NYT's Steven Greenhouse Reports "Big Squeeze" On American Workers—But Barely Mentions Immigration

I recently attended the book talk given by New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse [Send him mail] at the Berkeley Labor Center. His new book, The Big Squeeze, is a remarkably well-researched look at how American workers have rapidly lost ground in terms of wages, benefits, working conditions and safety.

I sat in the front of the crowded room and raised my hand when Q&A started. My question was this: how can the elites of the New York Times question to some degree the outsourcing of America's jobs but support open borders uncritically—given that the results are the same to workers?

Greenhouse looked uncomfortable. He tried to discount the premise of the question by saying that Times people don't really support open borders.

Oh please! The New York Times is the biggest pro-open-borders, multiculturalist propaganda operation in America!

While Greenhouse signed my copy of his book, I continued in the same vein, saying that union leaders were dreaming if they thought they could improve the lot of labor while welcoming the world and trying to organize deportable workers.

Greenhouse opened the book to the section where he had written about the illegal immigrant workforce at the Smithfield Foods, a slaughterhouse in North Carolina that had many unlawful workers.

I went away and read the book,

There is indeed a whole chapter called "The Lowest Rung", devoted to foreign workers and their tribulations, along with the trouble their presence brings to the American labor landscape. He leaves no doubt about the place that illegal workers have in the larger scheme of exploitation.

"Illegal immigrants have quietly undermined the nation's workplace standards not only because they are often willing to work for less but because they tolerate conditions Americans wouldn't, including illegal and dangerous ones, such as when they work—and die—in trenches, on scaffolds, or on farms that fail to take the most basic safety protections." (pg. 225

Greenhouse actually explains that citizens are replaced by foreign workers so the employer can save money:

"At times, employers have deliberately used illegal immigrants to undermine native-born workers. The janitorial industry in Los Angeles is a case in point. In the early 1980s, most office-building janitors in Los Angeles were native-born and unionized, their pay averaging twelve dollars an hour. But building owners were able to break the union by switching to lower-cost, non-union cleaning contractors who relied on illegal immigrants pouring into Los Angeles. By the early 1990s, janitors' wages in Los Angeles had plunged to seven dollars an hour." (pg. 225-226)

And he really shines is in his compassionate and detailed portrayals of individual workers who have been shamefully treated by management. One example: Myra Bronstein, a senior quality assurance engineer for Watchmark-Comnitel, a company producing cell phone software near Seattle. She was brusquely informed along with over a dozen co-workers that their jobs had been outsourced and that they would be required to train their replacements in order to receive a severance package.

"For the next month, Myra strived to retain her composure as she trained two Indians at once. 'They didn't acknowledge what was going on, that we had to do something upsetting," she said. "It was the most difficult situation in the world."

"Soon Myra and the other Americans began calling themselves 'The Castaways' and 'Dead Men Working.' She was told that the Indians would earn $5,000 a year; she had earned $80,000." (p. 208)

But in The Big Squeeze, Greenhouse is trying to hold on to contradictory ideas. He apparently believes that workers can be helped without addressing excessive immigration. His concluding solutions chapter, "Lifting All Boats", makes no mention of reducing the labor supply. He actually notes on page 291: "When the labor market was tight from 1995 to 2000, real wages rose at their fastest pace in three decades". But he nowhere explores how Washington could easily reduce the flow of workers now.

Instead, Greenhouse believes that better union representation, along with selective government interventions like raising the minimum wage, can do the trick.

It's an attitude that cripples liberal labor reformers, because it takes off the table the most promising policy choice—shutting the immigration floodgates.

You can't raise wages that way.

Above all, this applies to unions. Of all the interest groups that have gone over to the open-borders Dark Side, the most tragic loss is organized labor. Union defenders of the American worker were once among the most stalwart voices against business interests who want to drive labor costs to zero.

More than a century ago, leaders like Samuel Gompers understood the connection between excessive immigration and the inability of workers to organize for reasonable wages and safe, humane conditions. More recently, Cesar Chavez supported border control as a way to keep out the thousands of Mexican strikebreakers who threatened his efforts to unionize farmworkers in California.

But today, labor unions have drunk the globalization Kool-Aid. They believe they can make the new game work for them. They can't, because the corporations have recreated the playing field to suit the aims of global business. But unions keep tap-dancing to the One-Worlder tune.

Why did unions completely reverse their historical position—from being immigration restrictionist to permissive? Did union elites really think they could increase their pathetic market share (now just 7.5 percent in the private sector) with a strategy that is wholly negative toward citizen workers?

Interviewed by Pat Buchanan in 2004, Ralph Nader opined that unions were looking for a new membership because of their failure with the old one:

RN: ...The AFL-CIO has no objection to [illegal immigration] because they think they can organize the illegal workers—

PB: They switched.

RN: –because they have been so inept at organizing other workers. There is hardly a more complex issue, except on the outside of the issue, the foreign policy, the NAFTA

PB: I was going to ask you about NAFTA and the WTO

RN: Sovereignty shredding, you know. The decisions are now in Geneva, bypassing our courts, our regulatory agencies, our legislatures. "

[Ralph Nader: Conservatively Speaking American Conservative, June 21, 2004.]

Unions have chosen to jettison American citizens in order to organize illegal alien workers—a decision that won't help the low opinion the public already has of the labor movement. A 2002 Harris poll found that only 30 percent of those surveyed would generally trust a trade union leader, a rating below even members of Congress.

And what's not to dislike about these turncoats? Americans have no rights except those derived through the means of national sovereignty. And unions are now part of the evil array bent on destroying the nation-state.

It's hard to see today's anti-border, anti-American unions as other than an enemy.

What would Samuel Gompers have thought of his heirs—who have reversed the traditional union aim of restricting immigration and now advocate amnesty for millions of lawbreaking foreigners?

His decades of struggle for the benefit of American workers have been shredded into oblivion.

Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She once helped organize a new union for a small bakery in Berkeley.