Opinion: Kraft layoffs find leaders silent

Through no fault of its own, Kirksville will be losing 275 full-time jobs and 100 part-time jobs, according to a November 2014 KTVO article. This is the direct result of the Kraft-Heinz Corporation’s decision to move bacon production from Kirksville to Coshocton, Ohio, justified by increased company profits. Adair County, with a workforce of 12,219 people, has an unemployment rate of 6 percent according to the 2013 Kirksville Community Profile. After this round of layoffs, the county’s unemployment rate will jump to 8.3 percent, and the number of unemployed people — those who want to work but are not given the opportunity — will increase to more than 1,000. This is quite the burden for Missouri’s fifth poorest county, and will present many challenges for our community during the years to come.

How are Kirksville’s leaders responding? If this is the first time you’ve heard about the Kraft layoffs, the answer is obvious.

After sifting through the news coverage of Kraft’s planned layoffs, I could not find a single comment by any city council members, state representatives or other local leaders except Carolyn Chrisman of Kirksville Regional Economic Development Inc. Why would Kirksville’s leadership remain silent about such an important issue? Part of the answer has to do with how cities are treated by corporations in capitalism — they are played off against each other in a cruel economic game.

When a corporation decides to do something as substantial as moving production into a different state, the motivation is to increase profits. In the case of Kraft, this strategy was pursued in the form of tax credits. Before Kraft decided to move to Coshocton, it made an agreement with the city’s leaders to receive a 10-year, 60 percent tax credit, which will translate into millions of dollars, according to the same KTVO article. Cities often are forced to compete against each other to lower taxes and raise benefits given to businesses to attract job creation.

As I am sure you can imagine, it is very unpopular for city representatives to publicly denounce this process, for fear of losing to other cities during the future. This game of haggling and hustling ends with higher profits and lower government revenue, which the rest of us have to make up through higher income, sales and other taxes.

Besides pitting democratic institutions against each other in an endless race to the bottom, capitalist decision-making is not in democratic in any way. When Kraft’s CEO and board of directors decided to move the plant, they did not ask for the workers’ or city’s opinion of the decision. In fact, Kraft seemed pretty proud of itself simply for announcing the layoffs to the affected workers ahead of time.

“We are committed to treating our employees with respect and we are telling you now to give you time to consider your options,” according to a Kraft memo to workers.

The “respect” to which they refer has nothing to do with consent, however, and instead is defined as going to the trouble of writing a legally required note to the hundreds of people who soon will be without a steady paycheck, telling them about their circumstances. The crazy part is, in our system, this is not considered any kind of crime or injustice. It’s just the way things are.

Thus far, the Kirksville community has let itself be silently stepped on by the iron boot of capitalism. I challenge any Adair County leader — whether they are a state representative, high school principal or Scoutmaster — to publicly call Kraft out for damaging our community.