|1.“There are no sweatshops in the U.S.”
Sweatshop exploitation is not an overseas problem. The worst kinds of working conditions – indentured servitude and slavery – exist right here in the United States. For example, in 1994, 72 Thai slaves were found working 22 hours a day under threats of physical violence inside a barbed-wire compound in El Monte, CA. Workers in many industries (auto, toys, electronic, even data processing and services) are caught up in new global sweating systems. Long hours are spreading across the country, regardless of industry, community, trade, income, or skill level. Repetitive motion injuries are on the rise.2.“People work in sweatshops because they want to.”
To justify brutal conditions and low wages corporations and employers claim that sweatshop workers are grateful to have jobs. Some argue that sweatshop conditions are acceptable in immigrant cultures. Corporations also claim that downsizing, subcontracting, contingent labor, and longer hours are necessary for their survival. In reality, people only work in sweatshops when they have no alternative. Many workers are organizing against sweatshop conditions. In 1993 immigrant workers led a successful seven-month community campaign against sweatshop conditions at Silver Palace, one of the largest and most profitable restaurants in New York’s Chinatown. In many other communities across the country people are laying groundwork for a new labor movement aimed at transforming the sweatshop system.
3.“Illegal immigrants cause sweatshops.”
What is an “illegal” human being? “Illegal” workers are a bonanza for sweatshop bosses. These employers pretend to do undocumented immigrants a favor by hiring them and then forcing them to work inhumanly long hours. Legislation that makes it illegal for undocumented immigrants to work, like the employers’ sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), simply expands the pool of workers trapped in sweatshops and makes it harder for them to organize. This cheap labor pool drives down the working and living standards of other workers.
The real cause of the spread of sweatshop conditions and sweating structures is the employers’ drive to cut labor costs so that they can maintain or raise their profits. Anti-immigrant hysteria simply divides working people and deflects our attention from the systemic roots of the problem. Saying that undocumented workers cause sweatshops is like saying that slaves cause slavery.
4.“The government is taking care of things.”
Health and safety violations, fire hazards, child labor, 70-100 hour work weeks with no overtime pay, subminimum wages – all of these sweatshop conditions are illegal and yet they are spreading. The Secretary of Labor’s main response to the problem has been to “ask” employers to police themselves. The government continues cutting budgets for labor enforcement agencies to the bone. In addition, legislation like the employers’ sanctions provision of IRCA and other anti-immigrant measures are forcing more immigrants to seek employment in illegal sweatshops because they have no alternative. Ending the spread of sweatshop conditions and protecting the bottom-line human rights of working people are not leading priorities for politicians or the government.
5.“People work longer hours to make more money.”
Working longer hours or taking more than one job are ways that many of us are coping with the problem of falling wages. In the long run, however, we pay dearly for the loss of our free time. Longer hours are destroying people’s health, taking us away from our families and communities, and preventing us from participating in society beyond the workplace. And long hours are not really helping us economically. Over the past two decades, even though most of us have been working longer days, weeks, and years, our real incomes and quality of life have declined.
6.“I’m not an immigrant. I don’t work in a sweatshop. It’s not my problem.”
Sweating and sweatshop conditions are spreading. Many native born and immigrant workers are working under illegal subhuman conditions in garment factories, meat-processing plants, restaurants, farms, landscaping and construction companies, maid and hotel service agencies, and many other kinds of workplaces. More and more of us are threatened with downsizing, outsourcing, and replacement by contingent workers. Would your employer hire someone to do your job who would work twice as long and for less pay than you? Longer hours are spreading everywhere. At the same time, high unemployment is devastating many communities.
7.“Trade unionism can wipe out sweatshops.”
Over the last century collective bargaining has been the strategy that many working people have used to improve their terms of employment. Today, with the decline of manufacturing jobs, the shift to service-oriented work, the spread of global sweating structures, and the rise of contingent work, unions have become less effective in negotiating wages and contracts. For example, 80-90 percent of the garment sweatshops in New York’s Chinatown is unionized and conditions are deteriorating anyway. Union workers are making $1 to $3 an hour, working 10-16 hours a day, and child labor laws are being violated.
We need to build a new labor movement that goes beyond collective bargaining to fight for political power and systemic change.
8. “There is no alternative to sweatshops.”
Corporations and politicians are trying to convince the public that the only hope for economic survival lies in accepting the spread of sweatshop conditions like inhuman work hours. But is a future of declining living standards and increasing hours of harder work hopeful? Just as corporations have their bottom-line, so do people. There are only 24 hours in a day. An 8-hour workday leaves people with 8 hours of leisure and 8 hours to rest. Working people of all trades, income levels and backgrounds share a common interest in establishing an 8-hour day and a 40-hour workweek as a human right. Together we can build a new labor movement from the bottom up aimed at fundamentally transforming the sweatshop system according to our needs and human rights.