Sunday, April 09, 2006

“Guest workers” or internal outsourcing?

The Bush proposal of creating a “guest worker” category to supplant the “illegal” status of undocumented workers may seem to some to be a reasonable solution to the problem of illegal immigration. But as with so many things, one needs to look beyond the obvious, and ask “and then what?”

The current situation has arisen for one reason and one reason only: our government is unwilling to enforce already-existing laws targeted toward employers. It is already illegal to hire undocumented workers, and if they were not being hired, they would not have risked their lives to come here by the millions. Why aren’t these laws being enforced?

Whenever laws are on the books but enforcement is lax, the potential for selective enforcement exists, always a hazard in a free society. If we choose not to enforce these laws, they should be repealed.

The greater question is: why are these laws not being enforced, and the answer to that is obvious. There is great profit to be made in persisting with illegal hiring practices. The undocumented workers are cheaper, and far more malleable. They don’t complain about unsafe working conditions, or sub-legal wages, and they don’t demand overtime, or assert their rights, because if they do, they know they can be reported to the authorities.

Apologists for these law-breaking employers claim that they have no choice, that there are no Americans “willing” to do the jobs filled by the undocumented, but this is only half-true, and by being half-true it’s actually a lie. Americans are “willing” to do the jobs, but not at the wages and working conditions being offered to the undocumented workers, a huge distinction.

Yes, it’s true: American workers demand to be paid a fair wage, and are far more likely to assert their legal rights, to overtime pay, safe working conditions, and to collective bargaining. American workers have other marketplace choices available, and won’t choose to do backbreaking labor at substandard wages, but it does not follow that the only alternative is to bring in illegal workers. The employer still has the option of paying market wages, sufficient to attract American workers to the job.

A large segment of the illegal employment market is in construction, where the employer has the choice of hiring union workers, or much cheaper undocumented workers. The fact that an employer prefers not to pay union wages does not excuse their illegal hiring practices.

If Bush’s “guest worker” program is implemented, things will only get worse. This would allow active importation of cheap labor from all over the world, in complete disregard for living standards of American workers. It would also create a class similar to indentured servitude, because these “guest workers” would be beholden to their employers for their guest worker status, and could be shipped home at will by the employer.

If one only examines the Bush policies, it’s hard to draw any other conclusion but that the intent is to destroy any semblance of a middle class in this country. A guest worker program would greatly hasten that destruction, and there seems to be no other explanation for even contemplating such a program. At some point, the question needs to be asked: what is the purpose of our laws and our system of government, if not to allow most of the people in this country to live decently? What is the purpose of our economy if not to serve the people?

When outsourcing of jobs began, under the ruse of “free trade,” its critics labeled it a “race to the bottom,” and it appears that the race has arrived stateside. The livelihoods of all who work for a living in this country are at risk, because worldwide, there are billions who are eagerly waiting to take your jobs, at a tiny fraction of your cost. Do not delude yourself that you won’t be touched by this trend, because there is not a single job in this country that cannot be done just as well by an underpaid “guest worker.”

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