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Thursday, April 28, 2005 03:58 am

common sense 4-28-05

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One of the worst aspects of the global corporate culture is that it routinely pits one group of workers against another in the corporate pursuit of dirt-cheap labor.

This has come to an ugly head in recent years with the mass offshoring of U.S. call-center jobs. These workers answer questions that American consumers have about their phone bills, computers, credit cards, insurance polices, and so on. Curious about a long-distance charge on your phone bill? Call a company’s toll-free service number, and you’re likely to reach someone such as Rahail Manzoor in India.

An Indian trade group says 350,000 people there are working in such back-office service jobs for U.S. corporations, and the number is expected to grow by 40 percent this year alone. The corporations are tapping India’s vast pool of workers who are English-speaking, tech-savvy, and cheap.

But these workers are also nervous wrecks, for they know that Americans are very angry about the offshoring of middle-class jobs — and American callers often take out their anger on them, using creative combinations of four-letter words. The Indian call centers try deception to deflect this anger. Manzoor, for example, is told to call himself “Jim” on the phone, and he has undergone lessons in how to speak “American.” Some call centers have giant TV screens showing the current weather in U.S. cities, the latest sports scores, and such so that workers can make small talk and pretend to be in the United States.

But many callers know better and berate the poor operators, who are under such stress that they suffer all sorts of debilitating illnesses. It’s “psychologically disturbing,” Manzoor says.

It’s also psychologically disturbing for Americans to see our middle-class future exported while CEOs calmly count the billions of dollars that they rake in by pitting us against the Indians.

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