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Labor Notes


1. Conditions at Chinese computer manufacturing plants remain horrible. Apple has claimed they will look into these problems, but actual action remains unlikely. The workers themselves are fed up and 1000 employees at a Jingmo Electronics Corporation factory, which makes keyboards for many computer companies, have gone on strike:

According to what workers have told China Labor Watch, the motivation behind the strike was the factory’s decision to make workers work nightly overtime. The factory decided to require workers to work from 6 p.m. until 12 p.m., and sometimes even until 2 a.m. the next morning, in addition to their regular work hours (7-11:30 a.m., 1-5 p.m.) Workers now commonly worked anywhere from 100 to 120 hours of overtime a month. Moreover, the factory refused to let the workers work this overtime on Saturday, which would necessitate paying them double wages in accordance with Chinese Labor Law.

Apart from the overtime issue, the workers said that they also had other grievances with the factory. These include the high rate of workplace injuries (there have been nearly 20 recently), mass layoffs of older workers and the lack of any benefits. Apart from these more tangible hardships, factory managers often verbally abuse and bully the workers, causing them severe emotional distress.

But hey, if workers would only give up negotiating everything but wages, they would totally gain more power!

Corporate claims that they don’t have control over the factories where their products are made are absurd. These contractors do whatever the multinational wants. If Apple and IBM decide to sacrifice a small amount of profit to pay workers more, reduce workplace injuries, and hire more workers rather than make current employees work obscene hours, it will happen very quickly.


2. Of course, the great thing about the race to the bottom is that companies can make working conditions in the United States really bad too! If you haven’t read Spencer Soper’s piece on the terrible working conditions at Amazon warehouses, you will want to check this out. Soper won a Sidney for this piece. An outstanding piece of labor journalism.

3. I guess conservatives are right–Obama is directly costing people jobs. Or at least, one lunatic has decided he won’t hire anyone until Obama is gone! Good luck keeping your company open!

4. Cooper Tire has locked 1050 workers out of its Findlay, Ohio plant after the United Steelworkers represented employees rejected a new contract that would not only include higher insurance premiums but outright pay cuts. Cooper is moving to use scabs. The salary of Cooper CEO Roy Armes has risen from $2.6 million in 2008 to $4.7 million in 2010.

5. American Airlines is following its competitors into bankruptcy in order to reduce labor costs. Depressing.

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  • Joshua

    A person walks away from a home they bought: they are immoral, anti-capitalist, stupid, a thief, breaking a trusted contract, hurting the bank, hurting America.

    A company walks away from promises they made for decades in exchange for lower salaries: U-S-A! U-S-A! *bald eagle tear*

  • The chances of Apple (the great progressive idol) or IBM or any other large American company reducing obscene profits and CEO salary to improve conditions in their Chinese factories is zero. Eventually the Chinese like the South Koreans did earlier will organize on their own to demand better conditions. But, if they are successful than the low skilled labor jobs will be sent to the next low wage country on the list. At no time are the fat cats going to reduce their own personal intake of money.

    • MikeJake

      And the workers in the lower wage country will be lauded for their “productivity” and their willingness to embrace open markets.

    • Kurzleg

      That’s the problem, but how long can they string it out? There isn’t an infinite supply of workers skilled enough to do the work. As long as consumers don’t lower their standards (I know, an open question), there’s a limit to how long they can play this game.

      I welcome the corrections to my naive optimism.

      • Linnaeus

        That’s more or less William Grieder’s point in One World, Ready or Not.

  • Halloween Jack
  • Y’know, a smart union would be all over that by now…

  • mpowell

    The AA thing is unfortunate, but in a hyper-competitive industry like the airlines, it’s unavoidable. You’re going to get a race to the bottom and only industry wide organizing or federal regulations are going to really address the problem. But that would make our freedom sad so we can’t do it.

    • wengler

      Once planes start dropping out of the sky because their maintenance hubs are in the Philippines, then everyone in the media will look around and talk about how surprising it all is.

      • Kurzleg

        I was thinking that very thing today as I watched an airliner taking off near my house (as I watched my dog glide over our fence without any discernable effort).

  • Murc

    Given their complete inability to make a profit even when massively deregulated, I’ve come to the conclusion myself that airlines ought to be run like public utilities. There’s a reason most countries have a national carrier, you know.

    • c u n d gulag

      But, but, but – that’s Socialism!
      Or Communism!
      Or Fascism!
      Or Kenyanism!

      It’s some damn ‘ism’ or other.
      Pick whichever one of the above scares you the most.

    • wengler

      But the point is that we have multiple privately-run airlines that only occasionally need tens of billions of dollars from the federal government.

      It makes you feel good to be gouged on every non-competitive route.

      • mpowell

        I spent a few months living in Caen, France. You can only fly to Lyon. Otherwise a round trip ticket is 1K Euros. There’s a better model lurking around somewhere, but it’s not the European one.

  • c u n d gulag

    Our corporations, having exported those jobs, and established the working conditions there, are probably asking themselves, “Well, Americans are bitching about jobs, so when can we bring this model back home?”

    Soon – if the Chinese workers fight for more rights, and get them, the corporation will in-source the jobs back here.
    It’ll be cheaper for them.
    A more desperate work force, don’t you know…

    And then ping and pong them back and forth.
    It’ll be Corporate Ying & Yang.

    • Njorl

      I doubt that Americans will get as desperate as the Chinese any time soon. For one thing, China still has a huge pool of subsistance farmers. They can tinker with the balance of worker desperation and worker violence by tapping that pool.

      The US did the same thing with waves of immigrants or migrating black ex-sharecroppers, but those groups introduced other complicating factors such as racial and ethnic tension. The Chinese have a large pool of racially and culturally similar people already in their national borders. The labor movement in China could be undercut for decades.

      • c u n d gulag

        Forgive a man a bit of hyperbole…

  • N W Barcus

    And to prove that we can pay attention to more than just the shiny things, here’s a partial list of other Foxconn clients whose progressive actions, like those asked of Apple and IBM, would surely improve the lot of Foxconn workers:

    oxconn makes consumer electronics for a number of well-known companies, including:

    Acer Inc. (Taiwan)
    Amazon.com (United States)
    Apple Inc. (United States)
    ASRock (Taiwan)
    Intel (United States)
    Cisco (United States)
    Hewlett-Packard (United States)
    Dell (United States)
    Nintendo (Japan)
    Nokia (Finland)
    Microsoft (United States)
    MSI (Taiwan)
    Motorola (United States)
    Sony Ericsson (Japan/Sweden)
    Vizio (United States)

    (Btw, does IBM even use Foxconn? Intel, Cisco, HP and Dell surely make more hardware than IBM does at this point, they’re mostly a services company now.)

    • Holden Pattern

      IBM sold its entire consumer business to Lenovo, in China. So maybe they use Foxconn, or maybe they exploit their own employees.

  • wengler

    The takeaway from every Tom Friedman book is that you 99 percent of America have it too good. Plenty of the billions of the starving world masses can do your job better than you for a hundredth of the cost.

  • shah8

    Ok, just a wee splash of reality?

    Foxconn? One of the best places to work in Industrial China. Best paid and shit…

    You *could* be a Rare Earths or Coal Miner. You *could* be a dry farmer. You *could* be a rent-a-thug. You *could* be a textile worker.

    The number of jobs in China that is anything like safe, reasonably well paid, and sanitary, is probably literally around 3 orders of magnitude fewer than the total population of China.

    So uhhhhh…we actually need to have a more sophisticated conversation than what we are having. It’s a bad idea to wave around evil major subcontractor, ’cause Apple, et al, all know even more evil subcontractors. The issues with safety and pay in China has more to do with China’s government than strictly businesses. Not that either the Chinese authorities, or the businesses care…

    • Hogan

      It’s a bad idea to wave around evil major subcontractor, ’cause Apple, et al, all know even more evil subcontractors.

      Damn. We should never have passed that law requiring Apple et al. to use evil subcontractors. I knew that would come back to haunt us.

    • Mark Centz

      Job’s interim computer company, NeXT, had their factory in Silicon Valley, where they attempted to work their output on the Toyota just in time model. But cost was an object for most businesses and institutions in the 90’s, so the hardware side closed up a few years before beleaguered Apple bought up the struggling firm for their software (also getting an iCEO on the side). Jobs learned the hard way that Americans, consumers and businesses both, don’t think about the Made in the USA label when buying, even if Apple still applies the ‘Designed in California’ tab to their products. I’d like to think that Jobs might have been a leader in reestablishing manufacturing close to home if he thought people would pay for it, but that’s likely a fanboy fantasy.

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