Republic of Wal-Mart
by Htun Lin
The FBI announced Oct. 23 that it had raided 60 Wal-Mart stores and arrested 300 "illegal alien” workers. The alibi of Wal-Mart, which is totally non-union in the U.S., was that these were merely employees hired by third-party contractors. The company routinely uses hundreds of such contractors which hire almost exclusively immigrant labor. These workers came from as near as Mexico and as far as Eastern Europe.
The U.S. Justice Department states that anyone who knowingly hires illegal immigrants may be fined up to $10,000 per immigrant. Even if by chance Wal-Mart is convicted, at $10,000 per head Wal-Mart would only face a $3 million fine, a drop in the bucket for Wal-Mart’s multi-billion dollar empire. Last year, Wal-Mart had $245 billion in sales worldwide. The fines would be written off by Wal-Mart executives as just another cost of doing business.
VICTIMIZED ALIENS, GUILTY EXECS
No Wal-Mart executives were arrested during the raids for these clearly illegal corporate activities during the raids, while the workers will not only lose their jobs but be jailed and deported. A similar prosecution at Tyson Foods revealed that top executives had full knowledge of and encouraged such illegal hiring practices.
Wal-Mart is merely the most salient example in a brave new world economy where huge multi-national American companies not only exploit cheap foreign labor that has no rights domestically, but also import goods made by cheap foreign sweatshop labor.
Wal-Mart is seen today by many labor advocates, municipal leaders and even other businesses as the "big bad wolf” of industry because it super-exploits labor. But it inspires exploitation elsewhere. Safeway, in the seventh week of the strike by its grocery workers, rationalizes its demand for draconian health benefit cuts and two-tier wages by the need to compete with Wal-Mart.
ABUSES BEGIN AT HOME
But Wal-Mart is hardly the only abuser nor the first. In the two decades since 1980, a quarter of the manufacturing jobs in America have disappeared. Today not only manufactured goods but also services have moved offshore. Services as diverse as software support, cargo inventory, library archives, HMO medical data, and banking and credit information maintenance are electronically moving their operations offshore with the help of satellite technology.
Outsourcing was homegrown before it went offshore. In my own shop at Kaiser, the union itself allowed the employer to re-engineer our jobs and made it easier for management to subcontract out union work. Kaiser has now signed a multi-million dollar contract to export its medical records to India where third parties will hire workers, as part of a new "techno-caste.”
A data-entry worker in Pakistan, hired by one of these third-party contractors working for University of California-San Francisco Medical Center, threatened to post on the internet patients' confidential medical records unless she received back pay. She is among millions of Asians who have become part of a growing lucrative pool of cheap labor exploited by multi-national corporations through predatory contractors.
Patients’ medical data is only the most recent example of subcontracting in a global economy where outsourcing is the new standard. Before digital technology, most hospitals already subcontracted tasks like linen services, meal services, laboratory services, and nursing services. But through digital technology, even services of medical doctors in the future can be sent offshore. Radiologists who read X-rays and make medical diagnoses are already offshore.
Marx had warned that capital’s "revolutionizing processes” recruit more and more proletarians from all levels of society and all kinds of professions.
Many of the losses American workers suffered were to subcontracting right here at home. Not only are American multi-nationals expanding to offshore countries, depriving Americans of manufacturing jobs. Remaining workers here are sped-up to boost productivity to bring about a "recovery” without new jobs.
That’s a recipe for wages everywhere to eventually fall to the lowest common denominator. Even the labor pool of Mexico is not cheap enough for manufacturers moving to China for even cheaper labor. Some Chinese companies in turn have lost contracts to the latest competition.
We workers feel increasingly trapped while commodities move freely about the globe. We endowed capital with the power to dominate us. Only we--collectively--can regain control of our own labor and terminate capital’s dominance.
Published by News and Letters Committees