Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Workers Killed in Garment Factory Fire

It was reported that a garment factory fire in Dhaka killed at least 112 workers on Saturday, November 25th. Exports mainly to the United States and Europe form Bangladesh’s 4,000 or more garment factories total about $20 billion annually. Since 2006, more than 350 workers have died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh.

“Factory Fire the Deadliest of Many in Bangladesh”, by Farid Hoosain and Julhas Alam, Associated Press, Nov 26, 2012, 10:59 AM EST. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_BANGLADESH_FACTORY_FIRE

“Recent Garment Factory Fires in Bangladesh”, Associated Press, Nov 26, 9:03 AM EST, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_BANGLADESH_FACTORY_FIRE_GLANCE

I was immediately reminded of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on Marcy 25, 1911 which caused 146 deaths of workers. As a result of this and other tragedies, labor unions formed to defend the right of workers to a safe work environment and legislation was passed to improve factory safety standards.

“Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire

And then my mind moved on to the many issues that revolve around the exporting of manufacturing jobs to third world nations.

Neoliberals argue that the international marketplace for labor makes goods cheaper and business more profitable, but the only way that it does so is by externalizing the actual cost of production in terms of human labor and environmental destruction by moving those jobs to parts of the world were the progressive reforms of developed nations do not yet exist.

Conservatives defend their exploitation of a servant underclass in these third world nations by pointing out how much worse off these people would be with no jobs. Today there are 112 worker from Dhaka who were exploited, poor and finally dead because they had a job.

We can all wear clothing without exploiting other human beings or destroying our environment. The only real beneficiaries of this endless shifting of jobs to distant places are the owners who profit at the expense of all others.

Clothing might cost a little more if we insisted on fair pay, benefits and work conditions for the people who do the work that make the garments but there is another option ... the owners could take pay cut!

Occasionally I hear someone in one of the labor unions say that we don't mind if some of our low-skill, low-tech, and low-pay jobs get farmed out to other countries as long as we can keep out high-skill, high-tech, and high-pay jobs here. I am at a loss for work to express my frustration with these people.

Exploiting other people is wrong, whether it is done by the owners or by other workers who have bigger paycheck; it is wrong whether it is done to people here in our country or people in countries around the world. So what can be done?

If you are one of the lucky people who has a good job because of your union membership, stop thinking in terms of union member rights and start thinking in terms of human rights.

If you are one of the luck people who gets to live in a country that protects the environment and regulates workplace safety, stop thinking of it as a right of the citizens in your country and start thinking of it as a human right.

And if your one of the lucky people that gets to be the consumer of high-quality, low-price goods made someplace else, stop thinking of those who do the work as people who are lucky to have a job making stuff for you. The same thing if you are lucky enough to have someone providing you services here like stocking shelves and bringing you food.

It is a great privilege to benefit from the labor of others and a privilege worth paying for by sharing the wealth that they produce with them and ensuring that they get to live the same dignified life that you hope to live.