Ralph Nader referenced in the Huffington Post

Ralph Nader referenced in the Huffington Post

April 2, 2012


The economy added another 227,000 jobs in February, the Labor Department
reported Friday. That’s good news, sort of. It means that the recovery
is slowly progressing. At this rate, we will be back to pre-recession
employment levels sometime around 2018.

However, this growth in jobs was not enough for wages to keep place with
inflation; nor did the unemployment rate drop, but stayed stuck at 8.3
percent. Why? Because folks who had given up have started entering the
labor force again, but the percentage of people in the labor force is
still two points lower than it was before the recession began. A new
study by the Economic Policy Institute reports that earnings declined
over the past decade even for college graduates — so much for the
education cure.

In short, the recession made a bad problem worse, but the economy on the
eve of the recession was nothing to be proud of. Throughout the first
decade of the new century, before the recession hit, wages lagged behind
living costs for the vast majority of Americans — because those in the
top one percent were capturing such a large share of the economy’s total
productivity gains.

Some of this trend was the result of globalization undercutting the
bargaining power of U.S. workers; some of it resulted from weakened
trade unions and minimum wage laws lagging behind inflation.

Flat or declining wages did not result from declining average
productivity. So when we finally climb out of this jobs recession,
perhaps we can belatedly confront these deeper trends.

I have been writing about the hotel workers union in New York City.

Thanks to an extraordinarily effective union, Local 6 of the hotel and
restaurant workers union, nearly every large hotel in Manhattan is
unionized, and everyone who works in these hotels, from dishwashers to
room cleaners to doormen to banquet waiters earns a middle class wage.
The union recently signed a seven year contract giving workers a 27
percent wage.

Local 6 is an exceptionally effective union, and New York is a unique
tourist destination. But since the vast majority of jobs in America will
soon be service sector jobs, not vulnerable to global competition, there
is no good economic reason why they can’t all be middle class jobs. The
challenge is political. We as a society simply need to decide, as
President Obama famously told “Joe the Plumber,” that we want to “spread
the wealth around” rather than having it concentrate at the very top.
All service jobs could pay a living wage. How to do that? Unions, wage
regulation, progressive taxation, and government using existing powers
over contractors that it seldom exercises.

But what about manufacturing? This brings me to the other Jobs of my
title, the late Steve Jobs.

The New York Times, in a two part series earlier this year on Apple’s
Chinese contractor, Foxconn, finally made front page news and added some
telling detail to what was already fairly well known. The cool,
must-have iPads, iPhones, and iPods to which we are increasingly
addicted are manufactured with brutal sweatshop labor in Shenzhen,
China, where 230,000 employees are making an average of less than $2 an
hour work in a single factory complex. Foxconn’s dormitories now have
nets outside to prevent suicides.

I recently saw a one-man show, Mike Daisey’s amazing “The Agony and the
Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” in which Daisey, a spellbinding monologue
artist, recounts his own conversations with the workers of Foxconn in

Daisey was on to Foxconn long before the Times. If you get a chance to
see this show, which runs for one more week at New York’s Public Theater
and which will be on tour in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere later this
year, don’t miss it. Two weeks ago, Daisey made the stunning decision to
put his script in the public domain, so that other performances could go

Daisey wonders out loud: what if everyone who buys these products began
upping the pressure on Apple to do right by its workers?

I would add: What if Apple made a decision to bring this work home, and
to pay decent wages for it, say $20 an hour. Right now, this is
literally impossible, because the production facilities to make such
products no longer exist in the United States. But the Pentagon has
insisted that America hang on to production capacity for certain other
sensitive micro-electronics products. And if hostilities escalated
between the U.S. and Beijing, you can bet that we would see a crash
program to restore more micro-electronics output at home.

Apple earns about $600,000 per year per employee. It can well afford to
share a little more of that with its workers.

The New York Times calculated that it would add only about $65 to the
cost of an iPad or iPhone to produce it at home at good wages. And over
time, it would tend to cost less, since higher-paid workers lead the
company to redouble its investment in automation.

Apple can certainly afford this transition. It is now the richest
company in the world, sitting on a pile of nearly a hundred billion
dollars in cash. If Apple led, it would become bad form for America’s
other prestigious companies to manufacture for U.S. markets in foreign

Ralph Nader recently published the most improbable of books, a novel
titled Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us. Nader, looking at the grotesque
economic and political power imbalance in the U.S., imagined that a
cabal of billionaires led by Warren Buffet and Ted Turner have an
outbreak of conscience and become crusaders for progressive reform. It’s
Nader’s way of both laying out a reform agenda and spotlighting where
the real power lies.

It’s a lovely fantasy, but it’s not going to happen — any more than
Apple, out of the goodness of its corporate heart, is about to decide to
phase out its high-tech Asian sweatshops in favor of decently
compensated production jobs in the United States.

But what could perhaps happen is a mass movement of Apple consumers,
declaring that it’s not cool to treat the people who build these
products like beasts of burden or like expendable non-human parts.

Alternatively, as incomes keep falling further behind the cost of living
for most Americans, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that we
enjoy the coolest of gadgets and that others are even poorer than we are.

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