The Common Good

Companies Get Lean and Mean

Sojomail - January 7, 2004

Quote of the Week Bush senior's 20/20 foresight on invading Iraq
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Companies get lean and mean
By the Numbers Women's work
For Mercy's Sake Respond to Iran's earthquake
P.O.V. Aliens or immigrants?
Culture Watch 100 years of thought-provoking cinema
Signs of the Times But can you drive it through the eye of a needle?
Web Sitings Better business | Soda, pop, or Coke? | Recycle your cell phone
Boomerang Readers write

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"Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land."

- George H.W. Bush (Bush senior) and Brent Scowcroft in their 1998 book, A World Transformed.

Companies get lean and mean
by David Batstone

It was not a merry Christmas for too many rank-and-file workers this past holiday season. Though economic indicators show a rise in productivity and corporate profits, worker unemployment and wages nationally remain in the doldrums.

Financial pundits from the White House as well as the mainstream business media bleat the same explanation for this economic phenomenon: U.S. companies have been able to increase profits without hiring new workers due to the benefits of technological innovation. True as that may be in part, it's a dishonest diagnosis. It ignores the layoffs and wage deflation that companies routinely make to inflate short-term earnings.

Executives of public companies meet with financial analysts every quarter to report their firms' performance. You are guaranteed to hear them talk these days about the measures they have taken to make their companies "lean and mean." Firing large numbers of workers used to be considered a last resort in times of declining market conditions, an admission of failure, or perhaps a necessary evil in times of technological change. Today, it is a badge of strong management.

As an example, consider the electronics retail giant, Circuit City. Last February Circuit City announced that it would improve its bottom line by firing thousands of employees and changing the way it compensates its salespeople. The company fired about 4,000 commissioned salespeople, converted the remaining workers to hourly pay, and hired an additional 2,000 hourly workers. All of this was done to slash overhead in preparation for the next quarterly earnings announcement.

Here's the contradiction - though the company cut its payroll costs by nearly $130 million, it gave the steel boot to most of its top performers. Those employees who had been pulling down the fattest commissions due to their hustle and hard work were the first out the door.

And you wonder how the "dis" found its way into "customer service." I personally experienced Circuit City's dis-service over the holidays. My cell phone had died with the old year, so I went to the local Circuit City outlet in search of a BlackBerry - a device that receives emails and cellular phone calls. I tried in vain for 25 minutes to find a salesperson who could help me. A handful of salespeople looked like they knew what they were doing - understandably, they were busy with customers. Another 10 or so salespeople stood around in groups of twos and threes, chatting and laughing in true holiday spirit. I suppose it was rude of me to interrupt their banter. When I did, they confessed that they didn't know anything about cell phones, and directed me to wait for a knowledgeable salesperson to become free. I walked directly out of the store and purchased my BlackBerry elsewhere.

These hourly wage earners did not have much incentive to perform otherwise. The clock was scaling up their compensation whether I made a purchase or not. Why learn another department when it might mean you would have to engage more potential customers? The experience reinforced my notion that workers who are treated like dispensable expenses will by and large treat customers like dispensable distractions.

Lean and mean, baby. It's the way we do business.

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- Matthew 5:9

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Women's work

Percent disparity between women's and men's earnings:

1983: 19.6%

2000: 20.3%

A Government Accounting Office report found this disparity even after accounting for factors such as women tend to have have fewer years of work experience, work fewer hours per year, are less likely to work a full-time schedule, and leave the labor force for longer periods of time. Explaining the remaining difference, they offer two possibilities: 1) Some women trade off advancement or higher earnings for jobs that offer flexibility to manage work and family responsibilities; 2) discrimination resulting from societal views about acceptable roles for men and women or views about women in the workplace may affect women's earnings.

Keep in mind that the GAO's calculations of "working fewer hours" and "full-time schedule" do not, for the purposes of this report, even consider unpaid family work.

See the full report:


Stewart Burns, civil rights historian and author of To the Mountaintop, will speak at a celebration of the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 16 at Washington National Cathedral. Presented by former Washington Redskin George Starke and others, the event also includes performances by the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Dance Ensemble and the Children's Choir of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Event begins at 7 p.m. Free. Information: (202) 537-2221.

Respond to Iran's earthquake

The following agencies - among many other worthy organizations - are accepting donations for relief efforts following the devastating earthquake centered near Bam, Iran.

Church World Service:

International Red Cross:

Mennonite Central Committee:

Mercy Corps:

National Iranian American Council:

World Relief:

World Vision:


Hearts and Minds BookstoreLooking for books noted in Sojourners? Frustrated that many bookstores don't understand the kind of titles you want? Want to support a small independent business trying to offer a radical Christian witness in the marketplace? Order through Hearts & Minds, . We do new book reviews each month - see our rave of Lauren Winner or our passionate critique of the sexist Wild at Heart. From Henri Nouwen to Wendell Berry or Walt Brueggemann; Ron Sider to Marva Dawn; John Perkins, Joan Chittister or Dan Berrigan, we stock books to inspire the mind and enlarge the heart.

P.O.V. ^top
Aliens or immigrants?
by Bethany Spicher

In recent years, the government, the media, and the average Joe in the United States have struggled to name the people who enter the country without authorization. Are they illegal aliens? Are they undocumented immigrants?

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself (Leviticus 19:34, NRSV).

In the Leviticus passage, the word alien is also translated stranger or sojourner, depending on the version of the Bible. The original word was the Hebrew ger, and it was also used in scripture to describe the Israelites in Egypt as strangers in a strange land. However, alien in our society today commonly refers to beings from outer space with antennae. Naming people aliens dehumanizes and distances "them" from "us." In that sense, immigrant captures a truer sense of the Hebrew word's original meaning.

Read more at:


Employment Opportunity: Columbia Road Health Services

Seeking Administrative Director to manage all operations of faith-based community health center in D.C.  Requires 3-5 years of healthcare management experience, strong finance, interpersonal, and cultural skills. $45-$50K plus excellent benefits.  Also seeking bilingual RN to provide patient care, triage, and support to nurse administrator.  Requires 1-3 years experience.  This is a great place to work!  Spanish/English skills.  $42-$50K plus excellent benefits.  For either position please send cover letter and resume to Greg Adams at .

100 years of thought-provoking cinema
by Ted Parks

To celebrate its 10th anniversary of showcasing mainstream movies that raise spiritual and social questions, the City of the Angels Film Festival in Los Angeles recently screened 13 films carefully selected from the first 100 years of moviemaking. The festival's unique format followed screenings with discussions that unpacked each movie's implications for issues of faith and justice in modern urban America.

Keep the conversation about movies, faith, and society going by checking out some of the festival's key picks at:


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But can you drive it through the eye of a needle?

According to the Houston Chronicle, Kelly Haskins, a member of Abundant Life Christian Center, won a $17,000 Plymouth PT Cruiser at the church's New Year's Eve service in a drawing designed to encourage church attendance. Another of the church's 4,000 members won a $9,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Read more at:


Employment Opportunity: Event, Liturgy and Outreach Coordinator

A unique opportunity for a creative, high-energy, program and liturgy coordinator in Raleigh, North Carolina. The creation of a multi-faith community housed in a beautifully renovated 19th century downtown church is in need of a creative and highly motivated liturgist/event coordinator. Responsibilities include: design and coordination of a comprehensive event and liturgy program that will include planning and development, marketing and outreach, supervising student interns, and coordinating the evaluation of overall needs of the faith community. Excellent salary commensurate with skill and experience. Contact: Kathryn Kerr, (919) 833-6896

Better business

Explore the intersection of business and human rights. Search among more than 1,000 companies, 160 countries, and 150 topics at:

Soda, pop, or Coke?

Unlock the geographic mysteries of slang terms for carbonated beverages with interactive maps at:

Recycle your cell phone

Upgrading your wireless phone? Don't downgrade the environment by sending the old phone to a landfill - mobile phones contain mercury, lead, and other pollutants. Instead, donate that phone to a service that can reuse working phones and recycle the rest:


Employment Opportunity: Life & Peace Institute

An International Ecumenical Centre for Peace Research and Action based in Uppsala, Sweden, seeks an Executive Director.
For more information visit our homepage:, or contact Ulla Vinterhav at Application deadline: January 16, 2004.

Readers write

Rev. Dr. Tom F. Driver, professor emeritus, Union Theological Seminary, New York City, writes:

I read your New York Times op-ed piece ["Putting God Back into Politics," 12/28/2003] and believe it is right on. I have long thought that the Left disempowers itself by its failure to understand the religious dimension of political issues. This failure occurs partly because of ignorance, partly from contempt for religion, and partly from the misguided belief, as you point out, that the separation of church and state means the separation of religious values and principles from public issues.


Tony Zito writes from Poughkeepsie, New York:

It is true, as you point out, that President Bush plays a good "God game" on the stump, bragging and blustering about his faith like a real front-row Pharisee. In the meantime he practices mass murder of the defenseless, mass impoverishment of the powerless, and mass destruction of the environment. Why you think anyone, Republican or Democrat, should mimic any part of his disgraceful performance has me stumped. We don't need politicians who boast about their inner spirituality - we need leaders who embrace godly policies.


Nirmala Mani Adhikary writes from Kathmandu, Nepal:

Political parties and politicians and thinkers should not see religion as a dangerous thing in politics. Yes, the communality, racism, ethnocentricism, religious discrimination, etc. must be avoided. But the various aspects of religion (such as serving the common people, providing basic needs - food, shelter, clothing, education, nonviolence, etc.) certainly contribute to strengthening democracy. Of course, religion has been used as ruling tools by authoritarian and non-democratic rulers, but there is scope to redefine religious values and rules in the light of democracy. So there is a need to emphasize [the] proper use of religion in political affairs. Political parties, whether they are of the U.S. or any other country, should not run away or should not be reluctant. Instead, they should try to use religion and religious community in nation building.


Katie Mickey writes from Ventura, California:

Thank you for an excellent article. However, you fail to mention that there is a democratic candidate who is very outspoken about the spiritual and moral ramifications of the issues that face our nation, who openly speaks about his view of spirituality in politics. That candidate is Dennis Kucinich. His recent New York Times bestseller "A Prayer for America" is a must-read for anyone interested in progressive politics and spiritual values.

It appears that the issue is not so much that Democrats in general are reluctant to talk about spirituality and allow their spirituality to inform their politics, but rather that the corporate media makes a concerted effort to downplay coverage of such candidates. The corporate media propagates the myth that a spiritually informed candidacy does not stand a chance because it's too progressive, too radical - i.e., it encompasses the essence of Christian principles.


Russ and Susan Buckbee write from Aurora, Ohio:

For us, the issues of social justice, stewardship of the earth, and nonviolence are key aspects of Christian faith that we should take into politics. Isn't it great that there is a political party, the Green Party, founded on these as key values. Like all political parties it has its warts, which makes it sound like a church. It is, however, very secular while being values-based and I think that our kind of Christian involvement would do a lot for both the party and our churches.


Mary McDonough Harren writes from Wichita, Kansas:

Please pass along my thanks to Jim Wallis for this [Chrismas in the trenches, SojoMail 12/24/2003]. My father was a WW I vet and would tell his children this story each Christmas (I'm 78.) No one would believe him - but he kept telling it. I first heard John McCutcheon sing this "trenches" story while driving the Kansas turnpike very late one evening shortly before Christmas some years ago - probably 20 - I was so touched I had to pull over on the shoulder to cry safely. ... My dad's telling of this story had a profound influence on me, and was the touchstone in my becoming a peace activist - that and Dorothy Day.


David Cockburn of Christian Peacemaker Teams writes from Middlesex, U.K.:

What if the soldiers had declared that December 26, 27 [through] December 24 (the next year) were also the days of the Christ child coming, and celebrated by singing carols and playing football? Then the slaughter would have stopped. Generals would have had no power to wage war. Millions might have been saved. Tragically that did not happen.

The bigger theological question is whether we should allow the coming of the Christ to affect us for only a day, and then go back to life (or death) as normal. If Christ's coming means that only a day is changed, it is largely futile. He came to bring "life in all its fullness" - and that means every day.

Call to RenewalEmployment Opportunity at Call to Renewal

Call to Renewal, a national network of churches, faith-based organizations and individuals working to overcome poverty in America, seeks a Managing Director. The successful candidate must understand and be committed to the organizational mission and vision of Call to Renewal and have a fundamental appreciation for, and understanding of, the relationship between faith and politics. The position requires excellent managerial, administrative, communication, planning and fiscal competency. Also necessary is an ability to enhance staff efforts to foster collaboration among the various traditions in the Church (e.g., Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, Black, Asian and Hispanic Churches, and para-church ministries, etc.), as well as with people working in the realm of media and politics.

For more information, visit:

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