During the recent State of the Union Address, while President Obama was talking about the need to bring more and better jobs to America, in the background one of the reporters talked about a rumored conversation between the President and Steve Jobs, in which Jobs was quoted as saying offshore jobs “aren’t coming back.” Later that week I read an article in the NY Times in which the same conversation was referenced, and an example was provided. By now many of us have probably heard that Apple apparently made a last minute change to a product screen, and to facilitate the release date Chinese factory managers forced thousands of workers who live in dorms on site to work twelve hours daily or more of involuntary overtime.
Businesses say they need to use cheap Chinese labor to maximize profit, but it struck me that they were using the same argument of economic necessity used by southern plantation owners in pre-civil war America to justify slavery. That the Chinese workers have no option to collective bargaining, no control over their working hours or conditions, and live in dorms that are reportedly surrounded by “suicide nets” makes them seem all the more like desperate slaves with no place to run. On the back of these workers, China has supplanted America as the world’s economic powerhouse.
In an apparently unrelated event, this week China stood with Russia to prevent action at the UN against world pressure on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to stop the massacre of innocent civilians, including children, who protest his oppressive regime. Why would China want to quell dissidents? Perhaps to prevent democratic ideals taking root close to home.
If I’ve got this straight, multi-national manufacturers use cheap labor in China that essentially makes slaves of thousands. This financially enriches and politically emboldens Chinese leaders to support regimes like that in Syria, where torture and murder of dissidents (and their children), is a government tool against those who aspire to the freedoms we take for granted.
The Occupy Movement has brought these seemingly disparate issues into clearer focus so we can begin to better understand the more negative effects of globalization, consider the cost of globalization to working people both abroad and at home, and perhaps weigh how badly we need cheap cell phones.