Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Article Report - "The Political Economy of Work and Health in Silicon Valley" by Pellow and Park

The article is part of a chapter in David Naguib Pellow and Lisa Sun-Hee Park book, titled The Silicon Valley of Dreams published in the year 2002. Pellow and Park have written widely on themes and edited books, related to the environment. They both received a Ph.D in sociology from Northwestern University and had published their second book called The Slums of Aspen in the year 2011. They have written widely on themes, and edited books, related to the environment. Currently, they are both professors at University of Minnesota in the Sociology Department. In this book, the authors take a look in the regions of the Silicon Valley and examine the environmental racism. The main audiences of this book are students, scholars in ethnic studies and also activists and policy-makers that strive to address the needs of the workers.

This chapter “The Political Economy of Work and Health in the Silicon Valley” deals with both the environmental racism and environmental inequalities. The Silicon Valley is always seen as a workplace for many low-wage occupations. Pellow and Park discuss about the workplace toxics and the impact that it brings to the immigrants, women and people of color. They talk about the toxic communities and workplaces where the community of color and low waged neighborhoods which are in close proximity to toxic facilities and landfills. Even though statistics show that high-tech workers and community had an accident and illness rate about half the national average, it is shown that the statistic is not accurate. The lack of accuracy in their research includes the industry manipulation of the definition of “illness”, where sometimes these workers are exposed to multiple chemicals at a time and the traditional risk assessment models do not take it into account.

The authors also talk about the environmental inequalities in the electronic production jobs. The immigrants, women and people of color working (Asian and Latino immigrants) in the productions jobs are estimated to be 70 – 80% of the people in the workplace. During an interview, an employer mentioned that the three most important requirements during the process of hiring production worker are small, foreign and female. Pellow and Park also talk about selective recruitment where it works against African American women. There were examples where employment agencies were polite to the African American women while scheduling an interview through the phone, but when they meet them in person, the employment agencies inform them that there were no vacant jobs. In brief, the Silicon Valley selects mostly females, immigrants and certain people of color in their production jobs.

Having to be born and raised in Malaysia, the term ‘Fast Fingered Malaysian (FFM)’ caught my eye. The term got me looking deeper into some other articles. In an article titled ‘Fulfilling Technology’s Promise’ written by Shruti Rana, she talks about Penang as an Asia’s “Silicon Island”. As of 1999, electronic companies employed over 200,000 people, a little over 60% of the island’s workforce. The state Penang in Malaysia has had a huge transformation from being a service-based economy to a manufacturing-based economy where it has been fueled with foreign investment. The term FFM explains why electronic companies target these women with manual dexterity and speed that suits well with the detailed and precise nature of the assembly work. Obviously this is not just an issue in California, the Silicon Valley also includes transnational corporations around the world.

Pellow, D. N., & Park, L. S. H. (2002). The Silicon Valley of Dreams. New York, New York.

Rana, S. (2000). Fulfilling technology's promise: Enforcing the rights of women caught in the global high-tech underclass. Berkeley Women's Law Journal, 15, 272.

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