Book Review of "Behind the Label" by Bonacich and Applebaum

By David Simcox
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 11, Number 4 (Summer 2001)
Issue theme: "'The Limits to Growth' - honoring the memory of Donella Meadows"

The muckrakers of the early 20th century would feel kinship with the authors Bonacich and Appelbaum. Their book is not the mathematical sociologists' cautious tome pocketed with numbing regression tables, but an angry jeremiad again injustice, exploitation, racial manipulation and intimidation in the flourishing Los Angeles women's apparel industry. The muckrakers, though, would be disappointed and puzzled that the workplace abuses they helped expose in the Progressive era have crept back into American garment-making, food processing, agriculture and other immigrant-employing industries with a virulence that matches the ugliness of the workplace a century ago.

This case study of the pathologies of a particular industry in a particular city (the authors are quick to note that San Francisco and even hard-boiled New York have had greater success in taming sweatshops) underscores a much broader question Why is U.S. society turning away so mindlessly from the progressive heritage of high standards and fair play in the workplace, housing, public education, civic life, and the market place?. Why are we so complacent about spreading inequality and the race to the bottom in the standards that have given American life its envied quality? And who or what is to blame for the sickness in Los Angeles?

Globalization and Old-Fashioned Greed

Bonacich and Appelbaum see a number of demons at work. There is of course 'globalization' of the market for garments, a convenient reification if there ever was one to distance ourselves as consumers and investors from the facts of our own greed gone global. The abuses are greatest in the women's fashion industry with its high component of custom work and its demand for rapid adjustment to changing fads. (Producers of men's clothing have the market stability and capitalization to concede somewhat better wages and job security.) One outcome

About the author

David Simcox is chair of the Policy Board of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, and director of Migration Demographics, a res organization.

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