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Clothed In Misery

Posted by maggie2094 (My Page) on
Tue, Apr 30, 13 at 10:48

NYT op Ed on the tragedy in Bangledesh, which killed at least 362 people. The garment industry moves from country to country to avoid regulations and unions to exploit people. Growth for the sake of growth like a cancer cell.

April 29, 2013
Clothed in Misery
By M. T. ANDERSON
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.

THE collapse last Wednesday of a Bangladeshi factory complex ��" the latest, deadliest chapter in the story of miserable labor conditions in the international garment industry ��" must seem distant to many Americans. Their tragedy is not ours because their working conditions, and construction regulations, are not ours.

But the story of manufacturing half a world away is as close as the Lycra-cotton cloth that swaddles us. It is as intimate to our private interests as our boxers are, stitched in those bunkers by hands we never see and rarely consider.

Similar disasters happened here in the first phase of our national industrialization ��" the 1878 Washburn mill explosion in Minneapolis, the 1905 Grover Shoe Factory disaster in Brockton, Mass., the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Manhattan ��" but back when New England textile mills were the beating heart of America’s mass-production infancy, the most notorious was the 1860 collapse of the Pemberton Mill in Lawrence, Mass.

The upper floors of the Pemberton building were supported by cheap iron columns. Late on a Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 10, too many of the weaving machines fell into rhythm, everything began to shudder, and the building tore itself apart. The columns cracked, the floors splayed, the walls bulged and then burst outward, and a hideous cataract of timber, men, women, working children and iron machines collapsed into a heap of blood and crushing tonnage.

Several hundred people were trapped or dead in the wreckage. Men and women staggered across the ruins, pulling bloodstained workers out of the tangle. As darkness fell, someone’s lantern ignited the oil and cotton dust in the air, and the bones of the building became an inferno with women still pinned inside.

The writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, a child at the time, remembered that the women still trapped in the blaze tried to sing to keep up their courage.

“They were used to singing at their looms ��" mill girls always are ��" and their young souls took courage from the familiar sound of one another’s voices,” she would recall. “They sang the hymns and songs which they had learned in the schools and churches: ‘Heaven is my home,’ ‘Jesus, lover of my soul,’ and ‘Shall we gather at the river?’ Voice after voice dropped. The fire raced on.”

In the end, 88 people died and 116 were seriously injured. As in the recent Bangladeshi manufacturing disasters, including one last November in Dhaka that killed at least 117 people, the dangers to workers had been pointed out in a routine inspection long before the disaster. The Pemberton Mill’s flimsy metal columns had been marked as unsafe for years. It had not been profitable to replace them.

These Bangladeshi disasters do not merely share a kinship with the Lawrence one, but a genealogy. They are part of a cyclical system that has governed the textile industry since it moved out of cottages and into mills.

Again and again we see the same pattern, which stretches back to the original hiring of rural New England girls to operate the first spinning and weaving machines. The girls were delighted, for the most part, to leave behind rural drudgery. After a few decades, management began various cost-cutting measures that eventually became untenable. Labor activism spread rapidly and was countered, sometimes brutally. To avoid increased expenses associated with labor reform, the mill managers essentially would flush their working population and pull in a new one. Protestants were flushed in favor of destitute Catholics. The Irish were hired in the same New England mills in the 1840s, and then, when they became too demanding, the French Canadians, the Italians ��" waves of immigrants, one after the other.

In this way, for the last 200 years, garment manufacturing has flowed from ethnicity to ethnicity, as well as from region to region, from New England to the Middle Atlantic states, from North to South. Each group, when it begins to demand more accountability and a living wage, is discarded. Manufacturing change flows quickly to stay ahead of legislative change. Like water, industrial management seeks a route of least resistance ��" eventually flowing out of our shores altogether in the 1990s and, finally, flooding (among many other places) the alluvial plains of Bangladesh.

This cycle has its positive elements, offering an alternative to rural poverty and producing cheap clothing, sometimes for those regions and ethnicities that once were the system’s underclass. There are those manufacturers (most famously, Levi Strauss) who have made a solid effort to serve their workers as well as their investors.

And yet, with unvarying historical predictability, the cycle also involves tremendous suffering: riots, like those in Dhaka last year; the persecution of labor organizers, like Aminul Islam, who was tortured and murdered last year; legislative dodges, like the perennial lagging of Bangladesh’s minimum wage; child-labor infractions that leave whole populations reaching adulthood without money, education or hope; and the generations of workers who are laid off during downturns and end up with nothing to show for a life of toil. And then there are the catastrophic disasters arising from the interminable squeezing of expense.

The sad part is that the price of individual garments would not have to go up much ��" 1 percent to 3 percent, various estimates say ��" to provide a living wage and safer conditions for all those cutting and stitching what we wear. The cycle could slow or even stop. But that 1 percent to 3 percent would have to wend all the way down that river of production ��" past the eddies and breakwaters of corporate boards and middlemen, subcontracting agents and compradors, to reach those who really need it.

It’s well past time for all of us to reflect on this cycle and how cheap it would be to break out of it if only there were enough public pressure on the apparel industry. The cost for us is minimal; the cost for others is great. Bargain-hunters at Wal-Mart and haute couture customers on Fifth Avenue alike should shame those companies that pass the savings on to us as they pass the suffering on to others we never see. This is not a remote or distant problem.

Take a look at the tag on your shirt. The problem is as close as your skin.

M. T. Anderson is the author of “Feed,” “The Pox Party” and other novels.

My husband always prided himself on owning Red Wing Boots, made in the USA and lasted for 10 years with maintenance. Now, made in China out of poor materials.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Clothed In Misery

  • Posted by ohiomom 3rdrockfromthesun (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 30, 13 at 11:01

"corporate terrorism"

.....doesn't even register on the outrage meter.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

And I think clothing is only the tip of such a manufacturing iceberg.

If anyone isn't noticing that quality on many items has fallen, that we're getting less product for our dollar, or that there isn't much that's actually manufactured in the USA proudly bearing that tag, they haven't been looking very closely or paying much attention.

Again, I say... most of humanity is just an expendable work force, or consumers for those disposable goods... meanwhile, the disparity grows like an unchecked cancer.

The loss so we can enjoy all these material goods is really staggering, but what's more staggering is that none of it is necessary, and a minimal cost, plus adherence to safety regulation, is all it would take .


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Thank you for posting this, Maggie. The description of the women singing even as their death approached - it broke my heart.

If all corps made sure to provide a living wage to the *adult* ( only) workers, provided safe working conditions in decently built factories and the public had to pay a little more, we would. Its that simple. We would continue to need our jockey shorts and jeans and skirts and dresses and slacks and suits, all in all levels quality.

If all the corps provided safe working conditions, it wouldn't matter if the cheapest place we could get the jockey shorts would still be wal mart or target, we would still pay the price necessary and the conditions of the factory would be finally safe.
And why is it that corporations/stockholders themselves seem unable to absorb any even slightly lower profits in order for these things to change?
I ask that in all seriousness. They always talk about the awfulness of having to pass the costs onto the consumer, and we consumers accept that as simply a given. Why is that considered so unthinkable? What the corp would be able to absorb wouldn't be huge, but it would set the example and show the willingness to change things for the sake of the workers who make that profit margin possible in the first place.

I ask: what reasonable action could an individual take that would be of any effectiveness in the push for safety changes in all factories? I wouldn't even know where to begin.


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The only reasonable actions we could take are the ones many of us already take... boycott certain stores and manufacturers, write to our representatives, vote for those candidates we think will do what's in the best interest of the people... and yet, little ever seems to change.

The filament connecting it all together is avarice... plain and simple. We'd have to control greed, and that would be an impossibility, I do believe.


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You can start by boycotting one store that some of you committed to last year. JCP.

JCP
GAP
Old Navy
Dress Barn
The Children's Place

Since none of you shop at WalMart, I didn't have to mention them.

Unfortunately, after the dust settles, the above stores will find another factory and carry on with business as usual with the same customers.


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This is one reason I shop almost exclusively at Goodwill and other used clothing stores. While the clothes are still made somewhere under conditions I probably don't like, none of the money I spend at Goodwill goes to that exploitative industry. I still buy sock and undies and some shoes new, it's been over 6 years since I bought my shirts, pants, jackets, hats or other accessories new, although many thrift store items haven't been worn before.


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Brush, I still shop at wal mart, not for clothes but for other items.

The problem with boycotting stores is that you still purchase the very same product you want, but elsewhere, yet still from the same corporation which produces the factories which are so awful.

So the consequence only goes to the stores, not to the corporation that is behind the store and the product, no matter *what* brand name gets attached to the product that comes from those factories.


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One might even say we've been purposely placed between a rock and a hard place.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

  • Posted by momj47 7A..was 6B (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 30, 13 at 15:15

Don't kid yourself. Every store in the US, and the world, has most of their products made in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Honduras, etc. etc, under dangerous, cruel, sweatshop conditions.

Whether you buy it at WalMart or Williams-Sonoma, Lord and Taylor or Old Navy, Target or Sur la Table, if it's made in a third world country, the employees are exploited. And many times it's the same product in each of these stores.

I agree with mylab boycotting stores is pointless, unless you boycott them all. The only way you can be sure that the person who makes your clothing isn't being exploited is to make them yourself.


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"The only way you can be sure that the person who makes your clothing isn't being exploited is to make them yourself." Ok, great idea but where is the fabric made and under what conditions? I doubt it's "Made in America".

We buy stuff made overseas because the reality is most people won't or can't afford to spend 30$ for a simple tee-shirt. I buy very few clothes and would willingly buy fewer if they cost me more but were either made here (Canada) or if the labour was paid a fair wage and worked under decent conditions.


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Chocolate is another misery commodity!


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"The only way you can be sure that the person who makes your clothing isn't being exploited is to make them yourself."

That's true, but I wonder where the cloth is made, and the origin of the materials that the textiles are made from, who grew the cotton? Were the animals who gave their coats for wool well treated, etc. etc. Where does one draw the line here.


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And where was that sewing machine manufactured?

It really doesn't end... where there's a chance to make a profit through exploitation, someone will be there to make a grab for it.


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Many of these machinists live at their machines....working 16 hour shifts or more and then sleeping under their machines.
What opened my eyes was a British documentary I saw last year. They took a group of young fashonable brits to work in these countries in the clothing industry under the same conditions . It opened their eyes as to where their fashionable clothing came from.

You can buy Chocolate and other like goods from Oxfam.


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Exactly, mom and mylab. For those that read the article it applies to everything from Walmart to Fifth Avenue Haute Couture.


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I wear a lot of GAP clothes but won't boycott them because almost all clothing is manufactured in countries like Bangladesh. I wear JCrew, Eddie Bauer, R. Lauren..and none are made in America. It is what it is. My heart breaks for these people working in such dire conditions. But America has gotten so used to paying what we pay for clothing. Paying American workers would so greatly increase the price that it wouldn't be profitable for a company to do it.


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We shipped out the misery caused by the Industrial Revolution because the progressive movement capped by regulations and unions ended the exploitation of the working class here...


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Don't forget that we're the 1% in the world.

All this talk about paying all the poor people in the world a "decent", livable wage would put YOU in the poor house.

You want to take your wealth and your income and divide it up with the poor of the world? Really?

Do it.

I don't feel like checking out the numbers, but you can start with, what I saw the other day, the 300,000, 000 Chinese, the population of the USA, who live on just a few dollars a day. Take half of your wealth and send it on over.

After that, we'll go for the Chinese who live on several dollars a day. Then India......

You're going to love poverty.

Fact is, as horrible as these events are, and as much as you'd like to think you can help by not buying the goods that come out of this miserable situation, the people in Bangladesh still choose this life over THEIR alternatives which must be really hellish.

Do your part like me. Buy another tee shirt. One made in Bangladesh.


Hay


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Instant cure.

"We shipped out the misery caused by the Industrial Revolution because the progressive movement capped by regulations and unions ended the exploitation of the working class here..."

As a country, we became wealthy enough to afford doing that.

Send some progressive union organizers over to Bangladesh. That should solve all the problems they have.

I'll chip in and help pay for your airline ticket. Who wants to be the first?

Hay


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Not true, Lily and there is lots of info available on this as as you noted these are not necessarily "cheap goods" only "cheap labor". The gap is in the increased profit margin, not labor costs.


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I bought some clothes a while back from an outfit that claims to track the process from the cotton fields to the finished product, all in the US. Not sure if that guarantees that no one worked in miserable conditions or not, since there are sweatshops in CA and peons in south florida tomato camps, after all.


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You can't avoid buying the stuff. Grow and make as much of if as you can I guess. There is no way to control the world.

Our fabulous elected politicians will do nothing to the corporations involved. Import costs need to be established and they need to be very high or jobs will never ever be back here.


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Since we can't do a thing to change it, why even talk about it? I guess it's a "feel good" thing.

Goodwill is probably the best way to spend your money. You're recycling and helping out those with disabilities and the most needs at the same time.

Goodwill® services are designed to meet the diverse needs of youth, seniors, veterans and military families, immigrants, and people with disabilities, criminal backgrounds and other specialized needs.

We are committed to helping you earn a living and improve your life. A career can enable you to achieve your dreams.

You just made me a convert. I'm going to shop there first.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

  • Posted by ohiomom 3rdrockfromthesun (My Page) on
    Wed, May 1, 13 at 10:48

Brush I buy my jeans at Goodwill as well as other outerwear, but I have been shopping the thrift stores and garage sales for years, you can pick up some nice clothing for pennies on the dollar. The thrift store I shop employs volunteers and the proceeds go to the Cancer Society (we also donate items there)... picked up an American Made full length wool coat there that will last me for years.


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Speaking of sweatshops, one of our relatives works in a factory with no A/C performing sewing, cutting and heat sealing work for a little over $8 per hour.

She keeps hand towels by her work stations to wipe the sweat out of her eyes, plus her hands are in really rough shape.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

  • Posted by ohiomom 3rdrockfromthesun (My Page) on
    Wed, May 1, 13 at 11:42

MarkJ this is quite common in factory work, I worked in the manufacturing industry for years until the 80's when our manufacturing industry started being "sourced out", and not one of the factories I worked for had a/c, plus the windows were all sealed shut.

Hot in the summer, cold in the winter ...


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I might like certain labels and only wear these BUT I mostly, in the last few years, shop at a huge Community store across from my gym. I used to have a friend who shopped Thrift stores, but I never liked them, and couldn't get past the musty smell they seemed to have. This store which benefits just our community, giving to groups like the Scouts and animals shelters, is like shopping in a department store. Super clean and organized. Donated clothing ,not acceptable for the store, is donated to the homeless.

We also have a SA and Goodwill ,but both pale in comparison. It makes me feel good to shop and know my money is going to local charity and I get to recycle. I also donate clothes about once a month. You'd be surprised what people donate...like a Ralph Lauren twin cashmere sweater set in perfect condition which I purchased for $2.99. (Half price for over 50 crowd on Tuesday)

The owner said he never imagined they would make the few million in the first few years which helps locally.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

I might like certain labels and only wear these BUT I mostly, in the last few years, shop at a huge Community store across from my gym. I used to have a friend who shopped Thrift stores, but I never liked them, and couldn't get past the musty smell they seemed to have. This store which benefits just our community, giving to groups like the Scouts and animals shelters, is like shopping in a department store. Super clean and organized. Donated clothing ,not acceptable for the store, is donated to the homeless.

We also have a SA and Goodwill ,but both pale in comparison. It makes me feel good to shop and know my money is going to local charity and I get to recycle. I also donate clothes about once a month. You'd be surprised what people donate...like a Ralph Lauren twin cashmere sweater set in perfect condition which I purchased for $2.99. (Half price for over 50 crowd on Tuesday)

The owner said he never imagined they would make the few million in the first few years which helps locally.


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I raise my own pedigreed silkworms that produce the highest quality of silk, which is then meticulously woven into fabric and constructed under union standards by fair haired virgins who have only eaten an organic diet.

Because of this I'm able to sleep at night.


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I'm wearing a shirt made in Pakistan, pants made in The Marshall Islands and steel toe work boots made in China - all very good quality.


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Despite everyone's wishing differently; there likely isn't anyone here on the forum whose closet doesn't open up to display the handiwork of a wealth of nations.


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I've actually found some very nice clothing at Goodwill, Salvation Army, and many second hand stores. Recycling is good for the planet.

I enjoy clothing that is already washed and dried... no shrinkage... and it's often softened by wear... and I've even found brand new items, tags still on them, for a tiny fraction of the cost if bought brand new from the commercial world.

Garage sales and yard sales are also great places to find nice items. And again, it's recycling.


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I buy almost all my clothing and accessories at our local thrift shops; very very fortunately, we have a large well-to-do seasonal resident component in our tax base, so we get great quality stuff donated. Except underwear; I draw the line there ;[)

And it's hard to find shoes--I wear a 10. The good news is that people with big feet might be living a long time--a lot of this stuff comes from dead people's closets.

Can't wait to retire so I can volunteer there...


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And it's hard to find shoes--I wear a 10. The good news is that people with big feet might be living a long time--a lot of this stuff comes from dead people's closets.

*

I have a dead person's closet full of blazers, suits, ties, khakis, shirts, sweaters, casual wear, boots, dress shoes, etc.

It's going to dry rot before I give it away.

*

I seldom buy from resale shops for myself anymore--although I did when I lived in a major US city.

The nicest resale shops in my area of the state primarily have ladies' clothing from the l980s and l990s--not much current and it's overpriced. You can find nice, up to date clothing for great prices if you shop sales or internet.


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I dont quite understand how this thread has become a "handy hints for shopping " group.

from Hay we had this "Fact is, as horrible as these events are, and as much as you'd like to think you can help by not buying the goods that come out of this miserable situation, the people in Bangladesh still choose this life over THEIR alternatives which must be really hellish.

Do your part like me. Buy another tee shirt. One made in Bangladesh. "

I guess the issue is that they actually DO NOT HAVE ANY CHOICE.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

It's disingenuous to claim credit for enriching the poor in textile-manufacturing nations and ignore the proportionality with which you are enriching the execs and shareholders of the garment corporations, or the loss of cropland used for cotton, flax, hemp and other export fiber crops in that region. True cost accounting meas incorporating all economic variables, not just the ones you choose to highlight, as the opportunity costs of textiles on the landscape are exorbitant.

Here is a link that might be useful: opportunity costs


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The Fisher family (The Gap) has been clear cutting old growth redwood out here in Northern California since they bought land up in Mendocino in 1998 or so .

I don't know if they still own the land but I refuse to buy anything from the Gap. Just looked it up, See link below

Here is a link that might be useful: The Gap Sucks


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Despite everyone's wishing differently; there likely isn't anyone here on the forum whose closet doesn't open up to display the handiwork of a wealth of nations.

A cloak of many colors. :)

OMom,

You need that wool coat up there. *wink


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since we can't do a thing to change it. Why even talk about it? Guess its a "feel good" thing.

Has to be the most idiotic thing I ever read here.


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MarkJ this is quite common in factory work, I worked in the manufacturing industry for years until the 80's when our manufacturing industry started being "sourced out", and not one of the factories I worked for had a/c, plus the windows were all sealed shut.

I've worked at many mills, factories and tanneries as an employee, or service provider where the heat and emissions were incredible, plus many were safety and fire hazards.

Some still exist and the working conditions aren't much better.

The worst was a manufacturer that produced fiberglass products. I had some brutal heat and fiberglass particle rashes working in the brutally hot factory.


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Clothed In Misery

In the aftermath of a deadly collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh, one North American retail giant whose products have been made there is accusing the global industry of failing to properly respond.

"I am troubled by the deafening silence from other apparel retailers on this issue," Galen Weston, the executive chairman of Loblaw, a Canadian apparel brand that used the Rana Plaza factory to manufacture its goods, said in Toronto on Thursday, during his company's annual meeting. "As many as 30 international apparel brands were having goods manufactured in this building, yet only two have come forward and publicly commented."

Weston announced that Loblaw will enact new rules aimed at preventing future tragedies. The company will now examine the structural integrity of factory buildings when it conducts audits of suppliers, and it will deploy employees to facilities that make its goods and have them send reports directly to corporate. The company is also forming a relief fund for the Rana Plaza victims and their families.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link


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I've worked at many a factory throughout the course of my life, though most were fairly clean, treated their employees well, paid decently, offered good insurance and benefits packages... and in summer, we were either provided large fans, or the factory ran large AC units.

I don't know that I would have applied at some of the lower end places within our area... and every industrial area has it's share of work environments where the safety hazards are many, the factories are dirty and not much gets repaired properly, if at all. Their reputations precede them, and one hears stories of brutal accidents due to safety violations, etc... very few decent workers apply to those places.

For quite a while, northern IL had a very decent number of good manufacturing plants to work at. A few still exist, though it's hard to get in because no one gives up a good job these days!

Now, tell me how a large manufacturing plant can exist within the US, pay its employees well, offer excellent benefits packages, maintain a safe and comfortable working atmosphere for its workers... and still pull a great profit... while other manufacturers can't seem to, and must go elsewhere, utilize a low paid labor force, maintain unkempt and unsafe working conditions, all to make what... more profit?

I really don't understand that concept of "never enough", even if it involves the expense of human lives.


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RE: Clothed In Misery

It's always the bottom line, the investors want more, more more. And if your profits aren't going up, then you have to find another way to give your investors more money, and that means slashing costs.

The shirt you buy for $5 at Walmart will sell for $40 at J. Crew. What Walmart makes in volume, J. Crew makes up in price.


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