Tuesday, May 04, 2004

China Is Wal-Mart

Does this scenario sound familiar?

* Workers toil for rock-bottom wages, putting in long hours and sometimes not getting paid at all.

* Health insurance is minimal or non-existent.

* Workers’ rights are repressed, unions are banned and workers who speak up are ostracized, punished or fired.

* Other workers--outside the entity involved--get hurt, because its size and market power are so large it can dictate terms not just to its workers, but to suppliers and competitors--who must "race to the bottom" to match it, or go out of business.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Those are conditions workers face at Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. employer.

Wal-Mart’s 1 million workers toil in that environment. The firm is so large that it can force its competitors to try to match its inhumane work setting, as the recent Southern California grocery lockout showed.

Remember, the chains locked out 70,000 unionized workers because they wouldn’t accept wage and health benefit cuts the grocers claimed they needed to stay competitive with Wal-Mart.

But Wal-Mart is a small version of a much larger identical threat: China. The trade case that the AFL-CIO filed against the Chinese shows that. And the pro-China, pro-Wal-Mart Bush regime must decide whether to be with workers or against them.

Just listen to Wei Jinsheng, an émigré electrician, about what hundreds of millions of workers suffer in China’s "free enterprise" economic system, geared to attracting Western companies who want to exploit Chinese labor:

"Chinese workers’ lives are miserable and their salaries have been pushed to the bottom of the line," he said through an interpreter. "According to the information we obtained from China directly, the situation could be even worse" than the AFL-CIO presented.

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