[afmdiscussion] Re: [saymaListserv] Outsourcing, sweatshops, and economic globalization

jewen at bellsouth.net jewen at bellsouth.net
Tue May 18 10:56:15 JEST 2004

Thanks to Janet Minshall for pointing out from the Northern viewpoint the
"outsourcing" movement of the early 20th century, which I mentioned from the
Southern point of view some weeks ago. Janet wrote:

Subject: [afmdiscussion] Re: [saymaListserv] Outsourcing, sweatshops, and
economic globalization

> Actually, the process of globalization has been going on for a very
> long time.  The pace of globalization was even faster in the early
> part of the 20th century than it is now. Outsourcing, too has been
> happening for a long time.  It is only now, however, that many are
> noticing.  My spouse's father went bankrupt in New York City when the
> textile mills there began to close down and reopen in the South in
> order to take advantage of cheaper labor. In New York as well as in
> New England at the time there was rising unemployment, declining
> standards of living and community decay while the South began to
> industrialize and slowly to grow and prosper. What happened in New
> York was that new, more technologically advanced industries developed
> and eventually filled the gaps left by the loss of the textile mills
> to the South.
> Many a Yankee close to the textile industry at the time complained
> about the exploitation of poor Southern workers and spoke of
> "protecting" them from the evils of economic development just as
> anti-globalization folks now speak of "protecting" the poor in Less
> Developed Countries from the evils of economic development.

However, the difference between the situation in the United States then and
the would be protectors of the LDCs now is that there was a strong union
movement in the North in the United States. And instead of leaving a clear
field to sentimental "protectors" of the depressed Southern way of life, the
Northern unions sent organizers south and made a serious effort to unionize
the textile industry. Terrorism by both sides ensued, owners against workers
and workers against owners and scabs. National guardsmen and sometimes
federal troops were involved in putting down the violence. In the end, the
unions were less successful in the South than in the North, and what worker
gains there were could be seen as owners striking a compromise that did
improve the workers' wages and conditions but kept the unions at bay.
It was not just altruism that motivated the unions to attempt to organize
the South. By raising the wages and working standards of Southerners, they
hoped to protect their own jobs. They had struggled long and hard at the
cost of much violent conflict and lives to secure the living wage and
working conditions that they had.

Today, if the workers in the LDC's are to experience fair wages and decent
working conditions, raising costs of production to the point that jobs no
longer are being drained from the developed countries, it will probably have
to be by the same means as it happened here. People will have to band
together and refuse to work for the wages and conditions currently being
offered. And it will probably take "outside agitators" coming in to make it
possible for the local workers to succeed. When workers go out on strike
here they have been backed by the donations of money and food and clothing
contributed by other union members outside the area of the strike. It will
be necessary for the workers in the LDCs to be supported in the same way...

The violence associated with union actions in this country have tended to
make many Friends unsupportive of unions, even though deploring the business
owners' exploitation of the workers.
It must be possible to mount worker movements that are nonviolent. The
principles of Ghandhi and Martin Luther King are applicable to any number of
situations. However the response of those in the power positions is inclined
to be violent even when the tactics of the movement are not violent.
Sometimes people in the movement deliberately provoke violent response from
the other side. It has happened in union action here. It has happened in the
peace movement here in the 60's and 70's. So it becomes problematic for some
Friends as to how and to what degree we participate in these secular
To what extent are we contributing to violence by being a part of movements
in which violence is incidental to action? And in ignoring the incidental
violence because the intended end is good, do we fall into the same patterns
of thinking that contribute to good people supporting wars "to make the
country safe" or to "spread democracy"? And yet "for evil to succeed it is
necessary only for good people to do nothing"....What does the Spirit say to
us in regard to situation of our brothers and sisters who labor in the LDCs
for less than we believe their labor is really worth?

Julia Parker Ewen
Atlanta Friends Meeting

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