Hi. So I’d like to speak a small spot about the people who make the things we use every twenty-four hours: our places. our pocketbook. our computing machines and cell phones. Now. this is a conversation that frequently calls up a batch of guilt. Imagine the teenage farm miss who makes less than a dollar an hr sewing your running places. its low costs. its big and educated work force. and a flexible fabrication system that responds rapidly to market demands. By concentrating so much on ourselves and our appliances. we have rendered the persons on the other terminal into invisibleness. as bantam and interchangeable as the parts of a nomadic phone.
Chinese workers are non forced into mills because of our insatiate desire for iPods. They choose to go forth their places in order to gain money. to larn new accomplishments. and to see the universe. In the on-going argument about globalisation. what’s been losing is the voices of the workers themselves. Here are a few. Bao Yongxiu: “My female parent tells me to come place and acquire married. but if I marry now. before I have to the full developed myself. I can merely get married an ordinary worker. so I’m non in a haste. ” Chen Ying: “When I went place for the new twelvemonth. everyone said I had changed.
They asked me. what did you make that you have changed so much? I told them that I studied and worked hard. If you tell them more. they won’t understand anyhow. ” Wu Chunming: “Even if I make a batch of money. it won’t fulfill me. Just to do money is non adequate significance in life. ” Xiao Jin: “Now. after I get off work. I study English. because in the hereafter. our clients won’t be merely Chinese. so we must larn more linguistic communications. ” All of these talkers. by the manner. are immature adult females. 18 or 19 old ages old. So I spent two old ages acquiring to cognize assembly line workers like these in the south China mill metropolis called Dongguan.
Certain topics came up over and over: how much money they made. what sort of hubby they hoped to get married. whether they should leap to another mill or remain where they were. Other topics came up about ne’er. including populating conditions that to me looked close to prison life: 10 or 15 workers in one room. 50 people sharing a individual bathroom. yearss and darks ruled by the mill clock. Everyone they knew lived in similar fortunes. and it was still better than the residence halls and places of rural China.
The workers seldom spoke about the merchandises they made. and they frequently had great trouble explicating what precisely they did. When I asked Lu Qingmin. the immature adult female I got to cognize best. what precisely she did on the mill floor. she said something to me in Chinese that sounded like “qiu xi. ” Merely much subsequently did I realize that she had been stating “QC. ” or quality control. She couldn’t even state me what she did on the mill floor. All she could make was parrot a confused abbreviation in a linguistic communication she didn’t even understand. Karl Marx saw this as the calamity of capitalist economy. the disaffection of the worker from the merchandise of his labour.
Unlike. state. a traditional marker of places or cabinets. the worker in an industrial mill has no control. no pleasance. and no true satisfaction or apprehension in her ain work. But like so many theories that Marx arrived at sitting in the reading room of the British Museum. he got this one wrong. Just because a individual spends her clip doing a piece of something does non intend that she becomes that. a piece of something. What she does with the money she earns. what she learns in that topographic point. and how it changes her. these are the things that affair.
What a mill makes is ne’er the point. and the workers could non care less who buys their merchandises. Journalistic coverage of Chinese mills. on the other manus. plays up this relationship between the workers and the merchandises they make. Many articles calculate: How long would it take for this worker to work in order to gain adequate money to purchase what he’s devising? For illustration. an entry-level-line assembly line worker in China in an iPhone works would hold to blast out two and a half months’ rewards for an iPhone.
But how meaningful is this computation. truly? For illustration. I late wrote an article in The New Yorker magazine. but I can’t afford to purchase an ad in it. But. who cares? I don’t want an ad in The New Yorker. and most of these workers don’t truly want iPhones. Their computations are different. How long should I remain in this mill? How much money can I salvage? How much will it take to purchase an flat or a auto. to acquire married. or to set my kid through school? The workers I got to cognize had a oddly abstract relationship with the merchandise of their labour.
About a twelvemonth after I met Lu Qingmin. or Min. she invited me place to her household small town for the Chinese New Year. On the train place. she gave me a present: a Coach trade name alteration bag with brown leather trim. I thanked her. presuming it was bogus. like about everything else for sale in Dongguan. After we got home. Min gave her female parent another nowadays: a pink Dooney & A ; Bourke pocketbook. and a few darks subsequently. her sister was demoing off a maroon LeSportsac shoulder bag. Slowly it was clicking on me that these pocketbooks were made by their mill. and every individual one of them was reliable.
Min’s sister said to her parents. “In America. this bag sells for 320 dollars. ” Her parents. who are both husbandmans. looked on. speechless. “And that’s non all – Coach is coming out with a new line. 2191. ” she said. “One bag will sell for 6. 000. ” She paused and said. “I don’t know if that’s 6. 000 kwai or 6. 000 America dollars. but anyhow. it’s 6. 000. ” Min’s sister’s fellow. who had traveled place with her for the new twelvemonth. said. “It doesn’t expression like it’s worth that much. ” Min’s sister turned to him and said. “Some people really understand these things. You don’t understand crap. In Min’s universe. the Coach bags had a funny currency.
They weren’t precisely worthless. but they were nil near to the existent value. because about no 1 they knew wanted to purchase one. or cognize how much it was deserving. Once. when Min’s older sister’s friend got married. she brought a pocketbook along as a nuptials nowadays. Another clip. after Min had already left the pocketbook mill. her younger sister came to see. conveying two Coach Signature pocketbooks as gifts. I looked in the zippered pocket of one. and I found a printed card in English. which read. “An American classic.
In 1941. the bright patina of an all-American baseball baseball mitt inspired the laminitis of Coach to make a new aggregation of pocketbooks from the same luxuriously soft gloved-hand leather. Six skilled leatherworkers crafted 12 Signature pocketbook with perfect proportions and a dateless genius. They were fresh. functional. and adult females everyplace adored them. A new American classic was born. ” I wonder what Karl Marx would hold made of Min and her sisters. Their relationship with the merchandise of their labour was more complicated. surprising and amusing than he could hold imagined.
And yet. his position of the universe persists. and our inclination to see the workers as faceless multitudes. to conceive of that we can cognize what they’re truly believing. The first clip I met Min. she had merely turned 18 and discontinue her first occupation on the assembly line of an electronics mill. Over the following two old ages. I watched as she switched occupations five times. finally set downing a moneymaking station in the buying section of a hardware mill. Subsequently. she married a fellow migrator worker. moved with him to his small town. gave birth to two girls. and saved adequate money to purchase a secondhand Buick for herself and an flat for her parents.
She late returned to Dongguan on her ain to take a occupation in a mill that makes building Cranes. temporarily go forthing her hubby and kids back in the small town. In a recent electronic mail to me. she explained. “a individual should hold some aspiration while she is immature so that in old age she can look back on her life and experience that it was non lived to no intent. ” Across China. there are 150 million workers like her. one tierce of them adult females. who have left their small towns to work in the mills. the hotels. the eating houses and the building sites of the large metropoliss.
Together. they make up the largest migration in history. and it is globalisation. this concatenation that begins in a Chinese agriculture small town and ends with iPhones in our pockets and Nikes on our pess and Coach handbags on our weaponries that has changed the manner these 1000000s of people work and marry and live and think. Very few of them would desire to travel back to the manner things used to be. When I foremost went to Dongguan. I worried that it would be dejecting to pass so much clip with workers. I besides worried that nil would of all time go on to them. or that they would hold nil to state to me.
Alternatively. I found immature adult females who were smart and amusing and weather and generous. By opening up their lives to me. they taught me so much about mills and about China and about how to populate in the universe. This is the Coach bag that Min gave me on the train place to see her household. I keep it with me to remind me of the ties that tie me to the immature adult females I wrote approximately. ties that are non economic but personal in nature. measured non in money but in memories. This bag is besides a reminder that the things that you imagine. sitting in your office or in the library. are non how you find them when you really travel out into the universe.