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Grace Ross: Survived the Great Depression… Now What?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

 

J.J. Nissen survived the Great Depression and two world wars. Now a gobbled-up subsidiary of Hostess, it’s not clear they will survive the present economic recession. This, like many happenings, makes this look more like a depression every day.

Hanging in the window of the Nissen Outlet Store on Chandler Street in Worcester is a sign saying:

"To Our Valued Customers,
Thank you one and all for your loyalty!
Many of you have become our friends and we will miss you.
We truly appreciate your kind words and support.
This store is now closed."

The closure of the store was pointed out to me by a Worcester Unemployment Action group member – a sign that another regular affordable food source of hers had gone out of business.

Hostess, having just declared bankruptcy, is closing its doors and laying off 18,000 workers. At the same time, they announce that the corporate leaders who purchased and then leached off a number of corporations they purchased – including Nissen in 1998 – want permission for major Golden Parachutes as they suck the life out of these businesses and are now shutting them down. They can blame striking workers for the shut-down if they want, but this strategy of ignoring the need for upgrades while increasing corporate leader pay is hardly a story unique to Hostess, and the much more likely culprit.

Back on the streets of Worcester, is the reality of the trickle down of corporate irresponsiblity as another of the cheaper outlets is shuttered without a thought. In recent years, the logic argued by some of these apologists for present-day large corporate strategies is that local people can always find a cheaper place to get what they need as their average income has continued to drop, while stores with more expensive goods find fewer buyers. The Nissen bakery line, a factory in Worcester, shut down in 1998 as part of the corporate policy of the Hostess leadership the year they purchased Nissen affecting 110 good paying local jobs.

While we watch, almost jaded by corporate leaders wanting more and more money even as they shut down corporations that provide jobs across the country, a number of us listened this past Monday to an incredibly wide spectrum of stories at the local Jobs and Unemployment Crisis Forum with Congressman McGovern.

The eloquent and vulnerable told stories ranged from young adults to those close to retirement age: their inability to find jobs and what jobs they have found usually paying less than what they used to. We heard from folks who service refugees in asylum here in the U.S. trying to find jobs to local workers who watch the few jobs being funded in their communities being given to folks who don’t even live in their neighborhoods. We heard of those who, while technically disabled in some ways but certainly able to work, have no chance in this job-poor economy. And they all spoke passionately about their desire to work, the work our communities desperately needs but goes undone these days because those with resources are unwilling to pay.

In the background of all of this, the reality is that there are now businesses that survived the depression, the Great Depression, that are now going out of business because of ongoing vulture policies by a recent corporate culture that sees no problem in dirtying its own nest. In the Great Depression, job losses and organizing by the recently growing numbers of unemployed led to the creation of unemployment benefits as people flooded the streets. Through sharing their experiences, they realized and then pointed out that we should not suffer for bad corporate decisions and major wealth acquisition strategies enabled by bad government policy.

In contrast, even as the economy is likely hitting its next downward slope, people across the United States are having to come together to demand a continuation of extended unemployment benefits. A corporate “person” like Nissen may or may not survive, but real people need to.

 

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