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Mikulan writes: "Everything about Apple (from the mocking irony of Jobs' name to the outsourcing of its employees' livelihoods to factories in a totalitarian police state) epitomizes big business's attitude of contempt - not only for American workers but for America itself."

An undercover investigation by Southern Weekend exposed conditions at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory, an Apple contractor and the site of numerous worker suicides, 05/19/10. (photo: Southern Weekend)
An undercover investigation by Southern Weekend exposed conditions at Foxconn's Shenzhen factory, an Apple contractor and the site of numerous worker suicides, 05/19/10. (photo: Southern Weekend)

Apple's Labor Pool: Job Market or Slave Auction?

By Steve Mikulan, LA Progressive

25 January 12


hen it comes to America's race to the bottom, Apple is right there at the finish line waving the checkered flag. At least that's the impression one gets from reading "How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work," in Sunday's New York Times. Reporters Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher begin their lengthy piece with an unsettling anecdote set at a 2011 dinner for Silicon Valley big wigs that was attended by President Obama. At one point the president asked the late Steve Jobs why Apple couldn't bring back to America the tens of thousands of jobs it had outsourced, mostly to Asia, where its iPads, iPhones and other products are engineered and assembled.

"Those jobs aren't coming back," Apple's CEO reportedly replied. End of discussion.

According to Duhigg and Bradsher, Apple's brass believes the American worker, besides earning too much money for his or her labor, just doesn't possess "the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers." Last week Frying Pan News writer Jon Zerolnick described the "flexibility" of Apple's subcontracted Chinese workers, with their 34-hour shifts and 12-foot by 12-foot dormitories, and their skill at sliding into coffin-sized beds at night. Victorian Manchester was a worker's paradise by comparison.

Everything about Apple (from the mocking irony of Jobs' name to the outsourcing of its employees' livelihoods to factories in a totalitarian police state) epitomizes big business's attitude of contempt - not only for American workers but for America itself.

"We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries," answered one Apple executive, when asked by the Times about the unemployment crisis. "We don't have an obligation to solve America's problems." Except that by shipping America's jobs overseas they are creating those problems. Apple executives presumably have their black turtlenecks and toothbrushes packed and ready to go, if the day comes when the country they are fast helping to make an economic wasteland becomes uninhabitable for them. (See Harold Meyerson's sardonic contrast of Jobs and his colleagues with Henry Ford and his contemporaries: "Ford didn't just build the first car the middle class could afford; he built the middle class itself.")

The Times piece ran a devastating graphic of the top labor-intensive companies, comparing the vast numbers of Americans employed by 20th Century industrial giants such as GM and U.S. Steel with contemporary companies that are, for the most part, low-wage service-sector employers. Apple, with its 63,000 worldwide employees, came nowhere close to appearing on that graphic. How could it, when most of its production is contracted out to Taiwan's Foxconn, whose Foxconn City in mainland China employs 230,000?

One bitter irony to emerge from Duhigg and Bradsher's article is the acknowledgment that wages - the original motive for American companies relocating overseas - are no longer the main reason Apple's jobs are not coming back. (Making an iPhone in America would only add an estimated $65 to its production cost.) It's mostly because of the mega-plants and vast distribution systems that have been created in China, South Korea and elsewhere. These have become the production arteries of America's tech firms - arteries this country lacks, along with the necessary number of skilled engineers.

Those distribution matrixes could be built here, just as armies of engineers and other skilled professionals could be taught in American schools. (Or, for that matter, in company-run classrooms.) But that would involve investment - a business concept completely alien to many congressional and business leaders today. Why invest all the time, effort and money when the helpful Chinese government will make sure everything's taken care of for us? This is called free enterprise, but of course Apple and other tech companies couldn't succeed without their Faustian partnerships with the regimented command economy of China.

While it's true that the successes of Apple and other hi-tech corporations have resulted in a few thousand extra American jobs being created (mostly in shipping and marketing businesses), a grim reality raised by the Times article far overshadows those gains. The bad news is that Apple's production model is being adapted by other American industries - even the clean-energy sectors on which so many have placed hopes for future domestic job creation.

The race to the bottom, in which we lower the value of our citizens' labor in exchange for new industry, continues at breakneck pace because we let it. Our society is impoverished a little bit more every time an entrepreneur awards a contract to an "irresistible" foreign bid that is underwritten by slave labor. It's a slippery road to go down - and one that is not even paved with good intentions.

Steve Mikulan is the Editor of The Frying Pan. your social media marketing partner


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+21 # dyannne 2012-01-25 23:40
I'm beginning to think I've lived through the best of times and I'm kind of glad I'm nearly 75, because it looks like it's all downhill from here.
+3 # John Locke 2012-01-27 11:39
There is an answer, but no one wants to hear it...STOP buying the products made over seas... we DON'T need an iphone or any of the other hi tech garbage, we need to help those of us that have been discarded by our corporate masters regain their self respect and a good job, and if that means doing with out these gadgets so be it... let them make and sell them overseas, let other countries destroy their middle class ours has already been destroyed, I feel we are so close to a world wide revolution that all this ain't gonna matter soon...
+17 # Cliffard 2012-01-25 23:48
This is stupid. Blaming Apple for America's woes is as stupid as blaming raped women for dressing too provocatively. If Apple didn't outsource, they'd be out of business. Remember how Apple pretty much invented Windows and then lost out to the clones because of price. Their competition would all outsource and eat their lunch.

No this is a purely government policy issue as touched on near the end of the article.

Charge a 50% tariff to import those ipods and see how fast Apple builds factories here. There are millions of Americans that used to work in high tech factories that are working at Walmart that could build this stuff.

You can put the blame for this one on "free trade" policies. As Ross Perot said when he was running for President. Sign these free trade agreements and you can see all the good jobs scurry across the borders.

Losing all those manufacturing jobs was ok because America was going to become a service economy - at least til they started moving all those to India and China also.

Yes, there is blame to be given out here, but it is to us an the politicians that we elected. Those in business are only following the road we set for them
+9 # cadan 2012-01-26 09:57
Cliffard, i think you are exactly right.

Ross Perot also talked about the "giant sucking sound" as the jobs moved out of the country.

Bush, Clinton, and all the others who supported NAFTA and other "free trade" agreements really gave the "gift" that keeps on "giving", as they say.

+8 # Cliffard 2012-01-26 11:02
Nearly 2.8 million U.S. jobs eliminated or displaced since 2001 due to growing U.S.-China trade deficit, EPI analysis finds

and that doesn't include India, Korea. Mexico etc..
+1 # John Locke 2012-01-27 11:40
If you call any large company for service, you are calling India...
+10 # shortonfaith 2012-01-26 00:36
I don't care if their products do work better. I wouldn't buy Apple just because of their contempt of the workers. They sure aren't passing any of the savings along to their customers. Just a rip-off all the way around. When will someone write this book about Jobs?

All these companies will be bringing these jobs back as soon as they can get away with company towns, like in China. Who cares if all the workers want to jump off the 10th floor? Just put more nets up?

Still, it's not just Apple. Nike was one of the first to take their production overseas. Then got laws passed allowing them to lie openly in the market. It cost Nike $1.75 to make tennis shoes overseas. When have they ever past these savings on to the consumer? These companies take these profits, our dollars, & buy congressional leadership like they're Ken & Barbie dolls. Then they get Ken & Barbie onto the Supreme Court & pass more laws allowing them to lie about their spending, on more Ken & Barbie leaders.

Thank you Steve Mikulan for finally having the guts to call out at least one of these slimy companies. Please keep them coming. Maybe some of these American consumers will see that supporting these horrible companies is like voting Republican & snorting heroin. It's not really good, the product is gone in days, & you need another widget? Just buy yourself a gun & end it all now. At least your kids might have a future?

Bring back major Tariffs now.
+1 # Cliffard 2012-01-26 15:19
Quoting shortonfaith:
I don't care if their products do work better. I wouldn't buy Apple just because of their contempt of the workers.

This is gonna leave you with a short list, and you better move to a heavily democratic state. It seems worker has become a derogatory term in America
+5 # feloneouscat 2012-01-26 07:07
Actually, early on, Apple built everything in America. But thanks to the pressure of EVERYONE moving their production lines to Asia, Apple also felt the need. That is the nature of business - you have to build your product to compete with other products.

If the iPhone sold for $800 there would be no demand. It would be a dead product.

Unless EVERYONE plays by the same rules, not just Apple, you will continue to see this drain. Even today, the largest cellphone maker in Japan is made in China.

However, this isn't a recent thing: Apple has been building its personal computers in China for some time. So the "those jobs won't be coming back" is pretty funny - they never were here in the first place (unless we are talking about the Apple II).
+5 # feloneouscat 2012-01-26 07:12
Considering that those jobs were never here in the first place, this entire piece seems like a hit job on Apple (I don't see any other corporations mentioned).

Apple, like HP and others, must play by the same rules in order to sell their products for a reasonable cost. Make EVERYONE build in the USA and the differences in price will be negligible. Make only Apple build in the USA and they will go out of business.

The iPhone was never built in the US to begin with, so I'm not sure where the author is getting his quote. It certainly has nothing to do with the iPhone. Perhaps the Apple II, which was built in the USA.

This article stinks like a hit job. It ignores the reality of the issue to focus on one company - when the issue actually has to do with the tech business in general.

I'm not apologizing for Apple, what I'm trying to point out is that they are doing like every other business - cutting costs.

When we make it illegal to outsource, only THEN will we see jobs come back. I don't expect to see that in my lifetime.
+9 # SchenectadyScott 2012-01-26 07:45
This is a good article. My question is..and I know the is not addressed is it that the United States is doing business in a Totalitarian State...or I would say a Communist Nation like China..Washingt on..our representatives , legislatures, are the ones to be held responsible for allowing this...not the businesses...ho w does GE build and do business in China and Russia? They must be allowed to do so? So we as a nation must be Communist and Totalitarian if we are doing this. Can not get mad at the child that is being overfed. The corruption in Washington needs to be held accountable.
+11 # BradFromSalem 2012-01-26 08:36
Um, I think the real crux of the issue is that outsourcing dehumanizes the worker. The dehumanization occurs even when we outsource jobs inside the US.
The primary goals of outsourcing is to lower the cost of labor first, and change the management role to managing contracts instead of people.
You lower the cost of labor by making somebody else responsible for the workers pay. That way you are not responsible for paying that worker sub minimum wages for an outsourced job in the US or 10% of the going rate in the US when the job is sent overseas. Note the company doing the outsourcing is distancing itself from its workers. The workers themselves become another gear in the machinery of production.
If you are managing the contract and not people, when 10 people call in sick because their is a flu going around and they or their kids are sick, you don't have to show any mercy. This is what Apple is talking about with flexibility. The conditions that the people work in are not Apple's problem, they work for Foxcomm. Apple feels justified telling Foxcomm, to get production up to the contract standards or else. Outsourcing dehumanizes.

It is flourishing in our current economic environment because for the past 30 years we have been championing policies that put business needs first. Put the of people first. People need jobs, pass laws that help them get jobs. Pass laws that make sure that jobs in the US are the most productive jobs in the world.
+5 # reiverpacific 2012-01-26 13:10
Hell, there are still plenty "Jobs" in the Military-feedin g Death industries at home -what are you complaining about????
The US is the best in the world at killing people and counties, so it'll all come back home eventually when the populace is cowed and subjugated enough by the corporate state, like the maquiladoras and sweat-shops featured in this article.
I used to watch cattle truck loads of women in Java, Indonesia passing in front of our office in Bandung, being shuttled from whatever they lived in to their factory posts and didn't know what I was looking at until I asked my driver, who simply answered 'They make your golf shoes"!
+6 # cordleycoit 2012-01-26 14:01
This current model is called the slave market model it can get worse, if we let it.
We could of course organize in the industrial union mode as was done in the mining and timber industries. It was attempted by Chavez and would have succeeded if they had not been scabbed out by Reagan. To do that one has to fight like the Wobbles did.
If we do nothing but accept the master's way we will remain enslaved in a system that does not work. Time to organize.
+6 # Kayjay 2012-01-26 15:06
I mainly attribute the problem of job outsourcing to the greed of both the corporations and their investors. The corp. rats furiously play the game of trimming their costs in order to boost profits. And who is clamoring for these said profits, why the investors of those who want to retire with fat portfolios and only consume til the day they die. Don't soley blame the one percent, it's probably another 14 percent of top wage earners who dream of living on investments alone. Mitt is the poster boy for this slice of our populace. As a result, Mitt and his pals are supporting themselves through the success of sweatshops. Yes, overseas slavery is alive and thriving, in the name of unending profits for the few. We really need to rethink the role of retirement in the 21st century and the concept of doing NOTHING for a living.
+7 # propsguy 2012-01-26 18:25
i got so sick of hearing the eulogies for the "great" steve jobs. what would have been so terrible if he had made his unnecessary trinkets for white people with disposable income over here and it cost him $65.00 more for each Iphone? what if he didn't pass that extra cost onto the consumer but instead just had less of a vast personal fortune?
so he would have died being only worth $4 or 5 billion, instead of $6 billion? how terrible would that have been?

he couldn't spend the money and his kids won't be able to spend the money except maybe they'll need private armies to protect them from the masses of poor left by their dad's employment practices. and maybe they'll need a spaceship to go to another planet because this one will have been destroyed by greedy capitalists.

wouldn't it have been better if their dad had left them, instead of all those billions, a fairer cleaner world in which to live?

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