Women and the Global Assembly Line


A) Discuss the multi-faceted reasons (political, social,
etc.) why women in developing countries might be willing to
work for lower wages and under more onerous conditions?
In today_s global marketplace, women are becoming more
recognized as a labor force. In the past, it has always
been men who were the breadwinners. Today, due to various
social, political, and economic reasons, women are becoming
the primary breadwinners in less developed countries. This
sounds like an encouraging statistic to woman_s rights
groups around the world. However, these women are being
exploited, rather than appreciated. They are being
exploited by multi-national corporations, which relocate
their manufacturing sectors to LDC_s. In the LDC_s, MNC_s
are able to find lower labor costs and therefore, lower
production costs. _Because it is assumed that women are
economically dependent on men, their attempts to gain
access to jobs are frequently seen as means to supplement
the income of a male head of household. Therefore, the
differentials in the wages earned by men and women are
often a reflection of the belief that men should earn more
because they have families to support, while the latter
merely add to the gains of husbands and fathers.
(Fernandez-Kelly, p. 88) _Managers justify paying women
workers less by imagining that women are merely secondary
wage earners in their families. They assume that men -- as
fathers and husbands -- are the _breadwinners.' This
presumption prevails not just in popular thinking, but in
the statistical reports of bodies such as the national
census bureau, the World Bank, and development agencies.
(Enloe, p. 162-3) There are many other factors that
contribute to the exploitation of women. The situation of
women in labor markets bears great resemblance to that of
migrants. Fernandez-Kelly believes in both cases
individuals enter the labor force without a legitimizing
ideology that promotes their equitable treatment (p. 88).
Migrant workers are restricted in that they are working
illegally, therefore they must compromise with lower wages.
Women are restricted in the above _breadwinner_ philosophy,
therefore, they must compromise with lower wages also. When
they acquire jobs, the members of both groups are often
seen with suspicion and hostility, as it is presumed that
they compete unfairly against the members of a
predominantly male working class. Single women are often
exploited the most. Managers often see young single women
in light of the _marriage factor," which they use to
suppress wages. _...the single woman is not a _serious_
member of the labor force because she intends to work only
until she finds a husband and _settles down,' supported by
him. Therefore, she does not need to be paid as if she were
a career worker._ (Enloe, p. 164) This belief by managers
is prevalent in almost all LDC_s where MNC_s operate. It is
their justification of their exploitation. Women are
willing to work for these low wages because they have no
other choice. The world is changing rapidly, and many
countries are going through the industrial revolution that
the US went through in the late 1800_s. However, technology
is much more sophisticated, due to the intervention of
foreign companies. The men in these LDC_s are often unable
to obtain labor positions because they are unskilled. The
men that are employed are often educated, and they work in
the supervisory-management sector. The unskilled,
assembly-line work is left to the women of the country. The
older women are unable to fulfill the job requirements
because of their lack of stamina, and they often remain at
home to raise the family_s children. In most LDC_s, two to
three generations live together -- simply as a means for
survival. This leaves no one else to be the breadwinner,
but the young daughter or wife. No one else is qualified,
because the corporations are able to pay women the lowest
wages. Since they are able to justify paying young, single
women the lowest wages, they are the only ones they hire.
And therefore, since the young women are the only ones
_qualified_ to be the breadwinners, they must accept their
wage and onerous conditions to survive. B) Discuss the
effects of this employment pattern on men and women in
developing countries. Women are rapidly displacing men in
unskilled labor. It is not simply because they are better,
not because they are more efficient -- but because they are
willing to work for lower wages. They have no choice but to
work for low wages, as I have described above. Since
corporations are hiring mostly women for manufacturing
positions, this is displacing much of the male
working-population. Education and skilled labor are not
revered in LDC_s as it is in the US. Citizens of LDC_s do
not have the opportunity for education to acquire a skill.
Many children must begin working when they are still young,
simply to provide for their family. Children and young
women are being forced by political, economic, and social
factors to work for their families. Politically, the
governments of LDC_s are encouraging foreign investment
because they need the industry, the income, the jobs.
Multi-national corporations are taking advantage of the
LDC_s low-cost labor and moving their manufacturing sectors
to the LDC_s. The primary aspect which LDC_s possess is
low-cost labor. Many MNC_s (in the textile, electronics,
and apparel industries) are labor-intensive industries.
Since labor costs are such a large portion of their
expenses, cheaper labor is a huge incentive for MNC_s to
relocate. Therefore, the governments of LDC_s work with
corporate managers to keep wages low. Economically, LDC_s
need foreign investment to survive. Many families do not
have enough to eat, and unskilled labor is hard to find.
Sons and daughters are too busy working for the family_s
welfare to go to school. Therefore, they will too be
characterized as unskilled labor. Any job is a blessing, so
many young people (with high stamina) are forced into these
manufacturing jobs, simply to provide for their families.
Socially, there is a problem in historical conceptions.
Women in Third World societies have historically been the
home-makers and the mothers. They never needed to work
outside of the home because they already had a breadwinner,
their husband. Many women are enjoying this new found
freedom to work. Women now have _the opportunity to earn
their own income. Much is made of the fact that women can
now spend money on clothes, cosmetics, jewelry and
entertainment._ (Fernandez-Kelly, p. 133) Now that women
have the opportunity to be the breadwinner, they are able
to make their own decisions. This again strengthens women_s
freedom, causing another incentive to work. These
political, economical, and social factors are changing the
workforce of many LDC_s. Many men can be seen in urban
areas without jobs. There simply are not jobs available for
them. The governments have no money to develop
infrastructure-building jobs. It may be possible that LDC_s
will begin to develop infrastructure once they acquire
enough capital, but to acquire capital, they must allow
MNC_s to exploit their women-dominated labor-force.
C) Discuss the obstacles facing these women in asserting
their rights to form unions and to secure better wages and
working conditions. Women are often discriminated against
in today_s workplace. Since they have only recently entered
the job market, it is difficult for them to get the respect
they deserve. Men discriminate against these women because
they are displacing them and taking their jobs. It is hard
to like someone when they are threatening to your job.
However, I see women as a motivating factor, provoking men
to enhance their skills to be the most qualified. In third
world countries, this is not the motivating behind
discrimination of women. MNC_s are simply in negotiations
with the government to suppress womens_ and workers_ rights
so they will continue to work in under their present
conditions. The governments try to keep wages as low as
possible. The government must then support whatever the
corporations want so they will remain in the LDC.
It is very difficult for women in LDC_s to form a union. If
they are suspected of aspiring to form a worker's union,
they will be fired or punished. They are in desperate need
of their job to survive, being fired is their worst fear.
Therefore, they often suppress their opinions about their
working conditions and go on working under the _iron hand_
of the corporations. Question #2: Free Trade A) Present
briefly but carefully the central points of the
neoclassical case for free trade. Neoclassical economists
believe that free trade is best. It is quite simple to see
their argument. If a country is endowed with certain
advantages (i.e. technology, land, labor) it should utilize
those advantages to their utmost capacity. For instance,
let us compare the United States, which is more efficient
in the production of computers, with Mexico, which is more
efficient in the production of clothing. Before trade, the
US will produce an equal number of units of clothing and
computers. The situation is also the same in Mexico, they
will produce equal amounts of each. After trade, the US
will produce more computers and export them to Mexico in
exchange for clothing, which is cheaper to buy from Mexico
than it is to produce in the US. Mexico will to the
opposite, by producing more clothing, exporting them to the
US, and importing computers that are cheaper to buy than to
produce. _If people could work in only one industry and
occupation, then free trade would indeed preclude
maintaining American wages much above (Mexican) levels if
(Mexican) workers were as good as Americans . . . But, in
fact there are many industries and occupations. If America
concentrates its employment in the industries and
occupations it does best, American wages can remain far
above (Mexican) wages for a long time -- even though the
two nations trade freely._ (Blinder, p. 114) Through the
previous illustration, it is easy to see that free trade
allows for specialization, which in turn leads to an
increase in efficiency. This is because as a country
becomes more accustomed to producing one product, rather
than two, it becomes better (or more specialized) at it.
The larger the market, the more _specialized_ it will
become. (DeMartino, Oct. 23) This is due to the increased
need to produce certain products which the country is more
efficient at producing. Another aspect of the Neoclassical
view is that wages are directly correlated with
productivity (DeMartino, Oct. 30) That is, as productivity
increases, wages will increase also. Proof of this
philosophy is represented by the United States workforce.
US workers are highly productive, due to many factors, and
therefore receive higher wages than workers in LDC_s. So in
general, neoclassical economists believe that free trade
promotes specialization; increases the size of the market
and altogether promotes efficiency. B) Present the
arguments that are sometimes made in favor of
protectionism, and the neoclassical rebuttal to these
arguments. Protectionism is a very controversial topic in
the US today. High-cost producers, who would otherwise
succumb to competition, are able to survive. Most foreign
countries today have protectionist policies against the US.
That is, they have high tariffs to protect their industries
from our lower prices. Three characteristics in support of
protectionism are: 1. It is very politically popular. 2.
The benefits are concentrated. 3. The consequences are
widespread, diffused, and very small per capita.
(DeMartino, Nov. 5) Domestic firms and politicians are
generally the most supportive of protectionism. Firms doing
business here in the US support it because protectionism
raises prices of imports, making them more expensive than
domestic goods. Therefore, US goods are in higher demand
due to lower prices. Politicians often support
protectionism to obtain votes. Votes are cast by citizens
who are ignorant of the long-term effects of protectionism.
They think that it is better to buy American. If foreign
products_ prices are lower, people are encouraged to buy
foreign products. Therefore, through protectionism foreign
products_ prices are higher than American prices and people
are encouraged to buy American. When looking through the
eyes of the Global Marketplace, protectionism is bad...
_First, trade restrictions allow high-cost producers, who
would otherwise succumb to competition, to survive. Thus
protectionism is a peculiar form of welfare for
corporations that not only raises prices to consumers, but
also make American industry more slovenly and less
productive._ (Blinder, p. 118) The weakest firms and
industries are always the ones who cry for protectionism.
They cannot compete in the global marketplace due to
factors such as: high labor costs, high administrative
costs, or high operation costs in general. In other
countries it may be cheaper to produce the same product,
thus the US firm cries for help from the government so as
to make them more competitive. _Second, the costs of
protectionism spill over into other industries. Ironically,
one factor contributing to the plight of our auto industry
in 1981 was that the US government was protecting a variety
of industries -- like steel, textiles, and ball bearings --
that sell their wares to automobile manufacturers, thereby
foisting high costs on our auto industry . . . the consumer
pays for them all._ (Blinder, p. 118) However, many firms
are ignorant of this phenomenon. They are more worried
about their own well-being, rather than the US as a whole,
or even their industry. We must remember that profit is the
primary motivation, and your own gain is often a result of
someone_s loss. Today_s business world is a cut-throat
marketplace, many firms and industries must do everything
in their power to stay alive. They cannot look at their
long-term positions because they are struggling to survive
in the short-term. Many industries are strong enough to
look into the long-term (i.e. computers), but many are
unable. _Thirdly, foreign nations do not always stand idly
by while we protect our industries. When we slapped a quota
on textile imports from China in 1983, the Chinese reacted
by reducing their imports of American chemicals and farm
products. When we raised the duties on specialty steel
imported from Europe in 1983, the Common Market countered
by imposing trade restrictions on American rifles, burglar
alarms, and skis among other things._ (Blinder, p. 119)
This shows that protectionism may superficially seem
harmless at home, but abroad it is affecting prices of
imports. It is all a cycle, showing that protectionism does
nothing but hurt the economy as a whole. Once again you can
see that the narrow-mindedness of US firms ends up hurting
the economy as a whole. Global competition must be
established over a long period of time. We must seek to
understand the long-term goals of the global economy.
_Finally, the little-understood effect of trade barriers on
the value of the dollar may be the most basic reason for
rejecting protectionism, for it suggests that we protect
some industries only by jeopardizing others . . . Thus,
when all is said and done, protecting favored American
industries from foreign competition winds up subjecting
unfavored industries to even more fearsome foreign
competition._ (Blinder, p. 119) To illustrate this
phenomenon, I will relate the following scenario. Suppose
we are successful in restricting imports. Americans spend
less on foreign goods, and so fewer dollars are offered for
sale on the world_s financial markets. As the dollar
becomes scarcer, its price naturally rises relative to
other currencies. At that point the unprotected industries
start to suffer,. because a higher dollar makes US exports
more expensive to potential foreign customers. American
exports then sag.
C) Evaluate the debate over protectionism (i.e. is the
neoclassical case against protectionism compelling? Why/why
not?) I think protectionism will exist into the future.
Corporations are very successful at motivating the
government to help them profit. Protectionism is also
viewed by many as good, mainly because they do not fully
understand the global economy. It is very difficult to take
a step back and view the long-term effects when we, as a
society, live in the short-term. Proof of being a
_short-term_ society is seen in our vast exploitation of
credit. Americans use credit for everything, from college
to lunch -- anything goes. What the US needs to get away
from protectionism is Trade Adjustment Assistance. This
could entail any of the following: 1. Income Protection
(DeMartino, Oct. 30). This would entail a sort of program
to keep wages high for American workers, regardless of
foreign competition. Global competition would eventually
evaporate this program because it would no longer be
needed. Global competition will one day make items in
Singapore competitively prices with a similar product in
the US. 2. Training (DeMartino, Oct. 30). To educate
workers to keep up with technology and the workings of the
world. Through wide-scale training and education, the
problem of ignorant workers would be eliminated. They could
then see the bigger picture, the importance of goals for
the long-run, and they could see the importance of working
together as a nation to promote the economy. 3. Business
Adjustment Assistance (DeMartino, Oct. 30). This would
entail a program helping to cut productivity costs.
Businesses would then be able to compete with the
lower-wage factor of LDC_s. This type of program would also
evaporate with global competition since wages and prices
will eventually equal out all over the globe. That is, if a
country is going to be competitive in the global
marketplace, they must offer comparable prices and wages
(i.e. prices and wages similar to the ones found in the
US). 4. Relocation Assistance (DeMartino, Oct. 30). This is
necessary for workers to prevent such occurrences as Flint,
MI. In an ideal world, free mobility of labor is good.
However, it is very difficult for many workers to mobilize
from their current locations. Many have families, some are
held by family tradition, financial reasons, and culture
will always affect mobility. Thus, the government must
institute a program to assist in free mobility of labor. It
is a difficult program to enact, but could include such
aspects as financial assistance, family counseling, and a
sort of assistant to help the family adjust to the move
(i.e. finding schools for children, finding work for other
members of the family). Countries of the world differ
dramatically in standards. Some countries believe highly in
the family (Mexico), their religion (Israel), or profit
(US). What we revere as a goal to strive for may not even
be a consideration for another. So foreign countries are
going to have to adopt American perspectives to succeed in
the new global marketplace. Most likely, a compromise
between standards will be met and abided by. Nevertheless,
differences in standards complicates free-trade. Global
competition will eventually rule the global markets, but
protectionism is not the road we need to be on to reach
this goal. What must occur is more along the lines of the
four points I described previously. If this Trade
Adjustment Assistance Policy is employed, we will be
driving a Porsche down the highway to global


Quotes: Search by Author