Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Workplace Massacre in Alabama: Did Endless Downsizing and Slashed Benefits Cause the Rampage?

Posted in Capitalism, corporations by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

Mark Ames (h/t Alternet)

workplace-violenceThe killing spree in Alabama fits a well-worn pattern of workplace-driven massacres that we’ve seen since the “going postal” phenomenon exploded in the middle of the Reagan revolution.

In spite of the fact that these killings have gone on unabated for over 20 years, most of the country doesn’t want to know why they’re happening — least of all the people in power.

If we study the motive for Michael McLendon’s shooting rampage Tuesday, which left 11 bodies across three towns in southern Alabama, and we look at the bizarre way that the causes of the shooting are being hushed up, you begin to understand why this uniquely-Reaganomics-inspired crime started in the United States, and continues to plague us.

But of all the inexplicable circumstances surrounding the murder spree, one of the oddest has to be the way Alabama authorities went from focusing hard on solving the shooter’s motive to suddenly dropping the issue like a hot potato and running away from the scene of the crime, as if they didn’t like what their investigation produced.

On Wednesday night, investigators announced that they had discovered the motive, and they would reveal it to the world on Thursday morning. 

Investigators close in on motive of Alabama gunman
by Donna Francavilla
SAMSON, Ala. (AFP) — Alabama investigators said they were closing in on a motive for the U.S. state’s deadliest-ever shooting, in which a man killed his mother, grandmother and eight others before taking his own life. The Alabama Bureau of Investigations said there had been “very recent developments that we believe may direct us to a motive” for the grisly rampage, but ABI was quick to dismiss earlier reports that a hit list had been found in the house of the gunman, identified as Michael McLendon.

But then something funny happened on Thursday. Alabama investigators completely reversed themselves: They were now claiming there was no way to find out the motive for the killings, and in fact, no motive ever existed in the first place.

“There’s probably never going to be a motive,” Trooper Kevin Cook, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said Thursday.

Even the list that provided so many obvious clues as to what sparked the shooting is now no longer the “hit list” or list of people who had “done him wrong,” but rather, “the kind of list you’d put on a magnet on the refrigerator door,” according to Cook.

Which is odd, because just the day before, Cook told reporters, “As to motive, what we do know is that his mother had a lawsuit pending against Pilgrim’s Pride.”

Why the bizarre about-face? We may never know, because Alabama investigators abruptly closed the investigation at noon on Thursday, sending home almost the entire team. Nothing to see here folks, keep moving along.

This raises a new question: What was it about McLendon’s motive that officials wanted hushed? Or better yet: What did Pilgrim’s Pride do that could have incited a man described by all as nice, quiet and respectful to unleash a bloody killing spree?

On the surface, the horrific details seem to suggest a straightforward case of a lone psychopath unleashed: Michael McLendon, 28, shot and killed execution-style his own mother and four dogs, then set their bodies on fire before driving to other relatives’ houses and killing them; he killed a deputy’s wife and baby, along with bystanders; and like so many rampage massacres over the past 20 years, he ended his life inside of his former workplace: Reliance Metal Products, in the small town of Geneva, Ala.

Authorities say they discovered a list — presumably a hit list — of people and companies whom McLendon felt had done him wrong. Popular culture tells us that the hit list and his grievances are themselves signs that he suffered from a persecution complex, like so many Charles Mansons. No need to actually look into who was on that hit list and why — the mere discovery of such a list should be enough to indict him, case closed.

But nothing’s solved, nothing’s closed; and if we’re serious about understanding the “why” of this massacre, as everyone claims to be, then that list is the best place to start.

As with so many of these rage massacres from the past 20 years, the more you look at Tuesdays’ killing spree, the more you see that the system we’ve been living under since Reaganomics conquered everything has created all kinds of monsters and maniacs, from the plutocrats who’ve plundered this country for three decades straight, down to the lone broken worker — McLendon — who took up arms in a desperate suicide mission against the beast that crushed him.

So far we’ve learned that McLendon’s hit list names the three companies he had worked for since 2003 — Reliance Metals, which makes construction materials; Pilgrim’s Pride, the nation’s number one poultry producer, where his mother also worked, until she was suspended from her job last week; and Kelley Foods, a smaller family-owned meat-processing company from which McLendon apparently quit just last week.

Even more striking to someone who has studied these workplace massacres, it appears that McLendon was bullied and abused at work. One clue as to why he’d end his spree at Reliance, where he hadn’t worked since 2003, could be that he was trying to kill the source of the pain: workers at Reliance used to taunt him incessantly, giving him the nickname “Doughboy.” Which basically means “fatso” and “faggot” combined: McLendon was 5 feet, 8 inches tall, but he weighed roughly 210 pounds.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but “Doughboy” is the exact same nickname that workers at Standard Gravure, a printing plant in Louisville, Ky., gave to a guy named Joe Wesbecker back in the 1980s.

Like McLendon’s case against Pilgrim’s Pride, Wesbecker also was locked in an ongoing labor dispute with his company, whose top shareholders had gone on an eight-year plundering spree, leaving little for the workers; the government backed Wesbecker’s case against Standard Gravure, and he “won” his dispute, but it was irrelevant.

By 1989, the culture had changed, all power went to the CEOs and major shareholders. Standard Gravure’s senior executives ignored the arbitration rulings and continued to treat Wesbecker however they felt, slashing his pay under a different pretense, which would require a whole new round of arbitrations.

Joe “Doughboy” Wesbecker finally cracked: on Sept. 14, 1989, he unleashed America’s first private workplace massacre, pitting aggrieved worker against vampiric company, borrowing from the numerous post office shootings that had erupted a few years earlier. The result: seven killed, 20 wounded, and the death of the company that drove him to the brink. And an unending string of workplace massacres by “disgruntled employees” ever since.

Next time any asshole calls a kid or a co-worker “Doughboy,” put the bully and the bullied on the top of your next Ghoul Pool list. Bullying in the workplace, like bullying in the schoolyard, is only now being recognized as a serious problem, with devastating psychological consequences — and the occasional rampage massacre.

Conventional wisdom used to say that victims of bullying should “deal with it” since it was “just the way things are”; nowadays, after all the workplace and school shootings, anti-bullying laws and codes are becoming increasingly common.

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