Tuesday, December 16, 2003

True Lies: Trade Theory, Trickle Down, Labor Rights Meet Reality...And Guess Who's Losing

OK, it's been a while since I've studied economics, international trade theory, comparative advantage and all that stuff, but weren’t we supposed to be less upset about well-paying manufacturing jobs disappearing overseas because they would be replaced by better paying, high tech jobs like computer programming?
IBM Said to Export Programer Jobs to Asia

NEW YORK (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp., the world's largest computer company, will move the work of as many of 4,730 U.S. software programers to India, China and elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The unannounced plan, which the newspaper said it viewed in company documents, would replace thousands of workers at IBM facilities in Southbury, Connecticut, Poughkeepsie in New York, Raleigh, North Carolina, Dallas, Boulder in Colorado, and elsewhere in the United States.

The Wall Street Journal said that about 947 people will be notified during the first half of 2004 that their work will be moved overseas. It was not yet clear how many of the other 3,700 jobs identified as ``potential to move offshore'' in the IBM documents will move next year or later, the paper said.
Oh well, there are always jobs down at the local Wal-Mart or McDonalds. Right? Well, maybe not. As Bob Herbert notes in the New York Times yesterday,
The problem is that we are not creating many jobs, and the quality of those we are creating is, for the most part, not good. Job growth at the moment is about 80,000 per month, which is not even enough to cover the new workers entering the job market.

And when the Economic Policy Institute compared the average wage of industries that are creating jobs with those that are losing jobs, analysts found a big discrepancy. The jobs lost paid about $17 an hour, compared with $14.50 an hour for those being created.
Meanwhile, Herbert notes that while the war abroad commands daily headlines, the war against workers at home goes on in relative secrecy, except to those who are its victims
The war is being fought on several fronts. For example, after years of shipping manufacturing jobs out of the U.S. to absurdly low-wage venues, we are now also exporting increasing numbers of technical and professional jobs.

Another example: Despite the loss of more than two million jobs over the past three years, and the fact that nearly nine million Americans are officially unemployed, the Bush administration has refused to support a Christmastime extension of crucial unemployment benefits.

Worse, the administration is trying to implement a regulation that would deny overtime protection for more than eight million men and women.

Efforts to get an increase in the pathetic $5.15 minimum wage continue to fail. The benefits from productivity increases that have resulted primarily from an incredible squeeze that employers have put on workers are not being shared with workers. Health and pension benefits are in a downward spiral.
But don't workers in this country have strong labor laws protecting them (unlike the poor slobs in developing countries)? Well, not according to a former Secretary of Labor. Former Labor Secretary Ray Marshall (writing in the L.A. Times with economist Julius Getman) says that while we may have decent laws on paper,
the reality is far different. The rights enunciated almost 70 years ago are constantly challenged and frequently denied. Those who oppose the right of workers to organize and strike have learned to phrase their opposition in the language of liberty and to justify it in terms of the best interests of working people. There are few areas where hypocrisy is more firmly entrenched.

This hypocrisy has been woven into the structure of our labor laws. The right to organize is frustrated by the election system used in deciding whether employees are to be unionized. Firing of employees involved in union campaigns is common today. Though the law declares such firing to be illegal, anti-union discharges are difficult to prove, and the remedies are woefully inadequate. Even when the National Labor Relations Board finds that employees have been illegally fired, they rarely return to their jobs.

And even if the union election is not preceded by unfair labor practices, the law gives employers a significant advantage. Before the election is held, employers have the right to deliver speeches to a captive audience of employees. These speeches, typically written by anti-union consultants, play upon fear and ignorance. The union has no right to reply, and its organizers usually are barred from the premises.

Our national hypocrisy is even greater when it comes to the fundamental right to strike. The law specifically proclaims such a right, and our system of collective bargaining requires it. But employees who exercise that right can lose their jobs to permanent replacements.
I wonder what they're teaching kids in school these days.