Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Bending the rules

I am now recovered from my cataract surgery sufficiently well to see my computer. Actually I can now see nearly everything. I have some far sightedness but for the first time in my life I have true color vision, true 3D vision, and proper perspective and distance. Wow! All I can say is that the women are prettier, the children cuter, the dogs and cats are fluffier and the men uglier than they've ever been before. The only frustrating thing is having to learn how to look over the reading glasses but I will get used to that in time.

I have been following with some interest the strike by the construction workers here. So far the strike is limited to the guys who place the rebar but they are determined and I wish that the rest of the construction workers would join them . I think it would be great if every construction project (except the new school building for the school I work for) in Hong Kong would come to a grinding halt. The construction companies here are just as corrupt as corrupt can be. They amass huge profits and then basically buy the government to keep land prices higher than they otherwise would be.

This corruption extends to the subcontractors in a funny way that I find particularly galling. The scam works like this. Enormous Construction Company "A" decides to build a building and then calls a subcontractor to clear the land. That subcontractor then calls another subcontractor who calls another subcontractor who then hires someone who hires guys with a bulldozer to clear the land. This process of having 5, 6 or more intermediate subcontractors who do nothing but siphon cash prevents builders from paying the actual workers more. I don't know but I've been told that most of these nebulous subcontracts are brothers-in-law, cousins and friends of the guy above. In other words nepotism. You cannot tell me that Hutchison-Whampoa or Hong Kong Land can't hire someone to call the various workers' associations to hire grunts with specific skills? This would, or so it appears to me, allow the companies to raise wages, increase profit margins and lower cost at the same time. But, that would mean telling the shiftless brother-in-law to get a real job which would violate the Chinese ethic of always doing anything, no matter how dishonest to aid your family And of course maintaining the 7 levels of subcontractors who do nothing except hire another sub-contractor is of great importance to the various subcontractors in the construction food chain.

I am really conflicted about this in one way. I think that most unions in the US and Europe often times do more harm than good. I avoided the union label when I could when I lived in the US. I'd even take it to the point of buying a Toyota or Mitsubishi car, not because they were necessarily better cars but because they were built without the use UAW workers even though they were still built in the US. But, this is different because the companies are just so dishonest.

It really bothered me when I saw the low level US union thug, gangster types marching with HK construction workers last week. Hong Kong doesn't need the local chapters of the WTF&TGIF or whatever other acronym the modern North American and European unions go by. But the workers here do need protection from dishonest employers. I guess the question raised in the old Robert Heinlein book is really valid in this instance. "Would you rather have a government of criminals who are honest about what they are or would you rather have a government that is dishonest about what it is?" I'm not so sure that in Hong Kong we couldn't use Al Capone.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who doesn't belong to a Union

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