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
Steven Greenhouse [Send
him mail] at the
Berkeley Labor Center. His new book, The Big Squeeze,
remarkably well-researched look at how American workers
have rapidly lost ground in terms of wages,
working conditions and
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
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
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,
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
PB: I was going to ask you about NAFTA and the
RN: Sovereignty shredding, you know. The
now in Geneva, bypassing our courts, our regulatory
agencies, our legislatures. "
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
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
It`s hard to see today`s anti-border, anti-American
unions as other than an enemy.
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
ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She once helped organize
a new union for a small bakery in Berkeley.