The Real Reason Apple Can't Make Your iPhone in America
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following is an adapted version of a speech delivered at Netroots.
We used to make things here, and then came free trade and then China opened up, and we moved a lot of manufacturing there, especially electronics. We say Apple here, because Apple is the most obvious, and because the supposed values of Apple conflict dramatically with what we now know about the working conditions of the people who make their products. But we mean ALL OF THEM.
We used to think that China got so much business because labor was cheap. The elites, benefiting from that, said take advantage of the low prices, and our workers can move on to better, more productive pursuits.
Of course, intentionally undercutting the wages of our own workers was bad enough. And using that as a wedge to break unions was bad enough. But the story of our trade deal with China is much worse than that.
Not too long ago stories about the working conditions of Chinese electronics workers started to be heard. We started hearing about protests, strikes, and then about suicides at these factories.
The reports reached wide audiences from a New York Times report, How the U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work
This report hilighted Steve Jobs telling President Obama that these jobs are never coming back, and the reason was not the lower cost of labor. The reason was that in China they could make workers do things that they can’t make them do here. They can make them live in dorms where they wake them up at midnight to stand for hours on assembly lines, or use neurotoxins that let them clean many more screens in a day. They can dump horrible stuff into the environment. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ask Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who just arrived in the US, about how people are treated there.
The business advantage China offers is not low wages -- it is that in China the people do not have a say, and here people have a say.
When people have a say they say they want better pay, health care, retirement, vacations, sick pay, protections, worker safety, clean environment and taxes to support the country – things like that – the very things China offers to let our businesses escape from.
So what China offers is that China is “business-friendly.” Because people there do not have a say, so they can’t ask for the things people should have.
Corporate conservatives here say we should be more business friendly, we should lower wages, lower taxes, stop taking care of the environment, stop all those pesky health and safety and environmental inspections, stop telling businesses what they can and cannot do, and all the rest. They say we should be more like China.
What they are saying is that we should abandon the benefits that democracy brought to We, the People – the 99% in order to enrich a few people – the 1%.
When we opened up our borders to goods from China, and let this treatment of workers and the environment offer advantages to our elites, we made democracy a competitive disadvantage.
But wait, there’s more.
There is another difference to consider. Look what China offers our business leaders. China provides them with an exploited labor force at little cost. Beyond that China also subsidizes the manufacturing that is done there. They spend a great deal on manipulating their currency to keep prices of goods made there very low. They will build you a factory, pay for your electricity, and so much more.