Saturday, June 20, 2009

Working for the Man

Pardon me while I indulge my inner curmudgeon. San Francisco Chronicle writer C. W. Nevius wrote a column the other day on the inability of a local clothing shop owner to get anyone to work for him on his terms - except illegal immigrants. The (presumably) solid American citizens only want to work for him on their terms: wanted to be paid under the table; unwilling to fold things, or dust things, as needed; unwilling to work on Saturday morning, or Friday night ("I go out on Friday nights"). The only people willing to come when he needed them, work until the end of the shift, and do whatever jobs came along, were the illegal immigrants.

I wouldn't take the column so seriously if this were the first time I'd heard this refrain; but it isn't. I heard a virtually identical lament a few years ago, when I was recovering from my second knee surgery. Home all day doing rehab exercises, I took a break to go outside and gab with the contractor who was remodeling my neighbor's house. (Did a nice job, too.) He said the same thing: he's tried to hire Americans and they won't work. They don't show up, or they don't stay, or they don't do the job the way he wants it. The workers who show up, work all day, and do what they're told to do as it's explained to them - are the people whose papers are, um, not in order.

The anti-illegal folks rant loudly about the way illegal immigrants are going to ruin this country. If Americans lose the will to do a day's work for a day's pay, we'll ruin the country all by ourselves. The illegal immigrants won't have to do a thing.

The whirring sound you hear is my dad, spinning in his grave. Dad worked from the time he was I think about fourteen; he didn't graduate from high school until he was 21 because he was working. He took any job he could get; on every job, he worked his hours, and did whatever they told him to do: sell shoes, make ice cream, chip paint, drive a forklift, supervise a crew, move furniture. After he retired from Federal civil service (he had a civilian support job for the Navy), he got another job doing cleanup at an auto body shop, just to get his Social Security quarters in; and by the time he was ready to retire again, they begged him to stay, because he did more work in a day than anyone else.

That work ethic is what built America; it's what won 2 wars and pulled the country through the Great Depression. It's what makes the international commentators say that Americans are the workingest fools on the planet, taking less vacation than anyone and working crazy overtime. I wonder. I realize I sound like a bunch of people I actually have very little in common with; but I was raised to believe that a regular paycheck was a contract, and my side of the contract was a solid 40 hours of work a week, in exchange. It sounds to me as if we may be losing that attitude. If we do, we'll regret it. And we may try to blame the resulting trouble on the Mexican immigrants; but it won't be their fault.


  1. Hedera:

    Your concluding paragraph really surprised me. I thought you were building up to a defense of the American work-ethic. Instead, you come down--why?--on the side of illegal immigrants.

    The immigrant rights advocates have been harping on this "Americans won't work" crap for the last quarter century.

    Even if this were true, would that be a basis for a defense of illegal immigration? I hope not.

    The American factory system--indeed, our whole powerful engine of capitalism--was built on the backs of hard working Americans. Americans have never been lazy. Laziness was traditionally the adjective used to describe the work habits of nearly the whole Third World. Central Americans, South Americans, Africans, Near & Middle Easterners, Pacific Islanders, Indians (India), American Indians--all were poor performers as measured. Americans worked their butts off. Finally, in the 1930's, our forefathers fought for, and won, certain rights and privileges which we enjoy today (though these are being relentlessly eroded--unions are being driven out and employee rights are being beaten back).

    Globalism--the theory that capital respects no borders, and may be free to exploit populations everywhere, playing one system against another, tax-free, regulation-free, etc.--is based on a criminal manipulation of national sovereignties. "Global" corporations love illegal immigrants. Illegals, flowing unfettered across borders in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, drive down wages, dilute work-place regulation. The profits derived from disequlibriums between adjacent economies fill the coffers of unscrupulous "entrepeneurs".

    Mexico, to use the convenient example, is a morally bankrupt nation, lawless and corrupt. Tens of millions of neglected "peasantry". These people want everything America offers: Jobs, money, health care, good education, welfare, medical treatment, housing, civil order. They want these things, and they'll break laws to get them. They'll work for less, and they'll work harder, without protections or guarantees. But this doesn't make them legal, and it doesn't make them good citizens.

    American workers didn't cause the influx of illegals, but they've suffered dramatically as a result of the lax policies which have permitted them to come in. Our building trades have been utterly destroyed. Carpenters, brick-layers, roofers, lathers, cement men, electricians, plumbers, painters, all of them have seen their professions infiltrated and brought down. Illegal workers spawn illegal contractors.

    (see next post for continuation)

  2. (continuation from above)

    You can't find a reliable plumber any more. A few years back, I needed to have my sewer line re-laid. I called a guy, who called himself a plumbing contractor. He showed up with two Mexican teenagers he'd picked up off the street in West Berkeley. Neither one spoke a word of English; both looked as if they hadn't eaten in a week. They were tired and dazed. He left a cell phone with one, and left. Three hours later, only one of these guys was left; the other had split. The poor guy had no idea what he was doing, he'd dug down about a foot, and collapsed in fatigue. He tried calling "the boss" but they couldn't communicate because they had no common words. The next day "the boss" came back with two more guys, and they all stayed to do the job. When it came time to pay him, I asked him to come out to the house. I never heard from him again. He'd decided the risk of my outing him (and his "workers") to the I&NS was too great, so he sacrified $1200 just to avoid the possible risk of exposure.

    I have two other parallel stories about a plumbing outfit and a handyman we tried to hire.

    Illegal immigration is a scourge on the fabric of our society; it needs to stop. The State of California is bankrupt. We can't afford, now--actually we never could--to feed, educate, employ and care for, the millions of third world poor and desperate.

    During the 1990's, Americans were told to work hard, compete with the upstart third world. Well, we did! Americans worked 50, 60 hour weeks, piled on the overtime. Their reward? A bankrupt government, wholesale exportation of capital, exportation of jobs, and hordes of illegals.

    Pardon me if I don't jump on the bandwagon of illegal immigration.

    The fact is that the immigrant lobby (which includes the capital interests which profit by them) supports illegal immigration because it benefits the illegal immigrants. There are NO benefits to America, or American citizens. No one has the decency to stand up and defend our interests. It's disgusting.

  3. Curtis - Not only are you not listening to me, you're actually supporting my point. I wasn't trying to defend illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration is a symptom, not a cause - the illegals come here to fill a vacuum left when Americans won't do the low end, "dirty" jobs any more.

    From what I'm hearing (anecdotal, of course), illegal immigrants really do seem to be the only people willing to work for the money. In all your examples of the plumbing contractor etc. etc., where were the working Americans doing plumbing, handyman work, etc.? Your complaint seems to be that all you got was incompetent illegals - this means that the people who showed up were illegals. Where were the American tradesmen? That was my point. If Americans won't do the jobs, but want the jobs done, we will get illegal immigrants.

    By the way, when I need a plumber, I look for a firm that's been in business for a number of years, preferably family owned - and the people who come out to fix my drains have always been Americans. And I can recommend a woman handyman in North Oakland (American, of course) if you need one of those...

  4. Actually, it's becoming very difficult to find "honest" contractors, because the illegals have driven THEM out of business!

    The point isn't that Americans aren't good contractors, or that they just became lazy (are you serious?).

    The problem is the influx of marginally competent illegal "volunteer" scabs have over-run the building trades (the historically tried and true avenue of entry into the economy).

    If you're an honest plumber, charging, say $65 an hour to do competent work, and suddenly, people find out they can hire a scab illegal for half that price, you're suddenly out of a job. The illegal doesn't guarantee his work, has no insurance, doesn't pay taxes. Meanwhile, his wife delivers their new baby for free at the local hospital emergency room. His kids go to public school for free. If he gets in trouble with the INS, the local immigrants rights lawyer represents his case for free.

    Yes, some folks get cheaper plumbing service, but this all comes at a big price to society at large. The standards and infrastructure of reliability and decent wage income falls apart.

    "Where were the American tradesmen? That was my point. If Americans won't do the jobs, but want the jobs done, we will get illegal immigrants."

    Hedera, this is exactly what the public is supposed to believe about illegal immigration--it's the pabulum that's been spoon-fed by the media. Americans won't do plumbing jobs? That's perfectly ludicrous. Americans won't do carpentry work? Won't do painting?

    The downward pressure that desperate illegals put on the economy is devastating. You can't simply "accommodate" a constantly growing stream of third world immigrants.

    The same equation works in the computer industry. Big software corporations complain "we can't import enough Asian programmers" because the quotas are too low. You're telling me that Americans don't "want" to be programmers? Isn't it, in fact, the case that these Asians will work for 60-75% of what American graduates will? Isn't that why Intel wants Indians and Indonesians instead of Americans? You bet it is!

  5. "Illegals" or "undocumented" are so normal here in Texas, my whole life, that it is just standard, regular.

    Normal businesses have illegals often, and many work on getting a green card.

    They are competent usually, because they have been doing those same jobs for years.

    Of course, it's also possible to hire day laborers, but that isn't the common situation. The great majority of undocumented workers here are regular employees, in my experience.

    Part of the problem with the open border with Mexico we have (open in practice) is that we relieve the pressure in Mexico that Mexican corruption would naturally create.

    Since young Mexicans can simply go to the U.S., they don't make revolution in their own country against the corrupt situation.

    Also, since much of the renewing energy of Mexico is drained off, the nation suffers.

    Open borders and free trade blend nations together. It's like the U.S./Mexico nation has a large problem area (most of Mexico) and no serious law enforcement or solutions are planned.

  6. This brings up a point I've often considered. If illegal immigrants come in and take the "dirty" jobs, if computing jobs move to India, if shoe and clothing manufacturing move to China, all for fractions of the pay, what is the driving force? The driving force is the American consumer's insane dual drive (1) to be paid as much as is humanly possible when we work, and (2) to pay as little as possible for what we buy. Wal-mart drove Mom and Pop out of business because Mom and Pop couldn't match the prices. Some people won't buy anything unless it's on sale. People are willing to put up with shoddy quality because things are cheap. We get what we're willing to pay for, and by God, we aren't willing to pay much!

    Blaming the illegal immigrants is a cop-out. The problem is us. We're willing to cut a corner if it'll save us a few dollars. That's what gives the illegals their edge.