ALBRIGHT NOTEBOOK: Women man U.S. plant in Singapore
SINGAPORE (AP) _ Surrounded by moving machinery, Rick Heupel talked gigabytes and hard drives while Madeleine Albright talked women on the line and hard work.
``Are most of these employees women?″ the secretary of state asked Tuesday as she toured Seagate Technologies with Heupel, a company vice president, as guide.
``Yes, they’re more dextrous,″ he explained.
``How many hours do they work?″ she asked.
The shifts run 12 hours, the work week seven days with several days off in a row to recuperate. The pay: $5 an hour, far less than in the United States, where the world’s largest maker of disk drives is based.
``That’s hard,″ Albright said of the job.
``We don’t get any complaints,″ Heupel replied, walking through an assembly room where women wearing dust suits, gloves and masks sat or stood at their work stations, moving with graceful industriousness.
``But they can’t talk to each other,″ Albright complained.
Replied Heupel, ``They talk in the lunch room.″
Despite her concerns about the working women, Albright appeared to enjoy herself and she praised the plant for combining American design knowhow with lower-cost Asian labor to boost profits at home, too.
``I think it is a perfect example of the future of how globalization serves the purposes of manufacturing and jobs in many countries at the same time,″ Albright said after her visit. ``To me this is the future.″
The laws and the rules of society in the authoritarian city-state of Singapore are among the strictest in Asia if not the world. No chewing gum is allowed, no litter tolerated and no vandals left unpunished _ as the United States learned in 1994 when the caning of an American teen-ager ruffled U.S.-Singapore relations.
But there are signs of subversion, including inside the Seagate Technologies plant where a poster on the walls says: ``What good is it if you only do what you’re told?″
Albright said she brought up the issue of human rights in her meetings with Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister who set the squeaky-clean, but stifling standards.
Singapore feels a bit like a virtual Sim City, a computer-planned metropolis designed with neatness and efficiency in mind.
About 85 percent of the 3 million population lives in government-built housing.
During rush hour, downtown streets are restricted to those with special permits that drivers must buy, cutting down on gridlock. Pedestrian overpasses and underpasses keep many walkers out of the roads.
And people crossing busy intersections know exactly how much time they have to get to the other side: a digital countdown clock display ticks off the seconds from 30 down to 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Red light.
Got an empty soda can? Garbage bins are conveniently spaced every 20 feet or so on both sides of the sidewalks. Or try ``Lucky Can,″ a slot machine-type recycling machine that takes cans to play. Throw the can into the bin, then after a crunching sound a lottery ticket spits out. On Tuesday, the prize to be drawn was a haircut or a leather bag.
``Life is strict, but it’s clean,″ 19-year-old David Sutedja said. ``As long as we don’t do something wrong there’s nothing to worry about.″
Albright’s visit to Singapore for one day and Malaysia for meetings in and around the Association of Southeast Asian Nations was her third trip to Asia in the past few months _ and she promised more to come.
``Get ready for long hauls to Asia because I think we’re coming back,″ Albright told reporters in a news conference, noting that the greatest strategic threats lie on the other side of the world from Washington.
What is she trying to accomplish? ``One was showing America’s interest in the region,″ she said. Another, ``To have my version of a good time.″