(Editor's Note: With Silicon Valley becoming a death valley, hundreds of thousands of white collar workers are joining the blue collar "free trade" exodus, losing their jobs to low paid foreign workers - offshoring, outsourcing, global sourcing.)

Bracing for the Blow: THE WASHINGTON POST 12/26/03


I.B.M. has sent a holiday chill through its American employees with its plans to ship thousands of high-paying white-collar jobs overseas to lower-paid foreign workers.

"People are upset and angry," said Arnie Marchetti, a 37-year-old computer technician at I.B.M.'s Southbury, Conn., office whose wife gave birth to their first child in August.

The company has not made any announcements, and the employees do not know who will be affected, or when. The uncertainty about whose jobs may be sent to India or China, the two main countries in the current plans, has raised workers' anxiety in some cases to an excruciating level.

"I understand that this is a lightning rod issue in the industry," an I.B.M. spokesman told me this week. "It's a lightning rod issue to people in our company, I suppose. But I don't think anybody expects us to issue blanket statements to the work force about projections."

Referring to employees who may be affected by the plans, he said, "We deal with them as they need to know."

"Offshoring" and "outsourcing" are two of the favored euphemisms for shipping work overseas. I.B.M. prefers the term "global sourcing." Whatever you call it, the expansion of this practice from manufacturing to the higher-paying technical and white-collar levels is the latest big threat to employment in the U.S.

Years ago, when concern was being expressed about the shipment of factory jobs to places with slave wages, hideous working conditions and even prison labor, proponents said there was nothing to worry about. Exporting labor-intensive jobs would make U.S. companies more competitive, leading to increased growth and employment, and higher living standards. They advised U.S. workers to adjust, to become better educated and skillful enough to thrive in a new world of employment, where technology and the ability to process information were crucial components.

Well, the workers whose jobs are now threatened at I.B.M. and similar companies across the U.S. are well educated and absolute whizzes at processing information. But they are nevertheless in danger of following the well-trodden path of their factory brethren to lower-wage work, or the unemployment line.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that I.B.M. had told its managers to plan on moving as many as 4,730 jobs from the U.S. The I.B.M. spokesman told me he was sure that figure was too high, but added that no one had complained to The Journal about the number. He said he didn't know how many American jobs would be lost.

I.B.M. officials are skittish to the point of paranoia on this matter, which has powerful social and political implications. Pulling the plug on factory workers is one thing. A frontal assault on the livelihood of solidly middle-class Americans some of whom may be required to train the foreign workers who will replace them is something else.

James Sciales was the first of the company spokesmen to respond to my inquiries this week. He was reluctant to even tell me his name and nervously refused to answer any questions. Another spokesman was willing to talk but asked that I not refer to him by name.

In a recorded conference call reported by The Times last summer, a pair of I.B.M. officials told colleagues around the world that the company needed to accelerate its efforts to move white-collar jobs overseas. They acknowledged the danger of a political backlash, but said it was essential to step up the practice.

"Our competitors are doing it and we have to do it," said Tom Lynch, I.B.M.'s director for global employee relations.

The outsourcing of good jobs has been under way for years, and there is no dispute that the practice is speeding up. "Anything that is not nailed to the floor is being considered for outsourcing," said Thea Lee, the chief international economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Most of the millions of white-collar workers who could be affected by this phenomenon over the next several years are clueless as to what they can do about it. They do not have organized representation in the workplace. And government policies overwhelmingly favor the corporations. Like the employees at I.B.M. whose holiday cheer has been dampened by uncertainty, these hard-working men and women and their families have little protection against the powerful forces of the global economy.

Hur Herald ©from Sunny Cal
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