"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This American Life examines a Chinese life on the assembly line


what does it mean for something, everything to be “made in china?”
fascinating/horrifying revelations of the factories and working conditions in china that make all the shit you take for granted.

Shenzhen is a city without history. The people who live there will tell you that, because 31 years ago Shenzhen was a small town. It had little reed huts, little reed walkways between the huts. The men would fish in the late afternoon. I hear it was lovely. Today Shenzhen is a city of 14 million people. It is larger than New York City. Depending on how you count it, it's the third largest city in all of China. It is the place where almost all of your crap comes from.

And the most amazing thing is, almost no one in America knows its name. Isn't that remarkable that there's a city where almost all of our crap comes from, and no one knows its name? I mean, we think we do know where our crap comes from. We're not ignorant. We think our crap comes from China, right? Kind of a generalized way. China.
But it doesn't come from China. It comes from Shenzhen. It's a city. It's a place.
Shenzhen looks like Blade Runner threw up on itself. LEDs, neon, and 15-story-high video walls covered in ugly Chinese advertising. It's everything they promised us the future would be.
[...]31 years ago, when Deng Xiaoping carved this area off from the rest of China with a big red pen, he said, this will be the special economic zone. And he made a deal with the corporations. He said listen, use our people. Do whatever you want to our people. Just give us a modern China. And the corporations took that deal, and they squeezed and they squeezed. And what they got was the Shenzhen we find today.
i find it important to emphasize, that my absolute horror and disgust in reading this is less directed at the Chinese government and the Chinese leaders or even at the Chinese corporate heads who allow this condone this sick, sick operation (though, of course, they are fault here as well). what horrifies me and disgusts me most is actually the fact that American people are totally ok with/ ignorant of / willfully ignorant about it. we condone this kind of human rights abuse, because we want our crap to be cheaper, and we always want more of it.

think about how amazingly, completely backwards and effed up this is:
As a creature of the First World, I expect a factory making complex electronics will have the sound of machinery, but in a place where the cost of labor is effectively zero, anything that can be made by hand is made by hand. No matter how complex your electronics are, they are assembled by thousands and thousands of tiny little fingers working in concert. And in those vast spaces, the only sound is the sound of bodies in constant, unending motion.
modern technology has advanced to such a degree that we (Americans) assume most things  everything is made by machines, even the relatively simpler things that used to be made by hand, like sweaters, and books, even our food. most people probably think we live in the mechanized future, where handcrafted things are a luxury, a long-lost artifact of history and ancient cultures and the pioneers. so in an age of inconceivably advanced technology, where the machines get smaller and more complex and powerful year after year, you would expect these machines to also be borne from the labor and precision of machines. but, in fact, Mr. Disney tells us, they are assembled by hand, millions of precise hands, working repetitively in an unending mechanical whir. and, in fact, these millions of tiny hands are actually cheaper and more expendable than those big machines.

what makes that such a perverse and deplorable realization is compounded by the fact that those big expensive machines are what put people in America out of work. and here is where i get really angry: in America, where we have labor laws and unions and it's illegal to pay your workers nothing and have them work endless days, the big corporations figured it's actually cheaper and better for business to bring in those big machines. that's what happened in the coal industry, and the automobile industry, and many other industries: human labor got replaced with non-stop, wageless, liability-free machines. other corporations, who couldn't use machines (such as computer manufacturers, i guess), shipped the jobs overseas, to China and India, where they could get human hands to build their products and still get paid next to nothing.

and the really terrible thing is, that China's and India's wages keep dropping year after year, to "stay competitive" with one another in the international market for jobs. so you see, this is a compounding problem that grows worse year after year, with no foreseeable end, because the trend in dropping prices of tech products comes at the price of workers' wages and working conditions.

but, slave labor does not necessarily have to exist in order for these markets to exist. if American companies, such as Apple, commit to fair labor practices (as Apple just did, in joining the FLA), they set the standard for business practices around the world. if American companies demand ethical practices from their suppliers and partners, businesses and employers around the world will change to meet the demand. American companies and American consumers need to demand and expect better.

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