11. Maquiladoras In Silicon Valley
THE NATION, Date: 4/19/93, Title: "Silicon Valley Sweatshops: High Tech's
Dirty Little Secret," Author: Elizabeth Kadetsky
SSU Censored Researcher:
SYNOPSIS: In two high-profile visits to Silicon Valley, California's
high-tech "paradise," President Bill Clinton has praised that
industry as a model for America's economic future, which "will
move America forward to a stronger economy, a cleaner environment and
Unfortunately, it is a model with some poor-fitting and missing parts.
In reality, Silicon Valley is home to some of the nation's dirtiest,
most dangerous jobs -- a fact that has been virtually buried in the
rush to embrace our technological future.
people who work on the assembly lines, making printed circuit boards and other
electronic components for companies like IBM and Digital Microwave Corporation,
earn about six dollars per hour, have no health benefits, and routinely have to
handle highly toxic substances without even the most rudimentary safety equipment,
such as gloves and goggles.
If they protest their conditions, as Joselito
Munoz did last October, they are fired. More than 60 percent of the 80,000-plus
workers in this environment are female, and 70 percent of them are Asian or Latino.
large part of the problem is that these workers aren't actually employed by major
companies like IBM or Digital Microwave. Instead, they work for small components
contractors like Versatronex, the company that fired Joselito Munoz. The week
after Munoz was fired, 85 of his fellow workers walked out in protest and called
the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers Union. Within a few months, the
National Labor Relations Board ordered Versatronex to recognize the union. The
company's response was to file for bankruptcy and shut down its Sunnyvale plant.
The message was not lost on other workers.
This is not an atypical scenario.
The big Fortune 500 dynamos of Silicon Valley, whose employees enjoy flextime,
elder and child care, sabbaticals, paternal leave, profit-sharing, employee swimming
pools, and fitness centers, benefit enormously from this system of Maquiladora-like
subcontractors who can supply them with cheap parts because their wages and standards
are so low.
When approached about the issue, these companies take a "hands-off"
attitude. When asked about conditions at companies like Versatronex, the American
Electronic Association's "director of workforce excellence" responded,
"We try to build consensus and not pick issues that are divisive. So we don't
have any policy statement on it."
President Clinton, meanwhile, has laid out a plan for subsidies to
small business and emerging technologies that promises government windfalls
to Silicon Valley -- and appears destined to reinforce existing conditions.
In the words of University of California economist
Marshall Pomer, "Insofar as he allows Silicon Valley's desperate immigrants
to work in terrible conditions with no chance of advancement and no chance of
collecting disability, Clinton is furthering the Reagan agenda."
COMMENTS: Investigative author Elizabeth Kadetsky, who wrote
about the Silicon Valley sweatshops for The Nation, pointed out the
critical need for local coverage of issues that also have a national
Pointing out how the Silicon Valley has benefited
enormously from its high-tech image, Kadetsky notes that "Even local newspapers
have a tremendous stake in preserving Central California's relatively newfound
national prominence. Twenty years ago a job at the San Jose Mercury News would
never have landed reporter or editor work on a top metropolitan newspaper; today
and thanks expressly to high tech, the Mercury itself is one of those coveted
"As in many company towns, in Silicon Valley there is a feeling
of living with a Big Lie -- read even the alternative press and you'll
learn a lot about big boss's paternalism and benevolence, but nothing
of his shortcomings. With boomtown boosterism so ingrained in the local
psyche, it's not surprising few have been willing to rip the curtain
from this Emerald City. And without the local press's lead, national
news has nothing to steal.
"My piece went the way of many Nation stories: The New York Times
ran an article within the month that was essentially a rip-off of mine
-- down to passages extremely reminiscent of my own wording of course
never citing me or The Nation. Then, surprise, the Times dropped the
story, failing to mention conditions for Silicon Valley's immigrant
workers and the persistence of grassroots labor organizing in the paper's
myriad encomia on Clinton's visits and other flirtations with Silicon
Valley's Republican patrons.
"I believe negligence rather than occult machinations explains
the mainstream press's blithe omission of stories on immigrant labor.
Like many Americans, a lot of journalists and editors are skeptical
of unions and still don't under-stand the difference between a don from
the Carpenters Union going to jail and a barrio Chicano going out to
speak Spanish with workers who could well be his or her relations. The
increasingly professionalized and educated journalism establishment
goes to parties where they drink white wine with other professionals.
In Silicon Valley at least, they come to idealize the fancy cars and
beautiful homes of high-tech's most successful entrepreneurs. The janitor
from Acapulco who had a miscarriage while breathing toxic cleanser fumes
is just not someone a $50,000-a-year editor cares to understand."
said she feels that coverage of immigrants is improving and cited several articles
that recently appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, The New York Times, and
the Los Angeles Times.