A modest father of two who works at the Tesla production factory in Fremont, Calif. does not earn a livable wage. While the living wage in Fremont rests at 28 dollars an hour, Tesla employees are paid anywhere from 17 to 22 dollars an hour. In addition to low pay, this father is subject to questionable labor practices and standards. The vast majority of this 10,000 person plant is routinely pulling work weeks exceeding 40 hours due to mandatory overtime necessary to meet company production standards.
In addition to long hours of labor, employee injuries are a common occurrence. Such large reports of injuries have constructed a stigma around reporting work-related injuries. This father refrains from reporting his own injuries for fear of being a labeled a bad worker or a complainer by management.
In addition to that when you report an injury you are moved to “light work” – a position in which your pay is decreased. The man’s friend has injured his back twice on the job at Tesla and went from earning 22 to 10 dollars an hour when shifted to light work.
The tenuous ethical positioning of the means of Tesla’s production is incentivized in a neoliberal global economy that rewards competition and the upwards flow of wealth. An inherent flaw in neoliberal economics, however, is the presupposition of neo-slave conditions in the labor class.
This is observable in Nike’s longstanding problems with it’s labor conditions, Amazon’s continued mistreatment of employees in production plants and even the charitable organization of Goodwill’s rampant employee mistreatment in distribution factories. All the evidence points to Elon Musk as the next capitalist kingpin to wage war on the labor class.
The world often tries to paint Musk as the preeminent 21st century futurist who will lead the Earth into the fourth industrial revolution. Unfortunately a prior concern to the advancements that Musk could bring about are the ethics of his capitalist practices.
Neoliberalism embraces shady business practices for the sake of economic practicality; thus, the simple standard of determining the objective goodness of an executive is by analyzing the lengths to which they capitalize off the harmful potential of neoliberalism.
Musk has failed to posit himself as a saint – by any means of the word – in the face of the potential for economic gain, meaning we need not idolize a man that is setting a precedent of unethicality in business.
It is fair to make the claim that Musk intends to do good for the world through his businesses of Tesla and SpaceX. Tesla is explicitly aimed at decreasing fossil fuel emissions by producing the first affordable and mass-produced electric vehicles that function better than vehicles that run on fuel. SpaceX seeks to colonize Mars and create a solution to the pressing issue of population growth. Yet despite all of Musk’s goodwill, his image is still rife with holes.
In early September, Musk created a bit of controversy by smoking weed on the Joe Rogan podcast while hypocritically maintaining extremely strict provisions on workers concerning drug use. This caused Musk’s companies to significantly drop in stock value and made many of the companies’ largest shareholders question Musk’s decision making skills.
Shareholders’ concerns are eerily valid. In response to complaints about poor working conditions by Tesla employees Musk reportedly visited the Fremont plant and spent the night on the floor of the plant to represent that he feels the pain of his employees.
This attempt at a display of solidarity with plant employees is one of the most belittling representations Musk could have engaged in. The belief that sleeping on the floor reconciles or even recognizes the true pain and toil that workers go through reveals how Musk truly views his employees. As a means to the production of wealth and only subject to the minor inconvenience of a poor sleeping situation.
This revelation blatantly ignores the true reality of worker conditions at Tesla. Workers don’t have a poor sleeping situation, they have a poor living situation because of Tesla and sleeping on the floor does nothing but dismiss the workers reality and permit continued mistreatment of employees.
When Musk is allowed to get away with holding up a norm of unethical business conduct while still being largely idolized in the public eye, he begins to gain the power to set societal precedents. Musk will be imitated, mimicked and regarded as a trailblazer while the trail that he is blazing is down a path that props up neoliberal violence.
Neoliberal violence like laborer mistreatment creates the conditions for structural violences of poverty, discrimination and elitism.
When there are repressive deviations in the quality of life amongst various levels of a business model, neoliberalism is essentially weaponized to attack the low and middle class. If the precedent for violence of this sort is established, fears of future dystopian scenarios will come closer to fruition.
Musk is by no means a demon. His ethical infractions and flawed assumptions do not make him an evil person. I believe Musk to have genuinely good interests at heart but this does not exclude him from criticism.
Musk’s business conduct thus far has not been a strength of his chief executive duties and he has opened the door to perpetuating unethical business practices and because of that he should not be the businessman that is idolized in the public eye.
While Musk’s heroism sparks occasionally in his purity of interests, his heroism overall falls victim to the villainous products of business oversight.
Photos courtesy of standard.co.uk.