Posts Tagged ‘child labor

08
Jan
11

Corporations To Boycott (Part II)

As in my last post, this is by no means a complete list, and any and all suggestions (or criticisms) are welcome.

GAP:

GAP (called “The Gap” by people who just don’t know better) is perhaps one of the most successful clothing stores in the US. GAP is also notorious for its use of sweatshops and child-labor (resulting in a tragic-yet-hilarious video by satirical publication “The Onion”, which I’ve linked for you here). Some of GAP’s more prominent crimes include:

  • Operating sweatshops and abusing workers in Saipan (a pacific island administrated over by the United States).
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in Jordan.
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in India.

GAP also owns and operates other clothing outlets, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Despite it’s size, boycotting GAP (and it’s subsidiaries) is fairly easy due to the prevalence of thrift stores.

Nike:

As with GAP, Nike is infamous for it’s use of child labor, sweatshop labor, assorted violations of worker’s rights, and general exploitative practices, such as:

  • Repeated and widespread use of sweatshops across the third-world, including such countries as Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, and other countries.
  • Exposure of workers in Thai factories to toxic chemicals.
  • Repeated use of various music pieces (such as the Beatle’s “Revolution”) without permission from the artists.
  • Capitalization of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred”. Perhaps some explanation is needed here. Hughes was a major black writer during the 1930s, and his classic poem “A Dream Deferred” describes Hughes’ frustration and anger at the oppression of African-Americans. Nike used “A Dream Deferred” In a 2008 commercial advertising their shoes, (commercial linked here). The images and message of the advertisement have nothing in common with the meaning of the poem, and yet the poem is used for promotion of Nike’s product. There’s something very, very wrong about usurping a powerful work about racial segregation and degradation and using it to hawk footwear.

As with GAP, while Nike is a large company with a wide variety of brands and products, boycotting is fairly easy with the wide number of alternatives to buying $300 shoes made in sweatshops.

Wal-Mart:

While you’re probably already familiar with the ocean of criticisms of Wal-Mart, it’s still worth listing a few of the more heinous acts and policies for the few who might not be aware:

  • Wal-Mart is known for underpaying and overworking it’s employees. Allegations of sexism and racism have also been made.
  • Wal-Mart is viciously anti-union, attempting to “inform” workers as to the dangers of unionization, firing workers for both joining/starting unions and discussion joining/starting unions. Wal-Mart has (based on the statements of a former executive, Tom Coughlin) even gone so far as to bribe union employees in order to single-out Wal-Mart employees who had signed union cards.
  • Wal-Mart operates a number of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh.
  • Wal-Mart’s use of sweatshop labor allow it to sell products cheaply in the US, undermining small and locally-owned competitors who are forced out of business.
  • Wal-Mart, during the mid 90s, made a practice of taking out life-insurance policies on it’s employees, allowing the corporation to benefit from their deaths. Wal-Mart had named this practice “Dead Peasant” insurance.
  • Wal-Mart sells furniture made from trees grown in protected habitats in Russia (the trees were illegally cut down). The corporation has stated it will not stop selling the furniture until 2013.

Now boycotting Wal-Mart is substantially more difficult than boycotting other corporations because of the relatively low prices of most Wal-Mart products. More often than not, Wal-Mart is the more economic choice, instead of the ethical. Nevertheless, buying from local stores (dollar stores make a decent alternative) is well worth it.

Caterpillar Inc.:

While I’m guessing most of you don’t buy heavy-duty construction and demolition equipment, it’s still worth adding Caterpillar on to the list- if nothing else it might help shake their public image a bit. The primary criticism of Caterpillar is:

  • Caterpillar bulldozers (and other demolition machines) are bought and used by Israeli army to destroy Palestinian buildings.
  • In 2003, activist Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine when a Caterpillar bulldozer was driven into her.

As before, chances are you won’t be buying Caterpillar equipment in the future, but it’s still worth pointing out.

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19
Oct
10

A More Perfect Union

We have a complicated relationship with labor unions in the West. We have the timeless image of decent, simple, blue-collar men (and women) who work hard to put food on their family’s tables, until the company they work for decides to cut wages, leaving the worker’s no choice other than to form a union, strike, and eventually victor over the soulless corporate fat-cats in a heartwarming, straight-to-television kind of way. Balancing this image is that of the corrupt, surly, indolent teamsters, siphoning off cash from both the company and the workers, and bullying any opposition into submission.

 

Now there’s a bit of truth to both sides. On the one hand, unions were once (and in many parts of the world, still are) violently persecuted and harassed by companies and corporations who had men, women, and children working long hours for low pay in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Unions were, for the working class, their sole means of getting a fair wage or better conditions. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that there is corruption within many unions- just look at the news stories of unions hiring non-union workers to picket for them (linked here).

 

Now as you can probably guess, Communists side unilaterally with unions. Indeed, Communists were among the first to push for worker’s rights and unionization, and continue to do so to this day. However, what is the Marxist response to the problem of unions becoming parasitic organizations that exploit both employees and employers?

 

The problem of union corruption arises from an attempt to fight for worker rights within the Capitalist system, rather than recognizing Capitalism as the source of exploitation. Imagine that you lead a union of textile workers. You’ve just got the company you work for to agree to good wages, safe working conditions, good benefits (healthcare and whatnot)- where do you go from there? If you dissolve the union, there’s the high likelihood that the company will simply begin to exploit the workers again. If you continue to fight for higher wages and more benefits, then you might damage the company by draining it of its profits (demanding $100 hourly-wages in a lemonade stand that has a weekly profit of $5- extreme example, but you get the idea). And since we live in a society based entirely on acquiring the most cash possible, the best option for you is to line your pockets with money from both sides- higher wages from the company and union dues from the workers. This is the problem- if nothing is done about the Capitalist system that caused the exploitation in the first place, unions can be just as bad as the company.

 

So what’s the solution?

A change of priorities.

 

Communists, both in this country and around the world are working both with and in unions to fight for worker’s rights, but in a very different way than their Capitalist counterparts. Instead of working towards the end goal of more money, the Communist solution is for unions to work towards more control. Instead of continuing to work for the corporations, unions are to work for greater control over their places of work, be it a textile factory, a automobile assembly line, or a fast-food chain. Ultimately, all workers would have a fair and equal wage, and an equal share in the company. Essentially, the textile factory would be owned and run by those working there. With an equal share of the company, profit becomes secondary to the well-being of the workers and the quality and quantity of the  product being made. Exploitation would be impossible, and there would be no dichotomy between the will of the workers and the will of the company. This is the kind of union worth fighting for.

28
Jul
10

A Communist Response to the Tea Party

The Tea Party has made a point of lambasting the Communist movement. Pictures of Obama (for the last time- not a Communist) are adorned with the hammer-and-sickle emblem, or set up alongside pictures of Marx and Lenin. There are picket-signs with such slogans as “Revolt Against Socialism”-in short, it’s the largest anti-leftist movement since McCarthyism. And not without reason, either. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain appeal to the Tea Party movement. Joining the fight against the [alleged] looming threat of an authoritarian state, bringing the country back to its original values, lowering taxes for the middle-class-everyman- who wouldn’t want in? But as with every political/social/economic movement you have to cut through the buzz words and slogans and examine the core principals and goals.

The Tea Party seems to be focused around three central issues, (1) the limiting of government power, (2) the restoration of Free Market Capitalism, and (3) through these two goals bring America back to the values of the Founding Fathers. In and of themselves these principals seem perfectly reasonable- admirable even. Until you look at history.

Limiting government power? Hey- Communists are all for it. One of the principal goals of Marxism is the abolition of the state. Indeed, despite the Tea Party’s pictures of Democrat politicians with the hammer-and-sickle superimposed on them, Communists have more in common with Libertarians- as far as governmental issues anyways. The problem with the Tea Party is that there not against big government- they’re against big Democrat government. The Patriotic Act was one of the greatest expansions of government power since the Civil War- did the Tea Party protest then? In the Tea Party’s defense though- this is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum; those who protested the Patriot Act have remained strangely silent about the issue now that Obama is in power.

As for the restoration of Free Market Capitalism- there’s a reason regulatory laws and branches have been developed. Before the advent of market regulation, the state of things was appalling. Child labor, strike-breakers, low wages, dangerous work conditions, false advertising, a complete lack of product safety and quality control, rampant pollution- to put it mildly, it was nightmarish. And even despite regulatory laws, corporations continue to pollute and exploit- look at third-world sweatshops and the continued destruction of the environment! If things are bad now, how much worse will they be without laws to protect the workers and consumers?

And lastly and most importantly, there’s the issue of the founding fathers. If you listen to far-right pundits (Glen Beck would be a prime example), you’ll hear repeatedly that the US must be returned to the plans the founding fathers had for it. A closer look at the writings of America’s founders, however, suggest that they might not have been as wild about Capitalism as conservative pundits and Tea Party members make them out to be. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had this to say about private property:

It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an [sic] universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it.

Or look at this statement by Thomas Paine (technically not a founding father, but his influence of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the American government is immeasurable):

Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.

and

…To pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age; enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic; the ministers of every parish, of every denomination to certify jointly to an office, for that purpose, that this duty is performed… By adopting this method, not only the poverty of the parents will be relieved, but ignorance will be banished from the rising generation, and the number of poor will hereafter become less…

Even half a century later, Lincoln (not a founder, still an important figure in the shaping of American politics) gave us this warning:

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Quite simply, as far as the founders go, I doubt their ideologies would have mixed too well with those of the Tea Party.

To summarize, the Tea Party may have a heroic and patriotic veneer, but that’s all that there is- catchphrases, dire warnings about an apocalyptic future, and desperate attempts to restore a past that never existed. And the truly tragic thing is there’s a lot in the Tea Party that could be used for the betterment of the American public. The rejection of big government is admirable- just make sure that you’re not substituting one lack of liberty for another. The desire to restore prosperity is good- Capitalism isn’t the way. The attempt to restore the country to the principals of the founding fathers is commendable- but only so long as you know what those principals were.

15
Jun
10

[In]tolerable Evil

The myth that Capitalism is a great and fair system is becoming rapidly dispelled. Such disasters as the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the BP oil spills, the Minamata bay dumpings,  the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the general level of corruption, ecological devastation, poverty, and exploitation brought on by our current economic structure have brought many to an understanding that Capitalism is in fact an inherently evil system that benefits a lucky few. Even so, the contemporary attitudes toward towards Capitalism are tolerant. In spite of the repeated evils brought on by this system, the simple fact is people don’t care!

People are angry at BP, sure, but not angry enough to illicit action. We’ll scream our heads off after an hour in traffic, but what do we do when we hear about a sweatshop in Indonesia? We’ll tear apart a stadium during a football riot but do we riot when we hear about waste being dumped in the ocean? We’ll get into fistfights when the neighbor’s playing music too loud but do we so much as lift a finger when a man dies because he’s too poor to afford insurance or pay for medical bills?

Why? Because we’re the ones benefiting from Capitalism? Because the evils of Capitalism aren’t oppressing us? What makes me different than a coltan miner in the Congo, or a child slave in Bangladesh? If it weren’t for pure and simple dumb luck– I’d be the one working fourteen hours a day for pennies. I am not where I am today because I worked hard. I am not where I am today because I was smart or because I took advantage of the opportunities offered to me. I am where I am because I was simply born. Others are simply born into poverty, slavery, and starvation and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle they never advance. Is Capitalism a tolerable evil to them?

One of the greatest ills of Capitalism that affects not merely the proletariat but the middle and upper class as well is the concept of individuality- a flimsy facade for the uglier terms selfishness and egocentricity. We are led to imagine that we are rich because of our own hard work. We’re responsible only for ourselves. It is because of this concept that shrug and walk away from tragedies, be it a mugging or a multinational corporation paying 12 cents a day for designer jeans to be made. And we continue to hold this egomaniacal point of view because we are terrified of what it would mean if we were responsible for each other. If an old woman gets mugged, it’s not just the fault of the old woman for being more careful or the fault of the mugger for choosing to rob her- it our fault for doing nothing to stop it. If a manufacturing plant in Peru has children working for little or no pay, we’re just as much to blame for doing nothing to resist!

And for those who insist upon tolerating the evils of Capitalism and the suffering of others, I can only offer you these words written with greater urgency and eloquence than I could ever hope to have:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-F.G.E. Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984