Monday, February 25, 2008

Globalization question

A lot of people point out that folks who leave their villages to work in sweat shops make more money there than at home, therefore justifying whatever conditions they experience. But it's nowhere as simple as that. Consider this: what if you could make money by working in a mine without safety equipment. You'd make more than you would if you lived in a village and farmed. Yet no respiratory protection, no protection against cave ins etc...

Would that be an acceptable trade off, something that you can look at and say that because they made more money than at home therefore it's just for them to work like that? My opinion is that there are basic human standards that apply no matter if one lives in a third world country or in a first world one. The idea that a higher standard of living, a slightly higher once, justifies anything that goes into it is another version of 'the ends justify the means'. It's racist as well because it assumes that people in third world countries, who aren't white, deserve radically different standards than people in first world countries could accept. Slave labor in Indonesia? Well you just don't understand how it is there.

The reality of people working in these places and sending money home to their families is best illustrated by how it works in the United States. The same scenario applies to immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America. They labor in the worst jobs, jobs that no white person in the United States would do, for wages far below that which anyone not in desperate straits would want, and send money back home through Western Union. No doubt the money makes a difference, with some countries that are very poor like El Salvador depending more and more on remittances from relatives in the U.S. for the basic survival of their people, but most people would say that the situations that these people find themselves in are cruel and unjust. Illegal immigrants, a subset of immigrants from these countries that exist on the very bottom rung of society, don't have a glamorous life.

Working for a better life doesn't mean great jobs. Further back in U.S. history you find garment workers from Eastern Europe toiling in sweat shops in New York City, making more money than they'd get back home but being ruined physically by the conditions faced day after day. Living in tenements, the sort documented by Joseph Riis. Other immigrants labored in textile factories and in mines in similar conditions. Back then the reality of what these people found in America was the impetus that lead to the formation of union after union to struggle for some sort of social justice in these jobs. The propagandists countered that these people were unappreciative of the United States, which brings us back to the beginning.

Should people be thankful that they work twelve hours a day for wages that are next to nothing, in unsafe conditions, living in dormitories, unable to leave the factory compound, because they make enough money to send home to their families, making a difference in their lives?

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