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Asian American Studies 197A
Winter Quarter 2002

Thai-Latino Garment Workers Campaign for Retailer Accountability

Aaron Chung, Melissa Hilario, Greg Hom, Aimee Pham

Introduction

The changing class dynamics of students at elite institutions who previously fit into the category of a minority affects them as they become increasingly detached from their community issues. Some students are not aware of responsibilities they acquire as instigators for change by simply being at their university. Furthermore, there are a limited number of classes that encourage or require involvement with community-based issues and peoples. By participating in this Asian Pacific American Labor Studies class and project, we are able to take the theories that we have learned and apply them to real live people and situations. Researching the Thai-Latino Garment Workers Campaign for Retailer Accountability has brought some of us closer to community issues, while just introducing others to them. We have acquired enough knowledge and spoken with enough people to be inspired and to be sure that this is definitely a fight worth educating the masses about. These women’s stories are not simply stories of the past, but also stories of the future because without change, sweatshops and other exploitation of peoples flourish in our capitalistic society. Hopefully, throughout this paper, one will realize that this story of Thai and Latino "Sweatshop Warriors" is one that needs to be heard and is meant to be heard. They are stories about the history and harsh realities of economic exploitation; the struggle to survive in a system wants to keep you down, and about the astonishing transformation that is made during the fight for your rights.

The Origin of Economic Exploitation of Peoples

In order to be able to fully grasp the reason why sweatshops can exist in modern day Los Angeles, one needs to explore certain ideologies that our nation is based upon. The history of the United States has long been characterized by the ideology of cultural imperialism. Although it has taken many forms in the past, it can basically! be defined as the economic exploitation of other peoples, reinforced through military and political domination. The basic stimuli of this ideology are to make the maximum profits, to expand and to dominate. At the very core of imperialism lies the assumption that it is normal, natural and right for one class to reap the wealth at the expense of those who actually produce the wealth. Also, if one comes to believe that it is in the very nature of things to exploit others within their own country, then it is clearly normal, natural and right for this class to search for ways to enrich itself by exploiting people abroad as well.

One notorious trait of this policy of imperialism is colonialism, which involves the hampering of the development of industry in the colony, thus forcing the colonial peoples to be suppliers of raw materials and purchasers of finished products and, in both cases, at prices set by the dominating power. While they are depriving other foreign peoples by force, the imperial powers provide their domestic populations with relatively higher standards of living and certain ideologies that aid in the justification of the actions taken against other colonies.

Still, imperialism means much more than the exploitation of the poor countries and people by the rich and the colonialism that allows people to detach themselves from horrors of it. Centuries of exploitation and oppression of people of color have created racism, as an ideology to be transmitted into the culture to justify, rationalize and explain such behavior. The institution of slavery, and the subjugation and eradication of people of color who were "in the way" of U.S. capitalist expansion westward, are two major events in American history on which rest many of the racist attitudes and behavior one may experience today.

Moreover, one discovers that imperialism and its "associates," namely capitalism, involve a whole system based on exploitation and violence, a whole way of thinking about other people. The ghettos of America, the racial injustices, the glaring inequalities that exist in every Western country, the dehumanization of our industrial society, and the flourishing sweatshops are just some its products. Now unless one believes that human beings are inherently evil by nature, one can see that the current domestic and global exploitation of peoples is not normal but more that it is the result of an unchecked system of capitalism.

Getting to Know the History of Sweatshops and Those Fighting Against Them

Beginning early in the nineteenth century, "slop shops" produced cheap, ready-made garments for laborers, sailors, and slaves. Closer to the mid-nineteenth century, seamstresses became more important but were unable to establish labor organizations to get better pay and working conditions. During the 1880ís, newly arrived European immigrants replace the old seamstresses and a little over a decade later the United Garment Workers (UGW) forms but only represents the skilled workers in the men’s garment industry. Then at the beginning of the twentieth century, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) was founded in New York. This union is the only one that works to organize workers that make women’s clothes and that works to organize the whole industry. The majority of the workers are poor, non-English speaking immigrant Jews. The significant events in the following two decades include the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (1911) where 146 women and girls burn or jump to their deaths, the formation of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) to organize workers who make men’s clothing, and the stock market crash of 1929 where workers begin to experience wage cuts and layoffs. During the next decade, Rose Pesotta, the ILGWU International Vice-President is sent to Los Angeles to instigate the first! major effort to organize Latina dressmakers. At the same time, in 1933, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Associated Apparel Manufacturers of Los Angeles oppose the unionization of the industry. The next three decades were characterized by the wartime production during World War II, the switch to the relative instability of fashion which prompted manufacturers to begin using contracting shops to avoid paying workers in "down times," and capital flight when manufacturers found that people in other countries would produce the clothes at one-tenth the cost of American garment workers. As a result, during the early eighties jobs in the garment industry declined by twenty-five percent. When the demand increased so much that retailers could not wait for their products to be produced overseas, they found that their system of exploitation could also exist in cities right here in the nation. During the early nineties, the Los Angeles garment industry becomes the largest in the country. Later in the mid-nineties, the North American Free Trade Agreement is passed by Congress to eliminate barriers and increase trade activity between Mexico, Canada, and the United States. This leads to the main topic of discussion, a horrific discovery which quickly unraveled in 1995.

The origin of the Thai-Latino Garment Workers Campaign for Retailer Accountability was the discovery and subsequent raid of the El Monte sweatshop in 1995. There, 72 undocumented Thai workers were discovered, working in slave-like conditions in a seven-unit apartment complex. Further investigations revealed that the operators of the sweatshop also ran two front shops in the garment district of Los Angeles. These shops employed roughly 70 people, primarily Latina workers. At times, there would be a need for some Thai workers to work in the front shops, but interaction with the Latina workers was impossible, as management kept them separated. Eventually, it would be these workers who would collaborate and lead the charge for retailer accountability in the garment industry.

The El Monte sweatshop was a family owned and operated business, run by Suni Manasurangkun, her five sons, two daughter-in-laws, and two others. The operation began as early as 1988 under various names, such as SK Fashion, S & P Fashion, and D & R Fashion. In order to maintain authority, two guards would work alternate shifts to keep interaction between the workers at a minimum, if any at all.

The recruitment of the garment workers started in Thailand. According to Praphapan Pongpid, one of the workers at El Monte, a friend at a garment factory in Bangkok referred the job to her. She soon met with one of Suni’s sons about the opportunity to work in the United States. Pongpid was told she did not have to pay any money up front, and could pay it off as soon as she started working. With no better prospects for her in Bangkok, the idea sounded attractive to her, and she left. Like other workers, she was given falsified travel documents that allowed her into the country. As soon as she arrived in the United States, she was taken directly to the El Monte compound and started working within a few days.

The workers in El Monte were forced to work from seven in the morning to midnight, with only one hour for break. A typical day began at 6:00am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6:00pm, and work until midnight, sometimes later depending on the load of work needed by the operators. The workers were paid according to the piece rate scale. Often times, this would amount to only about 69 cents-an-hour. Most of their pay was used to pay back their debt to the recruiters. What little money they had left of their own was used to pay for food and laundry. There was a company store in the complex that charged exorbitant rates for necessities such as soap and powdered milk.

The operators of the sweatshop also used scare tactics to ensure nobody would want to escape. They would tell the workers that there would be retribution against their families in Thailand. Other times they would say if the workers escaped, they would be raped. Rojana "Na" Chenunchujit, one of the former workers at El Monte, described the intimidation from the sweatshop employers. "Some people actually got punished. One person tried to escape but was unsuccessful; they beat him up pretty badly. It was unbearable to look at the worker who was beaten. After the beating you couldn’t even recognize him at all."

As the working and living conditions became more and more unbearable, many at El Monte thought of risking their lives for the chance of freedom. However, as Praphapan Pongpid, another El Monte worker pointed out, she had thought of escaping. As she pondered the decision, she thought of what she would do if she did escape. Having lived in the confines of the building since her arrival in America, she knew it would be difficult to survive in the strange outside world. As she put it, "I didn’t know how to use the phone, I didn’t know anyone, I couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t know how to use the bus. I didn’t know what I would do if I were to escape and so I then just decided to endure, stay put and just accept my fate." Unfortunately, more than seventy other workers felt similarly and were relegated to accepting their lives at the sweatshop.

In January of 1995, one of the workers took the risk and escaped from the complex. This very brave unnamed worker defied the threats to her safety and escaped the El Monte sweatshop. Her boyfriend later tipped off authorities to the sweatshop. On August 2, 1995 a multi-agency team headed by ! the California Department of Industrial Relations raided the El Monte complex. There they found the seventy-two Thai workers and the horrible conditions they had faced for years. Investigators also found cut and sewn fabric, garments, and dozens of sewing machines inside the complex. The workers were all placed in INS custody, but eventually released on $500 bond each through an agreement between the U.S. attorney’s office and the federal public defender’s office. The money was put up through various local and national organizations, headed by a coalition called Sweatshop Watch. Eight of the sweatshop operators were arrested, including the leader Suni Manasurangkun.

In February of 1996, the eight sweatshop operators pled guilty in Federal court to charges of conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and smuggling and harboring of illegal immigrants, but in a plea bargain agreement, the kidnapping charges were dropped. The sentences varied from up to seven years in jail to a $250,000 fine. As for the workers, the federal government granted them legal residency with the right to work in the United States because of the threat to their safety if deported to Thailand.

Subsequent raids on the front shops in Downtown Los Angeles freed the Latina workers from the terrible conditions they had also faced. In December of 1995, twenty-four Latina/o workers approached the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocate (KIWA) and described the exploitation they faced at those shops. As a result, KIWA represented 55 Latina workers in a lawsuit against the retailers that had employed the sweatshop contractors. These workers and KIWA collaborated with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the Thai workers they represented to start the Campaign for Retailer Accountability. This multi-ethnic effort demonstrated the strength of unified solidarity. Community groups that represent one specific group, such as KIWA for the Korean community, can support other emerging communities that may not have developed organizations yet.

Through letter-writing to retailers and public demonstrations at Robinson’s-May and Macy’s, they were able to help collect back wages for the El Monte garment workers. And in October 1997, Sweatshop Watch co-founder Julie Su won an historic legal victory when five major companies, including Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward, were ordered to pay more than $2 million to the El Monte workers. So despite the subcontracting system, victims of the system could fight back and win just compensation from the giant companies that profit from their labor.

In the years following the raids, both the Thai and Latina workers fought for justice within the garment industry. The Thai-Latina/o coalition in Los Angeles collaborated with Chinese workers in the Oakland area to help pass AB 633, a California state legislative bill that imposed a "wage guarantee"in the garment industry. This meant that manufacturers and retailers were responsible for paying minimum wage for the workers that produced their clothing if their subcontractors were not paying minimum wages. Lawsuits brought against retailers such as Tomato Inc., BUM International, Mervyn’s, and Montgomery Ward accounted for settlements close to $4 million dollars to the almost 150 Thai and Latina workers caught up in this modern day case of slavery.

Latina Workers’ Struggle for a Life in the United States and the Factors Affecting It

Latinas have been a working force in the garment industry since the 1930s with increasing populations of female immigrants from Mexico. Mexican immigration to the United States has increased from 41% in 1985 to 57% in 1995. Women comprise 28% of this population in 1990-1995 as compared to 11% in 1965-1989 (Cerrutti and Massey, 187). Studies by Douglas Massey indicate that most women tend to migrate with their families, following their migrant husbands or their parents. Migration is sparked by economic reasons and employment opportunities, with access to social capital determining the likelihood of female rather than male migration. Indeed, the incidence of working females increase upon the move to the United States with 40% of undocumented immigrants report working to support children in Mexico. For undocumented women in Los Angeles, 69% intend to work as compared to 40% documented women. Massey's studies indicate that the incidence of women migrating independently is significantly less than males. The decision for women to migrate depends on her family's weighing of the net benefits of capital return versus the financial cost of living in a new country and the mental toll of adapting to a new culture and learning a new language. In family settings, it is more beneficial to have one or two members working abroad, than for the whole family to move. This can increase the net income of the family, without financial losses of moving the whole family to a new place and adapting to a higher cost of living. Having one or two relatives working abroad can also provide an aspect of stable income in case work in the home country is seasonal or the economy there is unstable. At times of high inflation in the migrant country, the wages of the relative abroad can pay for more things in the home country.

Massey also states that gender segregated jobs contribute to costs and benefits of migration. There are a higher percentage of undocumented workers working in service industries like housecleaning, domestic work, and manufacturing. These jobs are traditionally viewed as women's work and are devalued as unskilled, requiring little English proficiency and education. Since these jobs are devalued, employers keep immigrant wages low.

As the economy is an important factor in motivating migration out of Mexico, one can examine the effects of NAFTA on Mexico's economy. Since the passage of NAFTA, employment opportunities have decreased in Mexico, forcing women to migrate north to find jobs. According to Arnoldo Garcia, NAFTA has increased Mexico's deficit, decreased workers wages from 40 to 50%, and devalued the peso. NAFTA has resulted in wealthy nations, like the United States, to profit from poorer nations, like Mexico without reciprocity, since the United States companies can ship their goods tariff free and produce goods at lower costs in Mexico. NAFTA has also decreased workers rights; changing labor laws to benefit foreign investments. The ill effects of NAFTA on the Mexican economy have prompted migration out of Mexico. The situation became even more problematic for Mexicans because anti immigration policies increased with the passage of NAFTA. Border patrol has increased despite statistics that 4 out of 10 undocumented immigrants get to the United States by crossing the border. As a result of United States policy, a population is displaced, without jobs, and limited opportunities in migrating to the United States to advance their economic living.

As Massey stated, immigrants make up the majority of service industries, namely the garment industry. As immigrants, Latinas face many barriers to obtaining fair wages and respectful treatment in the workplace. The pyramidal structure of the garment industry poses further difficulties for workers organizing to gain fair working conditions. The structure of the garment industry is hierarchical, with retailers at the peak with highest profit and workers at the bottom with the lowest profit. Layers of employers fall between retailers and workers. Retailers like Liz Claiborne and BCBG hire manufacturers to design clothing, buying finished garments from the manufacturers. Retailers are looking for the lowest price, keeping competition fierce between manufacturers. Manufacturers employ several contractors to sew various garment parts. To keep selling prices for retailers low, manufacturers give contractors very little money to pay their employees and to ensure their shops have clean water and bathrooms and adequate ventilation. Finally, contractors hire workers to sew garments. With little money earned from manufacturers, many contractors resort to paying their workers solely by piece rate, despite laws that state workers must be paid minimum wage in addition to piece rates. For the amount of money retailers make for a single dress, a worker receives a tiny percentage of the profit. We can see a trend in an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor with retailers profiting from the backs of immigrant laborers. Since retailers do not keep track of garment workers wages nor are they the direct employers, it becomes easy for retailers to skirt the responsibility of their workers conditions. Yet their refusal to give higher wages creates the oppressive conditions that the garment workers face. It is difficult for workers to organize against contractors since they are not the root of the problem. Also, the speedy nature of the garment industry makes it easy for contractors to shut down shops and open as new ones rather than paying their workers fair wages. Also, retailers can avoid sanctions on hiring undocumented immigrants by relaying the responsibility to their contractors. According to Massey, in return for absorbing the risks of prosecution and the burdens of paperwork, subcontractors retain a share of the migrants' earnings as payment, reducing their net wages. By hiring undocumented immigrants, they can increase their profit, since undocumented immigrants are not in positions of power to negotiate their wages and benefits.

The Los Angeles garment industry specializes in women's clothing which is seasonal. Thus, it is more beneficial for retailers to hire contractors at a proximal setting to the retailers like Los Angeles, rather than Mexico to decrease production turnaround time and transportation costs (Louie). Although NAFTA has made overseas production a viable option for retailers, many smaller retailers choose to stay in Los Angeles. One may think that this creates more jobs for Mexican immigrants, yet the turnover rate is high and the retailers' decision to remain in Los Angeles depends on how low they can pay contractors, ultimately how low workers wages are. For example, Guess has avoided accountability to its garment workers by closing down its Los Angeles contracting shops and setting up shops overseas in response to pressure from anti sweatshop coalitions for Guess to pay their workers fair wages.

Garment manufacturers who employ immigrants can exploit the workers immigration status by neglecting to inform them about proper wages and benefits or threatening to deport them. Employers can also use language barriers to demean the workers dignity, further emphasizing the hierarchical structure of the garment industry. Immigrants are highly exploited in the garment industry due to its structure. The garment industry has many fly by night contractors which make it hard to regulate. Many contractors pay their employees solely by piece rates, without benefits, while the law requires employers to pay their workers minimum wage. Worse yet, no clear records are kept of workers hours and wages making it easy to cheat garment workers from their rightful wages.

The vast numbers of Latina workers employed in the garment district make them a viable force if they were organized and mobilized to act for fair wages and treatment with respect. However, past attempts to organize have been met with much difficulty. According to Maria Angelina Soldetenko, factors preventing Latinas from organizing are gender segregation, work culture and resistance, the exclusionary practices of unions, and role of the state in organized labor. Here we can examine the roles of community organizations working collectively with the women to fight against injustice in the workplace. We can gain valuable lessons from the Thai and Latino Campaign for Retailer Accountability, as these women have successfully resisted against the factors that have kept Latina workers from organizing in the past, while implementing effective ways to organize along class lines and build multiethnic coalitions.

Gender segregation exists in the garment industry, with men as supervisors and women as workers. The women's work is devalued as unskilled, despite the high level of stress the women face mentally and physically. Women are also marginalized in the labor market with no visible female leaders in the unions. Latinas are excluded from positions of power and decision making in which they can adequately speak out about their conditions and decide on demands for their employers. Also union membership is open only to stable shops that can respond to union demands, excluding many garment workers since the nature of the industry is quick and shops can close down.

Furthermore, anti immigration laws prevent undocumented immigrants from speaking up about their abuses because of the fear of deportation. The state also marginalizes the women. The labor department fails to regulate manufacturers and handles wage claims slowly. With increased military spending, we can anticipate cuts in labor department budget, further worsening the situation.

The nature of garment work prevents women from networking with each other. Women are pressured to sew faster and many do not have time to go to the restroom, much less talk to coworkers about actions to resist their employers' unfair conditions. Also, workers have a high turnover rate, so women are not present at their workplace long enough to create networks. Many contracting shops pit women against each other for more sewing pieces and divide the workplace along ethnic lines, creating a competitive atmosphere. Also retailers are adamant about eliminating labor movements, firing and blacklisting organizing leaders (Deptowicz).

Some theorists argue that Latinas are not involved in unions because they come from a different political background as compared to female European immigrants who have successfully organized in the East Coast. This generalization is faulty and depicts Latinas as naive and ignorant. On a case study by Soldetenko, Latinas are aware of the ILGWU and daily labor events through Spanish media. Latinas are familiar with government practices used to suppress organizing efforts in their own countries, which may discourage them from joining unions. Immigrant garment workers today are at a more vulnerable position than garment workers of the past since threats of deportation and moving shops overseas can be used against them. Despite retailers’ attempts to detach themselves from the responsibility of their workers, wages and working environment conditions, the campaigns for retailer accountability continues. Corporate image campaigns have been key points of attack since fashion is dependent on image and can be a strong way to motivate a retailer to pay attention to worker's demands. These campaigns can inform consumers, about which retailers allow sweatshop conditions for their workers, so that consumers can boycott the retailers' products, decreasing their profits. As students, we can contribute to these campaigns by supporting pickets and rallies and volunteering to mobilize and educate other workers. Garment workers leading the Forever 21 campaign state that students can do a lot for the campaign by helping at the Garment Workers Center, increasing consumer consciousness, and supporting the workers at public events.

Since the Thai-Latino Campaign for Retailer Accountability, many workers' rights coalitions were built, AB 633 was passed in 1999, and the Garment Workers centered was created. However, the movement for justice for garment workers needs to continue. According to Julie Su, AB 633 is ineffective since it is implemented weakly. Garment workers can only enforce the law by filing an administrative wage claim through the state Labor Commissioner's office, specifically with the DIR's Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), with the provision that two guarantors, the contractor and the manufacturer, be identified. From an UCLA School of Law study, the DLSE failed to identify guarantors for five out of six contractors (Chung and Su 2). Also, contractors fail to comply with subpoenas for records of companies they have worked with. The DLSE has placed the responsibility on the workers to identify guarantors. This is problematic since workers have little power in the workplace.

Conditions in many contracting shops have not improved since the Thai-Latino Campaign for Retailer Accountability. Garment workers for Forever 21 clothing describe cockroaches in their drinking water and microwaves, only being allowed one thirty minute break during a 10 hour shift, and employers lowering piece rate wages when workers produce garment pieces at a speedy rate. Manufacturers continue to use tactical means to avoid responsibility for their workers conditions. For example, the president of Forever 21 claims garment workers have no proof of sewing clothes for his company, cites that he is a religious man and would not allow poor working conditions in his company, and sued the Garment Workers Center for defamation in response to workers visiting his home to demand fair wages. Instances like this, in which the wealthy continue to use their resources to oppress workers, indicate that we need to continue supporting workers in the struggle for just working conditions.

Edna Bonacich presents several tactics on effective organizing for garment workers. One method is the Jobber's Agreement in which manufacturers sign a contract to only utilize unionized contractors, agreeing to pay contractors according to the union scale. Consumer pressure through corporate campaigns and community organizing can be used with this to put pressure on manufacturers to employ unionized contractors. The strength of the Jobber's Agreement tactic is the weak ties between contractors and manufacturers. If all contractors are unionized, manufacturers will find it difficult to find non-unionized contractors to produce various garment pieces. This slows down production time, which is detrimental to the time sensitive nature of the garment industry. The challenge is organizing the numerous contractors working for one manufacturer and the workers employed by the contractors. Also, this does not increase bargaining power for workers, since the choice to unionize depends on the contractors. Joanne, a coordinator for the Garment Workers Center, emphasizes that organizing workers is the first step in the struggle for just working conditions. Most contractors are antagonistic to labor movements. Another challenge is that manufacturers can opt to shift production to Mexico, forcing contractors to close down shops, leaving workers unemployed. Another method is corporate campaigns, but this must be supported by workers, since it may lead manufacturers to close down shops in response to boycotts. Community organizing can be used to gain middle class support, which can put pressure on the industry. Also, organizing within the workers community can tie workers' issues with other immigrant issues. By organizing where people live, like in immigrant enclaves, other workers can show solidarity. From the Thai- Latino Campaign for Retailer Accountability, we can see the benefits of community organizing. Another effective method is utilizing workers centers to provide services for workers such as assistance in wage claims, English proficiency, and dealing with INS. They can educate workers about their rights and organize volunteers to help with campaigns. Most importantly, it can amplify the voices of the workers, by providing leadership training and hiring other workers in decision making positions. For example, in the Forever 21 campaign, the Garment Workers Center has helped organize Latina, Chinese, and Korean workers through translators. Also, growing leadership is evident in the women. They utilize militant tactics, such as picketing in front of the Don Won Chang’s, president of Forever 21, house.

Some theorists predict that the only way for workers to further gain power is to combine unions with community organizations. According to Cheryl Deptowicz, only unions have the ability to set up bargaining units and negotiate contracts for better wages and benefits and the power to organize the working class to withhold its labor and strike. Garment workers from the Forever 21 campaign are receptive to unions. However, we can see that methods employed by community advocacy groups like KIWA and the Garment Workers Center in which workers retain decision making powers in their campaign effectively mobilize workers. We need to continue fighting for social justice with the workers. From the El Monte workers of 1995 to the Los Angeles workers of 2002, they fight not just for themselves, but because "we don't want other workers to go through what we went through." It is this legacy of solidarity that we can learn from multi ethnic campaigns and take to the streets to continue fighting for workers' rights.

The Strength of Gender, the Gender of Strength

Development itself is a term and idea that is connected to power. Thus, those countries and elites within countries, with the most power can define what development means and how it is accomplished, since development necessitates resources. While this may not be an explicit or purposive project, it does mean that certain voices will be heard, and others will not. The "Western" voice that has led development rhetoric and practice also comes from societies that, despite changes, still do not have equitable gender relations, and this has meant that women have been seen as passive objects of development in the eyes of a male elite.

This section will not attempt to look at the modern development of Thailand and Southeast Asia in its entirety. Rather, it is concerned with the situation of women and the history of t!

hat situation. Without discovering any research directly about why women are coming to the United States for work, one looks at how women have lost choices and economic power in Thai society through Green Revolution policies of mechanization and structural adjustment policies (SAPs). These policies have ignored the role of women and their needs in a changing Thai society and culture, as well as the exploitation women endure from corporations that have placed themselves in Thailand to take advantage of third world conditions. Nevertheless, despite the problems that they undergo, it is quite evident that Thai women display strength not normally accorded to women, and that despite their loss of power they continue to search and fight for meaningful life choices. Being the "backbone of the union movement" in Thailand (Porpora, Lim, and Prommas,271), rather than some sad desperation, it is strength and an active resolve that one finds Thai and other Southeast Asian women are drawing upon when coming to this country.

It will be helpful to place the Green Revolution, SAPs, and multinational corporations!

in context of the global economy to understand pressures put upon Thai and Southeast Asian society. While the Green Revolution may have originally arisen to help third-world countries deal with feeding growing populations, it has changed into an instrument of control. The agricultural infrastructure that must be put into place- irrigation and especially high inputs of fertilizers and pesticides- is often unattainable by small farmers which will put them out of work and force them to work for larger agribusiness farms, while increasing urbanism. Moreover, Structural Adjustment Policies have not always been used by the sister of the World Bank- the International Monetary Fund. Rather, they were started in the 1980ís as a way to open up economies of the third world and to guarantee loan payback through austerity measures. What SAPs have really done is decimated whatever social services have been offered in these countries. The opening up of economies has also meant that corporations from industrialized nations have had easier access to third world labor, which is extremely exploited by not adhering to labor, environmental, safety laws that exist in their home countries.

Women in Thailand have not been passive actors in Southeast Asian society when it comes to agriculture. Women have had a share of the labor in traditional agriculture, such as seed preparation, land preparation, and harvesting (Porpora, Lim, and Prommas, 271). Not only does this allow them to contribute to the labor process, but this can also give them spatial agency and connection with other women when doing this work. When the Green Revolution was introduced into Southeast Asian society, women’s work and the freedom that this gave to their lives was not taken into consideration. In Malaysia, for example, the mechanization of agriculture was only taught to men (Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, 286). This has also happened in the Philippines with padi production, which is also an important crop in Indonesia and Thailand (Hafner, 144). This de-legitimizes the place of women in that agricultural scheme. Women have thus had to take on more household tasks, take on lower-wage labor in the same field of agriculture, forcing some women leave home (Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, 286). What is important to note for Thailand is that the young woman’s movement has not necessarily been approved by parents, despite the remittances that women send home, but is part of their "investment in their own futures" (Porpora, Lim, and Prommas, 283). This has also been important to young Muslim Malay women who have chosen factory work to not only reduce economic dependency on their households and to supplement family income, but to gain independence of their own as well (Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, 290). By lack of consideration for women in agriculture, development plans around it have disenfranchised them of traditional work that is important for their own personal development and brought new problems upon them in low-wage agricultural labor or in the cities. Nevertheless, women continue to do things to empower themselves and defining how they will support themselves and their families.

The economic planning that U.S. aid has accompanied has not been devoid of attention to women. Women in Development (WID) projects started in the 1970’s in response to Ester Boserup’s text Womanís Role in Economic Development, which noted that women and men live with different socioeconomic realities. Also, Gender and Development (GAD) views have been more controversial, by not only looking at women, but at the underlying gender assumptions that women and men live under, to better understand how to help women (Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, 290). The resistance to GAD is important because it has meant that overarching policies to men and women can still disproportionately hurt women. So when SAPs ended state subsidies for education, childcare, and healthcare (family planning included- abortions) in Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, women were highly affected in ways men were not (Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, 294-296). While it is discussed that women in Southeast Asia may have more freedom than in other third world societies, they are still the primary caregivers in the home to children. By dismantling care services for children, for example, working women are subject to a strong double or even triple day that men do not have to deal with. It is hard to say to what extent Thailand and Southeast Asia are altogether responsible or irresponsible for their own development, since the leading industrial nations control so much capital and the methods for development. Yet, the neo-liberal project that opened up Thailand has also been part of creating the need for Green Revolution by Thailand’s complicity in destroying agricultural land for housing projects, resorts, and golf courses (Kurian, 183).

And as one can see, by taking women out of their normal agricultural role, they have chosen to go to the cities. Here they meet the multinational corporations that have been given access to Southeast Asia through the neo-liberal project that has demanded structural adjustment, and discovers those effects above. These current jobs for women hold little prospect for upward mobility and future prospects (Kurian, 188). This is part of the reality that corporate subcontracting has created. By creating another level of exploitation, there is further incentive to gouge women of their wages. These jobs are also demanding and the skilled jobs in electronics and lace textile firms can create eye deficiencies, which lead to an employment cycle for these women of two to five years before they can no longer do the work due to forced injury from work (Kurian, 189).

The dearth of prospects and demand from work with little to no state support would seem to be prime reasons for migration to the US. The irony in all of this is that women are the backbone of the union movement in Thailand (Porpora, Lim, Prommas, 291). Research by Porpora, Lim and Prommas has shown that despite the strength that women have shown in the union movement, it is local belief that they are easier to control than men. Their research has shown that women are not even necessarily "docile" by comparison to men, and in fact far more active than men in the movement. The reason for this at the moment lies in either the fact that women have fewer opportunities than men beyond low-rank factory work, or some unexplained aspect of rural Thai family structure. This portion, with a background supposition of problematic Thai and Southeast Asian development for the majority of the people of the area, has attempted to show that women have further problems beyond the major class issues that development has brought. These problems lie in the lack of attention given to women’s substantive differences in experiences from men, one that includes certain roles in agriculture that were effectively done away with and, like most cultures, a double or even triple work day, along with prejudices that lead them into certain dead end work. These issues have been given attention, but it is obvious that women from these countries are finding problems with development and their place within it, because they are searching for opportunities abroad, including the United States, which other parts of this paper have examined, and their unfortunate discovery of oppression here as well. Nevertheless, as women in Thailand are militant and strong, one should believe that they will change the view of Asian women in this country by living up to Miriam Ching Yoon Louieís name of "Sweatshop Warriors."

Looking to Your Future: What You Can Do

After completing our research and speaking with some workers and encountering others through reading interviews, it is most evident now more than ever that the workers are the leaders, the fighters, the heroes and our inspiration. They have become instigators for change in our community, that is, a community that has long been out of touch with its community-based shared grassroots labor struggles. They remind us of what democracy really is by their example of workers leading workers, equally distributed roles and group decision making. We need to be conscious consumers, get others involved in the struggle and let them know about the social injustices committed right here in Los Angeles County.

With these new discoveries of labor struggles to some and reminders to others, it is crucial to emphasize that the fight for a better life for all people is possible. Moreover, our positions at this elite university provide us with an advantage that we must use to aid the workers in their fight for fair conditions.  Keep in mind that while the Thai-Latino Campaign for Retailer Accountability was a victory for the "Sweatshop Warriors," there are still many more battles to be fought.


Works Cited

Bas, Nikki F. "Coalition of Sweatshop Watch Members Demand Justice," 4 Mar. 2002 <http://www.resistinc.org/newletter/issues/1998/07/combattinggs.html>

Bonacich, Edna. "Organizing Immigrant Workers in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry," Journal of World Systems Research 4 (1998): 10-19.

Cartier and Rothenberg-Aalami, ìGender and Developmentî Southeast Asia: Diversity and Development. 2000. p286. Ibid.

Cerrutti, Marcella, Massey, Douglas S. "On the Auspices of Female Migration from Mexico to the United States," Demography. 38 (2001): 187-193.

Chung, Christina N., Su, Julie A. "Is the 1999 Anti-Sweatshop Law Effective? Assembly Bill 633: All Promise, No Bite," California Labor and Employment Law Quarterly, Fall 2001. 25 Feb. 2002 <http://www.calbar.org/laborlaw/quarterly/v15n3/chung.htm>

Deptowicz, Cheryl. "Garment Workers Unionize to Win Brighter Future." Voices of Color. 18 Feb. 2002. Online Posting <<http://www.socialism/com/fsarticles/Vol19no2/192_V_of_CEnglish>http://www.socialism/com/fsarticles/Vol19no2/192_V_of_CEnglish.html>

Feldman, Paul, and Patrick J. McDonnell, "Thai Workers May Be Released Soon." LA Times. August 11, 1995.

Hafner, James. "Perspectives on Agriculture and Rural Development," Southeast Asia: Diversity and Development. 2000. p144.

Hidden Labor; Uncovering L.A.’s Garment Industry. Ed. Ruth Wallach. 25 Feb. 2002 <http://www.usc.edu/isd/archives/la/pubart/Downtown/HiddenLabor/>

Kang, Connie K. "Final $1.2 Million Added to Thai Workers' Settlement," LA Times. July 29, 1999.

Kurian, Rachel. "Womenís Work in Changing Labour Markets: the Case of Thailand in the 1980ís," Women Globalization and Fragmentation in the Developing World, 1999. p183, 188, 189.

Liebhold, Peter and Harry R. Rubenstein, Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A History of American Sweatshops, 1820-Present. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center and Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, 1999.

Louie, Miriam Ching. "Are My Clothes Clean: Women and the Global Assembly Line," Online posting. WEdGE Lesson: Women's Education in the Global Economy. 2001. <http://www.coloredgirls/org/pub_wedge_lesson4.html>

Louie, Miriam Ching. Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take On The Global Factory. Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press, 2001.

Porpora, Lim, and Prommas. "The Role of Women in the International Division of Labour: The Case of Thailand," Development and Change. Volume 20, 1989. p271, 283, 290, 291, 294-296, 298-299.

Schoenberger, Karl. "Escapee Sparked Sweatshop Raid." LA Times. August 11, 1995.

Soldatenko, Maria Angelina. "Organizing Latina Garment Workers in Los Angeles," Aztlan. 20 (1991). 76-84.

"Sweatshop Watch Launches Retailer Accountability Campaign," Sweatshop Watch Newsletter, Online posting. Volume 1. Number 2. Winter 1996. <http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/swatch/newsletters1-2.html>

"Sweatshops: Why are there Sweatshops?" Co-op Americaís Sweatshop.org 4 Mar. 2002. <http://www.coopamerica.org/sweatshops/sswhysweatshops.htm>

"The Power of Retailers and Their Private Labels," Sweatshop Watch Newsletter 4 Mar. 2002. <http://www.sweatshopwatch.org/swatch/industry/cal/retailers.html>

White, George. "Workers Held in Near-Slavery, Officials Say." LA Times. August 3, 1995.


Script for Presentation

Introduction (Aaron): "The changing class dynamics of students at elite institutions who previously fit into the category of a minority affects them as they become increasingly detached from their community issues. Some students are not aware of the responsibilities they acquire as instigators for change by simply being at their university. Furthermore, there are a limited number of classes that encourage or require involvement with community-based issues and peoples. By participating in this Asian Pacific American Labor Studies class and project, students are able to take the theories that they have learned and apply them to real live people and situations. Researching the Thai-Latino Garment Workers Campaign for Retailer Accountability has brought some of us closer to community issues, while just introducing them to others. We have acquired enough knowledge and spoken with enough people to be inspired and to be sure that this is definitely a fight worth educating the masses about. These women’s stories are not simply stories of the past, but also stories of the future because without change, sweatshops and other exploitation of peoples flourish in our capitalistic society."

Forces of Oppression (Aimee): "In order to be able to fully grasp the reason why sweatshops can exist in modern day Los Angeles, one needs to explore certain ideologies that are valued in American society. The history of the United States has long been characterized by the economic exploitation of other peoples, reinforced through military and political domination. The economic system the nation is based on, that is, capitalism encourages its followers to make the maximum profits, to expand and to dominate. Many capitalists assume that it is normal and natural for one class to reap the wealth at the expense of those who actually produce it. Once they come to believe that it is in the very nature of things to do this within their own country then it becomes easier to do it abroad as well. Furthermore, centuries of exploitation and oppression of people of color have created racism, an ideology transmitted into the culture to justify, rationalize and explain this behavior. The institution of slavery, and the subjugation and eradication of people of color who were "in the way" of U.S. capitalist expansion westward, are two major events in American history on which rest many of the racist attitudes and behavior garment workers and others like them experience today. Moreover, one discovers that capitalism involves a whole system based on exploitation and violence, a whole way of thinking about other people. The ghettos of America, the racial injustices, the glaring inequalities, the dehumanization of our industrial society, and the flourishing sweatshops not to mention their horrendous conditions are just some its products. Now unless one believes that human beings are inherently evil by nature, one can see that the increased amount of exploitation of people also known as domestic and global sweatshops, is not normal but more that it is the result of an unchecked system of capitalism."

Introduction to the Migration Patterns of Immigrants (Aaron): "Hopefully, by following these women through their journey, one will realize that this story of Thai and Latino "Sweatshop Warriors" is one that not only needs to be heard, but is meant to be heard. They are stories about the history and harsh realities of economic exploitation; the struggle to survive in a system that wants to keep you down, and about the astonishing transformation that is made during the fight for equal rights."

Skit based in homeland

Thai woman (Aimee): "I will not tell you my name because you do not need to know it. What you need to know is that I am one of the thousands of Thai women forced to leave my rural village in Thailand in search for better ways to support my family. Both of my parents worked in the rice fields barely making enough to keep our mouths fed. I can even remember planting rice seedlings as a child. I also remember when the bosses bought machines and only taught my father and the other men in the village to use them. My mother could no longer work outside of the home to contribute to our family. I saw how easily she was brushed aside and refuse to let the same happen to myself. Besides, my family needed money and resources, but these were always hard to come by. When I was seventeen, I left my village for the city without the approval of my family. I began sewing clothes for American companies in a garment factory in Bangkok, but the pay was not so good and the factory was in dire conditions. I have been here for almost a year and I miss my home. But yesterday a friend told me that we should go to America where we could do the same job, but for much better pay, in better conditions, and with the weekends off. She said all I needed was 125 thousand baht, which was equivalent to 5000 American dollars. I am afraid because I do not have that much money, but my friend tells me that the factory owners do not want the money in the beginning and that I can pay it back as I work. I think I will go so that I may help my family."

Mexican woman (Melissa): "I work in a garment factory in Mexico. The conditions are horrible; the water is always dirty and the air is dusty. Many of my companeras get sick every day. Since NAFTA passed, the minimum wage has gone down and I barely make enough to support my family. My husband also cannot find work because of NAFTA. I have no other choice but to find work in El Norte. But the United States has made their immigration laws stricter, putting even more patrol agents on the border. I am scared to leave my home and my children, but I cannot let them go hungry. At least in America, I will be paid in dollars and my family will be able to afford more things. How does the United States expect us to live and survive here in Mexico? Their laws take jobs away from us or put us in jobs with unhealthy conditions and poor wages, and then they restrict immigration, making it harder for us to seek a better life.

Immigration from Thailand and Mexico (Greg):

Thailand – Women and development

Women’s displacement

Green Revolution

Low wage work or working in the home.

Export led industrialization

Economic pressures in Thailand

Garment and electronic factories in Bangkok with no chances for upward mobility.

SAP loss of social services

Mexico

Economic pressures in Mexico

Devaluation of the peso

Decrease in wages because of NAFTA

Family

Familial obligations ñ housework and help be the breadwinners.

Skit on sweatshop

Thai woman in sweatshop with Mexican worker (Aimee): "We work with many other workers from different countries. Today when we came to the front shops to work, there were many Latina workers there. I am afraid of them because our bosses told us that if we left, Mexicans would rape us. They seem to get more pieces from the bosses so that they may get paid better than we do. They get to go home after work and I wonder if they have a debt to pay to the bosses the same way we do."

(Greg): yell something at both workers to divide them along racial and cultural lines.

Mexican woman in sweatshop with Thai worker (Melissa): "I do not know about these other workers. They speak the same language as my boss, so they must be treated better than us Latinas. The bosses yell at us to sew faster, telling us the Thai workers over there, on the other side of the room, finish their pieces quicker, so I must work continuously. I cannot even take a break to use the restroom. The bosses also threaten to turn me in to the INS if I complain about our bad wages or our long hours.

Sweatshop conditions, the disoriented conditions of workers that allowed the separation of them along racial lines, then also talk about they raid of the sweatshop, how women were detained at the INS office and how they were finally taken to the Thai CDC and KIWA offices (Aaron): The workers in El Monte were forced to work from seven in the morning to midnight, with only one hour for break. A typical day began at 6:00am, lunch at noon, dinner at 6:00pm, and work until midnight, sometimes later depending on the load of work needed by the operators. The workers were paid according to the piece rate scale. Often times, this would amount to only about 69 cents-an-hour. Most of their pay was used to pay back their debt to the recruiters. What little money they had left of their own was used to pay for food and laundry. There was a company store in the complex that charged exorbitant rates for necessities such as soap and powdered milk.

The operators of the sweatshop also used scare tactics to ensure nobody would want to escape. They would tell the workers that there would be retribution against their families in Thailand. Other times they would say if the workers escaped, they would be raped. Rojana "Na" Chenunchujit, one of the former workers at El Monte, described the intimidation from the sweatshop employers. "Some people actually got punished. One person tried to escape but was unsuccessful; they beat him up pretty badly. It was unbearable to look at the worker who was beaten. After the beating you couldn’t even recognize him at all."

As the working and living conditions became more and more unbearable, many at El Monte thought of risking their lives for the chance of freedom. However, as Praphapan Pongpid, another El Monte worker pointed out, she had thought of escaping. As she pondered the decision, she thought of what she would do if she did escape. Having lived in the confines of the building since her arrival in America, she knew it would be difficult to survive in the strange outside world. As she put it, "I didn’t know how to use the phone, I didn’t know anyone, I couldn’t speak the language, I didn’t know how to use the bus. I didn’t know what I would do if I were to escape and so I then just decided to endure, stay put and just accept my fate." Unfortunately, more than seventy other workers felt similarly and were relegated to accepting their lives at the sweatshop.

In January of 1995, one of the workers took the risk and escaped from the complex. This very brave unnamed worker defied the threats to her safety and escaped the El Monte sweatshop. Her boyfriend later tipped off authorities to the sweatshop. On August 2, 1995 a multi-agency team headed by the California Department of Industrial Relations raided the El Monte complex. There they found the seventy-two Thai workers and the horrible conditions they had faced for years. Investigators also found cut and sewn fabric, garments, and dozens of sewing machines inside the complex. The workers were all placed in INS custody, but eventually released on $500 bond each through an agreement between the U.S. attorney’s office and the federal public defender’s office. The money was put up through various local and national organizations, headed by a coalition called Sweatshop Watch. Eight of the sweatshop operators were arrested, including the leader Suni Manasurangkun.

In February of 1996, the eight sweatshop operators pled guilty in Federal court to charges of conspiracy, involuntary servitude, and smuggling and harboring of illegal immigrants, but in a plea bargain agreement, the kidnapping charges were dropped. The sentences varied from up to seven years in jail to a $250,000 fine. As for the workers, the federal government granted them legal residency with the right to work in the United States because of the threat to their safety if deported to Thailand.

Subsequent raids on the front shops in Downtown Los Angeles freed the Latina workers from the terrible conditions they had also faced. In December of 1995, twenty-four Latina/o workers approached the Korean Immigrant Workers Advocate (KIWA) and described the exploitation they faced at those shops. As a result, KIWA represented 55 Latina workers in a lawsuit against the retailers that had employed the sweatshop contractors. These workers and KIWA collaborated with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) and the Thai workers they represented to start the Campaign for Retailer Accountability. This multi-ethnic effort demonstrated the strength of unified solidarity. Community groups that represent one specific group, such as KIWA for the Korean community, can support other emerging communities that may not have developed organizations yet.

Through letter-writing to retailers and public demonstrations at Robinson’s-May and Macy’s, they were able to help collect back wages for the El Monte garment workers. And in October 1997, Sweatshop Watch co-founder Julie Su won an historic legal victory when five major companies, including Mervyn’s and Montgomery Ward, were ordered to pay more than $2 million to the El Monte workers. So despite the subcontracting system, victims of the system could fight back and win just compensation from the giant companies that profit from their labor.

In the years following the raids, both the Thai and Latina workers fought for justice within the garment industry. The Thai-Latina/o coalition in Los Angeles collaborated with Chinese workers in the Oakland area to help pass AB 633, a California state legislative bill that imposed a "wage guarantee" in the garment industry. This meant that manufacturers and retailers were responsible for paying minimum wage for the workers that produced their clothing if their subcontractors were not paying minimum wages. Lawsuits brought against retailers such as Tomato Inc., BUM International, Mervynís, and Montgomery Ward accounted for settlements close to $4 million dollars to the almost 150 Thai and Latina workers caught up in this modern day case of slavery.

Skit at Thai CDC and KIWA

Thai worker with Mexican worker with Thai CDC and KIWA (Aimee): "At first, I thought the Latina workers had more freedom than us because they could leave the shop after their shift ended. When the people from KIWA asked us about what we had to go through in the shops and translated it into Thai for me, I realized they faced the same bad treatment from the bosses as we do."

Mexican worker with Thai CDC and KIWA (Melissa): "I found out that Thai workers were threatened by the bosses too. The bosses said they would harm their families if they tried to escape from the shop. They prevented them from complaining about wages and hours with armed guards. One Thai worker was even beaten and was used as an example to prevent any type of resistance."

Melissa and Aimee: "We have chosen to speak out because we donít want other workers to struggle the way we have to."

(Aimee): "The organizers at the Thai CDC and KIWA explained to us the structure of the garment industry."

(Melissa): "Our bosses have their own bosses, the manufacturers and retailers that do not pay them enough money to pay us garment workers."

(Aimee): "These manufacturers and retailers sell a dress for $100, while we only make $5."

(Melissa): "This doesn’t excuse our bosses from treating us like slaves, but the manufacturers and retailers are also responsible for our situations."

Structure of garment industry (Greg):

The very structure of the garment industry encourages the creation of sweatshops. Retailers sit at the top of the apparel pyramid, placing orders with brand-name manufacturers, who in turn use sewing contractors to assemble the garments. Contractors recruit, hire and pay the workers, who occupy the bottom level of the pyramid. In many countries, competitive bidding by these contractors for work drives contract prices down so low that they cannot pay minimum wages or overtime to their workers. In fact, in today's garment industry, very little competitive bidding takes place. Most contractors are put in a "take it or leave it" position and must accept whatever low price is given to them or see the work placed elsewhere. The contractors must "sweat" profits out of their workers, cut corners, and operate unsafe workplaces.

Retailers have acquired enormous power to determine the price of clothing. During the past decade retailing has experienced a series of major mergers, which has led to a considerable consolidation of their buying power, especially among discounters. This consolidated buying power vastly increases retailers' ability to put more pressure on the manufacturers in terms of price and speed. Some retailers, such as May Department Stores, insist that manufacturers making their private labels guarantee a profit margin, sometimes as high as 48%. This impossible goal forces down wholesale prices, and it is ultimately the worker at the sewing machine that feels the pinch. The $100 sale price of a garment is typically divided up as follows: $50 to the retailer, $35 to the manufacturer, $10 to the contractor, and $5 to the garment worker.

Retailers' domination of the garment industry means they can affect whether sweatshop conditions improve or worsen. With their power to control production, retailers, along with manufacturers, should be held accountable for the conditions of the workers who sew their clothes. With this structure firmly in place, and workers often without other real employment options, their participation in the worker movement against corporate retailers is the beginning towards workers dictating a better place in this power structure.

Skit at meeting/picket

Thai worker at meetings, rallies, and pickets (Aimee): "We picket, leaflet, and visit different department stores. We try to go into the department stores, meet with management, and educate the consumers to support the boycott for accountability. We get promises from the consumers not to shop at the department store unless they change their policy. After meeting us, some consumers told us they felt bad about what happened to us and promised us they wouldn’t go back and shop there anymore."

Mexican worker at meetings, rallies, and pickets (Melissa): "I like going to the actions and demonstrations. Before when the owners screamed at me, I got real small. Now I know we have rights. I like to yell and scream at the retailers in the stores that made so much money off us. It makes me happy when the students join in our pickets and rallies, so that the retailers can see that the people who wear the clothes we make will not support unjust treatment of garment workers."

Student Roles (Greg):

Students in campaign and what he learned from his experience.

Student movements shaping later movements.

Moving forward rather than reinventing.

The integration of recent college graduates and students and the experience of workers; reestablishing linkages between the campus and the community.

Conscious consumerism.

Advantage of being a student at an elite institution ñ sharing resources.

Breaking down privileges – realizing your own place in the social hierarchy and know that other people help you get here in a lot of different ways.

Some grew food and others made sure you ate healthy.

Lifestyle choices – Push the boundaries of how others will define your profession, your responsibilities.

Thai worker on leadership (Aimee): "Because of the oppression I went through, I can now be very direct and assertive. It kind of forced me to express myself more and be less tolerant of wrongs. What I learned from this whole experience and ordeal is a lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Chancee, Julie, Paul, and the people at Thai CDC and KIWA really helped us to overcome the terrible things we went through. We felt like we were part of a larger family of people who really cared for us, people who loved us, people whom we could trust."

"Participating in the campaign was not scary, not after what we’d been through. Maybe others think that I am a troublemaker out to cause problems. But really all of the workers being part of this campaign make us feel like we are helping develop a better understanding among the general public about who we are and about working conditions in the garment industry. We are finally letting the people know about what happens to the money they spend on a piece of clothing, where the clothing came from, who made it, and how little they got paid. This campaign might help redistribute the wealth; it might help people understand that workers are not getting their fair share. We want people to know that the clothes they wear are being produced by the same kind of people as us, the workers who were slaves in El Monte."

Mexican worker on leadership (Melissa): "I’m the information source for our group of workers. If a problem comes up, I call everyone to let them know what’s going on. Ever since the raid on the El Monte shop, I have kept track of all the paper work and keep workers informed. I no longer have any fear. My only fear is immigration. But the rest, no. I do not want other workers to suffer. This experience opened up my eyes. It was like I was a blind woman before that. It made me conscious. Before when my bosses screamed at me, I got real small. Now I know we have rights. This experience gave me the motivation to speak up and fight against the owners."

Conclusion: We hope that by illustrating the journey we made from our homelands and telling the stories of our fears and how we stood up to them, you too will feel inspired and empowered, like we do. The campaign for Retailer Accountability made sweatshop industry workers highly visible to the public and to their own communities, opened up a base for workers’ support especially among young people, trained workers and their organizations, gained legitimacy from the public by winning key acknowledgments from employers and stimulated greater consciousness and organizing among those against corporate greed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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