U.S. workers are losing their jobs in the name of efficiency,
but it’s really labor cost reduction and profit maximization
Those who profit from globalization defend it by correctly explaining the genuine efficiencies of international trade, and then equating that with what is occurring today. But they’re different.
International trade eventually benefits society at large—both here and abroad—when it is based on sound economic principles. In other words, investments are made in those parts of the world that:
- have the best access to raw materials (despite the protestations of conservative economists, workers are not raw materials—or machines—to be used up and discarded),
- have the best location in the distribution chain,
- have developed the best technology,
- have trained the best managers and workers, and finally,
- offer the best product at the lowest price—while observing at least minimal standards for the treatment of workers (wages, working conditions) and the environment (air, water, land).
Corporations are moving to countries like these for only two reasons. First, labor and environmental costs can be slashed with abandon, with no or few legal restrictions. Second, corporations gain the power to reduce wages in our own country, because the terminated workers increase the labor pool.
When investors close a manufacturing plant in the U.S., it hurts not only the workers who lose their jobs; it hurts all workers. It’s not just 10% of our workforce who suffer, it’s 100%. For two reasons:
- The workers who actually lose their jobs in a plant shutdown enter the competitive labor market and adversely affect the wages of others who still have jobs.
- Other workers in the U.S. who still have jobs now know that their employer’s threat to leave the country is real. If they cause trouble or join a union, they will be downsized. A poor job with low pay is better than no job at all.
That is why unmanaged world trade hurts workers even in jobs that can’t be exported from the U.S.: trucking, retail, construction, the service industry, etc. Since corporations have put so many people out of work, unions and individual non-union workers have lost the power to negotiate for higher wages.
If workers collectively try to form a union, they get fired. If they’re already in a union, the union can’t press for higher wages because the corporation might close down the plant and move elsewhere. So, investors and corporate executives are screwing working Americans both individually and collectively. It’s a not-so-subtle form of class warfare.
Those who claim that globalization will eventually improve workers’ lives worldwide—for the betterment of all—should go to the archives and read stories like the one in the Wall Street Journal under the head- and sub-headline, “Behind China’s Export Boom, Heated Battle Among Factories; As Wal-Mart, Others Demand Lowest Prices, Managers Scramble to Slash Costs.” Gary Meyers, a vice president in global procurement at Wal-Mart was quoted as saying, “As things get more competitive, the pressure that comes along with that, yeah, we try to take advantage of it.”
Because corporations such as Wall-Mart are pitting Chinese factories against each other, Chinese workers work as long as 18 hours a day, get paid entry wages of $32 a month (even though the “minimum wage” is $56 a month) and have horrible work-safety records. The Journal quoted a plant manager: “‘Everybody is here trying to make money,’ Mr. Liu says in the shadows of his showroom, where the lights are shut off at lunchtime to save money. ‘I just never thought it would be so hard.’”
The legitimate benefits of free trade give the apologists for investors and corporate America yet another opportunity to tell an obvious lie—under the guise of a general truth. They sell American voters on the true advantages of free trade, but then insist that there be no enforceable labor or environmental standards. Such trade isn’t “free”—it’s ruthlessly controlled by international corporations.
Joyce Knott believes in efficient international trade. Rep. Mick Mulvaney believes in unregulated “globalization.”