Global Outsourcing: What It Is & How Should Unions Respond
Global Outsourcing: What It Is & How Should Unions Respond
Economic Policy in the Era of
Thomas I. Palley
Economics for Democratic and Open Societies
E-mail: [email protected]
• Economic policy is critical.
• Unions need to:
(1) change the way they view economic
(2) increase engagement with policy.
The Importance of Economic Policy - 1
• Historically, unions adopted “service” model =
1) Workplace representation + bargaining wages &
2) Policy = govt.budget & legislation (health,
pensions, social safety nets, workplace safety,
• Approach to policy worked well earlier.
• Why? public understanding of the economy
favorable to unions = legacy of Great Depression
The Importance of Economic Policy - 2
• Old model no longer sufficient.
• Why? Economic paradigm has changed.
Other side now defines economic understanding
(free markets, heroic individualism)
• New understanding sets economic policy
policy is undermining unions.
The Importance of Economic Policy - 3
• Unions need to engage economic policy:
(1) Change public understandings.
(2) Change policymaker understandings
automatically do right thing vs. persuading
them not to do the wrong thing.
(3) Much policy cannot be legislated (e.g. interest
rate and exchange rate policy).
(4) Unions “swimming against the current”
uphill task winning policy debates.
The Importance of Economic Policy - 4
Successfully engaging economic policy means
engaging union movement from TOP to BOTTOM.
From union officers to shop floor members.
From elite policymakers to the general public.
Technical challenge = multiple levels of communication
& message development,
Resource challenge = have workplace “firefights”
everywhere that demand attention.
Cultural challenge = policy is “abstract/academic”
not what have historically done.
Political challenge = easier to go to constituents saying
fighting legislation vs. investing in understanding.
The Importance of Economic Policy - 5
• 1950s/1960s unions did not need to do this kind of
activity ruling paradigm favored them.
• That has changed.
• Engaged in a “War of Ideas” & “War of Vision”
What should workers & citizens expect of the
What will be the rules for national & global
Understanding Neo-liberal Economic
(1) Globalization dominates economic policy
• Need to view as part of “neo-liberal” policy
(2) “Flat World” metaphor suggests level
playing field on which compete on equal terms.
• Reality = Playing field tilted & designed by
corporate elites, not an invisible hand.
• Alternative metaphor = “The Box” workers
boxed in .
The “Neo-liberal” Box
Less than full employment
Labor Market Flexibility
The Great Uncoupling
US Productivity & Compensation Growth, 1973 – 2003.
Compensation median female
1973 1975 1977 1979 1981 1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003
Source: Source: State of Working America, 2004-05, Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC.
Implications of the Box -1
• Workers cannot outrun the box.
• Both private & public sector workers boxed in.
• Both Northern & Southern workers boxed in.
Neo-liberal box built upon economic policy.
Changing Economic Policy therefore critical.
Social Policy is welcome but is NO substitute
for economic policy change.
Implications of the Box - 2
• Government also boxed-in:
(1) Mobility of investment & production +
(2) Fear of employment losses +
(3) Vulnerability to financial disruption
Deters progressive policy (fair taxation,
unionization) by raising “political cost”.
Creates “lock-in” longer policy in place,
harder it is to reverse.
Globalization & Outsourcing - 1
• Global outsourcing = critical element of
• Should be understood as change in the “nature of
• MNC revolution received much attention
• Less noticed & equally important = “Retail
Revolution” based on Big Box discount stores
(e.g. Wal-Mart) key driver of globalization.
Globalization & Outsourcing - 2
Stage 1: Started 40 years ago (Wal-Mart estd. in
1962) created “national buying” model.
Stage 2: 1980s buying model of Big box
discounters starts going global.
Puts countries in competition scour world for
lowest price (China Price)
Creates N-S competition & S-S competition
Puts entire manufacturing sector in international
Erodes manufacturing jobs & wages
Success forces everyone adopt.
Globalization & Outsourcing - 3
• Out-sourcing = application of model to
• Exemplified in auto industry by Delphi & Visteon
spun off from GM & Ford and put in national
competition now put in international
competition & asked to meet the “China Price”
• Happening in aerospace Boeing’s 787.
• Trade in services = next area of application.
• Internet means even retail can even be out-sourced
Globalization & Outsourcing - 4
“Globalization” ties the pieces together in a
Changed competition (Global sourcing)
+ Changed technological conditions (capital mobility
& MNC production)
+ Neo-liberal trade policy (market opening)
+ 2 billion new workers (end of dam of socialism)
= downward wage & workplace pressures.
• When join two swimming pools, water levels
The Role of China
• China = systemic role in story.
• (1) 750 million workers, (2) Location for MNC
production. (3) Transfer of technology & capital.
(4) Large scale sourcing by retailers from China.
• This role aggravated by China’s specific
• (1) Export-led growth, (2) Under-valued exchange
rate, (3) Unfair trading practices - subsidies,
domestic content requirements, offsets, (4) Wage
Destructive competition that afflicts N& S.
How Should Unions Respond?
• Need to replace neo-liberal policy agenda.
• Goal = re-pack the box. Take workers out, put
CEOs & corporations in.
(1) Globalization with standards,
(2) Full employment policy,
(3) Progressive government,
(4) Restore worker bargaining power,
(5) Corporate agenda that re-aligns corporate
behavior with national interest and social purpose.
• Accumulating resentment make change
possible… but requires an economic policy
• Policy success requires winning war of ideas
• Rediscover economics of Keynes &
Institutionalists that shaped post-WWII agenda.
• Keynes = economy does not automatically reach
case for government to stabilize economy via
monetary & fiscal policy.
• Institutionalism emphasizes “nature of
competition” & possibility of “destructive
competition/race to the bottom”
Need to design regime of competition.
An Example from History – The
New Deal of the 1930s
• Labor markets established minimum wage, 40
hour week, right to overtime, & right to join
• Financial markets Created SEC & strengthened
Fed. Reserve regulation of banking.
• Result = new “competitive regime” = (1)
prevented destructive competition, (2) “Henry
Ford” income distribution enabling workers to buy
what they produced, (3) policy prevented financial
panics & depressions.
Lessons from History - 1
• New Deal economics suppressed.
1) Conservatives always opposed.
2) Focus was on capitalism’s failings = unacceptable
in Cold War era of geopolitical competition.
3) Success of 1950s & 1960s created belief that did
not need institutions that protected workers/gave
capitalism a human face.
• Result = (1) driven out of classrooms & policy
discourse, (2) Replaced by free market
fundamentalism, (3) Policy makers encouraged to
recreate 19th century laissez-faire economy.
Lessons from History - 2
(1) Ideas matter.
• Control of ideas control of policy control of the box.
(2) The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
Selling “specific” policy proposals is easier when they are
part of a “dominant” vision
= lesson of conservative “free market” vision … links
views on pensions, health care, labor markets, financial
markets, trade, etc.
(3) When an idea triumphs, even own political
reps are captured unconsciously by that idea
When lose war of ideas, forced to swim against stream of
public opinion & policymaker understandings.
Political Challenges - 1
(1) Specific policy solutions familiar
problem = difficult to convince need because “free
market” story dominates
points to critical role of economics & policy.
(2) The Problem of solidarity – culture of individualism +
furthered fractured by problems of racism that can be
exploited to divert attention.
(3) Problem of low prices: Labor divided both workers
and consumers desire high wages vs. desire low prices
= “Wal-Mart problem” low prices argument promotes
Political Challenges - 2
(4) Problem of “the globalization clock” not all
impacted at the same time.
(5) Canadian difficulties = regional differences
oil rich west vs. manufacturing & populated east.
(6) Need for international solidarity national
solutions less effective need international
regulation = even more difficult political task.
(7) Need a narrative/story of the economy &
globalization that people can gather around
economists tell stories Need an alternative story
Economic Ideas & Economic policy are critical