Barack Obama: Labor Conditions in China Tied to Worker Conditions in USAIn a debate of Democratic Party presidential candidates on December 4 2007, Barack Obama had this to say about improving Chinese labor conditions:
I am interested as I said in making sure the Chinese population is fed and clothed and advancing. That is important. It is not in the long-term interests of China to expand solely on the backs of low-wage work that is undermining U.S. work. If we are saying to China, "raise your labor standards," that will over time improve the lot of Chinese workers as well as U.S. workers. And that's what we should be looking at, is how we can improve the working conditions, the safety conditions, the consumer protections that are available for all people, and that's not what's happening right now.Under the Bush administration, national discussion has not even progressed to the point of considering labor conditions in China in their own right. To the extent Bush Republicans are concerned with overseas sweatshop labor at all, it is only to the extent that such labor results in shoddily constructed and unsafe products. So Senator Obama took the discussion two steps forward, first by noting the importance to China itself of raising Chinese labor standards, and second by pointing out that raising Chinese labor standards helps American workers. And Obama's right. There's an implicit economic deal right now between the United States and China, in which U.S. industries give China a whopping amount of production contracting and subcontracting work under labor conditions which result in low-cost goods. American workers whose wages have stagnated can afford many of these items, but only at the cost of mistreated workers in China. It's time for a new deal in which American workers pay more for goods produced in China, which makes it more affordable to produce goods in the United States, which gives American workers jobs, which allows them to pay more for more American-made and Chinese-made products made on more worker-friendly terms. This is a tried and true approach that worked for Henry Ford in the age of the Model T, and it's time we took that approach again. Barack Obama demonstrates that this way of solving problems of political economy is electorally viable, too. (Source: National Public Radio Democratic Presidential Debate of December 4 2007)
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