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Myths and Facts About 19th Century Chinese Immigrants to the US:

Some recent correspondence I had with a colleague about Chinese immigration to the U.S. in the 19th century prompted this post. There has been some great historical work on the Chinese immigrants in the last few decades, but it's difficult to overcome the myths propagated for decades by labor unions and their academic apologists. My article Lochner, Parity, and the Chinese Laundry Cases, can be found here.

Myth: The Chinese were "coolies," which means that they were hired out to an employer for a certain number of years in exchange for their passage to America, and could not leave until their term of service was over. Coolies were often treated worse than slaves, because they had no "residual value" to their employers once their term of service was over.

Fact: While many Chinese arrived in South America as coolies, in the U.S. they did not. Rather, they borrowed money to pay for their voyage, and then worked as free laborers in the U.S., using their earnings to pay back the cost of their journey.

Myth: Corporate barons "imported" Chinese workers to take jobs that would otherwise be held by American workers.

Fact: Like whites, most Chinese came to the West to participate in the Gold Rush. They were eventually forced out of the gold mines by legislation and violence. Many of them then found work on the Transcontinental railroad.

Myth: The Chinese were taking "American" jobs, leading to hostility against them.

Fact: First, the most vociferously anti-Chinese workers tended to be immigrants themselves, especially, though not exclusively, from Ireland. To take one interesting example, Henry Weissman, an immigrant from Germany who later became head of the N.Y. bakers' union and even later became and attorney and won the Lochner case for the bakers, was involved in anti-Chinese activity almost as soon as he arrived in California.

Even more significant by 1882 (the year of the first Chinese Exclusion Act), the Chinese had been driven out, often with violence, sometimes with legislation, from most industries, and overwhelmingly made their living in fields where they didn't directly compete with white workers--agriculture, laundries (absolutely dominated by the Chinese), and domestic service.

So, beyond the concern that the Chinese might compete with them in the future, why did labor unions continue to so vociferously oppose the Chinese?* In part, because it appealed to their racist constituents, but more so because it made them look "public-spirited" and not just self-interested, the latter an obvious barrier to labor union popularity; they were seen as standing up for whites against the "yellow hordes," even when it didn't directly benefit them. It's funny to see Chinese exclusion as the 19th century equivalent of, say, participating in an "adopt a highway" program, but there you have it.

*Trivia note: the "union label" was a white label invented by the California cigarmakers' union to allow consumers to easily distinguish union-made cigars from Chinese-made cigars. The cigar boxes were stamped "WHITE LABOR."

J. Aldridge:
When the Chinese entered California the state was still a territory of the United States and Congress was reluctant to steep in to remove them when pressured to do just that due to the strong railroad lobby who needed them to lay tracks.

Congress dismissed concerns over the Chinese on the grounds they could never become citizens and the belief they had no desire to remain once work dried up.

California like the eastern states made the mistake of dealing with immigrants through head taxes, leading to the Supreme Court to define "people" as articles of trade under the commerce clause. (If Marshall had a serious fault it was his lack of understanding what to "regulate commerce" meant.)
9.1.2008 11:48am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
There were Chinese girls who were brought in effectively as coolies, forced to sign indenture agreements to work as prostitutes when they arrived. Most of these girls were illiterate, and even if they had been, the contracts were in English. These agreements effectively precluded them from ever completing their contracts.

The role of California labor unions in promoting anti-Chinese sentiment has been largely ignored, because it doesn't fit with the progressive model of labor unions. During the 1877 railroad strikes, labor unions harangued the crowd in front of San Francisco's City Hall for several hours, at which point the mob surged towards Chinatown. Fortunately, what newspapers of the period called the "better class" of San Franciscans held the mob off with rifles until Chinatown could be evacuated. The mob only burned out buildings, and there was no loss of life.

This labor union Democratic hostility towards Chinese led to the 1879 California Constitution's provision prohibiting hiring of Chinese, and the 1919 popular initiative that prohibited land ownership by non-citizens. ("Oriental" immigrants could not become citizens, and therefore were prohibited from buying land.)
9.1.2008 11:59am
JohnKT (mail):
I thought Iris Chang's The Chinese in America was an excellent account.

Has anybody else read it?
9.1.2008 12:04pm
Milhouse (www):
And in South Africa in the 1920s, the unions marched with the slogan "Workers of the world, unite and fight for a white South Africa".
9.1.2008 12:47pm
Modus Ponens:
I fail to see how any of this improves upon this Wikipedia entry.

Also, your article is older than many intelligent children.
9.1.2008 1:11pm
dearieme:
"First, the most vociferously anti-Chinese workers tended to be immigrants themselves, especially, though not exclusively, from Ireland." If you fancy an international dimension, you might enquire whether the same was true in Australia.
9.1.2008 1:12pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
David Bernstein:

"Myth: The Chinese were taking "American" jobs, leading to hostility against them."


You did not rebut this "myth." It's obviously not a myth. I think you mean to say the jobs issue was not the only reason for hostility.


It's still true. For example, my contact at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Department of Energy Contractor lab run by the University of California) tells me that the management is replacing American (note the lack of quotes) physicists with Chinese H1-B physicists. Needless to say the staff is not happily about this. How would you feel if George Mason University started replacing professors with H1-Bs from India? But unlike the guys at LBL you have tenure.
9.1.2008 1:23pm
Anderson (mail):
Rather, they borrowed money to pay for their voyage, and then worked as free laborers in the U.S., using their earnings to pay back the cost of their journey.

I would like to see more on this -- given the danger that the immigrant could skip out &avoid repayment, are we to suppose that the loaner had no control over the borrower?
9.1.2008 1:58pm
Malvolio:
For example, my contact at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Department of Energy Contractor lab run by the University of California) tells me that the management is replacing American (note the lack of quotes) physicists with Chinese H1-B physicists. Needless to say the staff is not happily about this.
Yeah, screw them. Someone else willing to do the same job for less money? That guy gets the job. Even if he isn't white.

The point of the quotation marks in the original article was that while an employee might or might not be American, that description is just inapplicable. The job goes to the person who deserves it. It's American (note the lack of quotes) way.
9.1.2008 2:06pm
Sam H (mail):
". For example, my contact at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Department of Energy Contractor lab run by the University of California) tells me that the management is replacing American (note the lack of quotes) physicists with Chinese H1-B physicists."

Same thing at my company, except Indian Computer Engineers

Isn't there a concern about security at Lawrence Berkeley?
9.1.2008 2:15pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Please pay attention, Malvolio. The justification for H1B visas is that the applicants will do jobs that native-born workers will not.

In my county, there was a raid by ICE last week, which nabbed illegals at a construction site. Also, see the ICE raid at Howard Industries a few days later, where American-born union workes clapped to see the illegals hauled out.

You cannot tell me that native-born workers will not take construction jobs.
9.1.2008 2:20pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Actually, the point of the quotation marks is that whatever one thinks of immigration, then or now, European immigrants were no more "American" than Chinese immigrants. And if the concern was protecting "American" jobs, the Irish and the Germans should have been out on their butts with the Chinese. Instead, they were the instigators against the Chinese.
9.1.2008 2:40pm
abcdef (mail):
@Sam H: "Isn't there a concern about security at Lawrence Berkeley?" So Indian and Chinese workers are more of a security risk?! hm......

@Harry Eagar, "You cannot tell me that native-born workers will not take construction jobs." It's not that they don't take construction jobs, it's just that can not compete with the cheap labor. Someone from Mexico or South America will work for the whole day (8-10 hours) for about $100-130 per day (under the table). And yes, in certain industries like agriculture, "natives" will not work in the field.

As for who is taking over whose job....everyone is taking jobs from each other in this global economy. The "best" person at the "lowest" rate usually wins. How can we compete against professionals/scientists? Simple, we (USA) need to mint out more and more smart, bright, and educated people to compete against the same smart, bright, and educated people around the globe.
9.1.2008 2:41pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

I would like to see more on this -- given the danger that the immigrant could skip out &avoid repayment, are we to suppose that the loaner had no control over the borrower?


Two things. First, it wasn't that easy to skip out, at least not until the workers had been in the US for a while. They typically went straight from the dock to a railroad camp outin the middle of nowhere. They had no transportation of their own , no money, and couldn't speak English. They weren't in much of a position to run off. Second, the workers were almost all men by themselves. They had families in China. The organizations that paid their passage could take revenge on their families back home.
9.1.2008 3:42pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'And yes, in certain industries like agriculture, "natives" will not work in the field.'

Sure they will. I live in Hawaii, and I can look outside my window and see the highest-paid farm workers in the world in the cane fields. Locals take those jobs, when they can get 'em. But they're scarce. Sugar is fungible, and although the Hawaii sugar industry is the most efficient in the world, technically, it's hard to compete in the market against slave labor.

If the Mexicans stayed in Mexico, they could not 'compete' for US construction jobs.

If the question is, and I thought that what it was, do immigrants displace native labor, the answer is, of course.
9.1.2008 3:48pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
"And yes, in certain industries like agriculture, "natives" will not work in the field."

At current wages, probably not. But enforcing immigration laws means that there are fewer unskilled or semiskilled workers competing with Americans and permanent residents for those jobs--which drives up wages. But who cares about unskilled and semiskilled Americans who are struggling to pay their bills? Certainly not liberals.

If hundreds of thousands of English-speaking journalists were showing up offering to work as reporters for a fraction of the miserable wages that journalists already make, I think you would see the liberal media establishment suddenly concerned about this issue.
9.1.2008 3:51pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Sugar is fungible, and although the Hawaii sugar industry is the most efficient in the world, technically, it's hard to compete in the market against slave labor.
Remember that we have very high sugar tariffs to protect growers of Hawaiian sugar cane and Idaho sugar beets. This creates weird and counterproductive situations--such as U.S. hard candy manufacturers sending their jobs elsewhere. While sugar has a high tariff, foods that contain sugar (like candy) do not. It's an unintentional incentive to ship some jobs overseas, to protect the economic interests of sugar cane and sugar beet farmers.
9.1.2008 3:53pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
In some cases the economy just isn't structured so as to enable employers to obtain US workers. This is often the case with seasonal work. Where I grew up in Vermont there was a perennial problem with the apple harvest. The apples had to be harvested fairly quickly over a short period. The growers needed a large, short-term increment to their regular staff. They couldn't afford to keep that many people on all year. They were always appealing at harvest time for college students and the like to come harvest apples but they couldn't get enough. Every year there was a fight with the labor department to get permission to hire foreign migrant workers. In years in which the labor department wouldn't go along, apples rotted on the trees.
9.1.2008 4:01pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Sam H.

"Isn't there a concern about security at Lawrence Berkeley?"

No LBL does not do any classified work, don't confuse LBL with LLNL and LANL.

DavidBernstein:

"... European immigrants w
ere no more "American" than Chinese immigrants."

America is derivative of Europe, not China. Our customs, laws and civil institutions, and culture are much closer to Europe than China. In this sense the Irish immigrants were more American than the Chinese.

abcdef:

"So Indian and Chinese workers are more of a security risk?! hm......"

They are in the sense that it's much harder to do a background check on a foreign national, especially in China. How do you interview neighbors, co-workers, ex-employers in China? Do you think the Chinese government is going to cooperate in an investigation and turn over police records? Then we have problem of divided loyalty. For example Wen Hoe Lee was involved in one of the biggest security compromises ever. It's true that the government botched the case and Lee played the race card effectively, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a serious compromise.
9.1.2008 4:03pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov,

In the Wen Ho Lee case, there was no evidence whatever of espionage that I can recall. If he was guilty of anything it was sloppy security procedures. And I don't see that he "played the race card". The government didn't screw up on some technical point: they never had any good evidence for charges they brought.
9.1.2008 4:18pm
FredR (mail):
Let's remember that China summarily expelled all foreigners in 1948, and that even now there are major restrictions on non-Han Chinese.
9.1.2008 4:25pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Poser:

"... there was no evidence whatever of espionage that I can recall."

I never wrote "espionage." I said "compromise," of a sort that raises to the level of criminal negligence. Moreover, there is nothing "sloppy" about copying top secret weapons design codes and taking them off site. Of course I wouldn't rule out espionage either.

The government did have evidence as shown in the indictment. But Wen Ho Lee and his lawyers made discovery requests that the would have involved all sorts of classified information. This is an often used ploy in these kinds of cases. As for the race card, he certainly did play in the media to gain sympathy and get donations from the US Chinese community.
9.1.2008 4:26pm
DavidBernsten (mail):
Zarkov, sure if you want to define Americaness by ethnic heritage, and not to any other objective criterion. You are, of course, using the same criterion that led people to say that Jews et al couldn't be Americans. Surely Eastern European Jewish culture was extremely foreign to "Americanness."
9.1.2008 4:40pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Let's remember that China summarily expelled all foreigners in 1948, and that even now there are major restrictions on non-Han Chinese.


Not true. China expelled non-citizens. Foreigners who wished to assume Chinese citizenship were permitted to stay. I have personally met such people. Furthermore, China gradually resumed allowing aliens to reside in China.
9.1.2008 4:41pm
vinnie (mail):
And yes, in certain industries like agriculture, "natives" will not work in the field.


I was a third generation sheep shearer. I got out when they started bringing in shearers from New Zealand to work for half price.

How many people would keep their jobs if their salary was cut below sustenance level.

I was not willing to live in third world conditions to keep my job.
9.1.2008 4:44pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

I never wrote "espionage." I said "compromise," of a sort that raises to the level of criminal negligence. Moreover, there is nothing "sloppy" about copying top secret weapons design codes and taking them off site. Of course I wouldn't rule out espionage either.


Yes, but you wrote about security "compromise"s in the context of the difficulty of making background checks on foreigners. Background checks are irrelevant to whether a person is careful or sloppy about security procedures. They are relevant only to where a person's loyalties lie and how easily he or she may be blackmailed, both of which are relevant only to espionage. No matter how you cut it, the Wen Ho Lee case is irrelevant to your point about background checks unless you can produce evidence that he was engaged in espionage. You say you wouldn't rule it out, but that is a far cry from there being any evidence of it.

And yes, sloppy security may rise to the point of criminal negligence, but it is in fact quite common. The people I know who work in such government laboratories all say that this is a common problem. It's very hard to get scientists not to take their work home with them. That is why it is widely thought that Wen Ho Lee was singled out for behaving like lots of other scientists.
9.1.2008 4:48pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Aw, what a sweet post to make on Labor Day.

Contra Bernstein, labor academics have long understood and written about labor's hostility to Chinese immigration. In fact, the past couple of decades of labor history have been quite focused on the real and alleged deficiencies of unions in dealing with minorities and women.

I'm struck, though, by the power that is implicitly attributed to organized labor alone here. Gosh, the Knights of Labor and the very early AFL in the mid-late 19th Century certainly was a powerful steamroller.

As for today, while I'm happy to acknowledge that the racism that infected pretty much all of society back then was in the labor movement too, I'm celebrating the better wages, hours and working conditions that labor unions have brought and are still bringing to dozens and dozens of millions of workers over the decades. Happy Labor Day, David!
9.1.2008 4:49pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov,

Since when is getting sympathy and donations from one's ethnic community "playing the race card"? It would be "playing the race card" if Lee had gotten off because of his race.
9.1.2008 4:51pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I second Joseph Slater. Unions are sometimes a pain in the neck, but one only has to think of what the world was like without them to be thankful for them. The unions brought about huge improvements in safety for both workers and consumers, reasonable hours and wages and protection against abusive management. If you need a reminder, I suggest renting Matewan for your evening entertainment.
9.1.2008 4:56pm
loki13 (mail):

At current wages, probably not. But enforcing immigration laws means that there are fewer unskilled or semiskilled workers competing with Americans and permanent residents for those jobs--which drives up wages. But who cares about unskilled and semiskilled Americans who are struggling to pay their bills? Certainly not liberals.


Aw, c'mon. You're kidding, right? Here's the issue; our businesses want illegal immigration. It's economically efficient. If we, as a society, truly wanted to deter it, we would do a better job. But we don't. Why? Because we have decided (at least implicitly) that we value some level of illegal immigration. Everything else is just fiddling.

Don't blame the liberals. Blame the businesses. If you want to get rid of illegal immigration, you don't even need a wall; just shift the cost to the employers (massive fines and/or criminal sanctions for employing illegals) to reduce demand. That still leaves the underground economy, but that would be a start, and massively reduce it without a silly wall (which not only doesn't reduce II, but induces those who cross to stay because it is harder to work and then re-cross the border with your earnings knowing you can come back in).

BTW- happy Labor Day, DB! I look forward to your omnibus collection of articles, "Historical Revisionism: Why everything you know is wrong, and the Right is always right."
9.1.2008 5:18pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov,

It looks like Alberto Gonzales may be in the same boat as Wen Ho Lee: Lawyers: Gonzales mishandled classified data. Are those background checks real tough to do in Texas?
9.1.2008 5:22pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
They are in the sense that it's much harder to do a background check on a foreign national, especially in China. How do you interview neighbors, co-workers, ex-employers in China? Do you think the Chinese government is going to cooperate in an investigation and turn over police records? Then we have problem of divided loyalty. For example Wen Hoe Lee was involved in one of the biggest security compromises ever. It's true that the government botched the case and Lee played the race card effectively, but that doesn't mean there wasn't a serious compromise.
Wen Ho Lee is from Taiwan, not Ch
ina.

It's still true. For example, my contact at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (Department of Energy Contractor lab run by the University of California) tells me that the management is replacing American (note the lack of quotes) physicists with Chinese H1-B physicists. Needless to say the staff is not happily about this. How would you feel if George Mason University started replacing professors with H1-Bs from India? But unlike the guys at LBL you have tenure.
I've never understood this sort of bizarre protectionist argument. If there's an industry where there are more foreigners than academia, I'm not sure what it is.
9.1.2008 5:25pm
DavidBernsten (mail):
"Contra Bernstein, labor academics have long understood and written about labor's hostility to Chinese immigration."

Yes, but they used to apologize for it/support it!
9.1.2008 5:35pm
BU2L:
Unions are great for young industries but do they still produce positive gains for mature industries? Or do they drag down the upper bound of talent and drag along the lower bound of talent and force a median clustering?

IE: Unions are great for ensuring that young industries gain the same protections and comforts that mature industries get, but for mature industries, unions hold back productivity and efficiency.
9.1.2008 5:38pm
Coffee:

Where I grew up in Vermont there was a perennial problem with the apple harvest.



I took the scenic short cut via Ticonderoga ferry on Lake Champlain last week. It was afternoon rush hour (Vermont type), and I noticed a church van in line with some 15 black middle age males waiting on benches. I chatted and found out that they were from various parts of Jamaica for the purpose of apple harvest. Clearly to me, they were illiterate folks (farmers, fishermen and the like) hauled a few thousand miles by some clever businessman. They were staying somewhere in the woods on NY side.

What I will refuse to accept, is story, that there are no farm hands available in high unemployment VT at any given time. It is just a matter of price.

Obviously, it pays to haul those Jamaicans to VT over hiring local farm hands who can come to work on their own.
9.1.2008 5:44pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
As for today, while I'm happy to acknowledge that the racism that infected pretty much all of society back then was in the labor movement too, I'm celebrating the better wages, hours and working conditions that labor unions have brought and are still bringing to dozens and dozens of millions of workers over the decades. Happy Labor Day, David!
Racism was much worse in the labor movement than in society as a whole, and much more destructive than in most other venues, because the unions had real power, which they used to exclude non-whites. And if you want to thank someone for improvements in wages etc., thank those responsible for increased labor productivity.
9.1.2008 5:57pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Coffee,

I can't speak to the current situation, but when I lived in Vermont every year there was an appeal for apple pickers, yet if the labor department didn't approve the importation of the Jamaicans (I think it was Jamaicans even then - don't know if they specialize in picking apples or what), apples didn't get picked. It may be true that higher wages would have attracted enough pickers, but that doesn't mean that the growers could have afforded to pay sufficiently high wages. And I don't know if there were local people who wanted that kind of work for a short time even at higher wages.
9.1.2008 5:58pm
PeteRR (mail):
Out here in the Panamints there is some amazing engineering work done on the mountain roads by the chinese work gangs.
9.1.2008 6:01pm
Malvolio:
Please pay attention, Malvolio. The justification for H1B visas is that the applicants will do jobs that native-born workers will not.
You can try to "justify" H1Bs by saying Baby Jesus favors them, but that doesn't make it so.

There is no job that cannot be done at some price -- I'll cut cane for $2000 an hour -- the advantage to an H1B visa is that it brings in people that work for less.

And why the hell not? If Joe wants $30 an hour to work construction but Cho is only asking $20, of course you should hire Cho.
Obviously, it pays to haul those Jamaicans to VT over hiring local farm hands who can come to work on their own.
Duh.

The only reason we don't get J.Lo and Bill Gates to come pick apples is that they would be more expensive than Jamaicans. Apparently the local farm hands are too.

Yes, I would like to get paid more than my labor is worth -- as I would like to pay others less for theirs -- so I can sympathize to a small extent with a laid-off apple-picker or physicist. But I can likewise sympathize with an apple-grower or lab administrator who needs to keep costs down, and with the guy in Beijing or Kingston who needs to feed his family. And with the consumer who needs apples or, uh, bozons, at a price she can afford.

Yes, I am sympathetic, but we've known for 200 years that the free market solves problems that "sympathy" cannot, and we've known for almost as long that just sympathizing with the white guy isn't any solution at all.
9.1.2008 6:10pm
loki13 (mail):
Malvolio,

I agree that sympathizing with the white guy doesn't help. I propose, instead, that the government start enacting more "other guy" programs. Here's a few:

1. Lower my taxes. Tax the other guy.
2. Protect my job. Let the other guy lose his to immigration.
3. The government should protect my house. The other guy needs to learn from his poor decisions.
4. I need to have some freedom. The other guy could use a dose of personal responsibility.

Wow. This is sounding good. I should run for office.
9.1.2008 6:23pm
vinnie (mail):
Bring in ONE CEO for a major corporation that will work for minimum wage and our borders will be closed so tight that the fire ants and killer bees couldn't get through.
9.1.2008 6:35pm
cubanbob (mail):
Vinnie few adults work for minimum wage. Those that do are usually morons. You know, democrats. Find me one major corporation that can be run by a minimum wage person then you might make some sense.

Farm work is hard,nasty work. You won't find too many American's at any price willing to do the work. As long as unemployment benefits and welfare are available you won't find many takers. Now the smarter thing would be to bring back chain gangs and let the criminals work their sentences off.

Another fine piece of democrat labor legislation is the Davis-Bacon Act. Passed by St. Roosevelt in the 1930's to make sure Southern Negroes did not disposes white northern working men.
9.1.2008 7:09pm
Orson Buggeigh:
While we are talking about myths and Chinese labor, could we PLEASE retire the very tired and easily disproved myth of the Chinese graders lowered over the cliff face in baskets to blast the roadbed for the Central Pacific at Cape Horn? Yes, the Sierra Nevadas are rugged. Yes, the track is about a thousand feet above the American River at Cape Horn. But just look at the geography. It's not a sheer cliff. It is a reasonably steep hillside, but one a man can walk on. No way to suspend a basket without suspending it from a crane, so why bother. Just send the guys in to drill the holes, load them, and fire the shots, and roll the spoil to the side, and level the grade. Which is doubtless what the Chinese graders did. the myth of men in baskets off the edge of a cliff is a popular story, but it seems to be a complete fabrication.
9.1.2008 7:14pm
JosephSlater (mail):
David:

No respected labor historian of recent decades "supported" racism in the labor movement against Chinese. And racism wasn't worse in the labor movement than elsewhere -- I say that as a U.S. historian and a labor historian.

I realize that libertarians have a problem with the history of race discrimination in employment and otherwise, because it shows the necessity of government intervention by way of civil rights laws. I also realize that one dodge in this regard is to try to blame unions -- a bete noir, for whatever reason, of libertarians -- for societal economic race discrimination generally. But that dog won't hunt. It ascribes far too much power and blame to unions, and not nearly enough to employers who were discriminating entirely independently of unions.

But I will join you in celebrating the workers, and their unions, who have made American labor so productive.
9.1.2008 7:24pm
Per Son:
Ugh - "Racism was much worse in the labor movement than in society as a whole, and much more destructive than in most other venues, because the unions had real power, which they used to exclude non-whites." So we have boiled down to x is more racist than Y? I will not play that game except for mentioning that some unions were terrible bastions of racism, zenophobia and what not, and others were great leaders in civil rights achievements. AFL type unions were far more to be exclusionary while industrial unions were more open generally speaking.

Moreover, even the most pro-union history books are filled with all sorts of the zenophobia, racism, and sexism perpetrated by unions. I know of no legitimate scholar or union activist that hides from those ugly truths.
9.1.2008 7:29pm
Ken Arromdee:
Yes, I would like to get paid more than my labor is worth -- as I would like to pay others less for theirs -- so I can sympathize to a small extent with a laid-off apple-picker or physicist. But I can likewise sympathize with an apple-grower or lab administrator who needs to keep costs down, and with the guy in Beijing or Kingston who needs to feed his family.

The problem with this reasoning is that foreign workers are only cheaper in the first place because of government. If a country pursues policies that keeps the people poor, we don't want it to export the effects of its policies to America by depressing American wages.

It's also hard for an American to immigrate to such a country and use the difference in costs to his advantage. Countries that export workers also tend to limit immigration and foreign ownership of property. So it isn't really a free market; the foreign government takes care that the economic difference can only be exploited in ways that it likes and not in ways that it doesn't like.
9.1.2008 7:48pm
DavidBernsten (mail):
Per and Slater: I already acknowledged that RECENT books discuss the real history of the Chinese; otherwise, I wouldn't know what I know. But I talked of the accumulated mythology of decades of work before that, such as anything by John R. Commons.

And I don't want to get into a lengthy debate on this, but the especially miserable role of unions in emisserating minorities, especially blacks, before the AFL, was widely recognized by blacks themselves. I could, but won't bother, give you quotes from Frederick Douglass, WEB DuBois (who nevertheless supported unions), Bishop Carey, Kelly Miller, a conference of black newspaper editors, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, etc.
9.1.2008 7:51pm
crescendo:
H1 folks are hardly free market competition. They have contracts binding them to one employer, with fixed pay. 21 century slavery.

Also, how local small business can compete against Bill G, who can afford to bring slave labor from India?
9.1.2008 8:08pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I meant "before the CIO" (though the CIO only helped blacks through its political activities; it's actual union activities were at best a mixed bag).

(And crescendo is right that H1 folks are not really allowed to participate in the free market, and are "exploited" (i.e., paid a wage way lower than marginal productivity due to gov't action).
9.1.2008 8:11pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
When did coolie (laborer as far as I know) take on the additional connotation of indentured laborer?

I also understood that Chinese labor was needed to build the transcontinental railroad from California east, because Americans had left California to fight the Civil War (The Central Pacific had started work on 1862).

As far as unions go, some were relatively easy to enter, like some of the CIO industrial unions to which everyone in a factory would belong. In contrast, the skilled trades, such as electrician, required a lengthy apprenticeship process to join, and often only members' sons were admitted as apprentices. So a white union would remain white, absent explosive growth in a particular trade.
9.1.2008 8:20pm
JosephSlater (mail):
David:

You're going back over half a century with Commons, so even if you're right that he "supported" racism in the labor movement (I don't recall that myself, but it's been a while since I've read him), you essentially grant my point that nothing in recent decades supports your claim.

And also, you could give me all those quotes -- I've probably read them - but it still wouldn't prove that unions were the be-all and end-all of employment discrimination that certain forms of libertarians need them to be. Especially in the era you are discussing -- the mid and late 19th century -- unions lacked the political, economic, and legal power to enforce systematic job discrimination. It took employers to do that.

Tell you what though: I'll spare you quotes and statistics showing how much good labor unions have done for minorities in the past few decades. You recall that for the past few decades, blacks have been union members in *greater* proportion than blacks are members of the workforce as a whole, right?

Anyway, enough. Happy Labor Day!
9.1.2008 8:32pm
Barry P. (mail):

How would you feel if George Mason University started replacing professors with H1-Bs from India? But unlike the guys at LBL you have tenure.


Do you understand that there are two pools of H1-B visa? One (rather limited and very oversubscribed) pool for all industries, and a separate, unlimited one for academics.

The simple truth is that outside the humanities, there are not nearly enough Americans obtaining doctorates to fully staff the universities. And the reason that schools don't hire from the hordes with Indian or Nigerian doctorates is because those schools have to compete with each other. Academics face perhaps the most internationally competitive workplace in America this side of hockey players.

Having wat was, essentially, an open door for smart people is a big part of what boosted the US to the top of the world economy post-WWI. That door is now pretty much closed, and that is hurting US competitveness in the knowledge industries.

I think the movie "Idiocracy" is coming true.
9.1.2008 9:29pm
Orson Buggeigh:
Tony Tutins:


I also understood that Chinese labor was needed to build the transcontinental railroad from California east, because Americans had left California to fight the Civil War (The Central Pacific had started work on 1862).


Actually, both the CP and UP were hampered by a shortage of equipment, supplies, and financing as well as a manpower shortage during the period before the spring of 1865. One of the problems the Central Pacific had building across the California and Nevada mountains and deserts was the tendency of white laborers to leave and look for better pay, or to prospect for gold and silver in Montana and other territories. The shortage of rail, fastenings, locomotives and rolling stock were serious problems - all of the above were in great demand by the Union's US Military Railroads. Once the war ended, much of this vital equipment and material could be obtained again.

It's big, but I recommend David Hayward Bain's _Empire Express_ as the best single volume treatment of the building of the transcontinental railroad.
9.1.2008 10:06pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I don't see why we don't offshore sppellate courts.

From time to time, I read decisions if the Philippines Supreme Court. They're in English and not inferior to American appellate decisions in reasoning.

Borders, unlike apple picking, are no barrier to sitting at a desk and reading a pile of arguments and motions.

I bet the Filipino judges would work for a fraction of what we pay ours.
9.1.2008 10:47pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Tony Tutins,

When did coolie (laborer as far as I know) take on the additional connotation of indentured laborer?


While most of the Chinese who immigrated to the United States did so voluntarily, the low-status workers who went from India and to a lesser extent China to various European colonies to alleviate the labor shortage caused by the abolition of the slave trade were mostly indentured. Thus, the term "coolie" had the connotation of "indentured worker" in such places as Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad and Peru. If there are people who think that Chinese coolies in North America were indentured, it is presumably because they are familiar with the use of the term in other parts of the world.
9.2.2008 2:03am
Malvolio:
If a country pursues policies that keeps the people poor, we don't want it to export the effects of its policies to America by depressing American wages.
Yes, actually, we do. Or more specifically, if poor governance in another country drives productive workers to want to move to ours, we should snap those workers up!

One of the effects of that is that wages in that industry might be slightly depressed -- but that is a common effect of competition. It's true that Joe would rather make $30 an hour than $20, but it's equally true that Cho would rather not starve in a Third-World cesspool. I may not care much what happens Cho but as a potential employer, I don't see why I should pay that $10 an hour differential for the thin pleasure of seeing Cho starve.
H1 folks are hardly free market competition. They have contracts binding them to one employer, with fixed pay.
No, that isn't true at all. H1B visas are difficult, but not impossible, to transfer and there's nothing in there about "fixed pay" and certainly no contractual obligation.
21 century slavery.
You know, I only watched Roots once, but I don't remember the part where Kunta Kinte got tired of working for Microsoft and went home.
9.2.2008 6:03am
Public_Defender (mail):

Myth: The Chinese were "coolies," which means that they were hired out to an employer for a certain number of years in exchange for their passage to America, and could not leave until their term of service was over. Coolies were often treated worse than slaves, because they had no "residual value" to their employers once their term of service was over.

Fact: While many Chinese arrived in South America as coolies, in the U.S. they did not. Rather, they borrowed money to pay for their voyage, and then worked as free laborers in the U.S., using their earnings to pay back the cost of their journey.

I don't see much of a difference between the "myth" and "fact." Slavery can indentured servitude can be based on "contract." It comes down to the fairness of the terms (relative real value of "services" provided) and the brutality of enforcement.

Imputing "debts" or "expenses" to "employees" and deducting them from pay is one of the oldest scams around.
9.2.2008 6:33am
Flip Flop Candidate:

I bet the Filipino judges would work for a fraction of what we pay ours.



And they all guaranteed to be Catholic fanatics better then that Opus Dei retard at SCOTUS.
9.2.2008 8:54am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If you need a reminder, I suggest renting Matewan for your evening entertainment.
It's an entertaining film, and not spectacularly biased, but it is a work of fiction. You might actually read a bit of real history from the period. There's much to sympathize with labor unions about in this period--and much to abhor.
9.2.2008 12:12pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I'm struck, though, by the power that is implicitly attributed to organized labor alone here. Gosh, the Knights of Labor and the very early AFL in the mid-late 19th Century certainly was a powerful steamroller.
More powerful than you are giving them credit for. Sometimes it was simply the use of force. Read about the railway strikes of 1877, for example.

Sometimes it was in politics. I was visiting Los Angeles City Hall some years ago while on jury duty, and I was startled by a collection of city ballots from the beginning of the century. There were three parties on the ballot (these were partisan elections at the time): Democratic; Democratic Socialist; and Socialist. No Republicans.
9.2.2008 12:14pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Aw, c'mon. You're kidding, right? Here's the issue; our businesses want illegal immigration. It's economically efficient. If we, as a society, truly wanted to deter it, we would do a better job. But we don't. Why? Because we have decided (at least implicitly) that we value some level of illegal immigration. Everything else is just fiddling.

Don't blame the liberals. Blame the businesses. If you want to get rid of illegal immigration, you don't even need a wall; just shift the cost to the employers (massive fines and/or criminal sanctions for employing illegals) to reduce demand.
I blame businesses as well--although oddly enough, when I ran for state senate here, I found that my support for penalties for knowingly hiring illegal aliens was supported by the business lobbying groups such as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.

Liberals of course support illegal immigration because they believe that illegal immigrants will become citizens, and vote Democratic (and sometimes the sequence is reversed).
9.2.2008 12:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Yes, actually, we do. Or more specifically, if poor governance in another country drives productive workers to want to move to ours, we should snap those workers up!

One of the effects of that is that wages in that industry might be slightly depressed -- but that is a common effect of competition. It's true that Joe would rather make $30 an hour than $20, but it's equally true that Cho would rather not starve in a Third-World cesspool. I may not care much what happens Cho but as a potential employer, I don't see why I should pay that $10 an hour differential for the thin pleasure of seeing Cho starve.
The difficulty is that:

1. Much of the illegal alien workforce isn't making $20 per hour. Or even the differential. They are making minimum wage or a little above that. But it figures that a liberal like you would see this as a virtue.

2. Employers hiring unskilled and semiskilled labor are enjoying the benefit of low cost labor--but providing no health insurance, so their laborers end up being a public expense. Illegal aliens end up being a private benefit to the unscrupulous, and a public cost to the rest of us. How liberal of you to defend making the unscrupulous rich at the expense of the rest of us.

If liberals actually stood for something other than making the rich richer at the expense of the poor, they would be in the forefront of efforts to stop illegal immigration by punishing knowing hiring of illegal aliens, and stopping the influx. This is an area where the vast majority of Americans are in agreement--but the Republican and Democratic Parties are so controlled by rich corporate liberals that we have no chance of getting heard.
9.2.2008 12:21pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

The simple truth is that outside the humanities, there are not nearly enough Americans obtaining doctorates to fully staff the universities.
Maybe in some fields. But certainly not in the social sciences or humanities. Some years back, when I was finishing my M.A. in History, the third rate school I attended was trying to hire a tenure track historian. They received what the department chair characterized as 200 well qualified applications.

Of course, if there's a shortage in certain fields, perhaps the problem is that the pay is too low. That's generally a sign that you aren't paying enough--no one wants the job.
9.2.2008 12:24pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Poser:

"Since when is getting sympathy and donations from one's ethnic community "playing the race card"? It would be "playing the race card" if Lee had gotten off because of his race."

In this context, "playing the race card" is a form of defense where the accused claims he singled out because of his race, and that's exactly what Wen Ho Lee said in his book. He also used that excuse to get sympathy and money for the Chinese community in the US.

That's "playing the race card" in my book.
9.2.2008 12:37pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
David Bernstein:

...if you want to define Americaness by ethnic heritage, and not to any other objective criterion. You are, of course, using the same criterion that led people to say that Jews et al couldn't be Americans. Surely Eastern European Jewish culture was extremely foreign to "Americanness."

I'm not implying that the Chinese or the Jews can't be Americans. But the Irish and English immigrants at that time were certainly less "foreign" to Americans than Polish or Chinese immigrants if for no other reason than there were more of them. Moreover Ireland, England etc are closer in language, culture, cuisine and religion than either Eastern Europe or Asia. Even today if an American, including assimilated Chinese and Jews were to visit Dublin it would seem less strange than Kraków, which in turn would seem less strange than Sichuan.
9.2.2008 1:02pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Poser:

"Background checks are irrelevant to whether a person is careful or sloppy about security procedures."


I agree with you. Background checks do not tell us much as to whether an employee would compromise secrets. Thanks for pointing out my inconsistency. I should have wrote "Peter Lee" instead of "Wen Ho Lee." Peter H. Lee did indeed pass classified to China. He was an employee at Los Alamos National Lab and TRW.
9.2.2008 1:23pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Poser:

"The people I know who work in such government laboratories all say that this is a common problem. It's very hard to get scientists not to take their work home with them. That is why it is widely thought that Wen Ho Lee was singled out for behaving like lots of other scientists."

Your statement deceptive in that it implies that Wen Ho Lee simply slipped up and took the wrong work home with him. Lee downloaded classified weapons codes in 1993-1994 and again in 1997. This is not the kind of thing an employee with "Q" clearance would take home as he knows it's classified and and would no reason to bring these codes home unless he had a super computer in his house. Moreover Lee himself says he downloaded the files to "protect" them-- a pretty lame excuse. My contacts think Lee did commit espionage, but of course that's unproven in a court of law.
9.2.2008 1:36pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

It's an entertaining film, and not spectacularly biased, but it is a work of fiction. You might actually read a bit of real history from the period. There's much to sympathize with labor unions about in this period--and much to abhor.


I'm well aware of this, and I have read more than a bit of "real history" from the period. It's rather arrogant ofyou to assume otherwise. Fiction though it may be, it still gives a good idea of the reality of coal fields and an appreciation for the role of the unions.
9.2.2008 3:48pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
A. Zarokov,


In this context, "playing the race card" is a form of defense where the accused claims he singled out because of his race, and that's exactly what Wen Ho Lee said in his book. He also used that excuse to get sympathy and money for the Chinese community in the US.

That's "playing the race card" in my book.


Your book is wrong. Lee's defense was not based on being singled out, it was based on the government's poor investigation and weak evidence. His book was not his legal defense.
9.2.2008 3:51pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
A. Zarkov,

There's nothing deceptive about my characterization of the Wen Ho Lee case. I did not suggest that he inadvertently took home classified information. That's your misinterpretation. What I suggested is that he, like other scientists, took home material without regard to whether or not it was classified.

It may be true that to run the programs he took home and obtain useful results one would need a supercomputer, but that doesn't mean that there was no innocent reason to take them home. He may have intended to make test runs, with small amounts of data or parameters that would allow him to run them in reasonable time on his own computer, to study them, or to modify them.
9.2.2008 4:02pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
'Illegal aliens end up being a private benefit to the unscrupulous, and a public cost to the rest of us.'

Amen to that.

And it gets worse. My mom in Florida sees a G.P. from Kenya, and she thinks he's great. But it's hard to see why Kenyan taxpayers, like George Obama with his $12 annual income, should be subsidizing the education of physicians to work in Florida.

That's the problem with free markets. You get what the person with the most money wants, not what any sensible person would want.

But I don't see why Clayton characterizes Malvolio as a liberal. Sounds more like a U. of Chicago radical to me.
9.2.2008 4:28pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Bill Poser:

"What I suggested is that he, like other scientists, took home material without regard to whether or not it was classified."


As a rule staff scientists at the national weapons laboratories don't knowingly take home classified data. They might take home some numbers which in the right context could be classified, but that's a far cry from taking home a classified document or a computer code.

" ... but that doesn't mean that there was no innocent reason to take them home. He may have intended to make test runs, with small amounts of data or parameters ..."


No! It's obvious you have no idea of what goes on in a weapons laboratory. He made unauthorized downloads of massive amounts of source code. He could not compile and run those codes on the home computers available in those days. Sure he might have taken home a small subroutine to test, but that's not what he did. There was absolutely no innocent reason for him to have taken home that amount of source code. Moreover, he was taking an extreme risk and would have known that. Mishandling of SRD is a very serious business and staff scientists know that.
9.2.2008 4:29pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Your book is wrong. Lee's defense was not based on being singled out, it was based on the government's poor investigation and weak evidence."

We have different definitions of what it means to play the race card. As he never got to trial we don't know if he would have used race as part of a defense. But he did have a public relations campaign asserting that he was singled out because of this race, and that's what I mean by playing the race card.
9.2.2008 4:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

That's the problem with free markets. You get what the person with the most money wants, not what any sensible person would want.
As long as there's a pretty broad distribution of wealth, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If 60% of the people want X, and 30% want Y, and 10% wants Z, everyone gets to get what they want--as opposed to economic democracy, where under the best of conditions, 60% tell the other 40% that they are getting X, and if they want Y or Z, they will either be completely denied their choice (like Canadian health care) or required to pay for X through taxes, and pay out of their pocket for Y or Z. (And often as not, it turns out that group Z ends up imposing its choice on the vast majority, because group Z is better organized, and rich. Hence, liberalism.)

What makes the illegal alien problem not free market is that our society funds an awful lot of social services, such as health care, to provide for the poor. It doesn't bother me to do this, as long as it doesn't become an incentive for anyone to choose poverty. It does bother me when I am required to fund programs for the poor so that businesses taking advantage of illegal aliens can get rich, with me footing the bill.
9.2.2008 5:37pm
Ken Arromdee:
One of the effects of that is that wages in that industry might be slightly depressed -- but that is a common effect of competition.

It isn't "competition" in the free-market sense. The foreign government's policies keep the people poor, and the poorness of the people makes them willing to work for low wages here. The government is indirectly depressing the wages. Think of it as a form of dumping, except that instead of dumping cheap products, they're dumping cheap people.

There's also my other point: those very same governments have protectionist policies which keep Americans from just owning property or otherwise conducting business the way locals could, so we suffer the full harmful effects of the lowered wages, but fewer of the beneficial ones.
9.2.2008 6:36pm
Malvolio:
Much of the illegal alien workforce isn't making $20 per hour. Or even the differential. They are making minimum wage or a little above that.
As we in the software industry say, that isn't a bug, it's a feature. Yes! They save their employers a lot of money! Whoopee!
But it figures that a liberal like you would see this as a virtue.
Wow. I've been called a lot of nasty things by various Internet tough guys. I've been likened to Hitler, to Dahlmer, to various loathsome vermin and assorted waste products, but I've never been insulted like that before.
Employers hiring unskilled and semiskilled labor are enjoying the benefit of low cost labor--but providing no health insurance, so their laborers end up being a public expense.
Just because admitted liberals have created a semi-socialized health system in the US is no reason that we reasonable people should insist on caging would-be productive Americans in off-shore slums.

Harry Eagar writes:
I don't see why Clayton characterizes Malvolio as a liberal. Sounds more like a U. of Chicago radical to me.
Stop, you're making me blush.
9.2.2008 7:39pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
That was presented as just a statement of fact, but you've probably guessed I didn't mean it as a compliment.

'Think of it as a form of dumping, except that instead of dumping cheap products, they're dumping cheap people.'

That isn't how the 'dumpers' see it. As I tried to show with my Kenyan example, not all emigres are the scum of the local earth.

In the early '90s, the government of Samoa considered trying to 'tax' the U.S. government to recover the cost of public education of Samoan citizens, a large fraction of whom -- many well educated -- were living the US and costing US employers nothing for their expensive training.

Samoa couldn't figure out a way to do that, but it was, and still is, considered a grievance.

Even when foreign governments don't openly complain about it, it is not obvious that there is a net benefit to the U.S. from, say, having more than 10% of the Philippines middle class living and working here.

Sure, we get trained nurses for nothing -- although you'll never convince me that nursing is a 'job Americans won't do' -- but the Philippines get hollowed out and becomes a foreign policy problem for the US in east Asia.

Draining all the Arabs and Persians who have acquired western values out of their home countries is another example of being penny wise and pound foolish. But that's what you get when money is the only measure of utility you recognize.
9.2.2008 8:26pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Been busy and haven't even had time to read the back sections of the paper I work for, but I'm catching up.

AP, Aug. 28, Laurel, Miss., after the big ICE raid: 'Union members said they resented immigrants, who were often allowed to work as much as 40 hours of overtime a week when other workers were discouraged from doing so.'

MSNBC has a piece today saying that illegals in New Orleans were reluctant to evacuate for fear of being nabbed.

So, no exploitation there, just employers enjoying the benefits of a free market in labor.

If Gustav HAD come in as a category 4 or 5 and it HAD bumped off a few dozen cringing wetbacks, how would we treat that in the economic accounting? Cost of doing business?
9.2.2008 10:52pm