Monday, February 21, 2011

A Call to Revive the I.L.O. or a new version

By Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, February 19, 2011
A study by the Marshall School of Business projects that the United States, despite its paltry welfare programs, will still be short 35 million workers by 2030; Europe, despite its generous decent minimum wages, will need 80 million. The most direct and politically feasible solution, the one most governments will continue to use to square the circle and fill the hole, will remain immigration....

As the world’s finance ministers gather here in Paris for another G20 summit, the economy looks like an interlocking set of paradoxes: Simultaneous inflationary growth and deflationary collapse, ultra-low interest rates and nobody willing to lend.

But one paradox, mysterious and misunderstood, seems to be tormenting almost every country today: simultaneous large-scale unemployment and large-scale labour shortages. Almost every government, from Beijing to Ottawa, is nowadays forced to use immigration to fill job shortages, at the same time as it devotes expensive social programs to helping the jobless. This, to put it mildly, has been creating tensions.
Listening to the unemployed, governments hear that the wages for many of the unfilled posts are so low that the social assistance from the government makes it unprofitable to take them. So some governments lower those payments, hoping to have a short-term fix to the problem. So opening up the borders to more immigrants who are willing to take these jobs is one approach.
Yet, as Saunders points out, in many countries with right-of-centre governments, the supporters of those governments are not keen on more immigrants. Their's is a fear of foreign influences in the society global NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard).
According to the January survey of employers by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, 34 per cent of corporations now regard “shortage of skilled labour” as their main business constraint – and, tellingly, another 13 per cent regard their biggest problem as “shortage of un/semi-skilled labour.” That means almost one in seven companies can’t find enough uneducated, non-experienced people.

This is the case even though Canada now has a comparatively high unemployment rate of 7.8 per cent, which means that there are 1,449,600 Canadians over 15 years of age who are actively seeking work, officially. Several million more have simply stopped looking for work and have dropped out of the labour force.
Nevertheless, focusing on the numbers of positions not being filled only highlights the attitudes of business and management to labour generally. And those attitudes, generally, are fundamentally flawed. Management will pay the lowest possible dollar to anyone willing and able to work, and will provide the minimum of benefits, none if possible. And management increasingly wants to conduct their business without the "hassle" (read cost, inconvenience, lowered profits, unacceptable contentions for power or any of a number of other phrases) of having to negotiate with a union or a workers' association.North American consumers happily buy products, even high-end products, that have been made by, for example, Chinese workers who have no benefits, and no unions and barely a subsistence wage. And, of course, if the quality of those products is as high as if those products were made in the U.S. by union workers getting $20/hr plus health benefits and pensions, the companies will pay the shipping both of the raw materials to China and the finished products back to North America. So, North Americans support the abuse of Chinese labour, and the loss of North American jobs, so that those companies can reap the highest profit imaginable, in the short run.
Yet by creating pockets of unfilled, often unskilled jobs right here, we are also victims of our own short-sighted, selfish and parochial attitudes.
If there are a host of abusive dictators in the Middle East, whose people are unwilling to remain silent and oppressed, there are also a host of abusive corporate dictators who are skewing the global labour market to their narcissistic, profit-driven, abusive ends. It is time for a revival of the International Labour Organization, or a similar organization, to bring about both equity and fairness in the labour market in every country.
And that would include production standards that meet environmental benchmarks, and benefits like health care and pensions for all workers in all countries, with child labour laws preventing the abuse of children...
It is long past time for the rich to stop our complicity in the reduction of labour markets, (really human beings trying to put food on their tables for their families, and carve out a modicum of dignity in each country regardless of the political leaning of the government in that country.
If we think the people in the streets, many without employment, both among those with educations and those with little or no education are a new wave, imagine if the whole world were actually to waken to the
abuses of workers around the world and to bring that issue to the front pages. And the scales may just be tipping in that direction.
We simply cannot continue to remain blind and insensitive to the need for honourable work for those who seek it, and continue to serve, on bended knee, the whims and power-dictates of the corporations whose existence everywhere depends on a strong, educated and dependable workforce.
And there are certainly more "workers" available for work, and capable of doing that work, than there are corporations willing to take advantage of them....and only through a common voice in a common cause will there ever come a levelling of the playing field, both in the access to employment and in the conditions for that employment if workers speak with a single voice.
And governments that recognize their own complicity with the corporate "giants" and bend both an ear and a series of legislative packages in the direction of labour protection and fairness will see their social costs drop adn their productivity rise...and that's not rocket science either.

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