Part 23. The Sweatshop
A series of shocking revelations in the last year has brought to light the sinister
practice of slavery taking place right here in America, as well as in little shops,
backrooms, and ghetto firetraps all over the world. Products with swank, high-class
nametags and expensive brands attached have turned out to be nothing more than rags
sewn together in slave-labor hovels by a secret underclass. Television personality
Kathie Lee Gifford was embarrassed publicly by the discovery that her own brand
of clothing was produced in a Central American clothing sweatshop.
It turns out that the combination of cheap global transportation with a fractured
monetary system has made it extremely lucrative to have goods manufactured by one
class in one set of circumstances, and transported to another set of environs to
be consumed by a different class. In the most severe cases, outright imprisonment
in a form of labor camp exists, such as in a Southern California compound just a
few blocks from the San Bernardino Freeway, where dozens of illegal aliens were
kept in cells behind barbed wire to assemble clothing and trinkets, some for as
long as 15 years of imprisonment. Who knows how many of these makeshift gulags exist
undetected in our midst?
At the other end of the sweatshop spectrum exists Microsoft. Rather than use physical
coercion to get want they want from workers, Big M has used non-compete contracts,
perma-temps, and massive turnover rates of short-term employees to keep their employee
overhead costs down and prevent the competition from hiring their skilled rejects.
For example, one recent lawsuit that Microsoft lost and is currently appealing to
the U.S. Supreme Court involved thousands of so-called "temps" who worked
for up to six years as "statutory employees" but without stock options
and other MS perks. If the Supreme Court does not overturn this decision, Microsoft
will be required to dole out options for perhaps $1500 worth of 1988 Microsoft stock.
At today's market valuation, that amounts to something like $75,000 for each perma-temp,
or perhaps half a billion dollars for the class, not counting any penalties or other
A January 1997 article in *Details* magazine illustrates a typical "eleven
weeks of hell" for one writer who was cut from the company rolls just a few
days before becoming eligible for insurance and other benefits. Fulltime workers
are often expected to spend far more than the mere 40 hours weekly for which they
are paid; some feel compelled to put in 80 or even 100 hours per week for their
bosses, but as white-collar workers they receive zero compensation for the extra
time. During former DEC manager David Cutler's reign over the WindowsNT development
project, whole teams of workers were in lockdown for weeks at a time, forbidden
to leave the plant to see their spouses and children, according to the *Wall Street
But of all the lowdown tactics used to keep worker overhead to a minimum, the dirtiest
is found in *Newsbytes'* report of Microsoft contracting packaging company Exmark
to use the Twin Rivers Correctional Center (TRCC) in Washington State for packaging
of Microsoft promotional materials and demo disks for Windows95, so that inmates
fed and sheltered by the Washington State Department of Corrections at minimum wage
could steal jobs from needy and unemployed Seattle-area youth. I wonder what Kathie
Lee would say about this?
Most recent revision: January 14, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.