Thursday, April 05, 2007

US business aids Communist China's battles against worker's rights

Current mythology has it that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and despite questions about the factual basis for that claim, let us assume its essential truth. Certainly the global position of the US versus that of the Soviet Union, which is, after all, now relegated to the dustbin of history, could not be starker.

But what of the larger question of the struggle for hearts and minds between liberal, free-market democracies against authoritarian, centrally controlled economies?

What of the struggle between the US and China?

The current trade imbalance between the US and China, wherein we ship them boatloads of dollars in exchange for boatloads of cheap tubesocks and DVD players, is a source of several unpleasant, though hardly unforseen consequences. And the American people seem to be on the losing side.

I feel no need to run down the litany of woes this imbalance causes, but suffice it to say that to American workers, the greatest ill is the loss of jobs to Chinese imports made cheaper by the vastly lower wages paid to workers in China?

Would it surprise you then that US business takes advantage, not only of those lower wages, but is actively working to keep them low?

Harold Meyerson, writing for the Washington Post, notes a study (PDF) from Global Labor Strategies, "a U.S.-based nonprofit organization headed by longtime labor activists" that US businesses in China are doing exactly that, opposing some very modest liberalization of Chines labor law.

Mr. Meyerson:

The legislation wouldn't allow workers to form independent trade unions or grant them the right to strike -- this is, after all, a communist regime. It would, however, require employers to provide employees, either individually or collectively, with written contracts. It would allow employees to change jobs within their industries or get jobs in related industries in other regions; employers have hitherto been able to thwart this by invoking statutes on proprietary information. It would also require that companies bargain with worker representatives over health and safety conditions.

Written contracts? Allow workers to change jobs? To bargain over health and safety conditions?


And true to their legacy as the planet's modern robber-barons:

[T]he American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the U.S.-China Business Council embarked on a major campaign to kill these tepid reforms. Last April, one month after the legislation was first floated, the chamber sent a 42-page document to the Chinese government on behalf of its 1,300 members -- including General Electric, Microsoft, Dell, Ford and dozens of other household brand names -- objecting to these minimal increases in worker power. In its public comments on the proposed law, GE declared that it strongly preferred "consultation" with workers to "securing worker representative approval" on a range of its labor practices.

Aside from the irony of a "communist" government serving at the beck and call of such capitalist governments, shouldn't US companies have any responsibility for propunding ploicies which harm the interests of millions of US citizens?

I'll leave you with Mr. Meyerson's conclusions:

  • First, about one-fourth of the global labor force is in China. Opposing steps toward the formation of unions there suppresses the wages of so many workers that its effect is felt worldwide.
  • Second, since authoritarian China remains an adversary of the United States and a backer of some genuinely dangerous authoritarian regimes, blocking even the most modest steps toward the development of a civil society and democratic rights there poses a threat to U.S. security interests.
  • Third, since the Bush administration champions the spread of democracy globally, why hasn't it taken America's leading corporations to task for retarding democracy's growth in China?
  • And fourth, since preserving our national security should require executives at companies such as GE to answer for their conduct, where's the House Un-American Activities Committee now that we really need it?
[Formatting mine-CK]

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