company tried to cut healthcare benefits for Midwestern families, they increased the amount of money flowing out of the Midwest into the pockets of investors like Bill Gates who owns over $1 billion in John Deere shares.
The largest shareholders in John Deere are hedge funds like ‘The Vanguard Group’ which owns 6.82% of shares, which is part of the $7 trillion in investments the organization maintains in total. The second-largest investor behind Vanguard Group who holds 6.82% of shares, is the New York-based BlackRock Fund Advisors with 4.42%. Both hedge funds are headed by boards of multibillionaires who saw a 17% increase in their payouts from John Deere despite never stepping foot in a John Deere plant. At least not to do any actual work.
The list of John Deere’s largest shareholders is filled with these kinds of elite investment groups who funnel vast sums of money into the bank accounts of multi-billionaires like Bill Gates. Most of these investors don’t live anywhere near the Midwest, and none of them have worked a single day at John Deere this year. Despite that, John Deere decided these folks have earned 17% bump in pay, while the Midwestern workers whose labor creates these vast payouts have not yet done enough to deserve healthcare.
Unfortunately for billionaire investors like Gates, however, the source of his wealth is the labor of workers such as those on strike at John Deere. This means that if workers collectively withhold their labor parasitical investors lose the source of their profits. John Deere’s equipment is crafted in the hands of Midwestern workers before being sold to farmers. The money made from these sales goes towards maintaining production costs including the wages of workers. The billions of dollars in surplus-value not expended in maintaining production are then funneled out of the Midwest, and into the bank accounts of people who have likely never created a piece of farming equipment in their lives.
If Bill Gates were to disappear from the face of the earth (wishful thinking) it would have zero impact on the physical production of farming equipment. In terms of agriculture and the necessary production of food for human society, Bill Gates and investors like him contribute nothing. Yet because these folks own the factories Midwesterners work in, and the farmland that grows our food, they are able to extract billions of dollars from the process of food production without contributing even a second of their own labor to the actual process. (Gates also owns 269,000 acres of farmland).
John Deere’s decision to use their $6 billion in profits to increase investor payouts while cutting healthcare benefits for workers is but one example of how this nonsensical system plays out in real life. Those who produce the food we all rely on to survive are told that they haven’t worked hard enough to deserve basic medical care, while those who produce nothing live in unimaginable luxury.
These UAW workers’ decision to strike is a long overdue FUCK YOU to this system and the parasitical billionaires who profit from it. In the coming weeks, corporate media outlets will begin pressuring these workers into ending the strike at the behest of the billionaire investors who control them. Now is the time of year when John Deere stands to lose the most, as farmers will be looking to restock on equipment following the end of harvest. The company and its shareholders will desperately miss the labor which serves as their source of profits.
Workers must not fall for the media onslaught that is coming! They will surely call you lazy for not going back to work so you can keep up the profits of people who do no work at all. Don’t listen to them. They are liars who want to continue robbing the Midwest of the value that our workers create.
Tell them that if Bill Gates and his buddies want to make money off the Midwest, they can come here and get a job like everyone else.
Edward Liger Smith is an American Political Scientist and specialist in anti-imperialist and socialist projects, especially Venezuela and China. He also has research interests in the role southern slavery played in the development of American and European capitalism. He is a co-founder and editor of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies. He is currently a graduate student, assistant, and wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.