18
Mar
12

Aw jeez, not more links on sweatshop politics

Yep.  Here’s David Henderson on Public Radio International’s retraction of the This American Life episode on Foxconn:

Things start to get interesting after the first quotation, here:

In the last ten minutes, Ira Glass interviews New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg, who gets to the actual facts about working conditions in China. Interestingly, Duhigg points out that long working hours are often what workers in China want because they want to make as much money as possible. So, for example, even though it’s against Apple’s own rules for subcontractors, some subcontractors have people working for 2 12-hour shifts in a row and some of these workers want to do this. I was reminded of my job in a nickel mine in northern Manitoba in the summer of 1969. I volunteered two different times to work 3 shifts in a row. The first time I did day shift and then night shift. The foreman found it impossible to wake me for the third shift in a row: my next day shift. I was more successful doing night shift, then day shift, then night shift. Why did I do this? Because I wanted to make overtime at time and a half.

(Emphasis added.)

This question — “Why do they want to work double shifts in sweatshops?” — too often goes unasked in Anglosphere discussions of foreign factory labour, and when it is raised it’s often rather dismissively brushed aside as “Because they’re poor and ethnic and foreign and don’t know any better“.  Matt Yglesias provides a better answer:

You don’t read articles about working conditions in factories making socks destined for export to Kazakhstan, and you don’t read articles about working conditions on the rice farms that people eagerly leave to go toil in the sock factory. That rice and those socks are invisible to us and so too are the workers. What we need to see and hear about are bad conditions wherever they may be, not just the ones that provide the appealing news hook. When you read something bad about a Foxconn factory and then see that thousands of people line up for the chance of a job at one of them, that really ought to make you wonder. What were those guys doing the day before they decided to stand in line? How did that look?

Yeah, it turns out that if you approach the question of “Why do Chinese people apply for jobs at Foxconn?” from the premise that Chinese people are full-fledged human beings who’re as much in the business of making rational choices as your Mk. 1 mod 0 standard-issue GMU econ prof, you end up with much more interesting and informative answers.

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