Out of Sight by Erik Loomis
Simply put, the sixties saw a cumulation of disastrous events that polluted air and water and caused illness and death to workers and communities. Responding to the outrage of the American people, in the seventies Congress overwhelmingly passed bills like The Clean Air Act and The Occupational Safety and Health Act. American workers who joined labor unions saw dramatic improvements in wages and working conditions.
But in the mid-seventies, economic shockwaves rippled through the country, as OPEC imposed an oil embargo that resulted in fuel and food shortages.
As Naomi Klein describes in The Shock Doctrine, corporate and financial power uses times of crises to coerce frightened and insecure populations to give up freedoms and benefits. The seventies saw labor unions pressured and acquiesce, giving up wages and benefits under the threat of businesses laying off workers or closing down entirely.
The strategy was such a success that states without strong unions and which would offer tax incentives to relocating companies became the destination for much of U.S. manufacturing. But even better, corporations found that they could outsource work to third world countries and enjoy greater profits without being held accountable for workers' or environmental conditions. Poor nations with corrupt or weak governments welcomed American business. Outsourced factories pollute with abandon, and mistreated workers have no recourse to complain. Corrupt governments and factory owners work hand in hand to provide the goods needed for American companies to continue to make record profits.
And hence, out of sight.
Here in America, as wages have stagnated for decades, consumers look for least expensive goods and are happy not to know about the country of origin as well as the working conditions that exist to manufacture those cheaper goods. And because we buy those cheaper goods, there is no incentive for corporations to either improve workers conditions in other countries or to relocate back to the U.S.
The vicious cycle completes as U.S. workers continue to lose power over their ability to earn a living wage due to the threat that companies will shut down and relocate to a more profitable economic climate.
The irony is that, while workers in third world countries work for pennies in dangerous conditions to provide us with cheap clothing, toys and electronics, we have been unable to maintain the environmental gains of the sixties and seventies. We have elected leaders who promise to cut taxes, businesses that cut corners to increase profit and a crippled Environmental Protection Agency, resulting in deadly drinking water, gas leaks that make breathing the air hazardous, and other environmental disasters that we seem to be unable to stop.
Out of Sight is an important book, in that we need to become aware of the effect of corporations with unlimited power throughout the world. It turns out that what affects workers in Bangladesh affects us all.