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Norma Sherry: Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

Bye, Bye Miss American Pie

By Norma Sherry

I'm just going to blurt it out; tell it like it is. In the words of the venerable, Walter Cronkite, "and that's the way it is"; here it is folks; outsourcing is tantamount to legalized slave labor.

Of course, it's much more than that to the American worker. Ask anyone who is out of work, out of unemployment, on the verge of losing their home and all that they worked for and thought was their American dream come true. Their jobs by the multi-millions have left the shores of the U.S. for greener, cheaper labor. Slave labor.

A dollar an hour versus twenty-five or fourteen, or even ten, you figure the math, big business, not-so-big business, even the little businesses are moving in droves to lands faraway. The problem with doing so, however, is multi-dimensional.

For the millions of American workers who have lost their jobs, the prospects are very dim. Jody, who has worked as an IT professional for twenty years, lost her job when her company outsourced its workforce to a foreign land and foreign workers. In five months, she hasn't been interviewed even once despite her very marketable skills. When her unemployment runs out, she fears she'll have no recourse but to sell their home.

Beverly says, "I completed my graduate degree in engineering and truly thought that I was living the American dream." That is until three years ago when she and her co-workers watched as the jobs dwindled down and were shipped first to Mexico and then elsewhere. All the years of bettering herself, securing her future in the finality were measured in her ability to instruct her replacement to do her job. Humiliation and degradation were her reward.

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Fern was in healthcare for thirty years. She watched nursing jobs given to immigrant nurses rather than American graduates. Sadly, she laments observing sweet, dedicated and idealistic young women she trained become hardened and embittered.

How did this happen. Where were we? Did we have our heads buried in the sand? Or were we preoccupied with the realities of everyday life? Perhaps that's what our policy makers counted on. But I can tell you one thing for certain. It didn't happen overnight.

In fact, it began to surface in the late 70's championed by the very conservative Heritage Foundation. Under the auspices of President Ronald Reagan, free trade "throughout the hemisphere" was borne. But truth be known, the seeds were sown long before Ronald Reagan. Richard Milhous Nixon was the first President given authority in the 1974 Fast Track Bill. It was awarded every president thereafter through 1998. Fast Track gives the President sole authority over trade negotiations. Congress, after the fact, can accept or reject the negotiation, but it cannot amend it in any way whatsoever. In effect, Fast Track effectively removes Congress from the process of world trade negotiations.

Ronald Reagan, however, was the first to propose a free trade agreement in his 1980 presidential campaign. Proudly, The Heritage Foundation boasts its role in articulating President Reagan's vision in no less than three dozen reports.

The Heritage Foundation predicted that free trade would, "over a fifteen-year time span, create the world's largest market: some 360 million people, with an economic output of more than $6 trillion a year." Moreover, they asserted that NAFTA would guarantee that American workers would remain the most competitive in the world. That American consumers would continue to have access to the world's finest goods and services.

They also emphasized that NAFTA would assure Americans cheaper goods while increasing U.S. exports to the rest of the world. Moreover, the American workforce was told NAFTA would stimulate and create an estimated 200,000 jobs annually. Later, The Heritage Foundation wrote, "Economists are virtually unanimous in their conclusion that the NAFTA will have a strongly positive impact on job growth throughout the US, with most estimates in the hundreds of thousands." That NAFTA would effectively reduce illegal immigration from Mexico, would be instrumental in tackling drug trafficking, would strengthen Mexican democracy and human rights, and above all else, would serve as a model for the rest of the world. It all sounded so cheeky.

Lofty predilections. The only aspect that has proven true for Americans is "cheaper goods." Instead of the 200,000 promised new jobs yearly for Americans, the American worker is losing their jobs - to date, conservatively speaking by 2.7 million. The rate of which is growing steadily. As a matter of fact, 200,000 additional jobs were lost to American workers in September alone. However, The Heritage Foundation and the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) say the converse is true. The USTR offers, "Too often, bad news grips the imagination, while good news goes unheard. In a dynamic economy such as ours, it is not surprising to hear of some firms closing shop. However, in a typical month, our country gains a net of over 150,000 jobs." My guess is these jobs are akin to a hologram. Sarcasm aside, the numbers don't jive.

As to the remaining gobbily gook, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know the dire state of the American economic picture. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the forecast looks very bleak with the national deficit expected to reach $480 billion next year with unemployment continuing to rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, "Long-term unemployment is at its highest in over a decade". The BLS stated, "The last time the share of long-term unemployed surpassed this level was 20 years ago, in September 1983. BLS also reported the startling decline in education employment as the largest one-month loss since July 1982. There are 1.4 million individuals stuck in the quagmire of personal bankruptcy. According to foreclosures.com, foreclosures are at record highs, especially homes in the upper six figures. Bank One in Chicago anticipates a tidal wave of foreclosures in 2004. Bleak, how about downright abject gloom?

Perhaps we overlooked the loss of jobs because, well, they were just factory workers, after all-and besides, clothing was never cheaper. Cheaper is the key word, not merely less expensive, but threadbare cheap, made to literally fall apart after a few month's of laundering. Then word started seeping into the American psyche, "child labor", "slave labor" and "abusive, horrendous working conditions". Clothing designers went on the defensive, but they needn't have concerned themselves, the uproar was short-lived. The consumer greed won out. After all, cheap is cheap-and nothing wins like saving money!

Then the consumer began to notice that there were fewer and fewer American-made automobiles. Advertising agencies expounded on the consumer concern and began a national advertising campaign to buy, "Made in America" automobiles, etcetera, etcetera. However, despicable as Corporate America is, the truth that nearly no part of an American car or truck, van, or SUV is made in America mattered not.

NAFTA has made us partners with the countries of the world with whom we do business. It has made us culpable to the abuses and horrifying conditions workers of the world work under. And we know it. Our legislators know it. Our Corporate America knows it-and yet, we allow it to continue.

A famous film company reportedly pays Bangladesh workers between eight and nineteen cents an hour toiling in deplorable, sub-human conditions for 14 to 15 hours a day. Corporate America knows it, so do our legislators, and yet we still buy their products. Corporate America rushes to their shore anxiously bringing their contracts and opening their factories.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) protects corporations but abashedly, blatantly ignores the torturous existence of laborers. Burma, ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962 is a very poor, yet resource rich country. It is also a haven for sweatshops and many American corporations. Until 2000 and adverse publicity, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Estee Lauder, Hewlett-Packard, Macy's, Ralph Lauren, Oshkosh B'Gosh, Levi-Strauss, Liz Claiborne, and many more did business with Burma. Colgate, General Electric, Ford, Halliburton, Gillette, Jordache, Lockheed, Nautica, Adidas, Chase Manhattan Corp, Proctor and Gamble, and Perry Ellis are among the businesses that continued to do business with Burma after 2000.

In Burma, Unocal was named in a human rights lawsuit in the course of building its pipeline. The suit charged Unocal knowingly used forced labor. Hundreds of eyewitnesses testified that the government's military provided Unocal with unpaid labor by forcing thousands of villagers to work at gunpoint. Reportedly, women who refused to work were raped or murdered.

In 2000, a California Federal Court found Unocal blameless because they did not have direct participation in the wrongful acts. The case and the appeals are stalemated. In 2003, the Bush Administration filed a brief on behalf of Unocal arguing that allowing the case to go to trial could interfere with US foreign policy and even disrupt the war on terrorism.

When I called my Dell Computer Support Department eight months ago to register my new laptop, my phone call was routed to India. The helpful young man on the phone and I became chatty. He was very excited about his new job, although he still had to live at home with his parents and couldn't afford to marry. He was 34 years old. He was on his twelfth hour of a fourteen-hour day. He earned $9 a day! A day-and he was happy. Before Dell, he earned less than a dollar a day. When I hung up the telephone, I cried.

Yet, in India, a country that Corporate America is actively outsourcing American jobs to in record-breaking numbers is a country that purportedly exploits and abuses children as laborers. Working conditions are often filthy and many bosses are worse than inhumane. NAFTA and WTO turn a blind eye; so do our rich and super-rich corporations.

Rajesh is a partner in an executive search firm. He is well educated, from the Indian Institute of Management - Ahmedabad, as are many of his counter-parts. Rajesh refers to his alma mater as "The Harvard of the East". He also bemoans regrettably, that so many of his brethren with MBA's are applying for call center jobs. A waste of their impeccable and hard-earned degrees. But until America actively sought employees from India, opportunity was even far less.

They offer accent trainers to teach Indians to speak like a Yankee; they have soft skill trainers teaching how to approach an American client. He has an event manager that updates and teaches about American events and festivals and he says they have doctors on the premises and on call because working odd hours, Rajesh says, "has its consequences. Health is definitely a concern".

Obviously, Rajesh is not one of the employers that disregard his employees. In fact, he is a man of great sensitivity and grace. He struggles with the concerns of Americans and he worries about their anger about their jobs going abroad. "So much money has been invested. So much controversy. Such uncertainties."

The sole winner for outsourcing is Corporate America. Everyone else loses.

After 9/11, President Bush announced to the world "that if any country harbored, fed, housed, or protected terrorists, then they would be as guilty as the terrorists." Does the same not hold true for us if we do business with countries that abuse workers; that enslave women and children? Does it not count because we have the entitlement of NAFTA and WTO? Are we not breaking the greater laws of human dignity?

Now our President wants to Fast Track NAFTA and WTO and open free trade to all of Latin America. Considering the supreme success NAFTA has been to the American worker, his motivation is very clear indeed. Money talks.

Pointing fingers and assessing blame is a favorite pastime of the left and the right, the democrats and the republicans. It would appear that there is plenty of blame on both sides of the fence. Richard Nixon may have grandfathered the concept that begot NAFTA. It may have been Ronald Reagan that first introduced it and George Bush, Sr., who endorsed it, and Bill Clinton who signed it momentously into law. But of all the candidates running for the office of President of the United States, only one promises to repeal NAFTA the day after he is sworn into office.

Perhaps it is time for the electorate to put our elected officials on notice. Perhaps it is time that we found our voice and expressed our displeasure in the only way they seem capable of hearing. Perhaps we should write our legislators and let them know that we are adamantly opposed to The Thomas Bill, HR 3005, because it will catapult the further decline of the American worker. NAFTA and WTO and President Bush's new Fast Track are designed to destroy the American worker and to further demoralize and destroy the countries on faraway shores and keep everyone beholding to Corporate America.

It's time to say, No!


© Norma Sherry 2003

- Bio: Norma Sherry is co-founder of Together Forever Changing, an organization devoted to educating, stimulating, and igniting personal responsibility particularly with regards to our diminishing civil liberties. She is also an award-winning writer/producer. Her Email: norma@togetherforeverchanging.org

Side Note: Norma Sherry will be a guest on the national radio show, The Chris Moore Show, Saturday, November 15th from 7 - 8 pm, 1020 on the AM dial, KDKA, Pittsburgh, Pa. She will be discussing outsourcing. Listeners can call-in.

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