Saturday, June 12, 2010

Global South - immigrant workers at the oil spill get carded, police raid striking Mexican miners, and a Chinese plant opens in South Carolina

Here's a round-up of recent labor news that puts the U.S. South directly in the middle of the Global South:

The British Petroleum oil spill that is threatening the entire Gulf Coast and beyond has now entered the national debate over immigration and undocumented workers.

At the request of St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stephens, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement interviewed immigrant workers at oil spill command centers in Louisiana, checking their documentation and status, recalling the same kind of paranoia that led the state of Arizona recently to adopt one of the nation's harshest anti-immigrant laws.

Stephens said he called in ICE out of fear that criminal elements had come into the area along with the workers now involved in the cleanup. However, immigrant rights advocates say officials like Stephens are doing the same kind stereotyping that is going on in Arizona, where police now can stop any immigrant without reason or provocation to check for legal status.

Across the border in Mexico, workers are fighting another kind of battle. Federal police officers this month swarmed into the open-pit Cananea copper mine just 25 miles south of the Arizona border to bring an end to a three-year-old strike by more than 1,000 miners. The police action against the strike, as reported previously in this blog, was anticipated by many who see the current government as engaged in a campaign to destroy independent unions in Mexico.

Around the world, workers are beginning to stand up for their rights in the workplace. Chinese workers at Honda plants in Guangdong province have effectively shut down the Japanese company's operations there, striking for better wages. What's more they're getting a discreet nod of approval from the Chinese government, which is growing weary of international companies that exploit workers and resources for their own bottom line.

Ironically, Chinese companies are showing increasing interest in opening up foreign plants of their own--and guess where? The U.S. South.

The Yuncheng company, which has three plants in Dongguan in southern China (the industrial city and region so vividly described in Leslie T. Chang's compelling new book, Factory Girls), now operates a plant in Spartanburg, S.C., where workers manufacture cylinders for use in bottle labeling.

Yuncheng was lured to Spartanburg by the cheap cost of land--6.5 acres cost it a mere $350,000, just 25 percent of the cost of a similar parcel back home in China. Other expenses such as electricity are also cheaper.

Of course, U.S. workers earn 10 to 15 times what Chinese workers earn, but South Carolina offers a payroll tax credit that will enable Yuncheng to absorb the extra labor costs and still make a good profit.

According to Fortune magazine, Yuncheng is just one example of China's growing investment in the U.S. The Tianjin Pipe Group is planning a $1 billion plant--the biggest Chinese plant ever in the U.S.--in Corpus Christi, Texas. The plant will produce pipe used in oil drilling.

Is the U.S. South looking more and more like one of those so-called "Third World" countries that once lured our textile plants away?

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