The Daily Show with John Stewart recently ran a piece on the conditions in Chinese factories. As always, Stewart shines a comedic light on a very serious problem. Many of the products we buy are made in Chinese factories under abhorrent conditions where employees are mistreated to a degree in no way acceptable by any moral standards. As we wrote last week, Foxconn workers have taken to jumping off of buildings and threating mass suicide in an attempt to create better safety standards.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
The delicate trade situation between China and the US in many ways hinges on the labor movement that is quietly building in China as workers begin to organize, albeit without official representation. Chinese citizens are demanding more from their country which has relied on hard, underpaid work to become an economic juggernaut. Many younger Chinese workers want reforms to help them deal with the realities of inflation. According to The Guardian, which recently published an article by Lijia Zhang titled, “China’s Foxconn Workers: From Suicide Threats to a Trade Union?”,
“Generally, people become more rights conscious as the society progresses,” Zhao said to me. “And nongmin are no exception.” He is one of the rare voices representing the underprivileged farmers.
This year, there has been a wave of factory revolts across six provinces in China, according to Hong Kong-based China Workers’ Info. In Sichuan province, hundreds of workers stormed a courthouse in Shuangliu county as they were fighting for a case over unpaid wages. The labour unrest has been caused partly by rising inflation, which hit those at the bottom of society the hardest. With the traditional Chinese new year approaching, the migrant workers find it particularly difficult to cope with their daily grind.
It is hard for Americans, especially those involved with organized labor, to turn a blind eye to the mistreatment of the Chinese workforce, but the overarching economic realities of the global economy make it difficult for discrete individuals in the U.S. to take action on their behalf, even symbolically. The Daily Show clip states that the price of iPhones would go up 23 percent if workers were paid fairly. At a time when penny-pinching is becoming everyone’s favorite physical activity, is the iPhone-buying public prepared to shell out the extra bucks? One could make the argument that the demand for Apple and other products of similar penetration is sufficient that people would pay the extra 23 percent. But the bigger question is whether these devices are being overpriced to begin with, considering the anti-worker cost-cutting measures being implemented on the supply side. Why shouldn’t the workers wages go up and Foxconn, God forbid, merely retain 23 percent less?
In the U.S., we too have a factory crisis on our hands. Let’s not forget factory workers in Asheville, North Carolina who are beginning to organize after simple demands for more bathrooms were not met by owners; or warehouse workers finally seeing their employers fined for unsafe working conditions. While stateside workers may not face the extremity of conditions at a place like Foxconn, employees face an uphill climb to full recognition of rights, internationally.