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

jewen at bellsouth.net jewen at bellsouth.net
Thu May 20 11:02:11 JEST 2004

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <jewen at bellsouth.net>
To: "Janet Minshall" <jhminshall at comcast.net>
Sent: Thursday, May 20, 2004 10:56 AM
Subject: Re: [afmdiscussion] Re: [saymaListserv] Outsourcing, sweatshops,and
economic globalization

> Janet Minshall wrote:
> > The real problem, Julia, is that we actually believe that we have the
> > right to determine whether our brothers and sisters in Less Developed
> > Countries should work "...for less than we believe their labor is
> > really worth?" and also that we believe that we should have a say
> > about the conditions of their employment.  We have assumed that they
> > cannot make informed decisions for themselves. They can and they do
> > all the time, and many of them wonder how we can sit here well-fed
> > and comfortable in our houses with electricity and indoor plumbing
> > and tell them what they can not or should not do.
> >
> > Most of them recognize on some level that their country has little or
> > no infrastructure and that prospective employers will probably have
> > to develop on-site water sources and large scale septic tanks for
> > organic wastes, a really large electric generation system will have
> > to be imported and installed, reliable mail and telephone systems
> > will have to be developed, as well as computer hook-ups which are
> > needed in order to do business.  There are also roads that will take
> > truck traffic to be built, and shipping docks that will take cargo
> > ships to construct.  Lower wages than those paid in the US are quite
> > appropriate when the costs of setting up are so enormous and the
> > prices of food and other necessities in the local area are usually so
> > low. They know that, these poor people you want to protect from
> > economic development, and they want the jobs anyway.   Janet
> This is the same process that occurred in the USA when Northern jobs went
> South into the Southern Piedmont and the mountain foothills. People came
> of the deep country and down from the mountains to work in the factories,
> and they had been existing in very "basic" conditions without running
> or electricity or modern education and medical care. For them the "slave
> wages"  being paid by Yankee owners and managers looked like big money.
> did not see cash money from one harvest season to the next.
> When they moved into company owned housing and bought goods on credit
> against their paychecks from the company store, it seemed to them that
> had a better situation than the one they had left. In reality what
> was that they became de facto endentured servants as the money owed to the
> company exceeded their low real wages, and even when better opportunities
> became available they were unable to leave, because their terms of
> employment said they could not leave unless they satisfied all debts to
> company. Local police enforced the employers' rights against the workers.
> was jail or slavery. Meanwhile, as jobs went South, the unions had to
> struggle in the North to keep wages at a level that would support a decent
> living standard for those workers, who were used to electricity and
> water and schools and even some medical care...and still wages were
> as Northerners fought the exporting of jobs Southward.
> When the "outside agitators" came South to help organize Southern textile
> workers, yes, they believed that working men and women in the South were
> human beings entitled to be treated as well as their Northern brothers and
> sisters. But also they were motivated to protect themselves from becoming
> enslaved to the same low wages and exploitative "company store" and
> town" system as the Southern workers were experiencing. The movie The
> Dollmaker, starring Jane Fonda, is one example of a story depicting the
> social disruption and exploitation of Southern workers under that system.
> Something very similar is happening in the off-shore movement of jobs to
> LDCs in our own generation.
> It was in the interests of Northen business owners rather than either the
> Northern or the Southern workers for Southern wages and living conditions
> remain depressed. That Southern workers considered such wages and
> as a step up from poverty did not justify the use of them as defacto
> any more than the continuance of de facto African American slavery through
> the share cropping system could be justified by the claim that the African
> American farmers' lot was better because they were no longer the legal
> property of white farmers. That many African Americans voted with their
> by remaining on such farms did not justify people in allowing the
> exploitation of their labor to continue. The same thing is true of the
> exploitation of the LDCs' workforce.
> My argument is not with the intent of those who want to keep the labor of
> LDCs from being exploited, my argument is against the romantic fantasy
> people enjoy living without modern sanitation and electricity and medical
> care and education, and that it is therefore okay to pay them substandard
> wages, and in the name of protecting the earth from global warming and
> overpopulation it is okay to let disease and hunger diminish their
> and that by riding bicycles and eating only vegetables here and boycotting
> the sweatshop products we have made life better for them.
> A living wage is necessary, one that provides sanitary living conditions
> (which helps babies and mothers survive)  and electricity (which allows
> sort of mechanization that alleviates the backbreaking labor of women in
> homes and fields). To get that living wage, people will put up with
> conditions in the factories that we consider slave labor conditions. But
> that does not mean that such people either enjoy or desire to work under
> those conditions. It just means that they are motivated. They will do what
> is necessary to get for their children better than they had.
> To attract and retain the Western corporations LDCs will tolerate and even
> give financial incentives to companies that exploit, abuse and destroy
> resources, many unrenewable. Do we do nothing because we fear to be called
> patronizing, arrogant or, worse, racist? Do we really believe that the
> leadership in LDCs does not realize what is going on? That is arrogant and
> patronizing on our part!
> Yes, they decline to raise standards of environmental protection and
> protection in order to attract the jobs. But, do we think that the leaders
> of LDCs have unmixed motives, that they are not lining their own pockets
> the expense of the workers?  In the South there were certain already-
> moneyed interests that benefitted by the Northern businesses moving South
> and exploiting the Southern labor force in the USA. Do we not understand
> that the same thing is happening in the LDCs?
> While we do not solve the problems of the LDC worker by boycotting the
> products of sweatshops, thus forcing them into worse paid and more
> and more dangerous work to get the same level of pay, we do them a
> disservice to tolerate the conditions that allow the exploitation of their
> labor for less than it really worth. How it can be done without harming
> LDC's economy is the challenge.
> When I lived in Africa we tried to pay our workers in our home American
> wages, and we were asked by the African government not to do that. It was
> not sustainable on the local economy after we had gone back to USA. That
> the big problem in the LDCs as I see it. Not that Americans should not pay
> better wages, but that the wage increases should  be widespread enough and
> sustainable. That corporations should be content with lower profit, but
> be robbed of all profit or thrown into the red in conducting operations in
> LDCs. That USA corporations instead of exporting jobs should be content
> lower profit, but not be robbed of all profit or forced into the red by
> process of raising environement and labor protections in LDCs.
> In particular lives of women improve greatly when wages rise and modern
> sanitation and electricity and medical care become affordable. Maybe men
> don't think they have a problem laboring for substandard wages in
> sweatshops, because when they go home at night, one or more women wash
> clothes, haul the water and wood, cook the food, wash up the dishes, by
> means of hand labor. Pounding clothes on a rock in a stream or scrubbing
> them on washboard and running them through a ringer sounds like a great
> to us--easy on the environment--costs practically nothing...until it is
> back that will not straighten all the way up due to the pain, even when
> lie down in bed at night. And chances are that Mom as well as Dad is also
> working in one of those sweatshops for a 14 hour day! Doctoring with herbs
> grown in your own garden sounds real romantic, even progressive, until it
> YOUR baby that comes down with measles and remains sick for years
> or dies from complications because the hospitals's sanitation is poor and
> the doctors absent or overworked. Yes, workers in sweatshops are better
> than they were without those jobs, but that does not mean they don't like
> the idea of being still better off.
> It is, as I said, a problem of how to do it, not whether. I think that the
> workers of the world will call us something worse than arrogant or
> patronizing or racist if we do NOT advocate a higher wage and standard of
> living for them. They will call us cowardly, vain and self-centered
> day-dreamers! If we fail to grapple with the real issues because we are
> afraid of being called names, we are faint of heart indeed, and of no real
> help to anyone!...
> Julia Parker Ewen

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