Saturday, December 24, 2011

Automation and the Worker: Friend or Foe?

My job hasn’t been shipped anywhere but it is still in danger; please help me and my brothers and sisters!

So this is my first writing since becoming a college graduate and I must say that it feels really good to write out of pleasure than out of necessity.  The following is addressed to my readers, my brothers and sisters in the UFCW (United Food and Commercial Workers,) and to people who patronize Kroger’s and other quality union shops.

I am totally in favor of my business being profitable; if it wasn’t for Kroger’s profitability I wouldn’t have a job and would be forced to work under my previous work conditions which are less than desirable.  In my brief time at Kroger’s I have been acclimated back into the corporate world and now have a better understanding of the standard capitalist hierarchy that employees a great deal of us in one form or another.  I am proud to call myself a Kroger’s employee and a member of the local UFCW.  Kroger’s is the first job I have had in a long time that I don’t dread dragging myself into work, I go with enthusiasm (some would say I have drunk the Kool – Aid.)  With all this being said I have noticed something that alarms me.

A couple of weeks back I was working my register when a man came in and got in my line; it wasn’t a particularly long line but it was the end of the night and I was the only cashier short of the U-Scan attendant (for those of you not familiar with what a U-Scan is, it is an automated self-checkout.)  The U-Scan attendant came over and asked the gentlemen if he would like to be helped on the U-Scan instead of waiting in my line.  The gentlemen kindly replied “No thank you, those things take away jobs.  I can wait a little on this guy and insure he has a job.”  

For years I have used the U-Scans and not thought anything of it.  I assumed the cashiers preferred people to use these automated self-checkouts so they wouldn’t have to do as much.  I held this belief until I became a cashier, heard this man’s comments and put one and one together.  You see I used to work in the pharmacy at Kroger’s until I transferred to the registers up front.  I was getting around 24 – 32 hours a week in the pharmacy at slightly better than minimum wage and I was content to stay there for the time being.  Now that I am a cashier though I usually work the union minimum of 15 hours a week and layoffs are rumored to be coming soon.  I am in no fear of losing my job considering my seniority but I do feel for my brothers and sisters in the store who are not as fortunate.  I then got trained to work U-Scan the following day I worked after this gentleman came in and I saw how effective I was at running four registers at once with little knowledge of how they actually worked.  Did I get the same amount of interaction with the customers; not even close.  But I was pumping out paying customers pretty consistently.

Now again, I don’t want to see Kroger’s fail.  I like many people in the area count on my job at Kroger’s to pay my bills and put food on the table but as I was working the U-Scan, verifying the age of a 50 year old man buying wine with my foreign made electronic key pad and I was thinking, could I be cutting my own throat right now?  Is me preforming this duty at work hurting my hours and the hours of my brothers and sisters?  Is it even putting some of my brothers and sisters out of a job?  I can’t help but feel a little responsible for those layoffs now.  

I will never use a U-Scan anymore unless I absolutely have to; period.  It’s not because I don’t want to see Kroger’s succeed in being a profitable business; it’s because I want to have a job, my brothers and sisters in the union to have a job, and I am willing to pay a little more for a person to be my cashier and not some machine.  I know we are trying to pull ourselves out of this recession as a collective but I think that paying maybe a little more for our goods so our neighbors, family, and friends can keep a roof over their heads isn’t exactly a bad thing.  Labor costs can be a major expense for a company the size of Kroger’s but un-employment has a bigger cost in the communities we live in.  In this season of giving and being thankful I ask anyone who reads this to please tell your friends about this article, post it on a facebook wall or on your twitter feed.  Tell a friend about the harm a U-Scan can do and I bet most people haven’t even thought about it; I know I hadn’t until a customer brought it to my attention.  I am writing this on Christmas Eve, a time of giving thanks and the only thing I can think about is how four machines could affect the families of my co-workers.  So the next time you are in a Kroger’s or any other store for that matter and you have a choice of self-checkout or being waited on by a real, living and breathing cashier choose the cashier.  I know he or she will appreciate you picking their job and livelihood over saving a couple of second’s while dancing with the machine called U-Scan.  Merry Christmas and god bless. 

William Balzer 

This Article is not endorsed by the UFCW or Kroger's or any of it's subsidiaries.  The views in this essay are the views of the writer. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Review of “The King of Limbs” by Radiohead

(This article was featured in the most recent issue of the Shawnee State University Chronicle)

Something for the diehard fans to get excited about and something the casual Radiohead listener can enjoy.

                Although “The King of Limbs” by Radiohead came out in late February earlier this year many people are just now hearing about its release.   If you are a diehard Radiohead fan you probably have been chilling to this album for a couple months and are already patiently awaiting the release of their upcoming album “TKOL RMX 1234567” which is slated to be released on October 11th, 2011.  For those of us that were oblivious to all this and the sudden wave of promotion have caught our attention, this album is definitely worth buying!  

                At first I felt really bad for not noticing that one of the bestselling and innovative  bands in the last 20 years had released a new album but when Guy Raz of NPR sat down to talk with the guys I realized I wasn’t the only one who missed it.  Guitarist for the band Ed O’Brien and singer Thom York said this to Guy in response to the question of why there was such little fanfare with their last album; “We didn’t feel like it… we didn’t want to explain it.”  Radiohead released this album entirely on their own; there was no concert or interviews promoting the album.  I personally was first made aware of the album when “The Colbert Report” aired an hour long episode featuring Radiohead on Sept. 26th and I strongly recommend everyone to check it out online.

                Now that we got the back story down, let’s get to the album!  I am honestly not a huge Radiohead fan, I don’t hate them it’s just I find them as more of a mood band (when the mood hits me.)  I also feel like putting a letter grade on an album is ridiculous; we all have different tastes in music, ergo ratings are flawed.  If you like Radiohead, buy it; if you are a fan of Alternative Rock it is a must have for the collection.  I don’t think this is an album that will bridge the divide between the Rock and Bluegrass scenes so if you prefer a banjo over a Gibson SG this might not be an album for you.  I will say that although there are some great songs on this album it is an album in the truest sense.  To fully grasp and appreciate Radiohead’s new work you need to buy this album and listen to it in its entirety.  

                Radiohead I feel channels other great “album” writers like Pink Floyd, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan.  I have a greater respect for bands that write great albums as opposed to those that write a couple good songs and put a bunch of filler on an album.  “The King of Limbs” is filler free, very eclectic, innovating to listen to, and one hell of an album to chill too.  In the movie “The Big Lebowski, The Dude got high listening to whale songs; if they made that move tomorrow he would be listening to this album!
William R. Balzer  

The Great Strike / Upheaval of 1877

                My most recent essay covers two different readings about the Great Strike / Upheaval of 1877.  This event is a very crucial event in American history and was part of a global movement that was happening around the industrial world at this time.  One of the later mentioned readings dealt more with the historiography of the event and one dealt more with letters and accounts of what happened during this pivotal moment in American history. 

                Now before we delve further into the essay one must understand what America was like at that time to fully grasp why the workers were so upset.  After the U. S Civil War there was an economic boom in the country.  There was relatively 50 years of peace in the US, (minus a short detour with imperialism in the Spanish – American War) a massive amount of natural resources and a constant influx of immigrants from war torn Europe.  All of these factors plus technological innovations turned the US into an industrial powerhouse.  In essence at this time America became more industrialized and with all these factors it was a capitalists market meaning that the workers had a clear disadvantage in regards to bargaining for wages, hours, working conditions, etc.  The whole of organized labor was on the decline at this time; organized labor in America got its start in the Jacksonian era and died off with the Panic of 1837.  In the years following the Civil War organized labor grew but with the economic depression of the 1870’s unions saw their influence and membership drop dramatically.  With all these events being stated let’s look at the Great Strike / Upheaval of 1877.

                So what was this major event in American history that little is known about except for those whom have made history their profession?  It started with a common happening in the depression ridden era of the mid-1870s, a pay cut.  The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company issued a 10% pay cut to all employees, the second pay reduction in less than eight months.  Railroad workers in Martinsburg, West Virginia decided they had had enough and on July 16, 1877, workers in that town drove all the engines into the roundhouse and boldly declared that no train would leave until the owners restored their pay.  The local townspeople, miners, and other workers from the surrounding area gathered at the rail yard to show their support for the strikers and this was the start of a great showdown between the workers and the capital barons.

At this time strikes or other actions seen as disturbances were usually handled at the local level.  The mayor of Martinsburg tried in vain to threaten the striking workers into going back to work but the crowd stood firm in its resolve and prevented work from continuing.  The local police were far too small in numbers and many of them felt sympathy with the strikers considering a lot of them were family and friends.  In desperation, the mayor turned to the governor of West Virginia for support.  The governor sent units of the National Guard to Martinsburg to accompany the trains out of town by force of arms.  Some of the guardsmen where in the same predicament as the local police force and many of these guardsmen where railroad workers themselves.  After two people were killed in the standoff, the Guard simply lay down their weapons and began chatting with members of the crowd.  After the Governor saw that his guardsmen were ineffective he appealed to President of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes.  President Hayes sent troops to help move the trains but even then they were sabotaged and harassed along their routes.  Only one train reached its destination.

Now if this was all that happened it would have been one of many stories of strikes and unrest during this time but it soon spread out of the confines of Martinsburg, WV.  Soon other Baltimore and Ohio units joined the Martinsburg strike as well as competing railroad workers and other types of workers.  The movement spread into Pennsylvania, when workers on the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroads joined their compatriots.  Pittsburgh was the gateway to the Midwest, and so the strike widened to that region.  One isolated incident in a small town in West Virginia soon spread all over the United States in cities such as but not limited to Baltimore, Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo, Zanesville, Louisville, and Cincinnati.  The police, the National Guard, and the United States Army clashed with angry mobs throughout America.  Throughout the land, wealthy individuals feared that the worst had finally come; a violent revolution seemed to be sweeping the nation.

But as soon as it started then it stopped.  In some cases the strikes were ended by force, in others the strikers simply gave up.  The thing to keep in mind is that most workers were not trying to overthrow the government or the social order; they simply wanted higher wages and more time to spend with their families.  The Great Upheaval was not the first strike in American history but it was the first mass strike to involve so many different workers separated by so much space.       

Elliot J. Gorn, R. R. (2010). Constructing the American Past 7th Edition. Prentice Hall.

Fraizer, T. R. (2002). The Undersidde of American History: 5th Edition. International Thomson Publishing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Modern Modest Proposal

A 21st century American take on the 1729 writing of Dr. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

 A painting of Jonathan Swift (1.)

            The following essay is satirical:  The original Jonathan Swift essay “A Modest Proposal” has been made public by the Gutenberg online library and can be found at  This essay was intended to show the reader that people are more than just a line on a balance sheet and that sometimes the most profitable solution is not the best.

Pictures if the poor (2,) the elderly (3,) the student (4,) and the worker (5) in America.

            The problems we as a nation face are not unique in the chronicles of history.  For far too long have those at the bottom dragged down society making our once great society a sad shell of its former self.  When looking around in society one can plainly see the woes of the poor, the elderly, the student, the average worker.  We look on these creatures with great empathy and remorse feeling that they are truly one of god’s most helpless creatures.  Poverty is running rampant across our great nation and it seems like an almost futile enterprise trying to stem its growth.  But are all these issues to be blamed on the current system which is in place or the people who feel they are victim to it?  These topics will not be easy for some to address but I feel they should confronted now rather than letting them fall by the wayside.

 Poverty is alive in well unfortunately still in America (6.) 

In Regards to the Poor…

The poor cannot find work for several reasons; one of these reasons is that the labour markets are hurting in various sectors but the major reason is the result of these peoples own doing.  Poor labour markets are out there, but America is the land of opportunity, the land where anyone can work if they CHOOSE to.  Responsibility must be taken by these creatures if they wish to become members of our great society once again.  Under employment is an illusion and should be washed from the nations psyche if we wish to move forward.  Great employers in the retail and fast food industry will gladly hire these people if they would merely apply.  The minimum wage salaries offered by these corporations is more than a fair wage for any being in this line of work.  If by chance these unfortunate beings cannot afford to support themselves and their families on a minimum wage salary than they must make the necessary changes to their lifestyle to do so.  Government cannot be burdened with their problems and short comings; the government must remain focused on helping those who truly need its help, our financial sector, oil companies and corporations.  Unless these “poor” people make an attempt to do something with their lives our society will continue to falter on the way of progress.

The fountain of youth can now be found in pill form (7.)

In Regards to the Elderly…

The elderly say they cannot afford the amenities they wish to possess like health care or medications which is sad but if they would have planned for such things in their working years they would not be suffering from these maladies now.  RESPONSIBILITY for ones future is the job of the individual, not the government.  The story of the ant and the grass hopper come to mind when people speak of the woes of the elderly in this great nation.  If we as a nation are to cave into the selfish demands of those who are advanced in years than we shall have nothing for our future generations and the current generation will be left paying for those who chose not to plan wisely.  The elderly are the least productive members of society and with that being taken into effect, their wants should be considered as so.  Where is the fairness in rewarding those who currently provide nothing and ask for the biggest share?  Their lack of planning should not be rewarded but rather paraded in the streets to give an example to the current procrastinators who one day (assuming they live long enough) will take their place.  The proper action is not always easy, but seldom are they in life.

Poverty, unlike drinking has no minimum age requirement (8.)

In Regards to the Student…

            Students who are primarily the young are one of the biggest DRAINS on society.  Until a person reaches their teenage years they are a constant burden.  Need of food, clothing, and shelter without any positive contribution is a larger travesty than the elderly issue; the elderly have at least been productive members of society at one time.  Not only do children not provide any practical use but they ask for more than merely enough to survive, they wish to have free education as well.  Nothing including freedom in this great nation is free and that is why a drastic rethinking is needed in regards to education.  Why should workers who are not children or have no children bear the responsibility of children and those who have them?  The problem also does not end when a child reaches adulthood; if a child goes to college that cannot afford it he continues to drain the nation even more.  For far too long we have put education for all ages on a throne and it is now time that we analyze this view.  A solution to this endless drain on our coffers must be addressed if solvency is to be attained!  

A picture is worth a 1,000 words (9.)

In Regards to the Worker…

            The American worker is grossly INEFFICIENT as compared to workers around the world and is also over compensated and underworked.  Around the world workers are willing to work for a fraction of the pay American workers are; if we cannot bring the foreign world up to our standards than we must lower ours to be competitive once again.  Laws put in place in our recent history have kept the American worker uncompetitive with his foreign foes.  Abolition of some of these laws may be the only way to restore a manufacturing base in this nation, tariffs on imported goods is no solution to this problem; we must attack the source of the problem which is the American worker.       
Just think... If we really try we could have this (10?)
My Humble Solution…

Here lies the issue with all great problems; once the source of waste or maleficence has been identified how do we correct the problem?  I have my beliefs on possible solutions but I feel that those who hold elected office should be the ones to decide on this, not myself or any other American voter or tax payer.  My solutions will involve drastic and in some cases painful decisions but I want everyone to realize that we are doing this for the future and we can no longer afford to put these choices off.

            My solution to the “poor” is as followed.  American’s who are poor are poor by choice; if one cannot find a job he must deal with that on his own.  No government assistance should be provided and if one chooses to remain in unemployment than the government should by all means put him to work doing hard labour for no pay; the government in this case will provide these creatures with the adequate living essentials (A cot in a barracks, surplus food, and an hour of electricity seems adequate in my view.)  Once this person is no longer useful for such tasks or if he refuses to do so his organs and tissue may be harvested and sold to those who work and take care of themselves or they may be sold to science so they can be used for experimentation.  The work these creatures provide and their disposal will be more than enough to pay for their keep and in some cases may result in a profit for the government.

            The issue of the elderly is tougher to solve considering they offer very little to society in their current state.  A solution could be found though where they can be profitable again.  This solution is only for the elderly who do not draw a pension of some kind or who have received more in Social Security and Medicaid benefits than they paid in; those who do not meet these qualifications are free to live how they wish until they fall below the stated requirement.  The living conditions will be the same as with the poor and the disposal of should be the same as well.  Wasteful spending in health care will in no way be tolerated for any of these people while they are in the camps since they will never be able to work long enough to pay for it.  They will perform the same tasks as the poor but the elderly will have to perform the tasks that are higher in risk and have a higher chance of exposure to toxins.  The reason behind this is since they have such little time left on this planet their long term safety or health is of no concern.  It is also more profitable to expose them to these conditions as opposed to the poor because the poor may live for several years or even decades longer than the elderly under these conditions turning a massive profit for the government.     

            Free kindergarten through high school education should no longer be free under this system.  We can operate these schools under the same premise as we do our universities.  If a child or said child’s family wishes of it to receive an education they will have to pay for it directly; a loan system may be installed to give those without means the opportunity to attend school but if a default occurs then the child will be forced to live in the work camp under the same conditions of as the poor and the remains will be handled likewise.  If the child is too young to work at the time of default then a parent must then take his place till either the debt has been paid or the child has reached the required age to be a laborer (approximately 12 years of age would be the average age, but this again is up to the members of our Congress.)

            Grants and most forms of financial aid should be eliminated from the college process; student loans will still be allowed to exist.  Again, if default occurs then that student will have to work in the labour camps until the debt has been absolved and if he becomes ill or should die his remains shall be handled like the others mentioned before.  Funding for state universities should be cut dramatically if not completely.  Students and teachers alike are given too many creature comforts like heating in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, and state of the art libraries and computers.  The comforts are not panned of course, places of learning are allowed to have such things but only if they can afford to do so with the tuition that is raised.  Education is not mandatory in this country so those who do not wish to adhere to these standards need not apply to any school in the first place.

            The American worker must be willing to be competitive with foreign labour whatever the cost.  If this means that the worker will have to relinquish some of his creature comforts like the minimum wage, the forty hour work week or OSHA standards then so be it.  For far too long have we let worker safety hold this country back and it is time that we put profitability above all else.  If workers are unwilling to adhere to these standards than again, the labour camps will be their fate and they will be handled the same as the poor and those who have defaulted on an education.

        Although this plan may seem cold at first we will solve the financial issues the government it currently facing and cut the national deficit dramatically.  No longer will government monies be wasted on those who refuse to help themselves; government will then be able to focus on attracting businesses through tax incentives and the art of war.  One may view this proposal as a harsh and unforgiving world but I see it as a world in which deficits are a thing of the past and the future will be free of debt and those who wish to attack the government economically through their lack of ambition.

Works Cited

1)      "File:Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas Detail.jpg." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
2)     "Who Is Poor in America, and Why? - Maggie's Farm." Maggie's Farm. 7 May 2007. Web. <,-and-why.html>.
3)     Stone, Kathlyn. "Elderly American Homelessness on the Rise." Flesh and Stone. 13 Apr. 2010. Web. <>.
4)     "Photo, Picture of African American Girl Student Studying, Stock Photos, Image." Photos of People, Minorities, Elderly,children,education,families,teens,adults,ethnic Photos, Stock Photography. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
5)     Affordable Health Care Insurance Plans NH ME MA New England. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
6)     Snyder, Michael. "15 Shocking Facts About Poverty In America." Business Insider. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
7)     Mase, Randolph. "The Risks of Prescription Drugs « Randolph Mase’s Weblog." Randolph Mase’s Weblog. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
8)     "In America." Voices of Glory Global Ministries. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
9)     "Vintage Vivant » Archive » Great Depression Inspiration." Vintage Vivant. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.
10) "Inside a North Korean Labor Camp." Update News. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.