Charles Kernaghan, an anti-sweatshop activist noted for his confrontation with television hostess Kathie Lee Gifford, has vividly described conditions in Third World sweatshops.
He describes the factories as uniformly austere concrete buildings topped by razor wire and with armed guards who search the employees on entering and leaving. Employees are often teenage girls made to work as fast as possible by brutal foremen. These foremen verbally abuse or beat the girls to enforce compliance or sometimes use the threat of firing for sexual favors. The workers are allowed only two bathroom breaks a day. Hours are very long and forced overtime occurs with violations costing a day’s pay or termination. If a girl gets pregnant, she is fired. If workers attempt to form a union, they are fired and blacklisted, or even become the victims of death squads. There is presently a case in a US court brought by the United Steelworkers of America on behalf of workers in Coca-Cola bottling plants in Colombia, who have had several of their union leaders assassinated by death squads. Toxic chemicals are used in these sweatshops with no precautions. and the air in garment factories is filled with dust and lint.
The multinational corporations make absolutely obscene profits from these operations. Charles Kernaghan uses the example of one Nike product that workers get paid six cents for producing and which sells for over seventy dollars in the United States.
The argument is used that these ridiculously low wages are actually good wages for the countries where these workers live. Mr. Kernaghan has analyzed this claim and found that workers get paid about one-third the cost of living. Whole families must work to survive and babies are even raised on coffee because milk is too expensive.
What is the difference between these conditions and outright slavery? Certainly millions more people live under these conditions than during the period of 18th and 19th century slavery. It is true that people can leave, but leave to what? They can’t go back to the land because rich landlords and big agribusiness companies have taken the land, either by force or by flooding the country with cheap imported food, which undercuts the local markets. So people can become beggars, come to the US or Europe as illegal immigrants or simply lay down and die of starvation and disease. That’s real freedom brought to these unfortunate people by the leaders of the “free world,” who constantly lecture them on the benefits of “free trade,” “free markets,” and “free enterprise.”
These countries are called “developing countries” in the US corporate media. Developing what?- misery, disease, death and millions of children who had their childhood stolen by brutal sweatshop labor. These people were better off centuries ago, when they were hunters, fishermen and farmers.
There is a relationship between sweatshops and huge US military and CIA budgets and foreign soldiers being taught torture techniques at the School of the Americas. There is a relationship between sweatshops and clean-cut American boys dropping bombs from high altitude on Third World people.
It is not about the Soviet Union. It never was. The Soviet Union was only an impediment and an excuse. It is about these private tyrannies called corporations dominating the Earth and extracting as much wealth from it as possible and at any cost!
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