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(en) WORKERS SOLIDARITY Volume 1 Issue 1 - Sweatshops Are Us by JoAnn Lum

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 29 Feb 2004 08:35:12 +0100 (CET)

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It has become fashionable to talk about sweatshops these days. Unfortunately,
the public discussion is dominated by a removed, self-righteous and paternalistic
stance. It's those poor women and children in Third World countries being exploited
by Nike and Disney. Meanwhile, we turn a blind eye to the sweatshops flourishing
right here in the United States. And when those outside of poor communities do
notice the sweatshops, too often they think they have nothing to do with them.
But the rising number of sweatshops in L.A. or North Carolina or New York is
part of an intensification of work and underemployment that affects almost
anyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, geographic location, trade or class.
Those who want to support workers stuck in sweatshops might start considering
that the conditions these workers face – longer hours, lower wages and job
insecurity – are problems they may be experiencing themselves.

It is true that the Chinese community, along with many other immigrant groups
and communities of color in this country, have suffered the brunt of the
expansion of what appears to be a global sweatshop. Here in Chinatown, New
York, Chinese immigrant women are toiling in garment factories under illegal,
inhuman conditions, even though most shops are unionized. Hours are rising, workers
are continually threatened with replacement by cheaper labor and work is
increasingly contracted out to middlemen for whom labor law does not exist.
In garment factories, restaurants in New York, Chinese workers – documented
and undocumented - are forced to work 70 – 100 hours a week without receiving
benefits, overtime pay or even minimum wage.

The impact of such harsh working conditions is brutal. Garment workers, for
example, report mounting number of job-related injuries. They cannot sleep,
they have no time for their children or spouses, and they have no energy for
community or civic activities. Children as young as eight work in factories
to supplement their families' income.

But what is happening to working conditions beyond these sweatshops?
Violations of basic labor laws – governing minimum wage, child labor, overtime,
safety and health – are spreading, even as the inspectors who are supposed to
enforce them are downsized. And work days are growing longer and longer as
people try to make up for their declining wages.

Sweatshop conditions are most obvious in domestic work, agriculture, hotel
cleaning and meat processing. But even Hollywood film production crews are
protesting their grueling schedules, which often call for 80-hour work weeks
and two-week stretches without a break. They are organizing – for a 14-hour

Moreover, firms in all types of industries increasingly rely on subcontracting
networks similar to those used by garment makers to evade responsibility for
poor conditions. Workers in full-time positions with benefits and pensions
are being laid off and replaced with contract labor. Last year, the nation's
largest job-finding company for laid off white-collar workers made an agreement
with Manpower, Inc., the nation's largest temp company and reputedly the
nation's largest employer, to place such workers – managers, engineers, accountants,
lawyers and bankers – when it can't place them in permanent, well-paying
ones. One estimate puts the total number of contingent workers (including
part-time, temporary and contract workers) at 35 million, 28% of the
civilian labor force.

These related national trends of overwork and underemployment are creating a
desperate climate in our communities where workers must compete relentlessly
for jobs, and we are constantly compromising our basic needs. Yes, we need
to challenge the global sweatshop and the multinationals mining the globe for
cheap labor. But not without starting with ourselves, right here in this country.
We need to address the conditions here, rather than frame it as a Third World
problem, or marginalize it as an immigrant or low-wage workers' problem.

We need to talk about how much work – or the lack of work
is taking over our lives, controlling our time, reducing us to
machines, depriving us of time with our families, friends,

How many of us are working 50, 60, 70 and more hours a
week to keep our jobs? How many of us are working two or
even three jobs? How many of us are suffering from aches
and pains and stress related to work? How many of us have
looked for a job for ages? If we embrace the idea that control
over our time is a human right, then conversations about
organizing to end the sweatshop system will be about us too
and we will construct the alternative.

Mail: NMASS P.O. Box 130293, New York, NY 10013-0995office: 30 Third Avenue,
Brooklyn (between Atlantic and State) nmass@yahoo.com
tel: 718-625-9091 • fax: 718-625-8950 • email:
©2001 NMASS All RIghts Reserved

Workers Solidarity is published by the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA).

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should be either mailed or emailed to the addresses below. All signed
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