22 April 2008

Equal pay for equal work

Fred Clark has one of his best posts ever this week, and that's high praise for me as he's long been my favorite writer on the web, although we're not exactly in the same boat politically.

However, I noticed this exchange in comments which touches on something I've been thinking about lately.

@Josh: Which liberals say to "shoot all the foreigners who take your jobs"? Because if they call themselves liberals, I'm not sure they know what the word means.

In a word, protectionists. They are mostly associated with the Democrats and American 'liberals'.

As an observer of the vicious HTML Mencken v. grampaw flamewars on Sadly, No as well as other places, I've noticed this is a common cudgel used by free-traders against anti-globalization activists. Because we oppose the latest trade deal du jour we're secretly-xenophobic "protectionists" who want starving, third-world children to die because we won't allow humane multinational businesses to swoop in and pay them pennies a day for a bowl of rice.

It is indisputably true that some labor activists do campaign with appeals to xenophobic anxiety. It's the cheap way out, and I wish they would take a more nuanced route rather than exploiting dangerous preexisting tendencies which, I should note, weren't put there by lefties.

Now I am admittedly an idealistic and quite Unserious fellow, but I believe in the principle of equal pay for equal work. If you want to move your widget factory from Indiana to Indonesia, that's fine with me. Provided, of course, that you pay your new workers the same as your old ones, and give them the same labor rights and occupational safety consideration as you would if they were in the West. If you want to hire despondent immigrants in the United States illegally as fruit-pickers, that's fine. Give them full citizenship rights and pay them a legal wage.

I don't think I'm a xenophobe. I don't see how it benefits Columbian workers when the U.S. government passes a free-trade agreement in their country where trade unionists can be shot cold dead for trying to organize. The global "labor market" is an inhumane sham, only barely more reputable than the slave trade which, of course, isn't fully dead either. Why do we stand for globetrotting of corporations seeking to trap a fresh batch of desperate people stuck in corrupt despotisms?

I realize the deck is so hopelessly stacked against us that resisting is of little use. The triumph of Capital is so complete that, whenever He whines about the untenability of His life without a diet of cheap labor to imbibe, we have no choice but to believe Him. It's alright, He moves in mysterious ways.