Go to Project Gutenberg and you can read for free my chapter in The Silicon Jungle (Ballantine, 1985) about the fabulous Kaypro II portable computer. But there is an angle about which I’d written more—Andy Kay’s use of undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
What I did say was this: “Not everyone fared so well; Kay said his labor costs were half those of competitors. ‘The wages on the line are so low,’ quipped a disgruntled ex-employee, ‘I’d call them south of the border.’ Kaypro was typical of many high-tech companies; the production workers were mainly women, many of them foreign born, some of them incapable of speaking English, all of them nonunion.”
Decades later, I’ve just run across a New Yorker article on robots vs. human workers, and the paragraph below may fill in a few gaps:
In the nineteen-eighties, the sociologist Patricia Fernandez-Kelly conducted a study of the electronics and garment industries in Southern California. More than seventy per cent of the labor force was women of color, and more than seventy per cent of those women were Hispanic. In San Diego, Fernandez-Kelly interviewed a woman she called Fermina Calero (a pseudonym, to protect her from deportation). Calero was born in Mexico. In 1980, when she was twenty-one, she began working in Tijuana, soldering filaments of metal for sixty-five cents an hour. In 1983, Calero crossed into the United States, illegally, to work at Kaypro, the maker of the Kaypro II, a personal computer that briefly rivalled the Apple II. In the nineteen-sixties and seventies, Andrew Kay, the company’s founder, had hired management consultants to help him reimagine his labor force. In the eighties, when people speaking English responded to the company’s newspaper Help Wanted ads, they were told that there were no openings; when people speaking Spanish called, they were invited to apply. By the time Calero started working for Kaypro, its workforce consisted of seven hundred people, nearly all undocumented Mexican immigrants. The company’s general manager said, ‘They are reliable; they work hard; they don’t make trouble.’ At Kaypro, Calero earned nearly five dollars an hour. When the Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the factory, she hid in a supply closet. She was not a robot.
In fairness to Kaypro, $5 an hour back then was equivalent to around $12 today, but that’s still far less than what English-speaking, American-born equivalents could have earned at the time.
My own take from a 2019 perspective? (1) Robots and other tech are now far more of a threat to American jobs than immigration, (2) the Trump administration should stop being so racist and xenophobic, and (3) if jobs are the issue, then why can’t the government get more serious about policing employers? E-verify, relying on Social Security and Homeland Security records, should be a requirement, not a voluntary option. The Trump Organization turned to E-verify only after word came out about the company’s use of undocumented immigrants at a New Jersey golf club.
From crop-picking to healthcare, countless American industries would be in trouble without hardworking people from abroad—ideally paid more fairly than the Kaypro workers were. That’s what unions and effective minimum wage legislation can accomplish far better than walls.
Photo credit: Here.
Whew. This takes me back. The KayPro II was my first computer. I have been unaware of the circumstances under which it was produced.
I bought the computer. Took it home. Figured out how to set it up to go online over a 1200B modem. Connected to Compuserve, 76665,1776… and I didn’t come up for air for a very long time. Definitely a life moment for me.
Hi, Dana. Totally agree. Both a life moment—when I first fired up my Kaypro—and a life-changer. Let’s hope that in the future, U.S. business will be treating workers better.
Not sure what the future is for American workers. I work in Public Health (Environmental) and we have not had a pay increase in 3 years and I just heard a 1% ! across the board increase is in the works. I do not remember the last time a pay increase was above the inflation rate, so have been falling behind for many years. I’m 67 and could retire but I am working for the health insurance for my wife and 16 year old son.
My KayPro still sits in my basement but I have not tried to fire it up for a very long time. My son thinks it is hilarious. He does not have the sense of wonder regarding technology that I still possess. He takes it for granted.
My sympathies about your pay, Dana. A friend of mine, a talented, hardworking professional, has not received a raise in more than a decade. Not even tiny inflation increases.
As for your son, he probably thinks smartphones and big-screen TVs are about as exciting as you and I thought old-fashioned, wired telephones were. Maybe folding cellphones will make his pulse race a little.
Back to The Silicon Jungle: The last chapter, on the future, speculates–among other things–on tech and the job market. Back then the fear was over Japan. Right basic idea. But the countries changed.
My grandparents came here from Russia and Romania and had to work long hard hours for little pay for a lot of years. They weren’t refugees. They were immigrants seeking a better life and willing to work for it. Work they did and they got that better life for themselves, their kids and my brothers and sisters and me.
That’s the story of America and it’s a beautiful story. We’re all immigrants, even the Indians, if you go back far enough.
I bought a Kaypro II in a pawn shop about 20 years ago. I had a couple of CP/M machines when they were in vogue but by the time I got this thing most people never heard of CP/M. To be fair that was true when they were popular as well. 🙂
It was easily the nicest of the CP/M machines I had. I didn’t really have any use for it and I gave it to a friend who wanted something to use to teach his kids programming. I wish I’d given him something else. 🙂
I’m not sure what I paid for it. I think it might have been $20.
A beautiful note, Barry, thanks. I don’t miss CP/M at all, given how clumsy it was. I’m beginning to feel the same way about Windows. I do most of my work these days on my iPad and Chromebox. Far less risk of malware. I loved loved loved my Kaypro. But we need to look forward – both technologically and in our treatment of hardworking immigrants like the ones who built the machines.
David, is this what someone who is “racist and xenophobic” would say.
Indeed, the facts are the very opposite. Uncontrolled and illegal immigration is what’s racist. It gluts the job market at the low end and prevents many blacks and particularly legal Hispanic immigrants from getting jobs. That’s the key reason why there was such a dramatic improvement in black and Hispanic employment under Trump.
It’s why liberals and Democrats want to keep that illegal flood pouring in. It’s what might be called the Democratic party’s Detroit Strategy. Keep black and Hispanic citizens poor and out of work and they’ll vote as reliably Democratic as do the people of Detroit, an impoverished, crime-riddle hell-hole that hasn’t elected a Republican mayor in over a half-century.
It’s also why the servant-hiring class tilts heavily Democratic and wants to keep that flood coming in. Like the Kaypro of long-ago, they want to hire illegals for less than they’d have to pay someone born here. You get that right with Kaypro in the early 1980s. Why can’t you get it right now?
David, you need to wake up, open your eyes and see what’s actually happening in this country.
@Michael: Isn’t there a difference between opposing The Wall and being in favor of unrestricted immigration? That said, I believe that immigration within bounds is good for the country. Do you think Steve Jobs was a Wasp aristocrat? Or how about Andy Grove? Or Sergey Brin? And at a less lofty level, are native-born Americans going to pick fruit under the hot sun? Of course I think people should be paid fairly. But there are better remedies than The Wall – for example, decent minimum wages as well as unions and the conversion of e-Verify to a compulsory program for employers.
As for Hispanics and black people finding jobs, President Obama’s economic policies certainly have helped. The GOP tax cut? Maybe in part. But not as much as you would think – considering how much of it went for corporate stock buybacks. Meanwhile here’s a reminder of how Donald Trump, the racist-xenophobe in the White House, actually feels about Mexican immigrants.
One of my grandfathers was an illegal immigrant in the very early 20th century. He went to work in a store that he eventually owned. His 2 kids both led very productive lives as did his grandkids. All of us have paid a lot of taxes, contributed to a lot of charities, done volunteer work and given people good jobs.
People are going to try to improve their lives and that, to me, deserves sympathy. Realistically we have to limit the number of immigrants but I don’t think those few who skip past those limits are any kind of a problem. This is a minor problem and doesn’t need an expensive fix. We have much bigger problems that we could focus on.