Apple’s rotten core

imageNone of the eulogies for Steve Jobs are likely to have much to say about the people who made his fortune writes Liam Mac Uaid. Apple has pioneered an aggressive anti-union strategy both in the Chinese factories that manufacture its gadgets and the Apple stores that sell them. The company’s story is more one of hyper-exploitation than affable geekery.

An article in the Financial Times (FT) lifted the lid on just how Steve Jobs’ “readiness to humiliate and embarrass others” keeps Silicon Valley psychologists busy restoring the mental health of his former employees; how he has created a company which drives hyper-exploited workers in Chinese factories to suicide and grinds profits out of the university graduates who work in his shops “counting their blessings to have a job”.

Just because Jobs and his company make the cutting edge technological status symbols of the 21st century there is no reason they can’t resemble the mill owners of 19th century Manchester.

Reports of conditions in the factories belonging to the companies which actually make the hardware seem like a throwback to the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The Daily Telegraph reported “hundreds of people work in the workshops but they are not allowed to talk to each other. If you talk, you get a black mark in your record and you get shouted at by your manager. You can also be fined.”

For a typical 70 hours’ working week assembly line staff earn 900 yuan (£90) a month. Anyone needing to go to the toilet has to raise their hand until their post can be covered and two ten minute breaks and a one hour lunch are all the time you get off the production line. At the end of the working day staff sleep in dormitories with six or seven other people and eat in company restaurants.

Jobs’ personal wealth is estimated to be $8.3bn and his company has assets of $76bn cash. The FT is clear about how this has been achieved – “No inventory and no unions have been vital to forcing down Apple’s costs”. It is also able to use its massive bank balance to monopolise production of key components such as flash memory.

Apple is the consummate neo-liberal company. It has a thin stratum of very highly paid top managers and designers. Underneath this are about 46 000 employees in relatively low paid retail and marketing jobs. Below them are untold thousands of Chinese factory workers who live highly regimented lives under fierce discipline. Underneath them are the African men, women and children who mine metals like coltan needed for the circuitry.

When you know all that suddenly the iPhone and iPad lose something of their sci-fi lustre.

On the other hand the political conclusions shine out. Unions in the retail sector should be trying to recruit workers in the shops and marketing divisions. We should be giving what support we can to Chinese workers fighting for elementary rights and we should support African miners fighting hyper exploitation. A 90% levy on Apple’s obscene profit levels and Jobs’ bank account should easily cover the costs of giving everyone who works directly or indirectly for the firm a decent standard of living.

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34 Comments on Apple’s rotten core

  1. Curiously, what brand of computer and phone does this author use? I would challenge you to find a single computer company, hosting service, or phone manufacturer that isn’t guilty of the same practices you complain about Apple doing.

    Practice what you preach my friend.

    • Pointing out bad working conditions is a good thing. Even if the author did use an Apple to write this article, which we don’t know.

    • This comment by anonymous is an absurd catch-all, which suggests that the author cannot criticize a capitalist because … he consumes the products which the capitalist has sold. Of course he does, we all do, we have no choice, we live in a capitalist society. It is like attacking Marx and Engels for wearing clothes made from textiles that had been produced in the dark satanic mills. You could only reasonably tell the author to “practice what he preaches” if he owned shares in Apple, which I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.

    • No anonymous, I don’t have any Apple stuff, ipads, iphones etc. Shows how people have been brainwashed doesn’t it? I mean, didn’t people used to mourn over famous pop or film stars when they died? Something to do with ‘cultural icons’ or whatever. Now people are ‘mourning’ the death of a CEO of a multinational corporation that makes billions whose employees are probably working for 1p per day in Latin America and/or Asia making the stuff in the factories. Calm down people, he just came up with new phones and stuff etc. Apple was good at PR and making you THINK that you NEED their rubbish to live.

  2. And thank god their closed architecture on the Apple Mac never won out or computers would have been more expensive and exclusive. no mention of failed NexT project or the fact he crushed independent record shops and controlled our entertainmnet

  3. Sent from my iPad

  4. What makes Apple a little bit special is the fawning press coverage Jobs has had throughout his recent careers. If you have a look at the technology section of any major newspaper there is endless free publicity for Apple products which must equal tens of millions of pounds worth of advertising. It often just seems to be rehashes of the company’s press releases by starstruck fans. Even Paul Mason is not immune to it.

    The material reason for it is that the journalists and many of their readers use these gadgets and love obsessing about them. But is the function of journalism to drool over gadgets or offer an explanation of what’s happening in the world?

    The other thing that’s striking is the extent to which the company and technology have become identified with one person. An enterprise on this scale requires tens of thousands and Marxism has no place for the “great man” theory of technological development.

    • I am obviously not immune to it either Liam although I must say the only Apple product I’ve ever owned and used is a Mac. I was upset on first hearing the news of Jobs’ death since when he started he was very much a visionary and might be regarded along with Steve Wozniak (and the Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center who were the ones who really came up with the graphic user interface idea, menus and windows – instead of typing a long list of computer commands, also such things as the mouse, ethernet and several other computing innovations) as the inventor of the modern personal computer. I subsequently revise what I said to: “Perhaps what I’m really saddened about, is he should have done this great thing in his youth when he was a pot-smoking hippy, and which has affected my own life considerably” (in the main for the good I’d say) “but has ended up being the murdering child Labour exploitative Capitalist bastard he was”. I suppose that had to be so, since the mentality of all Capitalists is to be the first into each and every market place and the main objective to make a profit all other considerations including the pay and conditions of those who actually produce the final product being subservient to that.

      To point out a few interesting facts though: Foxxcon isn’t actually owned by Apple nor was it by Steve Jobs either but is a massive Taiwanese based (not mainland Chinese) sub-contractor with plants in the PRC,and yes Apple should have pulled their contract with them in the face of the evidence presented to them concerning suicides and poor pay and working conditions.

      If you check out their website at then you will see that in 2006 they were voted ‘Best Employers in China’ in a Poll and even (everyone will have a laugh at this!) ‘Best Company to Make Employee Feel Blessed’ in a 104 Job Bank Taiwan Poll (would be interesting to see who took part in that!). They also claim to be the largest exporters in ‘Greater China’ so no small operation by any means.

      What I’d like to ask is whether anyone thinks the Government of Taiwan or the CCP Government in the ‘People’s Republic’ (or wherever else any of the actual Apple hardware is manufactured and/or assembled which includes the Czech Republic) may have a few questions to answer concerning how Foxxcon and/or Apple (if that can be shown) and many other IT companies are being allowed to do what numerous people have claimed they are doing to their employees in their respective countries. Also if Foxxcon is amongst the best employers with the most ‘felt blessed’ employees, what the hell must be going on amongst those which don’t rank so highly? Just a thought!

      • Speaking of Taiwanese companies, in 2010 Apple issued a lawsuit against a Taiwanese company for infringeing Apple patents on Android phones.
        Steve Jobs, sounding more like the Admiralty than Jack Sparrow said:-

        “We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it.
        We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.”

        Whereas in the 1996 documentary “Triumph of the Nerds” he referred to Apple’s own borrowings thus:-

        “Picasso..said that ‘Good artists copy; great artists steal.’ And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas..”

        40 second clip:-

        Jobs had obviously learned the lessons of his own past well!

        But to be fair, he had an instinct for what would sell and Apple’s own in-house developments were mostly better than the originals.
        What’s I find annoying about them is that they sell over-priced machines, produced using cheap labour and try to lock down the technology.
        Yet the devotees treat them almost like cult Objects, wandering around Apple Stores as though their at a shrine.

  5. The reason Apple is so associated with Steve Jobs is because Apple’s success in producing desirable products is down to him. If Apple hadn’t been brought back into the fold after he was dumped by the board, Apple would probably have gone down the pane.

    Yes the media fawning is nauseating and the exaggerated claims about what Jobs achieved, but that doesn’t mean that some of us shouldn’t be allowed to appreciate the beauty of the tools that we use. I like design, I like the marriage of beautiful design and technology. I appreciate the talent of jobs in bringing that to me.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t recognise that Apple was a capitalist venture who in the age of globalisation relies on the intensive exploitation of those at the far end of the supply chain. But what does annoy me is when Apple gets singled out when the very same companies and workers supply other part of the IT market.

    Some on the left need to get off their high horse and let others express their aesthetic and technological tastes and preferences and pay hommage to the person that started it all.

  6. I bet your members had iPhones, though.

    Complain about the company, but will purchase their goods anyway. Why report it now when the man’s dead? How disrespectful, when Tony Benn dies, I’ll have a party and celebrate the death.

  7. Oh, and taxing a dead guy’s wealth.


    • susan pashkoff // 6th October 2011 at 11:48 pm // Reply

      Impressive that someone has never heard of estate taxes or inheritance taxes or even the notion of taxes on wealth; they do make the right-wing press discussions periodically. Not surprising that perhaps they haven’t heard that wealth should not be passed onwards as unearned income as inheritances (you can go back to Godwin, it is an old argument following from a radical Lockean interpretation).

      This wealth was earned on the sweat and labour of working people who were extremely exploited; a decent standard of living for all rather than the grotesque inequality of wealth and income that is a requirement for the capitalist system to function seems far too much for you to accept. Instead you want to preserve the wealth of a dead man rather than ensure better lives of those that he exploited to obtain his wealth.

      Perhaps the expression “you cannot take it with you” should be homey enough to understand; I do not expect you to understand the notion of human rights to decent conditions of work and sharing resources so that all in the world can have a decent life.

  8. I have a better solution: why don’t we all dump our cheap-china made computers; and go back to the good old days when the little Apple Macintosh computer cost 5000 dollars?

    Another alternative, maybe the communist china should empower the unionism in Apple factories? Are the lefty countries like China really so insolent?

    • Nick Lalvani // 7th October 2011 at 10:34 am // Reply

      I’d be happy to pay more for goods by Apple if I knew the extra was being passed onto factory workers. The division of the wealth these products cause to circulate is obscene. And how is China a left-wing country. Give me one tenet of the New Hegelains which you see exemplified in Chinese Govenment policy?

    • 1. Apple computers remain far more expensive than similar PCs in spite of their sweatshop origins. 2. Technology was expensive not because of its place of manufacture but because of its supply at the time. 3. China hasn’t been a Communist country for nearly 4 decades.

  9. TinaP:
    “But what does annoy me is when Apple gets singled out when the very same companies and workers supply other part of the IT market.”

    But the point is, other IP companies like Microsoft or IBM don’t try to promote some bogus countercultural image. Indeed, IBM was “Big Brother” in those 1984 Macintosh adds. Apple, like Ben and Jerry’s, is one of those attempts to dress up capitalism in some groovy countercultural image. So debunking Apple is definitely called for. Everybody knows Microsoft is a bad guy.

  10. “In this respect, Jobs’ greatest achievement in life was nothing like the lofty goals of Wangari Maathai, the Nobel Prize-winning activist who fought poverty, corruption and environmental degradation and who silently died in Kenya two weeks ago, apparently without anyone noticing. No. All eyes are focused on a man whose greatest achievement in life was simply to bring aesthetics and rebellion to the forefront of his highly successful brand”

  11. Are workers being exploited on a factory production line aesthetically pleasing? No.

    I had to work for a company using a mac all day – I didnt enjoy looking at the little box all day

  12. Undermining the integrity of the article because the author used a computer to write this article is ingnorant to the extreme.

  13. Like many venture Capitalists, Jobs was more adept at using other people’s ideas than creating them himself.
    In this case, combining Graphic User interfaces with compact computer designs.

    Steve Wozniak was more crucial to the technical side of Apple than Jobs, who was never really a computer engineer, or programmer.
    It was Wozniak, an expert in miniaturizing circuit boards, who developed the Apple 1 & II personal computers.
    These used the WIMP Interface (Windows, Icon, Mouse, Pointer) first pioneered by Alan Kay and Doug Engelbart at Xerox Parc and later incorporated into the Apple Lisa.
    It was only with the development of Windows 3 that Microsoft-based PC’s began to catch up with this intutitive system.

    Kay also developed “Smalltalk” one of the first Object Oriented Programming languages, also used on early Apple PC’s.
    Kay was an associate of the Trotskyist programmer Seymour Papert, the inventor of Logo programming language, widely used in Education.
    In the 1950’s, Papert was an associate of the Socialist Review group in London.
    Through learning Logo, Kay became aware of the educational theories of Piaget and Vygotsky.
    People like Kay, Engelbart (who invented the modern mouse) and Papert have generally been employed as consultants and academics, rather then being entrepreneurs.

    Apple also benefitted from the development of RISC chips by Acorn Computers of Cambridge.
    When the PC market crashed in the mid-80’s, Acorn diversified into the ARM chips, which formed the basis of PDA’s.
    These chips adopt almost the opposite philosophy to Intel’s bulked-up Steroid enhanced Pentium and allowed Mobile Phone sized devices to become Smart.
    Apple went into partnership with Acorn and VsLi to produce Arm Risc chips for its iPhone, which the main revenue earner for Apple.

    Having survived financial disaster, Apple moved its production facilities to China.
    Soon, it will begin to manufacture iPads in Brazil.

  14. I love my apple computer, I abhor Apple’s business practices.

  15. laura comerchero // 8th October 2011 at 1:37 am // Reply

    the only reason people work at apple is ,, they are successful, they are exciting, most of all they have jobs. if there is a better place, they will be working there, don’t try to kill the goose laying golden eggs.

  16. I think leveling a critique like this when someone dies makes us as Marxists look nasty and petty 🙁

    Capitalism should be critiqued as a, economic system, not as though it were a bunch of evil little men. Life isn’t that simple.

    • I disagree Karl. When the dead capitalist in question is being lauded and eulogized by the bourgeois media it is correct to put a counter position. Did you feel the same way when Robert Maxwell died? Will you feel the same way when Rupert Murdoch dies and is eulogized as a great media visionary?

  17. Another Trotskyist who contributed to Apple’s early success is described here:-

  18. Yes, Rod Holt (see link above) was another Trotskyist involved in the early days of Apple. He has now left Socialist Action (US) but no doubt retains his Marxism. He explained to me that he was a Marxist because as a scientist he could see that capitalism’s days were over and logically therefore another system (socialism) should take its place! I should add that when we stayed with him in Oakland Heights he lived in a huge house which looked like a Tudor mansion but was built in the 1930s and next door to the ex-governor of California. Eccentric but interesting man.

  19. Alan Kay’s 1972 Paper proposing the Dynabook – “A portable computer for children of all ages”, foresaw many of the ideas later incorporated into devices like the iPad.

    Kay goes into a lot of detail about the hardware required, even envisaging it using a low power LCD screen, the memory, processor and file system requirements, costings etc…
    He foresaw a “carry anywhere” device that could connect to the “global information network”, allowing children to access the libraries of the world

    Except at the time, hardly anyone knew such a system existed!
    It was then known as ARPAnet, a military-funded network designed to survive the electromagnetic pulse created by a nuclear strike.

    It was following a visit to Seymour Papert at MIT that Kay first came up the Dynabook concept,as is clear from the references to Logo programming and Piaget’s theories of child-centred learning.

    According to Jim Higgins’ Memoirs:-

    “Seymour Papert – a man of considerable talent … was recruited by Kidron and, for a few years, he added considerably to the impact of Socialist Review.
    His review of John Strachey’s, at that time very influential book, Contemporary Capitalism, for example, is an excellent attack on Strachey and, incidentally, one of the better statements on the permanent arms economy.”

    Kay, who coined the phrase “If you want to predict the future, invent it” is a multi-talented character himself.
    His first degree was in molecular biology and he played pro-Jazz guitar before getting into computers.
    Both he and Papert were involved on the “One Laptop per Child” project, something that has remained an ideal for decades, but never quite been realised.

  20. you guys are ridiculous. Most gigantic companies do exactly what apple does and for you to single out only apple is ignorant. And for you to single out Jobs right after his death especially is even more ignorant and rude. you need to get off your high horse because most likely the computer you typed this on was built the same as an apple. Steve Jobs was a brilliant inventor and an extremely smart individual. He followed his dream no matter what and failure was not an option for him. So you can try to make him look like an arrogant jerk as much as you want but in the end it’s just going to turn around and backfire on you because I think this is a horrible article for you to write concerning a human beings death and you should be ashamed. Lets see you build a company the way he did and then come talk to me

  21. Anonymous (i.e. first comment on this thread)…….seriously…….’everyone else is doing it so that makes it okay’, or, ‘everyone engages in these non-life-affirming practices so why shine a light on them for constructive reflection, discussion & possible life-affirming reformation’?

    my friend……the ‘way’ the species is going is unsustainable in a plethora of respects. to suggest members of the species ought not be inspiring awareness & conversation about these issues simply because the present context fosters such issues does not only not serve the well-being of the species, it threatens it’s sustenance, entirely.

    Many are not perceiving/understanding the grave nature of humanity’s current direction & trajectory. If the species is going to have a chance, more & more individuals will need to be waking up, and it’s articles like this that inspire awakening and constructive reformation…

    …in one guy’s opinion….

  22. Jorein Versteege // 19th October 2011 at 5:23 pm // Reply

    I don’t oppose the products of Apple, Microsoft or others. I don’t hate products of capitalists, I hate the fact that all the profits go to the capitalists.

    In a socialist society, the people control the wealth. Democratic elected workers councils will plan our economy, not for profits but for people’s need. Instead of competition and high prices, we would have good products for fair prices.

  23. didn’t Wozniack do all the designing anyway?sick to death of hearing about Steve bloody Jobs……ipods play music,macs do word processing and make pictures of stuff and iphones and all the attendant marketing have convinced half the planet(well,in the rich bit) that it is impossible to be enjoying yourself unless you have a useless bit of technology in your hands……lots of people cried when Stalin died…….similar phenomenon really…..all this ‘groundbreaking technology’ hasn’t made life easier AT ALL…….we still have to go to work for hours on end…we still hate our jobs….we still have ZERO control over our lives…..oh,sorry,have to stop typing and pay the rent…..someone please shoot me….i just read the comment about ‘following dreams’…..jeezus h…….the disney view of life is EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!Oh,and when are you brits gonna get rid of that bloody queen…she is over here taking up ALL the airtime on the flipping telly!

  24. i look forward to Ricky’s glowing obituary on the Libyan Colonel

  25. Until 7 years ago I’d never really used a computer. Then, I paid £1800 for a HP / Microsoft set up that needed constant de fragging, virus protection, it had countless hack attempts, programmes installed on it without me doing anything. You know, all that hassle that comes with owning Microsoft based computers. It was a pain to use, slow, clunky, illogical – and extremely frustrating. 5 years ago I bought a secondhand eMac for £80, and when I compared the two computers side by side, the eMac was far quicker, didn’t require any expensive virus protection, and I didn’t have to perform any maintenance tasks on it in the two years I used it. I’ve still got it, but I now use a MacBook I bought secondhand 3 years ago (for the cost of a brand new Microsoft laptop that probably would of only lasted a year or two) The eMac does work just as well as it always did, but I prefer the MacBook for sheer convenience.

    Regarding phones, I was a devout Nokia fan from the mid 90’s to 2005 when I had the misfortune to own an N70. It was useless! I took it back and exchanged it for a more basic Nokia phone that didn’t make promises it couldn’t keep! Until the iPhone came out, I tried various ‘smart’ phones from other manufacturers, and they were all pretty hopeless. I ended up using a £20 basic Nokia handset (1110?) which served me well until the iPhone came along! I tried it, liked it, and after a while, I bought a secondhand 3G and am now very happy to use my current reconditioned 3GS. I’ve tried to use friends Android based phones, but I find them clunky and awkward.

    I’ve found the Apple stores to be more than helpful, the battery in my MacBook was replaced free of charge after the ‘Genius’ noticed it wasn’t performing as it should do. (Yes, even though I bought it secondhand and the machine was 4/5 years old, the battery was less than a year old) Do you thing that would of happened if I was in PC world?

    So there’s my reasons for owning Apple products, basically they make quality products and look after their customers. That’s a whole lot more than most companies out there!

    All big companies are driven by profits, they have to be. As the old saying goes; ‘The bigger they are, the harder they fall’ So to survive, they have to make as much money as they can. Apple are no different in that respect, and until they don’t look after me, and start to make inferior products, I’ll continue to use them. Maybe one day I’ll have enough money to buy something brand new from them!

    In an ideal world, we’d all be self sufficient, trading produce with our neighbours and therefore eliminating the need for money. We all know that we don’t live in an ideal world though….

    Put simply, without the larger companies in this world, the world wouldn’t have evolved much – and whether that’s a good or bad thing is an entirely different debate!

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