Former SEIU President Praises Chinese Model of Strikes and Low Wages

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Former president of the Service Employees International Union, Andy Stern, recently wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal lauding China’s economic model as superior to that of the United States. No, really. China.

The current debates about China’s currency, the trade imbalance, our debt and China’s excessive use of pirated American intellectual property are evidence that the Global Revolution-coupled with Deng Xiaoping’s government-led, growth-oriented reforms-has created the planet’s second-largest economy. It’s on a clear trajectory to knock America off its perch by 2025….

The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model-so successful in the 20th century-is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century. In an era when countries need to become economic teams, Team USA’s results-a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1%-are pathetic….

While we debate, Team China rolls on. Our delegation witnessed China’s people-oriented development in Chongqing, a city of 32 million in Western China, which is led by an aggressive and popular Communist Party leader-Bo Xilai. A skyline of cranes are building roughly 1.5 million square feet of usable floor space daily-including, our delegation was told, 700,000 units of public housing annually.

The sheer irony of the former labor head advocating for the U.S. to emulate China’s economic model is astounding. China’s economy may indeed be on the rise, but their widely-criticized record of human rights abuses comes in sharp contrast to the labor rights Andy Stern claims to have fought for in his term at SEIU.

Undoubtedly, the labor situation for the workers on the ground is far worse in China than it is here. Even with mandated improved wages for Chinese factory workers, the wage is only $0.75 per hour. Compared to US wage average for the manufacturing industry of $21.96 per hour, this is ridiculous.

Perhaps this helps explain why there are actual labor strikes occurring in China right now- strikes that are based on poor pay and unreasonable demands put on them by the government:

Thousands of workers at a massive shoe factory in the southern city of Dongguan last week clashed with police as they marched to a local government office to protest the loss of overtime….

Earlier in the week, 1,000 workers walked out of a plant in nearby Shenzhen that manufactured computer keyboards for leading brands such as Apple and IBM. Employees said they were being forced to work excessive hours on weekdays so that owners didn’t have to pay overtime on Saturdays, as required by law. The company acquiesced after three days.

“People had to work so late, they couldn’t concentrate any longer,” said Zhao Xiaobing, 38, a former employee. “They will have more strikes.”

Is this what Stern is arguing for? Lower wages and horrible working conditions? Of course not. He would never come out and say that- nor is that his point. He wants the government to have a more active role in managing business. That always been his goal, and he makes it quite explicit in his article.

But that’s the problem. Government intervention and the degradation of the working class’ rights go hand in hand. Stern argues that the capitalist model has failed, but he assumes what we have in place is an actual capitalist, free market model. The fact of the matter is that we don’t. To cite only one example, a single regulation recently created by the EPA could cost 186,000 jobs per year. Add this to the overabundance of regulation America already has and you start to get a very clear picture.

What government intervention we already have has crippled the manufacturing jobs we do still have, and has cost many people their jobs and benefits. What regulations we have in place are creating serious problems for American workers, and these problems are getting worse all the time.

Ultimately, Stern cannot have it both ways. If we are to go the path of complete government involvement in the workforce, to see China’s gains, we must inevitably decrease the costs of production, which means paying workers less and eliminating benefits. If we truly care about worker’s rights, we must pay workers a competitive wage and provide reasonable benefits. This means eliminating government regulation that stands in the way of business and job creation.

After so many years of arguing to increase workers rights at the SEIU, for Andy Stern to laud China’s economic model of flagrant human rights abuses and miserable working conditions is worse than intellectual dishonesty. It is intellectually bankrupt.