Public Comment

Commentary: Connecting the Dots: Cheap Labor, Goods And Moral Values

By Ken Norwood
Tuesday May 23, 2006

The so called “problem” with illegal immigration from southern countries, Mexico the source of most pressure, is so much larger than that Mexican workers make less and are under employed and want jobs and better pay in the United States. Sure, the simple minded among us clamor for unworkable punitive measures, police state enforcement and punishment, and solid walls at the borders. This is not merely a border state issue or their responsibility to resolve. The news article, “Cheaper China taking business away from Mexico” (San Francisco Chronicle, April 2006), tells of the larger picture from the view of Mexican workers and factory operators in relation to Chinese competition.  

When we start to connect the dots of cheap Mexican and Chinese worker’s and the dots of “cheap” this and cheap that, “cheap” morphs into greed on a convoluted international scale that again fine tunes to include immorality on a colossal universal and spiritual scale. What would Jesus say? 

The honest secular reply may be that as long as people can buy goods cheaper, and the retailers can buy it cheaper, and the manufacturers can hire cheaper workers, they will do so. No one appears to care about the poor overworked underpaid people at the bottom of this pyramid for greed. At the top levels are the investors, materials suppliers, factory owners, and shipping firms. They can do this and make profits entirely because they can do so outside the confines of U.S. laws and the scrutiny of inspectors. Oh, the beauty of outsourcing to third world countries. There are lots of dots to connect that tell the pattern of competitively downward labor prices in this country, Mexico, and China. 

But there are more dots to connect. Our businesses want cheap labor; Mexico lacks the capability to manage its industrialization, its abundant work force potentials, and the control of corruption. We in turn pay little attention to their plight except to pass the egregious NAFTA, which further erodes the rural workers incomes. Their option then is to seek the low paying ($2.59 an hour), foreign financed (mostly U.S.), “maquiladoras” and the abusive harsh working conditions. That is one big dot.  

The displaced workers know that over the border in America are better jobs, higher pay, and un-known to them, the greedy American employers always seeking more profit at less cost, and the greedy and needy American people eager for “bargains.” Connect several more dots.  

Now add in the China dot that represents worse conditions by which foreign investors and retail goods corporations are flooding China to under cut what has been done in Mexico (and other poor countries) to capture the low paid Chinese work force ($1 an hour and less). Now the ”scourge” of evading Mexican immigrants is upon us and our officials are beset with conflicting values, goals, defenses, and options, and excuses and cannot seem to connect the dots. The Chronicle article “Cheaper China taking business away from Mexico,” is trying to tell us how to connect the dots. And when that is done we will see the larger social-economic-international matrix that implicates us all—no place to hide. 

We the greedy consumer aid and abet China’s under cutting of Mexico’s “maquiladoras” and our own workers as well. This is an international morality play, by which we American consumers choose to look the other way, as in Darfur and other past genocide hotspots, and blithely overlook the corrupt, dictatorial, indifferent, cruel, etc. actions of the Chinese Communist government, and the “problems” in Mexico and our own backyard. A secular Jesus would merely say, something like, “Look at the last five of the Ten Commandments and find your own way to compassion and morality.” This would not be inserting religion into this issue, but merely quoting one of the worlds greatest teachers on how to behave. 

So, to all of you, go do your job of leading. 


Ken Norwood is a retired architect and planner as well as an author, speaker and community organizer.