Tuesday, February 7, 2012


President Obama asked Steve Jobs about all the jobs lost to China for manufacturing Apple products. Jobs famously told him those jobs would never return to this country. Why? Americans with a sense of decency and morality would never allow the working conditions at China's Foxcom industries. (My opinion of course...Jobs said it was because of all the anti-business regulations Obama foists on corporate victims.)

Current Apple CEO Tim Cook, tells about Job's dissatisfaction with the plastic screen on the original I Phone. Jobs demanded it be replaced with glass. They contacted Foxcom. Managers rousted sleepy workers from their dorms and put them to work. With 12-16 hour shifts, they re-tooled and began making thousands of I Phones with glass screens. No American company, says Cook, has the flexibility and workforce to pull off such an accomplishment. Also, no American company can pay it's workers $1 an hour, keep them on the premises 24 hours a day, separate them from their families, prohibit them from talking to the media or fire them if they complain about harsh working conditions or low pay.

Apple is no better than the people who owned the Triangle Shirt Factory in New York, the chicken processing plants in Georgia or the cotton fields of Alabama. Apple is the latest in a long list of American corporations, NIKE...automakers...and even the Kardashians come to mind....to exploit workers in other countries and drive up profits for themselves. What makes Apple's sins so egregious is their attempt to avoid taking responsibility for their actions knowing Americans care more about having a "cool" tech product than they do about how it was made and by whom.

CNN recently interviewed a Foxcom worker. She described slave-like conditions and pay. She was worn down by the crushingly repetitive boredom and soul-sucking environment she endures and declared she would be fired if anyone found out she was talking to the media. She says the workers are treated like animals. CNN reminded viewers 13 Foxcom workers committed suicide by jumping off their building forcing managers to put up nets to try to reduce the suicide rates. The suicides were the only way they could think of to protest the horrible conditions under which they labored. In response, Apple issued an unctuous press release proclaiming their love and respect for all the workers who assemble their products. Their commitment to the workers does not go as far as mandating better wages, food, living and working conditions, but Apple cares. Apple is not alone in their caring. Workers at a Foxcom plant assembling products for Microsoft mutinied over pay and working conditions. Microsoft insists it too cares about all those who assemble their products.

Can you imagine in your wildest dreams, Americans giving up their I Pads or I Phones because of moral outrage over how the workers who make them are treated? In this nation of tech chic, Americans are far more concerned about buying the latest cutting edge device than they are for Chinese laborers. Apple and Microsoft shareholders would scream bloody murder if prices for their products were raised to reflect higher wages and better conditions for those who make them. Profits before morality at all costs. Maybe a movement to shun or shame owners of Apple products could bring about a change in corporate culture....yeah right!

One of the forces, which drive this scandal, is free trade agreements. NAFTA, GATT and recent agreements with South Korea, Colombia and other nations, allow corporations to chase the cheapest labor dollar wherever it exists. President Clinton promised NAFTA and GATT would contain provisions requiring just pay and conditions for workers and for a process which would allow workers to organize. He lied. It never happened.

Since we know corporations will never, on their own, improve wages and the conditions under which workers operate, they have to be forced to do the right thing. There are two steps which could be taken to improve the situation. First, owners of Apple, Microsoft and other electronic products have to put pressure on the corporations to allow and encourage their sub-contractors to improve conditions even if it drives up the prices of their products. Independent inspectors have to be allowed into all these plants to assess conditions. (Despite Apple's glowing press release, this is a classic example of trust but verify) Second, the American government has to make unionization a part of any free trade agreement and assess trade penalties on products from any nation which balks. Right now, across the globe, union organizers are targets of orchestrated campaigns of assassination and intimidation instituted by nations and corporations bent on remaining attractive to manufacturers by keeping wages and benefits as low as possible and working conditions akin to slavery. Without pressure from America, they will never allow workers to organize.

What's going on in China is not new. Autoworkers, farm workers, Pullman porters, steel workers and coal miners also faced slave wages and life threatening working conditions in this country. It was only when people like Philip Randolph, Walter Reuther, Caesar Chavez and others came along and organized workers, changed laws and forced the capitalists to raise wages and improve working conditions which finally forced change to occur. Now we have to give Chinese workers the same opportunities.

Ironically, at the same time Chinese workers are fighting for their rights, American workers face Right to Work Less laws proliferating across the country and Americans feel antipathy towards unions. We can see how unions would benefit workers in China or Mexico at the same time as corporations and regressives dismantle them in this nation.

Will Americans give up their latest slick toy in order to show solidarity with the people who make them? Will we demand our government stop the widespread killing and intimidating of organizers internationally? Will Newt Gingrich be the first governor of the 51st state on the moon?


  1. Good articlew...just a minor spelling point. The South American country whose capital city is Bogota is "Colombia", with 2 oh's.

    However, the westernmost province of Canada, where Vancouver is located, is British Columbia.

  2. Good article...just a minor spelling point. The name of the Souht American country is "Colombia", with 2 oh's.

    1. Thanks to Jacques and others of you who pointed out the proper spelling of the South American country of Colombia. I truly appreciate it when our readers can help to improve The Lion's blog. Thank you again! Girl Friday

  3. I wish Americans were interested in holding corporations feet to the fire on treatment of workers in other countries, but we aren't. We're just beginning to protest that in this country (OWS), and only a small segment is at that, even though a much larger percentage agree with them. But that percentage is too busy or too lazy to do much to help. I'm one of those. I write a few letters, make a few phone calls, post articles I find on my Facebook page and engage in discussions on the topic once in awhile. But that's about it. I'm probably typical of those that do even a little. I think most don't do anything. A lot of the problem is malaise, feeling helpless to battle the huge well-oiled machine that runs business.

    Most Americans I don't think are aware of the problems in China so why would they care about their problems with unionization and fair treatment? We don't even demand unionization in our own country, which is unbelievably stupid. The only decent paying job I ever had was a union job, the last job I had before retiring. I was fired once in the 1980s for even talking about organizing a union where I worked - I wasn't even doing it, just mentioned it one day in the lunchroom. Whamo. I was out on my ear. Some years later, I also lost a job partly I believe for being one of several who went to a few meetings discussing organizing there.

    Maybe Americans will give up getting the latest new tech toy when they can no longer afford them, because they don't make enough money to buy them. That day may be arriving sooner rather than later.

  4. Newt Gingrich has a much better chance of becoming governnor of the first colony on the moon than the chance of Americans taking up solidarity with the workers of China. The chance of Americans giving up their toys is even less.