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Archive for Saturday, January 25, 1992

WORKER WAKE-UP CALL

January 25, 1992

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Comments earlier this week by a Japanese legislator may be just the kind of wake-up call Americans needed.

Yoshio Sakurachi, speaker of the lower house of the Japanese parliament, may not have known what he was getting himself into when he called American workers lazy and referred to the United States as "Japan's subcontractor." If the Japanese thought Americans resented their infiltration of U.S. markets before, they ain't seen nothing yet.

Not content to simply get angry, some Americans are seeking to get even:

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission scrapped a $122 million contract with an American subsidiary of Japan's Sumitomo Corp. to build rail cars for its transit system. The commission said it wanted to pursue the possibility of starting its own factory to produce U.S.-made rail cars.

The town board of the Rochester suburb of Greece, N.Y., rejected a $40,000 Komatsu excavating machine. It costs $15,000 less than the American-made John Deere model, but town officials wanted to make a symbolic point about Sakurachi's rhetoric.

And that may be only the tip of the iceberg. Whether it's over a cup of coffee or talking to an acquaintance on the street, the evil of Japanese competition is a popular topic of conversation.

Actually, there may be some truth in Sakurauchi's comments. Although American workers work very hard and may even find themselves working harder for less pay these days, many of them are doing so without the proper training. The weakness in the American system, according to some labor experts, is not that people aren't willing to work, but that they aren't being trained in the skills that are most useful in the workplace.

In a way, that is a positive observation, because it indicates that Americans are capable of correcting their workplace deficiencies. Americans have always been known as an independent, hard-working people. They like to think for themselves and they stand up for what they believe. Many Japanese workers may seem passive by comparison.

Americans are willing to work and compete especially when someone from a foreign country starts casting aspersions on their abilities. In the long run, a spirit of cooperation probably is the key to a smooth-running world economy, but on the short term, if the Japanese want to start a trade battle, Americans probably will be more than glad to take up the gauntlet.

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