Where Have All the Jobs Gone?
By Charles Walker
No one has done more to publicize the exodus of jobs to overseas labor markets, than U.S. organized labor. For many years now, the nations labor federation, the AFL-CIO, has campaigned for what it terms fair trade not unregulated trade, from labor rostrums, politicians platforms, congressional hearing rooms, and the like. Labors message may not have kept determined corporations from moving manufacturing and service jobs abroad, but probably it did much to convince many Americans that their job security was threatened by cheaper labor, so attractive to U.S. corporations. No wonder then, according to AFL-CIO head John J. Sweeney, 54 percent of Americans believe that the United States needs to focus on keeping American jobs for American workers (USA Today, Oct. 1).
Yes, its true that jobs have been lost to overseas labor markets. But far fewer jobs than most Americans might think. Louis Uchitelle, an economics writer for the New York Times (Oct. 5) says that although the Labor Department doesnt try to compile statistics on jobs lost to other nations, experts in the private sector recently have been measuring the job losses. What they have found is likely to astonish many workers, both unionized and not. The experts suggest that a whopping 85 per cent of the missing jobs have been lost right here in the home labor market.
It turns out that what happened to those jobs is easily explained. Corporate bosses have been able to increase the productivity of their workers, and thereby able to meet their production goals with fewer workers. Productivity improvements at homesustaining output with fewer workersaccount for the great bulk of the job loss, Uchitelle writes. Estimates of the lost jobs by the private sector experts are tentative. But even if it turns out that the experts numbers are on the low side, and the jobs lost to overseas workers amount to 20 percent or so, clearly workers jobs are more threatened by rising productivity at home than by underpaid workers beyond the nations borders.
To date, the AFL-CIO has had little to say about the job losses accounted for by improving productivity. Certainly, the labor federation hasnt attempted to raise workers consciousness about productivity gains as a threat to their job security, as it has done with what it calls the export of jobs. Obviously, John J. Sweeney and Richard Trumka, who took up their high labor offices in 1995, have not provided answers to the heavy job losses due to productivity gains brought about by rationalization, mechanization, or more speed, sweat and toil from the workforce.
And Sweeney and Trumka are not alone. Many labor officials likewise have failed to address workers job security issues stemming from inexhaustible corporate demands for more productivity. For example, the recently negotiated contracts in the auto industry dont provide the kinds of answers both employed and jobless workers can be expected to be looking for. The new auto contracts are widely estimated to cost 50,000 jobs, the kind of well-paying jobs that organized labor has typically cited to induce workers to join up. Recent contracts with Verizon, Goodyear and various steel corporations, experts say, will also cost jobs, as those pacts go so far as to explicitly provide contractual language permitting further productivity growth.
The AFL-CIOs Sweeney almost routinely assures Corporate America that the labor movement wants to help it be competitive. When Sweeney took office he made it clear that labor and capital need not be foes. A year later he was quoted in the New York Times (Oct. 27, 1996) as declaring to business leaders, We want to work with you to bake a larger pie which all Americans can share and not just argue with you about how to divide the existing pie. It is time for business and labor to see each other as natural allies, not natural enemies.
Sweeney and the AFL-CIO tops have yet to change their minds about labor-management cooperation, even though, as the pie got larger, the share going to workers became smaller and remains smaller. If workers received the same share of the gross national product they once did, todays paychecks would be several hundreds of billons of dollars larger annually than they are.
Why have Sweeney and Trumka and their counterparts, who head national unions, focused their attention, and that of the workers who listen to them, on the loss of jobs overseas, and overlooked the massive job losses created right here on the factory and office floors? When they recommend and sign four to seven-year contracts with provisions allowing firms a virtually unlimited authority to boost productivity that reduce their memberships; it must be asked, Whats in it for them? Whatever it is, it cant be the same as it is for their members.