A Protesting working conditions in New York Garment District factories from No Sweat BOOKS & THE CULTURE Sweatshops Are Everywhere Manifesto for a Defense of Labor BY CHRIS GARLOCK NO SWEAT: Fashion, Free Trade and the Rights of Garment Workers. Edited by Andrew Ross. Verso. lbert Einstein was a smart guy. I’m not talking about E=mc 2, or the Theory of Relativity, either. Einstein’s real genius was in the fact that he had seven identical suits so that he never had to oc cupy his Nobel Prizewinning brain with deciding what to wear. My own modern version is three pairs of jeans and a dozen plain T-shirts, not so much for style or comfort, but because it simplifies the political act of buying and wearing clothes. What we wear is an endlessly complicated day-to-day reality, involving comfort, utility, self-expression, fashion, style, and even political statements. Our beliefs unless emblazoned on a T-shirt are usually revealed through our spoken or written words. But the clothes we wear also communicate volumes, without uttering a syllable. Conscientious shoppers already know better than to buy Nike footwear, or a pair of Disney’s Pocahontas pajamas. We wouldn’t dream of subsidizing Phil Knight’s sweatshop empire, which pays Michael Jordan more for his name than 30,000 Indonesian Nike workers for their blood and sweat. Nor would we contribute to Disney C.E.O. Michael Eisner’s $97,600-per-hour pay, while Haitian workers stitch Mickey Mouse’s ears for twentyeight cents an hour. Stylishly transcending the usual polemical or academic treatment, No Sweat explores the usual and unusual facets of the sweatshop issue, amid a kaleidoscope of images, from Haitian hovels to Tommy Hilfiger models. The large-format softcover contains the work of twenty contributors, from Kathy Lee Gifford nemesis Charlie made piece of cloth, the essays in No Sweat seamlessly weave past and present together, connecting struggles from around the world. A photo of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire mourners merges into one from the 1977 International Women’s Day march through New York City’s Lower East Side: a placard reads, “Triangle Fire Wounded Knee My Lai Ponce Massacre Same History Same Fight!” Turn the page and Lina Rodriguez Meza looks into your eyes, her words big, bold and inescapable on the facing page. “I work at 265 West 40th Street, on the sixteenth floor, making dresses … for the Jaclyn Smith label … we work up to sixty to sixty-three hours…. There’s no air circulation … almost no-one goes to the bathroom…. There is a part of the building that is unprotected … you can easily fall into that empty space.” Sweatshops are everywhere, from New York City to Central America, Asia, Africa. They’re probably in your neighborhood, behind a storefront or a barbedwire fence. The sweatshop is “indigenous to garment production because of its division of labor, separating the craft processes of design, marketing, and cutting from the labor-intensive sewing and finishing, and organized around a three-tier system of small producers the inside shop, the contractor and the home,” explains Andrew Ross. “To set up in the flyby-night world of runaway shops required little more investment than was needed to rent a hole in the wall and a few sewing machines, plus ready access to a ghetto labor pool.” Women and girls sew our clothes, not just in foreign maquiladoras, but in nondescript ranch-style suburban compounds in Los Angeles, tucked away in Miami, Portland, New Orleans, Chicago, San Antonio and Philadelphia, making that “Made in America” label meaningless. Which America does a little girl, making a 1 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 28, 1998
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