Date: Thu, 20 Mar 97 23:16:12 CST
Subject: Greider: We're All In The Same Global Boat
/** labr.global: 337.0 **/
** Topic: We're All In The Same Global Boat **
** Written 5:18 PM Mar 19, 1997 by labornews in cdp:labr.global **
From: Institute for Global Communications <email@example.com>
/* Written 6:41 AM Mar 9, 1997 by R-Kastigar@neiu.edu in igc:list.united */
We're all in the Same Global Boat */
From: Robert Kastigar <R-Kastigar@neiu.edu>
Date: Sun, 9 Mar 1997 07:09:10 -0600 (CST)
Globalization is a fat buzzword that gets tossed around by glib
economists and business leaders. But, when I set out three years ago
to write my new book on the global economy, I knew that my real
subject would be the human consequences of globalized production, the
wrenching changes under way in the world's industrial system. The
one world marketplace may be good capital for
companies, but is it good for people?
At an industrial zone outside Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, I saw the spectacle up close. As shifts changed at the Motorola factory, dozens of delicate young Malay women, wearing the chaste veils of their Muslim heritage, streamed into the changing room. When they emerged a few moments later, they looked like space-age explorers—dressed in silken jump suits, their heads cloaked by white bonnets and surgical masks, ready to perform the exacting task of assembling semiconductor chips.
Motorola, in a sense, was liberating these peasant women from the limits imposed by their own traditional culture. But the typical wage rate in this burgeoning industry is $130 to $150 a month—not enough to support family life even in very poor countries.
When the U.S. semiconductor industry decided to make Malaysia its largest offshore assembly base, the companies struck an explicit deal with the government: no unions. That was nearly 25 years ago. When the Malaysian government considered lifting the ban, some American companies issued a blunt warning: if you allow electronics workers to form independent trade unions, we're moving our factories elsewhere—perhaps to Indonesia or China where free trade unions are brutally suppressed. The government backed down.
In China, I visited Xian Aircraft Company, a huge industrial site controlled by the People's Liberation Army, where machinists make $50 a month and manufacture everything from diving boards and ferris wheels to Volvo tour buses and the tail sections for Boeing 737s. These are prime jobs in China, and the state-owned enterprise provides every comfort—housing, schools, hospital, even a night club for entertainment.
What these Chinese workers do not enjoy are free speech, freedom of assembly and other basic rights that would allow them to organize their own collective voice—the power to demand a fairer share of the returns and some control over their own lives.
On the shop floor, the Boeing workers are overseen by Communist Party
cadres. When their work is considered sub-par, their punishment is
cash deducted from their meager pay. When I expressed my surprise at
this discipline, a Boeing manager explained that it was better than
They used to shoot them, he said.
In Indonesia, I went to interview the leader of a new independent—and illegal—labor federation, but when I got to the union's shabby headquarters on a back alley of Jakarta, Muchtar Pakpahan wasn't there. He had been arrested the night before. Pakpahan is now charged with treason, facing a possible death sentence. His crime? Asserting the right to organize workers in their own self-interest. The global economy described as free trade is free, it seems, for everyone except workers.
American workers have a direct stake in the lives of these other people, however strange and distant they may seem. The depressed wages in America and the mass unemployment in Europe, even the hollowing out of Japanese manufacturing, are all directly driven by the absence of labor rights in many developing countries.
Until exploited workers elsewhere have the ability to bargain up their own wages, the downdraft on U.S. prosperity will continue. So will deindustrialization. The political goal must be: bring up the bottom, as rapidly as possible, instead of pulling the top down. This will not stop all the dislocation and losses, but it will turn globalization in a more positive direction.
The question of human rights, in other words, is an economic issue. The global system has bountiful production—what it lacks are consumers, workers with incomes ample enough to buy all of the goods the world can now produce. The staggering surpluses in productive capacity stalk the global auto industry, aircraft, chemicals, steel, tires, consumer electronics, drugs and other sectors. Too many goods, too few buyers. More factories must be closed somewhere. That is the knife-edge threatening everyone's security.
The system's boosters generally ignore this reality by arguing that globalization is rescuing millions of peasants from muddy poverty—so don't interfere. But, if the workers in poorer countries are so happy with their situation, why do they stage so many strikes? The American press seldom reports on this, but there are hundreds, even thousands of wildcat strikes across developing Asia and elsewhere.
Their struggles are often put down by military force, arrests and official violence. Some brave workers—recklessly brave, I think—even try to start free unions in China. The penalty there is many years in prison or perhaps death.
My message to Americans at work is this: their fight is your fight. An infant labor movement is struggling to be born in poor nations on the other end of the global economy. It desperately needs help from workers and unions in wealthier countries. You should rally to their cause because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is in your own economic self-interest.