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There are "sweatshops" and then there are sweatshops
Posted by: McQ on Friday, January 23, 2009

Several days ago Nicholas Kristof started a mini-bruhaha when he wrote a piece in the NY Times entitled "Where Sweatshops Are A Dream".

Essentially the gist of the story is don't knock so-called "sweatshops" until you understand their place in various countries. Or, there are places where working in a "sweatshop" is a huge step in the right direction for people.

And no, for you wondering, this isn't a rationalization for all sweatshops. I understand the term, I understand that in some places the conditions are abominable and the workers are virtual slaves.

But read Kristof's piece and you'll understand that where that isn't the case, and where working in what we might consider a sweatshop (because of the low pay, or hours worked, etc) is actually something to which the poor, in places like Cambodia, aspire.

If agriculture averages a wage of .25 an hour and the factory averages a wage of .50 an hour, which place would you rather work if you have a family to feed? And while we may consider the wages to be "slave wages", in relative terms, they're an improvement in the standard of living of the wage earner.

Would I like to make .50 an hour? I couldn't survive here on that wage, because our economy is much more advanced than the economies of third-world countries and that wage won't give me the purchasing power I need to live or even subsist. But in places like Cambodia, relative to the wages being paid there and their purchasing power, not only can they live, but thrive.

That's why you read things like this:
Look, I know that Americans have a hard time accepting that sweatshops can help people. But take it from 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, who earns a bit less than $1 a day scavenging in the dump. She’s wearing a “Playboy” shirt and hat that she found amid the filth, and she worries about her sister, who lost part of her hand when a garbage truck ran over her.

“It’s dirty, hot and smelly here,” she said wistfully. “A factory is better.”
If Neuo Chanthou gets that "factory" job and earns, say, $3 a day, someone tell me she's not better off. That doesn't mean you abandon the fight for better labor standards and other rights for workers, but while you're doing so, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
 
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yes, definitely. Because of family and other things, I spend a lot of time in the Phillipines and there are a lot of factories there and there is a real competition to get in these places.

Also, amongst the well educated middle class (people with advanced degrees), a lot of people aspire to working in a call center(something that I thought was a dead end job) because things there are better than other places.

Take a nurse for example, many make about 7000 pesos a month which works out to be about 146 USD per month. A call center employee can make more
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
...because things there are better than other places.

Take a nurse for example, many make about 7000 pesos a month which works out to be about 146 USD per month. A call center employee can make more
How typical of the topsy-turvy exploitative world of Global Monopoly Finance Capital. The caring profession, in a nation desperately in need of the caring professions, pays less than the call centre work. Those who labor to support the mega-technical Gaia Devouring Industrial Centre are paid more than the nurses of the Philippines. Of course, because the exploited workers of the industrial centre must be made to feel that they are important, even though they are merely replaceable cogs in the machine of Industrial Destruction and Exploitation, so we make available to them, “tech support.” But of course this can’t be provided at a living wage within the Core, no we must, in the name of the Almighty Bottom-Line (An Angry “God” That Brooks No Rivals) we must export this pitiful dead-end jobs to the exploited Periphery. Making these people feel better, though they are merely dining off the moldy table scraps of the corporate table, whilst the nurses go without pay…what a world, the sick have no help, because the nurses are all working to make sure that your X-Box 360 is functioning well…how you people can live with yourselves is beyond me.

The only good thing is that the World System 1945-2008 is now passing….and with it, hopefully, shall pass this exploitative global economic scheme, that enriches the top 1% of the world, and IMMISERATES the other 99%.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
First of all, the cost of living is much cheaper in these countries.

I recall eating meals in Indonesia in 1991 that cost US$ 0.05. (That was my record low cost meal.) Rice, spicy peanut sauce in a banana leaf. Mmmmm.

My rent was US$ 100 / year. Not per month. PER YEAR.

House had about 500W total in electricity....we even used 5W bulbs for the exterior. Came back to the states to see 1000W microwave ovens.

Now, in China, its even better for a worker. Because most workers are migrant, they get free housing and food.

Also, because the living conditions in these countries are primitive, often the factory owners (who are often ex-peasants themselves) don’t understand why Concerned McLiberal freaks out when the toilet is filthy. Because the boss’ house might be pretty filthy too.

We used to be like that, too.
http://memory.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsac/1a34000/1a34100/1a34169v.jpg

Also, in China many of the young migrants want to work 12 hour days seven days a week - they are saving all their money to buy a home back in their village and get married.

Oh, and I almost forgot, wages have gone up in China a lot...because workers will switch jobs if the pay/benefits/environment sucks.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
"If Neuo Chanthou gets that "factory" job and earns, say, $3 a day, someone tell me she’s not better off. That doesn’t mean you abandon the fight for better labor standards..."

Indeed, that $3 factory job is the first step up from destitution for most of the world. It may offend our effete western sensibilities but that job does a tremendous amount of good. It is through that postion that she will bein to build a standard of living that will enable her and her children to lobby for those workplace improvements themselves. The low-end job is an ENABLER of better standards.
 
Written By: CR
URL: http://
Fact, you can always have more fun with your numbers when you always stick with the "American standard" calibration to describe it.

"They make $3.00 a day! Shocking! Ahhhhh!"
The underlaying mental relfection being "How can they afford to eat! or to get a BMW? Or to go to a high priced liberal college! Ahhhhhhh!!!!!"

Any normal American realises $3.00 is barely going to pay for the super sized McMicMacKing Burger McWhopperMeal they were going to get for lunch today.

Of course $3.00 a day is wrong wrong wrong wrong! These people are working an 8, maybe even 10 hour day!

Be sure to NEVER mention that in a country where the average income might equate to $2.00 American a day, and average cost of living might equate to $1.50 American a day.....$3.00 American a day actually is a darn good wage.

There is seldom a calibration paragraph where they calibrate the $3.00 a day to the local conditions. They like to leave it calibrated against the American standard because it’s much easier to generate outrage and support for pet policies that have no basis in the local reality.

Do gooderism triumphs.
 
Written By: looker
URL: http://
freaks out when the toilet is filthy. Because the boss’ house might be pretty filthy too.
oh yeah, most toilets are little more than holes is the ground and you squat hoping not to fall in. You don’t know misery until you have to content with this and nasty tropic diseases that require you to visit this very often.
Of course $3.00 a day is wrong wrong wrong wrong! These people are working an 8, maybe even 10 hour day!
Yeah for all their supposed worldliness, they are really extremely naive
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
Someone made a valuable point, on $3 a day, how can these people afford a Liberal Arts education? Will you not think of the professors? This is an OUTRAFGE, I demand that the UN or the US institute a program to ensure that EVERY Third World Worker, has the chance to take at least one Poli Sci Course per year, or at least pay the equivalent into a fund for indigent Poli Sci Professors. I will gladly undertake to manage this fund...
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
"We used to be like that, too."

But fortunately for us, we had a powerful, loving, and generous government to make laws that changed all that for the better. As soon as these other countries understand that government must force the greedy, evil capitalists to do the right thing, they too will have an American standard of living.

Hopefully, by then we will still have an American standard of living.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
"I demand that the UN or the US institute a program to ensure that EVERY Third World Worker, has the chance to take at least one Poli Sci Course per year"

I think that is classified as a Crime Against Humanity by one of the various international conventions. If not, it should be.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
"I demand that the UN or the US institute a program to ensure that EVERY Third World Worker, has the chance to take at least one Poli Sci Course per year"
Well, the UN certainly is helping children in some ways. Given that the lefties support the UN over their own government then I am sure they would get behind more efforts like this.
 
Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
I remember the same accusations rising to the fore in the early 90’s. I was in the military and was in Taiwan from 73-75 and Korea from 75-77. I watched as these countries economies emerged, often on the backs of what was labeled sweatshops. At the same time (early 90’s) Jonah Goldberg had a good article in National Review called Sweatshop Chic that covered the topic quite well.
I think this a one of many topics that gets dusted off when the U.S. gets a liberal administration. Remember, early 90’s Clinton was coming into office just as now Obama is coming into office.
From Sweatshop Chic is this-which I believe drives this mantra.
And once you start reading the anti-sweatshop "literature," it’s easy to see why the cause is so fashionable. Sweatshops are seen as spores of capitalism and Western imperialism, floating on the international trade winds, setting roots in virgin territories, and mushrooming into everything Mother Jones readers deplore: the oppression of women and minorities, exploitation of the poor, and destruction of the environment. What could be more useful for recharging the batteries of dour feminists and moth-balled Marxists?
 
Written By: tom scott
URL: http://
Would I like to make .50 an hour? I couldn’t survive here on that wage
You may have to...welcome to the Obama Nation. A land of dorks, freaks, dimwits, jerkoffs, fruitpies and fruitcakes, and Dow 3500.
 
Written By: James Marsden
URL: http://
Areas of our own nation prospered as a result of higher factory wages relative to agriculture. It is hypocritical to insist that other nations should be denied similar opportunity.

New England prospered by the creation of woolen mills along the Merrimack River and offered a better economic future to the poor subsistence farmers of the day. The mills would be considered sweatshops by today’s standards, long tedious hours under dangerous circumstances. There was a risk of anthrax from wool as well.

The definition of sweatshop should be relieved of its emotional content. If factory work is preferred by workers at liberty to choose their employment then who should define it as immoral? It is of course reasonable that employees be guarded from significant workplace hazard, but for liberals to insist that the economic opportunity afforded to poor farmers is immoral is just wrong.
 
Written By: CT
URL: http://
Be careful Joe. Go too far, the mind may not recover.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
Don, as Nietzsche said, "Stare into the Abyss long enough and the Abyss stares back."
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
We used to call this the "warm $#!+" theory.

Warm $!+ has it’s drawbacks... for example the smell.
But if you’re freezing to death, it’s a step up. At least it’ll get you warm.

It’s been so long since most liberals have had to face that equation, that they’ve no clue what it means, and what they deprive people of by demanding more.



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Here are some other articles on the subject that are along the same lines as Mr. Kristof’s: Hondurans in ’Sweatshops’ See Opportunity and Don’t get into a lather over sweatshops

 
Written By: TnTexas
URL: http://
idk. Some of those countries suppress market driven wage increases to help maintain the appeal and advantage of manufacturing there.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
"Some of those countries suppress market driven wage increases to help maintain the appeal and advantage of manufacturing there."
How?
 
Written By: Grimshaw
URL: http://
How? Flat out laws for starters and I’m sure softer persuasions are available from there.

I know when the auto companies started setting up in Mexico, they wanted to offer more to get a better class of worker and the government told them no. Of course that government got politically tossed out if I recall not long after for those kind of policies. But I don’t think many of these 50 cent/hr countries really have that option.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
The problem isn’t in pushing corporations to improve conditions in their overseas operations. If anything, healthy, motivated workers are always more productive, that’s true of any operation.

The problem is unions using sweatshops as an excuse for protectionism that shuts down these factions. This destroys jobs for thousands of foreigners, but gains them a handful of union dues and hides the inefficiency of over-unionized operation. The market’s efficiency at reallocating actually hurts it because the costs are so effectively distributed to consumers, so it doesn’t result in headline grabbing pain.

The Democrat party is completely beholden to the unions. Corporations don’t care, and consumers don’t know about cheap goods that aren’t on the shelves. Small businesses should care, but aren’t well organized to either understand the problem or lobby effectively against it. So, as is often the case, fiscal conservatism finds weak representation in the Republican party because it’s hard to translate into votes or effective lobbying.
 
Written By: ben
URL: http://

 
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