Near the tail end of last year, President Trump (then only President-elect Trump) seemed to have made some headway with the formerly recalcitrant tech industry. Along with an apparently successful meeting with tech executives, the new president had received assurances of cooperation with his plan to reclaim American jobs from those very executives.
The most visible such assurance came shortly after the president’s election, in the form of a letter from IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, who promised to expand hiring by 25,000 over the next four years. Along with this, Rometty also offered Trump a great heaping of unsolicited (and unhelpful) advice on how to create “new collar” jobs. (Spoiler alert: it involved selling out American workers to their new would-be tech masters.) Further, the company’s already documented friendliness with China, the geopolitical rival most often at loggerheads with the new president, remained a very live concern.
Given all this, there was ample reason for Trump to be skeptical of IBM’s promises, and to ignore their disingenuous suggestions. Nevertheless, an optimistic observer could have suggested that perhaps IBM was sincere and that, in any event, Trump should give them a chance to live up to their promises.
We now know how utterly empty those promises actually were. On Trump’s first Monday in office, Bloomberg and the San Jose Mercury News reported that, far from its promises of expanding employment by 25,000, IBM has actually gone on a firing spree. Indeed, according to the IBM employees quoted, the open letter from Rometty was only ever a bit of smarmy corporate PR intended to cover up the fact that IBM was planning on shipping far more jobs overseas than it had any plans of creating at home. Per Bloomberg:
Rometty’s hiring pledge prompted current and former IBM workers to vent on message boards and Facebook groups. Some complained that the new recruiting drive wouldn’t offset jobs sent overseas in recent years. Others said Rometty had neglected to mention whether and how many people would be fired in the meantime. Some urged online communities to contact the Trump transition team and educate his aides about IBM’s history of layoffs and outsourcing.
“Ginni Rometty is terminating thousands of IT workers and touting herself as some hero who’s out to hire 25,000 workers,” says Sara Blackwell, a Sarasota, Florida-based lawyer and advocate for Protect U.S. Workers, who represents about 100 IBM ex-employees who have filed discrimination and other complaints. “To me, that’s hypocritical.”
Ah, what a devilish thing fine print can be!
In reality, there was no reason to suspect that IBM would do anything else. The success of their stock in recent years has come almost entirely from not merely ignoring American interests, but arguably from acting against them. Nowhere has this been more true than China, where former Chinese officials have openly touted IBM’s perverse willingness to practically give away their own technology to the Chinese government in exchange for fleeting access to the Chinese market. Never mind that, thanks to IBM’s help, those same officials gleefully gloat about their ability to create “a domestic tech industry that in the long run will no longer need to buy American products.” Rometty will likely have her golden parachute and speaking spot at Davos nailed down by the time that “long run” comes around.
President Trump has yet to weigh in on this particular betrayal, though he obviously should. The president’s inaugural address stressed that his administration will follow the simple dicta that one should “buy American” and “hire American.” IBM is ensuring that China will not follow the former while openly thumbing their nose at the latter. Trump obviously prefers a dual carrot and stick approach to keeping industries at home, and for that he deserves commendation. But in the case of IBM, it may be more appropriate, to paraphrase the words of the man whose bust now adorns Trump’s oval office, Teddy Roosevelt, to tweet loudly and wield a big stick.