Over the past two decades, the world has seen an unrelenting shift of jobs, plants and resources to low-cost nations that have few, if any, labor protections. The polite terms for this development are “globalization” and “outsourcing.” But a more apt description by U.S. and Canadian workers would be “the demise of the social contract.”
As the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, noted, “Until recently, Americans were united by a social contract that assured that the benefits of economic growth would be widely shared through collective bargaining and programs like Social Security, minimum wage and workplace health and safety.
“But there is no social contract in the unregulated global economy. So corporations increasingly go to countries where workers have no rights or protections.”
According to recent estimates, as many as 14 million middle-class jobs could be exported out of America over the next 10 years. Many of these are in the service and technology sectors – accountants, software engineers, and even x-ray technicians – the kind of jobs that 10 years ago were being hailed as representing the wave of America’s future. This comes on top of the hemmohraging of 2.8 million manufacturing jobs since 2001. Aside from the massive job losses and the ensuing hardship that this causes for many middle-class workers, the most obvious manifestation of what has been happening are the record-breaking trade deficits. If left unchecked, they could have serious economic and strategic consequences for the United States.
There is a false premise that globalization pits workers in rich and poor countries against one another. But as a former minister of Mexico said, globalization, as embodied by such trade agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), does not work that way. NAFTA, he stressed, was “an agreement for the rich and powerful in the United States, Mexico and Canada, an agreement effectively excluding ordinary people in all three societies.”
The MTD and the rest of organized labor do not believe that globalization and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs are inevitable aspects of the new global marketplace. The federal government should promote policies geared towards ensuring that economic growth in this country does more than just create low-wage jobs that fail to offer health coverage or ensure retirement security.
For starters, the federal government should restructure the U.S. tax code to remove incentives that promote export of jobs. Laws at the local, state and federal levels should be reformed to ensure that our taxpayers’ dollars aren’t subsidizing the export of jobs.
Foreign countries shouldn’t be allowed to manipulate the value of their currencies to boost exports.
The federal government should maintain the integrity of certain domestic trade laws that enable the government to redress unfair trade practices. Moreover, it should stop entering into trade agreements that fail to include adequate labor or environmental standards.
Since rising health care costs are threatening the competitiveness of many U.S. companies, the government should come up with a comprehensive federal program granting universal access. There should be a corresponding investment on those things that can generate job growth, including education and training, research and development, better infrastructure and energy independence.