Saturday, March 19, 2005

Business/government export good jobs, import cheap labor

The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County is a labor-based coalition "to address the problem of growing income inequality and poverty in our community." It released its study "The Limits of Prosperity" at a March 5 forum at SRJC. LWC Coordinator Ben Boyce praised the study today in a Press Democrat letter (3/19/05, "Growing poverty").

Boyce wrote, "The pattern of polarization of wealth described in the study is a consequence of the intersection of two macro-economic trends: Internationally, the globalization created by the NAFTA and GATT trade regimes, and the corresponding domestic agenda, the low-wage WalMart economic development model. This model is, in essence, a business strategy based on manufactured goods made by Asian ultra-low-wage labor, sold in the United States by low-wage workers with few benefits and high levels of job insecurity. This is not a sustainable economic development model."

There's an easier way to say that: business and government--which are essentially the same these days--send good American jobs to the Third World, and encourage immigration to fill the low-paying jobs that remain.

For example, today's PD reported Wal-Mart admitted no guilt, escaped criminal charges, and will pay a token $11 million fine for hiring hundreds of illegal immigrants to clean floors. The AP story said a spokeswoman cited Wal-Mart's "ongoing partnership with the government".

Local business and government are applying the same "Economic Development" model here, where the local economy is increasingly based on grapegrowing, wineries and tourism. "Telecom Valley" was a fluke and local manufacturing is going fast, with Agilent moving to Malaysia and Amy's Kitchen to Oregon.

I'd like to hear some straight talk from people like Boyce and the LWC. Sooner or later, they'll have to say the problem is Mexican immigrants--legal and illegal--are undercutting Sonoma County labor. And if they do, they'll have to say that local business and government want it that way, and the taxpayers are paying for it.

But I don't think they will. The solution the Living Wage Coalition proposes begins with local governments raising public employees' salaries, and requiring government contractors to pay higher wages. That will cost the taxpayers even more, but do little for the private sector workers who pay the taxes.

No, the LWC isn't likely to challenge local governments at the same time it's asking them to pass Living Wage Ordinances. What's more, government and labor know something most local citizens don't: government itself is a major part of the local economy, and organized labor today is mainly government employees like teachers and office workers.


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