Does America Still Work?


There used to be, thirty years ago, forty years ago, an implicit social contract and although it was never written down, it was understood. And that social compact was if the company was doing better and better, workers could be reasonably assured that they would have their jobs and also that they would see better wages and better benefits. Now that old social compact has come apart...We have the specter of companies doing better and better and better and yet some companies, not all by any means, but some companies, pushing wages down, pushing benefits down, abandoning communities, breaking all of those implicit contractual terms.

The number one responsibility we have is survival so that we can employ people, so that we can pay taxes, so that we can contribute to the community. To say that management's whole objective is to reduce the number of employees and that they don't care what happens just shows a lack of recognition, of simply not understanding the world at all.

When Master Lock reinvests in Milwaukee, we're doing it to maintain a positive business environment for our workers, a positive environment surrounding our plant. We do it with the best interests of the company and employees in mind. You can term that social responsibility, you can term it economic responsibility. In our opinion, it's just good business.

We didn't have to stay in Milwaukee. I think we're here because this is our heritage, this is where the company was founded. This is Milwaukee Iron. And I think it's important for a company to have a heart and a soul. And when you start moving plants all over the world, you lose some of that. You just become another manufacturing plant in another town...We support many activities here in the inner city of Milwaukee because its part of our heritage...Our objective is to balance stakeholder interests. We have six stakeholders we have to serve. The investor is one -- very important one. We also have employees, and we have customers. And we have suppliers. And we have government and society. And we have to try and deal with all of those, not just one.

There's no question that it's harder to take the risk of doing the right thing if you face the pressures of Wall Street and global competition, but what makes it worse in some ways is that most government policies are actually discouraging them from doing the right thing as well. It makes no sense that we permit cities and states to offer companies generous tax breaks to close their mature plants in the cities and go build identical plants somewhere in a "greenfield," a semi-rural area...So most companies could do the right thing, but to do so would entail risks.

From time to time Wall Street and Main Street can go down different paths and diverge. At the end of the day, they must end up at the same destination. And I think that is what the new economics of the 1990s is all about. The first half of this decade has been glorious for Wall Street. The second half may be a lot better for Main Street.

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