I Pledge Allegiance To The $39 DVD Player
100 years ago, American industry treated its workers like cattle and wreaked havoc on the environment. This is the kind of stuff that happened in US factories:
- Children were hired to work long hours every day.
- Factories ran without air conditioning in summer or heat in winter.
- Dangerous machines were operated without guards or emergency stops or worker training.
- There were no emergency exits, or they were blocked by stock or merchandise.
- Factories spewed out soot, unscrubbed, unregulated, and the height of the smokestacks was not always sufficient to dissipate pollutants, which simply settled on the surrounding neighborhoods.
- Workers were forced to stand for many hours, or work overtime, or relinquish half a day's pay for arriving one minute late.
- Workers were not provided health insurance.
- Wages were often well below living wages.
- Workers were physically beaten and/or mentally abused.
- Collective bargaining units were not permitted.
Relatively little of that goes on any more in this country. There were worker uprisings in our grandparents' day and lots of people died. You can have a look at some of what went on here. At the cost of their blood and guts, we now have very strict laws protecting our workers and our environment (for the most part) from the ravages of unchecked corporate greed.
But all that stuff costs money. Makes products more expensive.
Which is why we now buy 60% of our manufactured goods from China. Wanna take a stab at how the Chinese are able to make anything and everything cheaper than we can? Well , first and foremost, wages are much lower - even fair wages. Second, their currency is devalued which puts the exchange rate in their favor, making their products cost less than ours. I can live with those two disadvantages. But here's what also goes on:
Children are hired to work long hours every day.
Factories run without air conditioning in summer or heat in winter.
Dangerous machines are operated without guards or emergency stops or worker training.
There are no emergency exits, or they are blocked by stock or merchandise.
Factories spew out soot, unscrubbed, unregulated, and the height of the smokestacks is not always sufficient to dissipate pollutants, which simply settles on the surrounding neighborhoods.
Workers are forced to stand for many hours, or work overtime, or relinquish half a day's pay for arriving one minute late.
Workers are not provided health insurance.
Workers are paid unfair wages.
Workers are physically beaten and/or mentally abused.
Collective bargaining units are not permitted.
So in effect, American industry has done a complete end run around the rights our great-grandparents fought for, and simply moved all its manufacturing overseas where it can once again treat workers like cattle while wreaking havoc on the environment. (Just as an aside, pollutants originating from the Dongguan manufacturing areas in China are now measurable in Southern California.)
So, in discussing this with some buttheaded right wing idiot recently, it was suggested to me that perhaps the Chinese should adopt "American Values". And as long as they don't, then we have every right to go ahead and let them make $39 DVD players for us.
Now here's the real kicker. Chinese workers, not surprisingly are starting to get restless. There have been many small uprisings here and there in China, as workers begin to demand better conditions, better pay and the right to organize. In an unprecedented response, (and a rather astute attempt to avoid a repeat of American labor history) the Chinese government has proposed a new national workers rights law that provides sweeping reforms on behalf of the Chinese laborer.
Pretty cool. But wait. There is opposition to the new law.
From........... The American Chamber of Commerce in China. That would be made up of chief executives from Coke, Pepsi, General Electric, Nike, even Microsoft. Seems American Values are already firmly entrenched in China, and this new law will only muck them up.
Their argument? It'll drive up costs and ruin them financially. In other words, that DVD player might end up costing $59. And Michael Jordan will not be paid $39 million dollars a year to wear a pair of sneakers made by a guy who makes $39 a year.
Perhaps the $39 DVD player, folks, is the true American Value.