Capitalist Globalization and the "Middle Class"

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Since the 1970s, the social consequences of the current period of capitalism (commonly referred to as globalization) have primarily affected the working class, especially those in manufacturing jobs.  Despite the consequential deterioration of large cities and countless smaller towns — not to mention the pauperization of large segments of the population — the effects were dismissed by politicians and the mainstream media as necessary evils. The victims of this process were told to pick themselves up by their boot-straps, go back to school, and learn to integrate into the new, technology-driven global economy.

How things have changed!

Experience has exposed all the promises of globalization to be lies, and now those who think of themselves as "middle-class" are finding themselves on the chopping block.  These skilled workers — engineers, Information Technology workers, accountants, legal and medical personnel, etc. — are confronted by the combined forces of a shrinking labor market, outsourcing, and the corporate-led importation of foreign workers through the H-1B visa program.

The H-1B visa program is the most recent chapter of the attacks on U.S. skilled workers, with the corporate-elite doing linguistic somersaults to try to justify a program intended to drive down wages and increase profits. According to these "experts", the importation of foreign workers is necessary for two reasons, both of which are lies.

Myth #1: "U.S. businesses need access to the best and brightest of the world's workers, leading to greater productivity and ingenuity." (Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia)

Myth #2: "There is a severe shortage of skilled-workers in the U.S." (Microsoft)

The first lie is easily dismissed when one considers the type of workers being brought in by the H-1B program. These are not necessarily  the "best and brightest" of foreign workers; on the contrary, most of the workers are young and inexperienced, barely capable of doing the job of the workers they are replacing.  In the case of IT workers who come from India, (which constitutes the majority) 50 percent are under age 25 and 88 percent are under 30.  Corporations love the fact that to be "highly skilled" under the H-1B program, one need only a Bachelor's degree.

The second myth is even more ridiculous.  The supposed shortage of skilled workers is constantly talked about by CEOs and stock-holders, but finds no echo among the thousands of U.S. workers who cannot find employment.  According to a study by Information Week, there are 88,000 unemployed U.S. IT workers, with an additional 7,700 out-of-work foreign nationals. Anybody at all familiar with the job-market for skilled workers knows the ever-increasing difficulty in finding employment.  In fact, this myth was too far-fetched for even some of the more contemptuous members of the ruling class to bear.

In an effort to put the H-1B visa debate on a firmer, philosophical foundation, former Federal Reserve Chairman Allan Greenspan threw his weight into the discussion.  According to this most respected of businessmen, the H-1B visa program is necessary because of the income-gap between skilled and unskilled workers — Greenspan believes that the "concentration of income" acquired by skilled workers is unfair, and says: "If we open up a significant window for skilled workers, that would suppress the skilled-wage level and end the concentration of income."

Greenspan defines the "income gap" as the distance between lower-income working people and their so-called "middle-class" counterparts.  In so doing, he completely ignores the billionaires and their pharaoh-like living standards — what's more important is the $20,000 annual difference between a computer technician and a janitor! (note: Greenspan has since flip-flopped his rationale for the H-1B program — the need to rebuild U.S. infrastructure is the latest excuse.) At least Greenspan uttered a half truth: the real goal behind the program is to lower the wages of skilled workers.

When discussing the topic of foreign workers, whether they be skilled or unskilled, we must always maintain a clear class perspective, and not fall into the nationalism the ruling class uses to divide us. In other words, whose class interests are being represented? In this case, it is the profit motive of the big corporations that is driving the debate.

Workers everywhere should be allowed to freely travel to where there is employment, even if it means crossing the "sacred", artificial boundaries between countries. Corporations are forced to recruit from poor countries because the workers there, in an effort to make ends meet, will accept far less than American workers. Contracts are worked out in advance, and because being a non-citizen puts one in a precarious position in the U.S., wages are rarely if ever protested after arrival.  The H1-B workers have much in common with the "temporary worker" programs sought after by many corporate interests in the current immigration debate. In both cases workers are ushered into the country for the specific purpose of serving a particular company, where their status as non-citizens makes them more compliant and exploitable.  If a worker leaves the company he was brought in to serve, he can be immediately deported — we can safely assume that forming a union or protesting employer abuse will lead to a similar punishment.   

The ultra-rich use this to drive a wedge between U.S. workers and their foreign counterparts, all of whom are exploited by the transnational corporations.

By creating a new layer of low-paid foreign workers with few rights, the path is laid to extend this trend to workers of the U.S. — the ones Greenspan complains are overpaid to begin with. By blaming immigrant workers for the corporate-constructed problem, the ruling class aims to prevent solidarity movements from taking place, channelling the debate towards racism, patriotism, and their political/economic equivalents, nationalism and protectionism. This process has already created a new niche in the political mainstream, where one can find a wide array of "middle-class radicals" spewing their venom in books and on television. 

This grouping, with the likes of CNN's Lou Dobbs serving as representative, have responded to the "crisis of the middle-class" (i.e., those layers of U.S. workers that have done better than most) in a way that history has already proved to be disastrous. These populist demagogues are responding to recent developments and sounding the alarm bells to what is fast becoming an enormous crisis for the U.S. political establishment. If there is no longer a large layer of living-wage workers who believe that the system works, the buffer between the already-indignant millions of poor and the scant amount of super-wealthy will have disappeared. The result can only be an increasingly unstable society and the very real threat of social revolution.

The remedy, as prescribed by these "middle-class radicals", is heavy doses of protectionism tinged with anti-immigrant racism: Defend our borders!  Keep out immigrants! No to free trade! Raise protective tariffs!

Although this may appear to be a "common sense" answer to the destructive policies of free-trade, protectionism has certain historically-proven side-effects: trade wars, economic crisis, and ultimately, military confrontation.   The protectionist policies of one country lead inevitably to a protectionist response by another. And where competition on the market once determined who controlled the world's wealth, guns become the deciding factor.  In the recent period, the world has seen many failed free-trade deals" the WTO, MAI; war Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon; and rearmament on a global scale.  This process is bound to intensify as governments everywhere are forced to respond to the wide-spread social unrest caused by capitalist globalization, and to defend the interests of "their" country's corporations.

What then, is the answer? To find it, one has to look beyond the decaying framework of capitalism. Although it is natural to desire a return to the allegedly tranquil past, when capitalism seemed to "play fair", any hopes of returning to the so-called "good old days" are Utopian. This is the real face of capitalism, and we must deal with things as they are, not as we would like them to be.

If free-trade and protectionism both mean disaster for capitalism, then clearly the system itself is to blame.  A society based on the narrow confines of private profit has its limitations which, when reached, give society a choice: socialism or barbarism.  Socialism, that is, taking society's wealth out of the hands of the few in order to produce for social need under the democratic control of the workers is the only way out of the crisis of capitalism.

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