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How many times have we heard that “hard work is the path to success”? It’s a mantra of the conservatives, who posit that public assistance makes people lazy. This is reminiscent of the “Welfare Queen” speech by Ronald Reagan that helped to create the Reagan Democrats. Well here’s a little gem from the PRC, where unbridled capitalism is bulldozing away the Workers’ Paradise.

Foxconn is a major overseas supplier for many of the biggest names (Apple, HP, Intel, and others) in high-tech. It has been accused many times, over many years, of having terrible working conditions at its plants. (You can see a CNN article about this here.) Things are so bad that not only have there been strikes, but workers have threatened synchronized diving — off the roof of the factory. According to People’s Daily Online, there have already been 11 cases of workers “falling” off the top of the factory buildings. The company has since put nets around the buildings.

Improving Working Conditions

Foxconn CEO did issue a public apology for the suicides, but some of his statements would make him a Tea Party darling:

“What’s wrong with sweatshops?” Gou told Chinese workers visiting Taiwan in late April. “We toil hard with blood and sweat, so long as we don’t break any laws. I believe in reaping what you sow,” he added in videoclip posted on YouTube.

But do read on.

The sad thing is that working conditions at Foxconn are probably as good, if not better, than at other companies where the suicide rates are even higher; and to give Apple credit, they have been leaning heavily on Foxconn to fix things.

The dorms in which the workers live are nearly as good as the houses they had at home; and although they complain about the price of food in the company commissary, it’s probably a lot better than what they’d have in their home villages. Not only that, but the money they send home lifts the standard of living for their families.

A Morale-Building Rally

Evidently there’s some truth in the idea that hard work is the path to success, but it depends upon what you mean by success. None of these workers is going to be able to buy any luxuries, let alone become wealthy. The situation is like that in the United States before the labor unions took shape, giving blue-collar workers a chance at becoming middle class.

In the Nightline piece, the factory manager is asked what would happen if Apple doubled what it paid Foxconn. Would Foxconn pay its workers more? He replied that they would, because not only would it be good for the workers but it would be good for China. I think he was sincere about the second part, at least.

Now here’s where things would pinch us, we who sit in our recliners and tut-tut at the sad plight of the Chinese workers. What would happen to our standard of living if our iPads, TVs, refrigerators, and clothing cost twice what they do now? Are we looking at an overall doubling of wealth around the world, as conservatives would have us believe? or are we looking at a transfer of wealth that leaves them better off and us worse off, which only the most leftist of us would be happy with?