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Hi - This is Kenneth in Pittsburgh.

It's about time we started talking about this in a systematic way. The internationalism anti sweatshop activists work to promote flies right in the face of 40+ years of "Buy American" union eduction, perhaps the most successful and persistent union education that has gone on over that 40 years.

The "Buy American" campaigns are the replacement for the "Union Label" campaign - a profound triumph of nationalism over solidarity.

Are any of our friends in the labor movement at the table in a meaningful way with the AFL-CIO "union label" committee pushing policy discussions? I don't think so. That tells us where this conversation really is. Buy American and support sweatshop workers in Bangladesh are clearly contradictory messages.

I don't know what the answer is except to continue our solidarity work and NOT shy away from this discussion. The BEST answer is to allow the contradiction to fester and have victories start having victories that concretely support workers in other countries.

It would be nice if the anti sweatshop forces within the labor movement stepped out on a limb and advanced the labor movement's policy discussion within the AFL-CIO Union Label Committee. It is the most important union education machine within the organization.

My writing about how this has all manifested itself in the context of SweatFree Baseball is available in the "SweatFree Baseball" section of IWW.ORG.

Oh - and I remind myself that words like "nationalism" and "protectionism" don't help us in the debates. Stick with "solidarity" and "focusing on what workers have in common" and pointing out our "similarities rather than difference."

Pointing out the internal problems with Buy Union makes sense too... usually is is only one relatively small bargaining unit that is used to market what is otherwise a sweatshop industry. Everybody knows this... it is a matter of power and the table where the discussion will take place.

Are we afraid? Do anti sweatshop activists see themselves as a little bump/support committee for the unions or as a force for change?

The students are clear on their internationalism. The collision of the student movement and the union movement could be the best thing we have going for us.

Bena-- thank you for raising the point about supporting worker-owned businesses and cooperatives. This certainly was an unintentional omission from my article.

As you know, our Shop with a Conscience Guide features products made both in union shops and in worker-owned coops. http://www.sweatfree.org/shopping

Good to learn about the new coop in North Carolina!


I completely agree with both the spirit and sentiments expressed in your article. However, I suggest that you add "buy from worker-owned businesses and cooperatives" to the "buy union" call. We recently helped to form a worker-owned sewing cooperative in Morganton, North Carolina called "Opportunity Threads" for the very reasons you articulate. Although to-date the co-op is only making stuffed animals out of our excess socks (all made in NC as well, at seven different sock mills that are non-union but that I believe do provide fair wages), but we are working now to help raise capital for an apparel production line. I have no doubt that these workers will be successful, but they need the support of oru community.


This article hints that a "Buy American" policy might not be the best policy, but does not come out and say so.

Such protectionist policies are very tempting in times like this, but all economists say that protectionist policies implemented around the world at the beginning of the Great Depression made the Depression far deeper and longer than it otherwise would have been.

If the US, as the second largest economy in the world (after the EU), were to adopt a "Buy American" policy, countries which currently import from us would be more likely to reduce their imports in response.

The way out of the recession is through increased employment. The author is correct in arguing that US wages and competitivity can be increased as wages around the world are improved. Low wages and poor working conditions in other countries allow employers to extract concessions from US workers.

After writing this article, I noticed that Maquila Solidarity Network posted this very informative piece yesterday: "How will the global financial crisis affect the garment industry and garment workers." Check it out: http://en.maquilasolidarity.org/sites/maquilasolidarity.org/files/2009-02-25%20MSN-FinancialCrisis-Feb09-ENG.pdf

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