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a trombone-eat-trombone world

More than 230 workers who make Vincent Bach brand brass instruments went on strike, rejecting concessions Conn-Selmer says it needs to remain profitable. Those concessions include an average wage cut of about $6 per hour, less vacation time and a frozen pension plan. The average wage at the Bach plant is $21.01 per hour, or $36.40 when benefits are factored in.

Consumers decide what will be produced, what money is available, what manufacturing processes will be rewarded and what will go broke. Business managers don’t decide what gets produced and sold at what price. They merely offer it for sale while the market determines if they got it right.

The USA market is dominated by price shoppers who use the internet and big box stores to put small, full-service shops out of business. When the inevitable results, we lament the loss. When trombones are viewed as a generic commodity in a price-shopping community, the low-cost mass-producers will beat craftsmen every time. We get instruments that don’t hold together, don’t sound good and don’t work well. But they look okay and resemble those “expensive” horns the “overpriced” local music store is trying to sell.

I betcha dollars-to-donuts the craftsmen in Elkhart, Indiana buy their personal do-dads from low-cost stores and low-cost manufacturers. No union or government can save us from ourselves while we measure quality of life by how many trinkets we can buy each week.

I bought my share of Conn 88 trombones (for my grandchildren, of course), doing my patriotic duty to keep the craftsmen at Elkhart employed. I get to break it in, season it and enjoy it for a while first. I would far rather do without, or stretch the service life of what I have, than buy low quality. But that attitude is too rare to keep craftsmen in business.
Conn 88 HCL trombone
The only chance for survival that high-quality manufacturers have is to match production of premium instruments, the tools and craftsmen to the quantity demanded by the market. At the same time, they have to compete with other premium trombone manufacturers AND keep the price low enough that all of their factory output will find buyers. It is a fine balancing act that done incorrectly will shut the whole thing down.

The United Auto Workers Union bosses have decided Conn-Selmer’s wage offerings are too low. They appear confident that production costs can be brought down somewhere other than in wages or that plenty of customers will pay more for their horns. I hope they figure it out right, because they sure made a nice trombone for me, I mean my grandchildren.

However, I suspect the truth will turn out to be that US buyers don’t appreciate craftsmen, and workers in the USA will refuse to compete with those in China. We will send our unemployment checks to the Chinese instead.