Sunday, October 18, 2009

Schmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags

It would be hard to come away from watching HBO's Schmatta : Rags To Riches To Rags without worrying about the future of your own job in America. The statistics are as compelling as the personal stories that make up this documentary. "In 1965, 95% of American clothing was made in the U.S.A.; by 2009, only 5% is manufactured here." Those numbers may not be that different for every manufacturing industry in this country where jobs have gone overseas never to return. The American garment industry was competitive as long as the working conditions were inhumane and owners could run sweatshops with impunity.

Post unionization, the life of the workers improved a great deal but at some point, the lure of cheaper manufacturing costs proved too compelling for share holders to keep the jobs local. The sweatshops they could no longer run the New York City could be run on their behalf by their suppliers in third world countries. In the meanwhile the unpretentious garment business metamorphosed into the glitzy fashion industry with multi-billion dollar marketing budgets, celebrity endorsements and glamorous models at the helm. The gloss covers over the real pain and suffering involved in the process of creating these clothes.

You hear about the downfall of the American apparel industry from a variety of people - the seamstress, the grandchildren of the first union leaders, the designers, the union leaders and more. Then there is the effort to protect what little is left of the Garment Center. While everyone agrees that the jobs and the industry should stay in America, there are no easy answers to the question how that could be done.

The film provokes a lot of difficult questions - Do you buy as cheap as you can knowing that you are contributing to the race to the bottom ? Yet when someone has been unemployed or under-employed for a while, do they really have a choice ? How do you compete in a global economy where there is always someone somewhere in the world who is willing to work for a tenth or less than you do ? As a consumer of any good or service do you look out for yourself or think about the greater good ? Finally, how much deregulation is too much and when can greed go so out of control that it brings an entire economy to its knees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This in long term would have an effect of uniform standard of living across the globe.