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The Disposable Americanby Louis Uchitelle
Synopses & Reviews
The Stanley Works
Several years ago, Donald W. Davis stopped making visits back to New Britain, Connecticut. He felt shame for what had happened to the Stanley Works, the city's largest employer, which he had led from 1966 to 1988--from its best days to the beginning of the layoffs and plant closings that, after he was gone, finally reduced Stanley's presence in New Britain to a collection of mostly empty factory buildings and reproachful former workers.
Davis by then no longer lived in New Britain. He had sold his Dutch Colonial home, which he had painted a bright and optimistic yellow, and had moved with his wife to Martha's Vineyard, where their summer house on seven acres of rolling lawn became their main residence. It was an entirely different setting, but the trip back to New Britain for visits was easy enough--less than four hours by ferry and car--and Davis at first made it often. Like many chief executives of his era, he had been deeply involved in the life of the city that, in his day, had supplied thousands of Stanley's workers. He had served on the board of education for many years and was its president for a while. The six Davis children attended the public elementary schools.
But in the late 1990s, the visits home stopped. Meeting former Stanley employees on the streets, in restaurants, at the YMCA, where Davis still went to exercise, became too painful. They just moaned about what was happening to this great company, Davis told me. He had tried to share their sadness, to distinguish his stewardship from the accelerated pace of layoffs and the disregard for New Britain that had become so striking after he was gone--as if he were a victim too. But he wasn'treally. The people he encountered had lost their jobs against their wishes, while he had retired on schedule, a wealthy man. And he had, after all, initiated the layoffs. No one blamed him, Davis maintained. But the encounters with former Stanley workers became, as Davis put it, much too personal. So he stayed away.
When we renewed our acquaintance a few years into his self-exile, I found a restless, often passionate man, unable to put behind him his final years as chief executive. At eighty-one, still stocky and agile, he was grateful for good health so late in life. Age showed only in his hair, which was pure white, and in his eyes, which became tired and bloodshot in the late afternoon, although when I suggested that we take a break in our conversation, which had started in the morning and had continued through lunch at a noisy seafood restaurant, he waved me off, intent on his recollections. He no longer bothered with the suits and sports jackets of his CEO days, but he did have on a white button-down shirt. He was running a leadership seminar twice a week during the fall semester at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he shared a small, cluttered office with two other instructors.
Davis rarely canceled a class; the seminar he led became a last connection to his former business world, a final public platform. Sitting in on a class in the late afternoon, listening to him draw on his experiences from his Stanley days, I imagined that beyond the nineteen young peo- ple seated in the room, he was speaking to all those he knew back home, explaining that he had done as well as an
Layoffs have become a fact of life in today's economy; initiated in the mid 1970s, they are now widely expected, and even accepted. It doesn't have to be that way.In The DisposableAmerican, award-winning reporter Louis Uchitelle offers an eye-opening account of layoffs in America-how they started, their questionable necessity, and their devastating psychological impact onindividuals at all income levels. Through portraits of both executives and workers at companies such as Stanley Works, United Airlines, and Citigroup, Uchitelle shows how layoffs are in fact counterproductive, rarelypromoting efficiency or profitability in the long term. Recognizing that a global competitive economy makes tightening necessary, Uchitelle offers specific recommendations for government policies that would encouragecompanies to avoid layoffs and help create jobs, benefiting workers, corporations, and the nation as a whole.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The Disposable American is an eye-opening account of layoffs in America--their questionable necessity, their overuse, and their devastating impact on individuals at all income levels. Yet despite all this, they are accelerating.
The award-winning New York Times economics writer Louis Uchitelle explains how, in the mid-1970s, the first major layoffs, initiated as a limited response to the inroads of foreign competition, spread and multiplied, in time destroying the notion of job security and the dignity of work. We see how the barriers to layoffs tumbled, and how by the late 1990s the acquiescence was all but complete.
In a compelling narrative, the author traces the rise of job security in the United States to its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, and then the panicky U-turn. He describes the unraveling through the experiences of both executives and workers: three CEOs who ran the Stanley Works, the tool manufacturer, from 1968 through 2003, who graduall
About the Author
Louis Uchitelle worked as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for the Associated Press until he joined The New York Times in 1980 as a business editor; he has written about economics for the Times since 1987 and was designated Senior Writer in 1994, joining a select group honored for achievement. In the early 1990s his reporting on the former Soviet Union's plunge into capitalism earned him a Pulitzer nomination, and he shared a George Polk award as lead writer on the seven-part Times series, "The Downsizing of America," in 1996. He taught feature writing at Columbia University and has been a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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