Friday, October 7, 2011

Saint? iDon'tThinkSo

I really don't want to speak ill of the dead, but there sure is one thing you can say about Steve Jobs--he hired the best PR folks money could buy. His recent death has inspired a deluge of fawning, drippy, worshipping fluff pieces such that the next step must surely be canonization.

Before we start ordering the stained glass, let's remind ourselves of a few things. The man was a billionaire many times over, and you don't get there without stepping on people. A LOT of people. Despite an estimated worth of over 8 billion dollars, he ended Apple's philanthropic efforts in 1997 because he wanted his company to make more profits. He never restored those efforts despite the knowledge that he was terminally ill and that Apple had grown into one of the most profitable companies in the world. Surely a smart man like Jobs knew that he couldn't take it with him, yet he was singularly reluctant to part with it. Even Bloomberg and Gates, for all their failings in the education sphere, have contributed far more of their wealth to charity.

Perdido Street School blog meticulously detailed how Apple and Jobs used child labor to help build their fortunes. And who can forget that there was a rash of factory workers in China committing suicide presumably because of the dreadful working conditions while putting together all those iPods? Jobs claimed that he was going to do something about it, but all I ever heard was that he put steel mesh over the windows to prevent more workers from jumping. Forcing assembly line workers to toil in 34 hour shifts isn't exactly the stuff saints are made of.

Since this is an education blog, I may as well mention that Jobs was anti-union and anti-teacher, having infamously said, "The problem [in education] of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened." Presumably, if Jobs had run the schools, he'd have broken the unions and installed mesh on classroom windows to keep teachers from jumping. Despite the fact that schools and teachers had a great deal to do with Apple's success, he wasted little time stabbing us in the back.

In the final analysis, Jobs did some great things. Some of his innovations have changed the way people live. Still, it seems clear that he also trampled workers' rights, vilified unions, and shunned corporate philanthropy despite running a wildly profitable business. Jobs was a rich man, and a flawed one, like most of us (I mean the flawed part, not the rich part, unfortunately).

It seems strange to me that the press can spend endless time and effort berating teachers while glorifying Jobs. Then again, we don't have the same PR team that he did.

4 comments:

reality-based educator said...

I'm going to come out of retirement to speak ill of the dead.

You read that Telegraph story about the Apple factories and how they're run (and how Apple does NOTHING substantial to change how they produce their devices), how they poison their workers and the environment around them, how they cheat their workers out of their wages, how they threaten them if they don't work 34 hour shifts and the rest, and the only conclusion a fair-minded individual can reach is that Steve Jobs was a slavedriver, a polluter, an employer of underage labor, an exploiter of workers, and a union buster.

Jobs claimed to be a Buddhist.

Dunno if there's anything to reincarnation, but if there is, I do hope Jobs comes back as a factory serf slaving for 16 hours a day/7 days a week in an Apple factory making iPads and getting cheated out of his wages by Apple management.

That's what he deserves.

Thanks for bringing this out in the open, AT.

Ms Untamed said...

I may have let my love of mavericks overshadow my concerns about capitalist exploitation of workers when I initially responded to the news of Steve Jobs' demise.

However...

Everything that is being said about him can be said about all corporations and their CEO's. I defy you to find one with clean hands. Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle and all that.

But what does that say about us consumers? Every time we buy something we are probably touching the the work of an exploited third world laborer--very possibly a child.

Isn't it time that we try to find an alternative?

Mr. Talk said...

RBE--I couldn't help but think of you as I wrote this. A lot of the info came from your blog. We still miss your voice.

Ms--the fact that what I said about Jobs can apply to every CEO is what's wrong with America. He could have made his iPhones here, paid American workers a decent wage, and still be richer than God. Or at least he could have treated Chinese workers like humans. I don't think it's our demand for cheap products that drives this, because iPhones aren't cheap at all-not if you're a middle class consumer. The price of such devices is driven far more by corporate greed than consumer demand for cheap devices.

Stu said...

I've been an Apple user since the mid 80s...and never cared that much for Jobs. Aside from what you've already mentioned he was not very nice to those who worked around him...that's why the board let him go...fired him from the company he started. Just another CEO? In terms of money and exploitation, definitely.

On the other hand, I also agree that he changed the way we work. MS and Gates tried to keep up and have some good products, but the innovations came from Jobs and his crew. Like Edison, he had people working for him who did the labor...and he got the patents. He was a CEO with all that implies, but he ran a good company and we all benefited from their innovation and creativity.