Sunday, March 1, 2009

Life on the Global Assembly Line

Made in Taiwan. Does this label ever make you think? Does it make you feel good knowing that a three year old girl made those shoes you are wearing? I didn’t think so. Life on the Global Assembly Line by Barbra Ehrenreich and Annette Fuentes is about women in the third world labor or should I say slave market.
Fuentes explains how and why third world workers are used and expended. An American worker may earn $3.10 to $5.00 a hour while a third world worker will make between $3-5 a day. Because of this everything is being packed up and moved to third world countries around the world. The best example of this given by Barbra and Fuentes is the American electronics industry. Circuts are printed on silicon wafers and tested in California. Then they are shipped to India where the labor intensive process by which they are cut into tiny chips and bonded to circuit boards is done. Then they are reshipped back to the US for final assembly.
The breakdown of lower third world workers is 80-90% women states Fuentes. She also says that women can do and will do the monotonous, painstaking work that American businesses are exporting. Ehrenreich explains the working and living conditions for these girls is not what you would expect. They are put into dormitories where it may be twenty girls to a room in some places. When one shift ends the others take their place until the next shift transfers. The workplace is littered with hazards. Ehrenreich points out an example from a textile factory where women are placed in dimly lit non air-conditioned rooms in one hundred degree weather. Where the flying textile dust which can cause permanent lung and eye damage. Management may require as much as 48 straight hours of work at a time. Fuentes states that many manufactures encourage high turnover of workers because it cost less to train new workers than to pay experienced workers higher wages. Fuentes finally explains that it is the government’s job to change in order to improve these people’s lives. Not just the third world government but our government also. She further points out that as of right now our government is seen supporting this with aid to countries that commit these atrocities.
I am personally shocked and appalled by what I am reading. Why is it that we can allow this to happen? I have three major issues with this. First is the living and working conditions that these women are subjected to live in and second is what our government and other governments are not doing to help this problem.
I do not believe that subjecting anyone to sleep in crowded rooms is humane. To place four to five women in college size dormitories or any other crowded condition should not be allowed. I am appalled at the fact that many companies are able to go to countries where they are guaranteed that they will not have any interference with safety or heath inspectors. That workers often work with open containers of hazardous chemicals or unfiltered flying debris that can permanently harm lung and eye functions. How it is that they can simply force someone to work 48 or more hours without worry that they will complain because of the knowledge that there are thousands that will easily take their place. To finally to be simply be laid off after a few years because they do not want to increase your pay and replace you with another willing worker.
Do our governments do anything about this? Heck no, they just create loopholes and rake in the cash. Fuentes even pointed out the fact that some of these governments even advertise their women for this kind of work. This is shameful and is an outrage but there is no U.N. push for change. How these third world countries can snuff out peaceful protest like we had in the US no so many years ago with over use of military force and power. People being fired and jailed for protesting workers rights.
This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. But what is there for me to do? I as an Iowa State student can only sit idly by and watch and hope that things will change for the better. Governments will hopefully change their ways... or not.

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