[Marxism] Rick Perlstein on outsourcing

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 31 07:54:15 MST 2004


Village Voice, March 30th, 2004 11:25 AM
The Jobs of the Future Are a Thing of the Past
by Rick Perlstein

WHEATON, ILLINOIS—"In the beginning of a change, the Patriot is a scarce 
man—brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds, however, the 
timid join him. For then it costs nothing to be a patriot." That's the 
epigram by which the leader of the Rescue American Jobs Foundation, 
created last June to fight the exporting of service jobs overseas and 
the importing of foreign workers to do service jobs here, signs off her 
e-mails, and by that standard, the people meeting at this suburban 
coffee shop are patriots indeed.

Nine people are present by the time the head of Rescue American Jobs' 
Illinois chapter, Charlene Clingman, brings up an idea inspired by the 
example of Mothers Against Drunk Driving many years ago: grassroots 
lobbying of state politicians. "We would research the problem and come 
up with a solution," she suggests. "So if anyone is interested in 
volunteering, we need volunteers."

You wonder who she's asking. Of the nine people present, six are 
representatives of the press. Char has just taken some of them on a 
driving tour of the grandiloquently named "Illinois Research & 
Development Corridor"—gleaming office parks whose construction was 
subsidized by the state but which now, years after the waning of the 
technology boom, are emptying out. Char used to work in one of those 
office parks as a communications technician for AT&T; she was laid off 
two and a half years ago. Since then she has applied for over 1,000 
positions.

"These people have sent all our jobs out of the country," she says, as 
the two other people actually attending the meeting as participants nod 
along. One is her husband, who still works at AT&T; another is one of 
her former co-workers.

You may have read about the outsourcing issue, the great X-factor in 
American politics today, in cover articles in Time, Wired, Business 
Week. The numbers can be hard to fix. According to Time, outsourcing to 
India "accounts for less than 10 percent of the 2.3 million jobs lost in 
the U.S. over the past three years." Wired, drawing on research from 
Gartner analysts, says one in 10 U.S. tech jobs will have left by the 
end of this year.

It is here, in rooms like this one, that the movement against 
outsourcing is revealed in full metaphoric flower. The media observe the 
efforts obsessively for signs the timid might soon be joining in 
torrents. But when the victims get together, they don't know what to say.

The outsourcing of white-collar jobs overseas began in earnest during 
the personnel shortage caused by the run-up to Y2K. In a sense, it grew 
directly from a parallel phenomenon, generally ignored. Call it 
"in-sourcing." Averting the catastrophe of a nation of computers 
suddenly partying one New Year's morning like it was 1899 gave Congress 
a reasonable excuse to raise the cap on the number of H-1B visas, which 
are issued to allow companies to sponsor specialized foreign workers in 
cases of a demonstrable labor shortage.

On the other side of the world, the Y2K panic catalyzed India, which was 
dismantling the protectionist components of its own quasi-socialist 
economy, to bid for all kinds of service work to be done there—thanks to 
its relatively large, educated, English-speaking middle class and a 
providential 10.5-hour time shift that lets Indian researchers crunch 
numbers on behalf of sleeping American financial analysts on the East 
Coast.

Importing labor, exporting jobs: These are the two sides of the coin. 
According to the regnant economic theories, the sides are inseparable: 
capital scouring the world to find labor at the cheapest price, supply 
meeting demand, each dollar being spent at its greatest point of 
efficiency. A fat lot of comfort that is if you're on the receiving end 
of the regnant economic theories. Capital does the scouring a lot more 
aggressively these days than it used to—even to the point of 
systematically abusing the law.

Some of the worst abuses are the "body shops," made possible by another 
kind of temporary work visa: the L-1. This permit is tailored even more 
narrowly; it was designed to allow companies to fill short-term 
vacancies with transfers only from their overseas branches. And since it 
was intended to be of such limited application, Congress didn't bother 
setting ceilings on their issuance. This proved a loophole big enough to 
fly a 747 through: Indian consulting companies set up U.S. branches, 
imported Indian computer programmers en masse, and rented them as cheap 
replacement parts to cost-conscious third-party companies in the U.S.

full: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0413/perlstein.php

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