coco fusco on Sat, 7 Aug 2004 17:33:59 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> The Art of Sweatshops

> "I doubt if China could account for 40% of world
> economic growth last year by sweatshop methods alone, any more
> than Britain could in Marx's day."

I'm all for discussions of labor exploitation in the global economy but it
seems to me that there is a bit of disingenuousness going on here...

I agree with those who pointed out that there is a tendency, even among
nettimers, to conflate sweatshops with any factory production in
non-western countries and/or factories employing non-white laborers that
are located in the US and Europe.

But sweatshops are factories that rely on extracting higher profit by
means of exploitative labor practices - i.e., low wages, hazardous working
conditions, overcrowding, and open disregard for humane labor standards.
And they exist just about everywhere in the world, and often employ white
workers, as is the case of many Eastern European countries. Even in New
York, Russian and Polish entrepreneurs are famous for their sweatshops
employing thousands of undocumented immigrants from Eastern Europe, some
of whom travel here on tourist visas and toil away for a few months in
order to take some cash back to the "motherland."

As for the comment about China, while I am sure there are many factors
that contribute to China's explosive economic growth, the fact that China
offers cheap labor to the rest of the world should not be downplayed as
the central factor. Even Mexico, where the minimum wage is not enough to
feed a family of four, is losing maquiladoras weekly to China.

As for the assertion that cheap labor wasn't key to Britain's success ...I
would dispute that as well. What we now call sweatshop conditions were the
status quo in the 19th century. Britain became a world power on the backs
of exploited laborers who spent a century fighting for decent work
conditions and the right to unionize, as did American laborers who were
murdered, harassed and fired once upon a time, in the same way that trade
unionists are now in the third world.

There is, however, another factor that was not taken in to account.
Britain, like the US, became a world power not only because of its 19th
century sweatshops but because of SLAVERY, a labor condition that ensured
the financial gain garnered from colonialism and that rested ideologically
on the institution of racism.

Coco Fusco


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