In a previous post, I joked that if the Governor of Wisconsin wanted to fire all his teachers, he could hire a lot of qualified Filipino teachers to replace them.

Yet this is not quite a joke: The cut backs in US medical training have resulted in the active importation of foreign medical graduates to fill training openings (which are in reality a cheap source of labor for hospitals). Many of them end up staying, like my husband.

And the decision 30 years ago by the ANA (i.e. nurses) that nurses needed degrees ended the cheaper 3 year work/study course for nursing with it’s low tuition that helped many of my lower class inner city classmates to become nurses. Hence, in many inner city hospitals, they now employ Philippine nurses.

Philippine joke: 17 thousand nurses passed exams, 17 thousand nurses started looking for work overseas…

This is a “brain drain”, but the dirty little secret is that pay here for nurses is so low you can’t raise a family even if you find a job, and many people become nurses to support their family, not out of love of nursing, knowing that even if they fail the exam, they still can get a job as a caretaker for the elderly or as a nanny in more affluent Asian countries.

In teaching, the American teaching unions support job security. This practice tends to keep out new teachers and in some areas it is hard to become a “second career” teacher without going back to college for a year. Yet we always need teachers: many people don’t want to work in the dangerous inner city schools or in isolated rural areas. Hence, some school districts that actually have gone overseas to hire teachers from here in the Philippines and probably elsewhere.

Another reason that the union may be fighting for their people’s jobs is because of the internet. Not only are programs available to help with homework, but numerous short education films and on line summaries are available to supplement their textbooks. There are even complete courses, such as at the Khan academy, that allow you to study high school algebra via youtube. You might not need low classroom ratios for “personalized teaching” when the students are learning at their own pace on the internet.

Here in the Philippines, classrooms utilize classroom teaching on a TV station for Math and Science for our rural schools, something that American schools have utilized for years.

But now the teacher can interact with her students. For example,  in Korea, they even use robot teachers to teach English to their students in rural areas. The really ironic part of the Korean program is that although the robot has a Caucasian face, the child’s feedback is often coming from a teacher here in the Philippines.

But at least teachers won’t be laid of en mass, even with the competition from overseas teachers or because computers have taken over the job. That might not be true for a lot of the other government jobs.

The danger can be summarized in one word: Outsourcing.

Yup. If we docs can outsource our medical transcription, the complicated medical billing, and reading of our X rays to India, one awaits someone to hint that you could save a lot of taxpayer money by outsourcing some of the numerous jobs in government bureaucracy overseas to Makati or Bangalore. Folks there will work harder and a lot cheaper, saving taxpayer money.

And this doesn’t even address the breakthroughs by people filling out their own applications on line or filling out forms by using voice recognition software.

From the US Government Social Security website:What You Can Do Online

You can: * Apply for Social Security retirement or spouse’s benefits.
* Apply for Social Security disability benefits (includes the Adult Disability Report).
* Begin or continue the Adult Disability Report.
When you apply for any type of disability benefits, we need information about your medical, work, and education history to help us decide if you are disabled.
* Apply for extra help with your Medicare prescription drug costs.
* Apply for Medicare benefits.
* Check your application status.
If you applied for Social Security benefits, you can check the status of your application online. (Not available for SSI.)

In other words, don’t look now, but computerizing the government offices could result in fewer office jobs, and a good emphasis on eliminating duplicate government offices doing the same thing could be the next item on the chopping block.

No wonder the unions are trying, like their Luddite ancestors, to draw a line in the sand.

By calling them “luddites” I am describing them, not criticizing them, because the original Luddite movement was fighting modernization to save jobs and dignity for the workers:

… the conventional picture of the Luddism of these years as a blind opposition to machinery as such becomes less and less tenable. What was at issue was the `freedom’ of the capitalist to destroy the custom of the trade, whether by new machinery, by the factory system or by unrestricted competition, beating down wages, undercutting his ‘rivals and undermining standards of craftsmanship.

The bad news? Well, you don’t see a lot of clothing in Walmart that was sewn by hand (not by sewing machines) and whose cloth was woven by individuals like Silas Marner in lonely rural cottages.

Most of the news is viewing the confrontations in Wisconsin about the evil Republicans trying to break the unions and hurt poor people, versus the evil triangle of unions that support big government by supporting Democrats who will hire more union members.

But actually, a better way to look at it is seeing the Luddites, where workers and their humanitarian friends see this as a fight for human dignity. The bad news is that change is inevitable, and won’t stop no matter how many union members strike and make headlines.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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