The November jobs report reflects that U.S. hiring has slowed sharply as viral rates surge to new heights across the country, adding only 245,000 jobs, the slowest rate of growth since the spring and a warning of a difficult recovery in the coming months.
The unemployment rate ticked down to a still-high 6.7%, from 6.9% in October. The decline was a result of many people giving up their job search and leaving the labor market, rather than a result of modest gains in the labor market, according to the Labor Department. The number of people working from home and the number of workers on part-time schedules also increased.
The report provides striking evidence that the job market is faltering in the face of record-breaking virus numbers. Economic activity will likely slow even further as health officials issue new warnings against non-essential travel, and new restrictions and curfews. Experts warn the economy will not fully recover until an effective and widely used vaccine can control viral numbers.
Meanwhile, the Executive Branch has ramped up economic pressure on Beijing for its treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority group. The DHS on Wednesday banned cotton imports from a Chinese state-owned paramilitary organization, Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. (XPCC), which the U.S. accuses of relying on “slave labor.” U.S. efforts to increase pressure on China have targeted its cotton industry, which supplies about one-third of U.S. apparel. The U.S. imported about $11 billion in cotton textile and apparel products from China in 2019. 80% of China’s cotton is produced in Xinjiang, and much of it from XPCC.
“U.S. businesses shouldn’t be allowed to ‘profit from slave labor,’” DHS Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said in a statement, “‘Made in China’ is not just a country of origin, it is a warning label.”
Because XPCC, one of China’s largest producers, exports its cotton to other apparel producing countries, the U.S.’s action could potentially affect clothing exports from producers like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam. The measure sends a strong signal that the U.S. will not ignore the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang, and that it will likely take future actions that target a broader array of products.
In other international labor challenges, Tesla is building Germany’s first new auto-plant in two decades — but it has refused to sign standard German collective wage agreements with respective German labor unions. The powerful 2.3 million-member IG Metall labor union is now facing off with Elon Musk, and according to Bloomberg Businessweek, the standoff will either end with the undermining of Musk’s global ambitions, or with the diminished power of the labor group that’s long swayed the country’s auto industry.
IG Metall is concerned that Tesla will follow the example of Amazon, which has expanded in Europe without signing wage deals for its workers despite years of union protests. Musk wants his German plant to model a Silicon Valley startup — “luring workers with unregulated salaries and stock options and promising perks such as a “mega rave cave” party space featuring a sound system the size of a car.” Should Musk succeed, other automakers may follow suit and further undermine German labor organizing efforts.
An IG Metall leader admonished Musk to view wage accords as necessary to sustaining peaceful labor relations. “It’s not good for an automobile manufacturer to be in permanent conflict with IG Metall,” Christian Bäumler, deputy leader of a labor-affiliated faction of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said in a statement. “The union has organizational power, it has money, it has experience. It can endure a long fight.”
But Musk is a formidable opponent — the Tesla factory promises to create up to 40,000 jobs in Eastern Germany, a region that lost its heavy industry during World War II. Furthermore, Musk is building the factory as German manufacturers lay off tens of thousands of employees in anticipation of the transition to electric vehicles, which require fewer workers to assemble.
Musk has long held organized labor in contempt. A judge in 2019 reprimanded Tesla for repeatedly violating the National Labor Relations Act, and in 2017, when an employee at Tesla’s California plant attempted to unionize the site, Musk suggested the effort would undermine the company and hinted that he would take away stock options from workers who organize.