(en) Smithsonian Sweatshop Exhibit Under Fire

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Sat, 4 Oct 1997 15:41:18 +0000

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Smithsonian Sweatshop Exhibit Under Fire >
>Labor Alerts/Labor News
>a service of Campaign for Labor Rights
>1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003
>clr@igc.apc.org (541) 344-5410 http://www.compugraph.com/clr
>Segments of the clothing industry are trying to block a planned
>exhibit on the history of sweatshops, according to the Washington Post
>and Los Angeles Times. The exhibit, scheduled to open on April 15th,
>will include a re-creation of the El Monte sweatshop where Thai
>immigrants worked in near-slavery for years. Curators offered apparel
>industry representatives a chance to tell their side of the story.
>Pamela Rucker of the National Retail Federation declined, complaining
>that "there is no way we could counter the powerful impact of those
>horrific pictures from El Monte." The California Fashion Association
>said it is writing to members of Congress urging them to raise
>questions about the exhibit.
>If the exhibit is to survive and tell its story, then supporters must
>mobilize as well.
>The exhibit is part of a long-term Museum of American History project
>on 'work and worth." It will be entitled "Between a Rock and a Hard
>Place: A Dialogue on American Sweatshops, 1820-Present." One section
>of the exhibit will explain the history of sweatshops from the 1820's
>to the present. Next will be a re-creation of the El Monte sweatshop
>which will include the sewing machines and workstations used in the
>shop which were acquired by the Smithsonian after it was shut down by
>the California Labor Commission. That will be followed by a look at
>the global picture which will include a video of modern textile
>factories and explain that not all apparel is made in sweatshops.
>Allison Wolf of the American Apparel Manufacturers Association
>withdrew her offer to produce the video after curator Peter Liebhold
>told her that "the union role has to be positively portrayed."
>The museum asked industry, labor, government and individuals for
>contributions to fund the exhibit, but so far only UNITE, the garment
>workers' union, and the Department of Labor have made contributions.
>Apart from a monetary contribution, UNITE has also donated some items
>from its archives, including a picture of Eleanor Roosevelt sewing the
>first union label into a piece of clothing. UNITE spokeswoman Jo Ann
>Mort said that the 300,000 member union has had no other input into
>the content of the exhibit.
>According to the Washington Post, manufacturers, fashion and apparel
>industries hope that the controversy will become as heated as the one
>surrounding the National Air and Space Museum's Enola Gay exhibit.
>That exhibit was canceled after protests from veterans groups which
>complained that that it was too sympathetic to the suffering of the
>Japanese from the atomic bombs.
>Action Needed:
>Write or fax the Smithsonian Museum expressing your support for this
>exhibit. In your own words, tell curators there that you believe that
>the American public has a right to know its own history. Consumers
>have a right to learn about the conditions under which our clothing
>and our children's clothing is being produced. This controversy is
>not just about history. It's about whether sweatshops are to be our
>According to conversations with Smithsonian staff, letters will be
>extremely useful to them in showing citizen support for the exhibit in
>the face of industry protests.
>Smithsonian Museum
>Office of Public Affairs
>National Museum of American History, Room 5104 - MRC623
>Washington, DC 20560
>Fax: (202) 633-8053

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