Class War in America: the Book
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Guess What: You* Are Now a “Worker”
*Engineer, Ph.D., computer programmer,
professional, scientist—and the usual others
Columnists and management professionals used to write about “management and workers,” “professionals and laborers,” and “salaried and hourly.” These terms distinguished between different categories of corporate personnel and they had implications for a person’s position in the organizational hierarchy, as well as for income level, job security, and position in society.
Professionals, managers, and salaried persons tended not to identify with the interests of workers and laborers. When bad things started happening to workers, the elite considered it a sad result of poor education or unfortunate circumstance.
Too bad. What has been happening to workers is the result of a planned strategy, and that strategy is now being applied to everyone who does the hands-on work of our country.
We’d better start thinking in terms of “wealthy investors” (people who don’t work, yet make huge amounts of money) and “everyone else” (people who work because they have to make a living). Worldwide, wealthy investors are increasing their power to control the incomes of virtually everyone who has to work to support his family, whether at the poverty level or the luxury level.
Regardless of his category—scientist, truck driver, assembly line worker, doctor, engineer, teacher, or what have you—every worker had better inherit money to invest, or have some strategy in mind to get large sums of money to invest. If he doesn’t, he’s going to find it increasingly difficult to have a decent future in the United States—a country whose leaders believe that actual work deserves no more than a marginal income.
For example, conservatives have found creative ways to force U.S. Ph.D.s to compete with scientists from Third World countries and their lower standards of living. Under the head “Give Me Your Huddled…High-Tech Ph.D.s,” Business Week reported a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, which wanted limits on immigration. It concluded that “11.7% of America’s scientists and engineers in 1990 were foreign-born professionals—naturalized U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.”1
The “National Science Foundation, a neutral source, concurred, reporting that foreigners made up 49% of Ph.D.s in computer science in 1993, up from 35.5% in 1983.”2 Business Week concluded that
In theory, this explosion of foreign high-tech talent shouldn’t be a threat to Americans. By law, employers can’t petition for either temporary or permanent immigration visas for foreign workers if they can find a qualified U.S. citizen for the job.
But it’s widely known that employers often get Labor Dept. approval by tailoring job descriptions to a particular foreign candidate to make sure that no U.S. candidate can fill the slot.
The most well documented abuses of the visa system occur in more routine software programming, where foreigners on so-called temporary H-1B visas clearly have undercut some U.S. engineers.3
For the past 20 years, Republicans and conservative Democrats have been telling us that getting an education and the new information age technology would save American citizens their standards of living. Therefore, we shouldn’t worry about losing manual labor jobs. Not true. Wealthy conservatives have proved that they can destroy or put a lid on anyone’s income.
Conservatives will correctly argue that scientists, engineers, Ph.D.s and those in the information industry are among our highest paid professionals. They are, but relative to the people who hire them, they are poorly paid. As with other industries, investors and top executives are the ones who benefit most from the competition they create for their own workers.
How do they do it? By “using loopholes in the law,” and classifying jobs in such a way as to make sure that no U.S. candidates can fill the slots. So, the boss manipulates the labor market, keeps a lid on salaries (high as they are), and gets incredibly, fabulously, richer.
And you can count on it: if the technology industry tanks—or our country goes into a serious recession—those who will lose their jobs, or suffer serious income reductions, will be the Americans who actually built the industry to begin with.
The picture gets worse when American corporations totally abandon operations in this country and contract high-skill projects out to Third World countries. The Wall Street Journal was brutally frank when it reported that “High-Tech Firms Shift Some Skilled Work to Asian Countries; Like Blue-Collar Employees, West’s Professionals Face Competition Abroad”:
American multinationals such as H-P come to Malaysia mainly for low wages. But in the process they have bred a fast-growing class of cosmopolitan professionals [in Malaysia]…who have the kind of high-skilled jobs Americans covet….
It means that some of America’s most skilled workers are likely to face the same punishing competition and wage pressures from abroad now felt by blue-collar workers.…
This shift is sending billions of dollars of capital to countries like Malaysia from the U.S. and Japan, fueling the growth of high-paying jobs overseas.4
Conservative economic policies always benefit wealthy investors first—with only the promise of “trickle-down” to workers sometime in the vague future. Problem is, conservative politicians always change the rules to keep the promised future from happening.
Unmanaged free trade was supposed to eventually benefit workers, especially those with high skills. Americans would do the skillful work of the future, and Third World countries would provide the manual labor. But then, as international trade increasingly became a reality,
§ Third World countries began to train masses of their own citizens in the same skills that Americans were famous for. American corporations then began to shift operations overseas, and used their low wages to intimidate the skilled American workers who invented and perfected the skills to begin with.
§ So, skilled American workers sacrificed their wages while waiting for the promised long-term benefits of international trade. As trade became very real, they were told: “Whoops! Who could have guessed? The international picture has changed!”
§ In the future, skilled workers will likely face the same kind of competition as the blue-collar workers have been facing for 20 years.
If you ever thought that wealthy investors would be grateful to skilled workers after they had benefited from their skills, just look at Business Week’s description of “High-Tech Jobs All Over the Map”:
One of the less-heralded developments in the emergence of a global economy is that there is an increasingly better balance of skills in the world…in fields ranging from product development to finance and architecture.…
What’s more, dizzying advances in telecommunications are making these workers more accessible than ever. As a result, just as Westerners learned in the 1970s and 1980s that manufacturing could be moved virtually anywhere, today it is getting easier to shift knowledge-based labor as well.…
“Just as with the move of manufacturing overseas, you’re going to see an increasing flux of technical jobs out of the U.S.,” predicts Intel Corp. Chief Operating Officer Craig R. Barrett. “We don’t have any protected domains anymore.”5
The people who legislated us into unmanaged free trade made sure that they immediately received almost all of the benefits of the process. During this 20-year period, most highly skilled workers got moderate income increases, while the ones who manipulated their employment market got incredibly rich. Now that international trade is maturing:
§ Those who were, or became, wealthy investors will continue to benefit big time—and skilled workers will, in the words of Business Week, “be left behind.” Translation: Forget our promises that skill will be your job security. Investors now have all the power, and we don’t have to lie to you anymore to keep you working productively.
§ “A better balance of skills in the world” means that investors can now pit skilled workers against each other, just as they have been pitting manufacturing blue-collar workers against each other for this entire century.
§ Forget loyalty. Forget fairness or justice. Forget who designed and built our country and made investors wealthy to begin with. All that counts in a world designed by conservatives is “price,” whether for coal, steel or skilled human beings.
§ Blue-collar workers haven’t had any “protected domains” for at least twenty years. Now skilled workers don’t have any protected domains either. Who does our federal government protect? Wealthy investors with their bank accounts. The new world order was designed for investors, at the expense of all who work.
It may come as a surprise to skilled workers, but in the future they may be worse off than unskilled workers. Under the head “Like Factory Workers, Professionals Face Loss of Jobs to Foreigners; American Firms Are Hiring Highly Skilled People Abroad, for Lower Pay,” The Wall Street Journal reported that
U.S. companies are increasingly hiring highly skilled workers in Asia, the former Soviet bloc and Europe to perform jobs once reserved for American professionals.…
The availability of low-paid professionals in Malaysia, Hungary, China, Indonesia and elsewhere calls into question the idea, popular in the Clinton Administration, that U.S. workers can raise their own wages or job prospects by acquiring more skills.
“A professional can have his skills moved around the world very easily today, so he ought to feel even less complacent than a low-skilled person, whose job may be tied to a locale,” says William J. Schroeder, vice chairman of Conner Peripherals Inc., a maker of computer disk drives.6
When Republican and conservative Democrat politicians sold American voters on the idea of an unmanaged free world trade, they promised that it would eventually be good for everyone. Since this has proved not to be the case, conservatives have justified stagnant wages on the pretext that working Americans lacked the skills to compete on the world market.
Heaven forbid—it wasn’t because conservatives had sold them out! They excused their deplorable behavior by promising U.S. workers that they could raise their wages or job prospects by acquiring more skills.
It was hypocritical then, and it is painfully, obviously, hypocritical now. The way things are going, skilled working Americans “ought to feel even less complacent than a low-skilled person, whose job may be tied to a locale”! At least some manual-labor jobs must be done in this country. What a break for those lucky Americans who work as manual laborers.
Don’t expect relief from this attack on the incomes of skilled workers any time soon. In June, 1999, The Wall Street Journal’s periodic column, “Work Week,” reported that
Companies relying mostly on Asia and Europe for skilled workers will now look to Canada, says Greg Osberg, president of Kaplan Professional, a New York provider of information-technology career fairs. Under Nafta, Canadians can easily get U.S. work visas. About 2,500 U.S. employers attend the 34 fairs Kaplan holds in Canada yearly.7
This was just one of the more recent of a continuing series of articles describing how the lid can be placed on the incomes of even high-priced talent. It also explains one of the factors that allowed William Gates III to become worth $85 billion, instead of, say, a paltry $40 billion.
Those who hope that this situation will change soon should heed Greenspan’s words. The Journal, in “Notable & Quotable,” quoted his testimony before House Banking Committee on July 22, 1999:
I’ve always thought that under conditions that we now confront, we should be very carefully focused on the contribution which skilled people from abroad [as well as] unskilled people from abroad…can contribute to the country, as they have for generation after generation….
If [the] pool of people seeking jobs continues to decline, at some point it must have an impact. If we can open up our immigration rolls significantly, that clearly will make [the unemployment rate’s effect on inflation] less and less of a potential problem.8
§ “conditions we now confront” Damn! Incomes for skilled workers are going up.
§ “contribution of skilled people from abroad [as well as] unskilled people from abroad” The U.S. government should enable corporations to pit skilled foreign workers against skilled American workers, just as they been able to pit unskilled foreign workers against unskilled American workers in the past.
§ “will make [the unemployment rate’s effect on inflation] less and less of a potential problem” By putting a lid on the incomes of skilled workers, corporations can continue to make record profits and the stock market will continue to soar.
Americans, by and large, already realize that conservatives have used unmanaged world trade to destroy working-class incomes. However, only a relatively few realize the extent to which the same strategy is now being applied to professionals and skilled workers. So far, it has only affected
§ those whose entire departments have been contracted out to other countries,
§ those who have become “temporary” employees,
§ those who got downsized in cost reduction efforts and have had to enter the job market again as a “new hire,” and
§ those who get relatively small salary increases at their own level, even in companies making record profits.
It will probably take a major economic downturn to make believers out of the rest of our presently well-paid skilled workers. But it is surely going to happen. Conservatives have bloated our population with far too many people chasing too much economic growth in a finite world.
Just what are our politicians going to do when multiple levels of our citizens—and millions of new immigrants—suddenly discover they cannot maintain their present life-styles within our nation’s borders?
Still to come is voter realization that conservatives have also done their very best to destroy one of the most important protections of working Americans at all levels—unions.
Now go to: