August 6, 2010

We're a Queer Bunch

That's what my late mother would have said. As the grandkids got older, she changed it to 'funny bunch'. Whatever. It's the truth.

I was reading this piece from the NYT about legal worked now being outsourced to India. It's fascinating. Tons and tons of scut work in the legal profession is now being sent overseas. How so? you might ask. Easy. In every law case, there is loads of dirge work. Hours and hours that you get billed for by your attorney, but work that is actually done by baby lawyers - the juniors just starting out, trying to climb that pyramid to partnership that will give them the chance to similarly exploit the next generation.

India has a crackerjack pool of smart people desperate to work in these white collar jobs. As the cost of living a year in India is equal roughly to a day of living in New York City, let's say, legal firms are jumping at the chance to cut costs. How does it work? Lots of legal eagles - the established lawyers - are uprooting and setting up firms to train and mentor these newbies. Teach 'em the Great American Way, which if my experience with lawyers is any indication, means teaching them to charge 47 bucks for a staple, 8 bucks a page for photocopying, and apparently, 123.50 for going to the bathroom while my file is open on their desk.

Now, the 'queer bunch' part: this has been happening for decades. Now, however, NOW (that was worth yelling), people are getting up in arms. Important People. People who wear ironed shirts and shiny shoes. People who summer in the Hamptons, or whatever. Now they care.

The last big outcry was from the car sector. Your ears are probably still ringing from that. Auto workers freaked as their jobs streamed overseas to the enemy. I don't recall the lawyers getting too worked up about that. But then again, when I watched the textile industry in this country collapse in the mid 80s, I didn't hear the auto industry giving much of a rat's ass for them, either. I had a front row seat to that one: I used to have a clothing line for the company I used to own. The clothing wasn't the main sector of the business, but it was a happy little by product that I loved to to. I used to have the clothes made in Brantford, Ontario, at a couple of cut & sews. Don't bother thinking sweatshop: I used to work side by side with the sewers figuring out best assembly. Nobody did anything I didn't do myself.

Anyway. In the course of a very terrible, awful, no-good year, I watch the block disappear. A whole street of shops had to close up. Why? The Pacific Rim was producing t-shirts for 45 CENTS. And all those big companies who regularly made things like t-shirts and hats part of their promotional budget? Ran in like that (snaps fingers) to load up on cheap crap. 'Made in Canada'? Hahahahahahahaha.

I stopped making clothing. Can't compete at that. But I still gave a damn about those people I had sat beside and sewed with, and couldn't in any good conscience start importing the very junk that had cost them their jobs. I don't recall any hue and cry, however, certainly not from the auto workers.

I live down the road from the Niagara region. One of the best fruit growing belts in the world. Which is why they've been plowed under for all but wine, and you are now eating fruit from China and Chile. Because we're half an hour from the best in the world. I don't recall the lawyers bitching about that.

There was an article in a recent Vanity Fair about the women who did the painstaking illustration for the films of Walt Disney back in the 1940s. Illustrating, frame-by-frame, was tedious, time consuming and absolutely necessary for the animation business. It was in its infancy. Now of course, it's a full bore industry, earning bazillions of dollars a year. But not, I'm sure, for the illustrators who toil in South Korea, let's say. Again, I must have missed the outpouring of concern from car-builders and lawyers.

I get it. It's more complicated that a rat-tail pecking order. But when the earth has fallen into the sea faster and faster, and one day you open your front door and there is no there, there, don't be surprised. We've watched a lot of other places tumble into the waves. What made us think anyone was immune?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always think its funny when guys from the assembly line visiting Toronto for the day or whatever scream racial slurs at me. I'm brown. Not ones for imagination, they usually tell me to go back where I came from. Um, that would be Winnipeg, so I'm sticking right here thank you very much. I've had guys holler about how their manufacturing jobs are going to India. Part of that is how economics works. We forget, the auto sector in Canada isn't domestic. It's American. How did those guys in Detroit or wherever feel when their manufacturing jobs were sent to Ontario because it was cheaper to do these jobs here back in the day? Weren't those companies outsourcing to Canada. Today its cheaper to work in India or Phillipines, tomorrow it'll be East Africa. We all get our chance at the totem pole. The idea is to use that opportunity to help our next generation do better. Not just expect that job will be around for a couple of generations. People get caught between generations though, like your colleagues at the cut and sew, and those are the guys I feel for. But auto makers and lawyers? Naah.

August 06, 2010 10:57 AM  
Anonymous B1 said...

I'm all for sending lawyers offshore ... say about 30 miles. The more the better.

As for the fruit and veggies ... all I can say is HAHAHAHA on you. We have lots of vineyards down here (and some fabulous boutique wineries), but a lot more truck farms and orchards. I think I'm in food heaven.

But your point (as always) is well-taken.

August 06, 2010 12:47 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Anon #1...thanks for your comment.

I often used to wonder at the people I knew who told me they were guaranteed a job at Molson's for 40 bucks an hour. Because their dad/uncle/brother could get them in.

40 bucks an hour to wash beer bottles. Much of the assembly line work was the same, and my father, a bricklayer at Dofasco, used to lose his mind (and many of my mother's friends) ranting about the ridiculous wages paid for unskilled labour.

He told me then - 30 years ago - that such a thing was unsustainable. You're totally right about the the cyclical nature of the job market, and hopefully North America will stop championing unskilled, unschooled labour jobs as the backbone of a nation.

Now if we could just upgrade our educational system to stop turning out substandard grads, and create useful secondary schooling, we'll start to dial it in.

August 06, 2010 8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lorraine, your dad was very very smart.

August 06, 2010 11:23 PM  

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