Global textile: a supply chain that weighs on workers and the environment
When a Canadian consumer buys a pair of jeans for $30 at H&M, an entire chain of production is at play. While $30 for a pair of jeans may seem like a bargain, there’s more to it than a marked-down price tag. Millions of workers are involved in the international textile supply chain: in cotton fields, in the textile factories of Bangladesh, in shipping and packaging, and in retail outlets around the world.
Slow Fashion October is a concept started by Karen Templer of Fringe Association. Her blog focuses on knitting and sewing projects aimed at eliminating clothing consumption. Every year, she engages other makers to think about their impacts on the continuation of the global textile industry – in which most workers are exploited, forced to work relentlessly in dangerous factories, and are paid only pennies a day. Templer challenges people to take note of what they already own and mend what can be repaired. Of course, this concept is not new. But, with the alarming pace that people continue to consume – driven by fashion seasons, trends, and cheap prices – new emphasis needs to be put on alternatives.
Not everyone can teach themselves to make fashionable and long lasting pieces of clothing, nor does everyone have the privilege to sit down and mend a favourite shirt. What we can do however, is seriously think about the journey of our textiles - whose hands worked on sewing them and their history of displacement and colonization, the emissions needed to deliver our clothing from one continent to another, how we care for our clothing once we have them in our possession, and the different ways in which we can extend their usefulness.
Some of the clothes that don’t end up in a landfill somewhere eventually make their way to Panipat, a northern Indian city that tears apart, organizes, and recycles our old clothes. Here is a 14 minute video that will leave you thinking of the life of that $30 pair of jeans – made in Bangladesh, shipped to Canada, worn for a few months, and then shipped to India.
Documentary: The True Cost
This new documentary takes a look at every step of the global textile supply chain, and attempts to unravel the true cost of the fast-fashion industry. The documentary explores the market pressures that cause textiles to be manufactured in conditions which result in thousands of workers dying in factories around the world. It also examines the environmental impacts of producing mountains of cheap garments that end up in landfills. The documentary is available on Netflix.
Opportunistic move seeks to divide workers in Newfoundland and Labrador
A former NDP Member of Parliament is leading a group attempting to raid the largest private sector union in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union (FFAW-Unifor).
After losing his federal seat in the 2015 election, and failing to win a provincial seat as a Conservative candidate, Ryan Cleary has become the spokesperson for a group of fish harvesters who are attempting to break away from the union that represents most workers in Newfoundland and Labrador’s fishing industry.
Cleary’s group, the Federation of Independent Sea Harvesters (FISH-NL), is seeking to form a union for fish harvesters only. Currently, fish harvesters, fish plant workers and some industrial and retail workers are represented by FFAW-Unifor. While Cleary’s group has not provided any clear plans or objectives for their proposed new union, FISH-NL’s key criticism of FFAW-Unifor has been a perceived “conflict of interest” resulting from the union’s representation of both fish harvesters and plant workers.
FFAW-Unifor has defended its representation of both groups of workers, pointing to recent victories resulting from the joint efforts and united voice of harvesters and plant workers. The Union says the elimination of an unfair allocation policy for northern shrimp and a federal commitment to allocate the first 115,000 metric tonnes of northern cod to inshore harvesters would not have been achieved if workers were divided.
Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff has publicly condemned Cleary’s raiding efforts and has suggested this as an opportunistic attempt to divide the union. Yussuff has said workers' interests are better served when fish harvesters and plant workers are united. Cleary’s group has held two community meetings to gauge support for a new union and plans to begin card signing efforts in late October.
Privacy at Work
During the new movie Snowden, the whistle blower is shown using some sneaky tactics to remove information from a top secret research station. While most of us do not work in facilities with such strict rules on bringing private devices (like USB sticks and phones) into work, we should all be conscious of what is on those devices.
There is no law that currently guarantees worker privacy from employers who take opportunities to snoop on employee devices, track their activity through company-supplied electronics, or monitor their communications through the workplace’s software services. The Labour of Law blog goes into some specifics about cases that affect our privacy at work.
US Labor and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)
Trade Unions for Energy Democracy’s latest e-Bulletin outlines the existential split in the US trade union movement along the politics of fossil fuel pipelines. Since the beginning of the movement, similar ruptures have existed between socially conscious labour unions and those focused solely on jobs, regardless of the costs to communities or the environment. However, without both sides taking some leadership to openly debate the issues based on accurate analysis, these divisions will continue to be acutely harmful to the broader movement.
What is often brought-up in debates on unions organizing workers in controversial areas of employment is the fact that unions do not create jobs for their members, they act to democratize the conditions of work that already exists. The newest focus of this public debate is focused on whether workers should seek jobs in pipeline and extractive industries given the global issue of climate change. However, this question is not where the analysis begins or ends – and should not be the focus of union activists who care about the environment.
Democratic unions provide one of the few spaces that working people are able to engage in broader social and economic discussions. As such, they have a responsibility to engage in the hard social debates. Unfortunately, and far too frequently, this debate happens only at the leadership level, with no attempts to meaningfully engage and include the membership. This results in undermining broader attempts to build solidarity and engagement because union members have become alienated from them.
While scientific and long-term implications are on the side of labour, for this debate to be meaningful and for the progressive forces in the labour movement to be effective, we must devolve these discussion to the local level. In the fight for real-world alternatives to an economy based on exploitative, colonial, and climate-damaging practices, socialists must leverage our best values of solidarity, respect, and dignity to engage one another.
In the end, the movements' goals should not be about forcing upon workers the “Hobson’s Choice” – whether to work on pipelines or not work at all – but instead to build a society and economy where options like pipelines are replaced with better, unalienated work.