Monday, March 19, 2012

so, I was right

...about the Apple-Mike Daisey thing. I mean you've got Ira Glass bending himself into pretzels to defend the working conditions at factories where workers threatened mass suicide, and every story is about the meaningless Mike Daisey metanarrative and not about the actual scandal of such horrid working conditions. Fact: this reaction exists the way it exists because liberal yuppies care more about their Apple gizmos than they do about working conditions for Chinese laborers. Just true, folks.

Update: Per the transcript:
Charles Duhigg: More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.
Ira Glass: Now, is that necessarily so bad? I mean, aren’t a lot of these workers moving to the city to work as many hours as possible? They’re away from their families; they’re young; and they’re there to make money and they don’t care.
Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right.
Would Ira Glass ever allow his children, when grown, to work 60 hours a week? In those factories? In those conditions? Of course not. But then, his children are going to grow up and be decent liberals who buy organic and feel guilty when they hang out with black people. Chinese factory workers, well, they were put on earth to make shiny electronics for us all to enjoy. They aren't real people, in the way someone you meet around the office at NPR is a real person.

Update II:


Anonymous said...


Freddie, I'm all for you trolling the center-left, but it's unfair for you to not to include the portion where Ira faces those conditions.

Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah. [laughter]

Charles Duhigg: I don't know whether you should feel bad, right? I mean—

Ira Glass: But, but finish your thought.

Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don't know, that's for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be anufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions and perpetuate because of an economy that you are—

Ira Glass: Right.

Charles Duhigg: —supporting with
your dollars.

Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

Charles Duhigg: You're not only the direct beneficiary; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different
conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.

Update III: Read Aaron Bady. I can't really handle this right now. All I know is that no one who really believes in the equal value, dignity, and importance of the lives of these workers could possibly justify Apple's actions, or act as if they are less important than Mike Daisey.

19 comments:

  1. "I mean you've got Ira Glass bending himself into pretzels to defend the working conditions at factories where workers threatened mass suicide"

    No, you really don't.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sorry for the double comment, delete the first one if it's annoying. This is right on the first page of the transcript of the retraction broadcast:

    But in factchecking, our main concern was whether the things Mike says about Apple and about its supplier Foxconn. which makes this stuff, were true. That stuff is true. It’s been corroborated by independent investigations by other journalists, studies by advocacy groups, and much of it has been corroborated by Apple itself in its own audit reports.
    But what's not true is what Mike said about his own trip to China.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Charles Duhigg: More than half of the workers whose records are examined are working more than 60 hours per week.

    Ira Glass: Now, is that necessarily so bad? I mean, aren’t a lot of these workers moving to the city to work as many hours as possible? They’re away from their
    families; they’re young; and they’re there to make money and they don’t care.

    Charles Duhigg: That’s exactly right.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeah but if you read the rest of the answer he points out that many workers do say they're being exploited, made to live in crowded conditions, work 24 hour shifts, put in danger, etc. Actually the part you quoted comes off an opening caveat, not the substance of that exchange.

    The heart of the problem is this:

    "That being said, I think that China is a little bit different and that the expectations, particularly as a developing nation of workers, are a little bit different. I don’t think holding them to American standards is precisely the right way to look at the situation."

    I totally disagree with this, and I think you do too. Working conditions that I believe are unacceptable for Americans are also conditions that I believe are unacceptable for everyone.

    BUT the belief that underlies that quote has been the party line on this stuff forever. The Mike Daisey thing didn't change anything.

    Reading that podcast as a defense of Apple and Foxconn is just not a reasonable interpretation of the text.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Freddie, I'm all for you trolling the center-left, but it's unfair for you to not to include the portion where Ira faces those conditions.

    Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah. [laughter]

    Charles Duhigg: I don't know whether you should feel bad, right? I mean—

    Ira Glass: But, but finish your thought.

    Charles Duhigg: Should you feel bad about that? I don't know, that's for you to judge, but I think the the way to pose that question is… do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads and, and other products could be anufactured in less harsh conditions, but that these harsh conditions and perpetuate because of an economy that you are—

    Ira Glass: Right.

    Charles Duhigg: —supporting with
    your dollars.

    Ira Glass: Right. I am the direct beneficiary of those harsh conditions.

    Charles Duhigg: You're not only the direct beneficiary; you are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different
    conditions, if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then, then those conditions would be different overseas.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In fairness...here is an example of exactly what you're talking about:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2012/03/19/apple_in_china_mike_daisey_was_substantially_wrong.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. Freddie, how do you deal with the question of context? You talk about what "Apple did to workers" but you don't seem to ask what these workers would otherwise do?

    Is that relevant to you at all? Or is there just a question of basic morality that says working more than 60 hours a week, or for too low a wage, is too much?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Adam,

    One can maintain both that the working conditions in Foxconn factories are unacceptable, and that these workers would prefer such factory jobs rather than backbreaking farm labor, unemployment, or other options. You don't have to ignore the complexities of the situation to put pressure on companies to improve working conditions.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Reading Gawker and Slate for the last couple days (probably the worst of them, but still) compels me to retract my earlier comments. Freddie was right.

    (I still think Glass was OK though.)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I was actually here to post about how great your above "there" entry was. So consider this that post---"there" was a helluva piece of writing.

    Here, though, one thing to be careful of: You're talking a lot about 60-hour work weeks. But the overtime issue specifically is one where there's a major gap between Western and Chinese human rights groups. Western companies, including Apple, have been pushing hard against 60-hour work weeks, in part because shorter working weeks means more trained workers and therefore easier replacing of existing workers.

    Chinese workers, though, are pushing for as many hours as they can possibly get, because a large percentage of them are people in their 20s who want to come to the factory, work like crazy for 5-10 years, then go back home. When one sees in Apple's recent report that they've got factories to 89% compliance with a 48-hour limit, that's Western groups rolling over the wishes of Chinese workers, while issues the workers care about much more, like ventilation and treatment by managers, gets passed over.

    There are some excellent groups in China listening to the wishes of Chinese workers. Paying attention to them is much more useful than trying to apply a template of "Would this be right for Ira Glass' kids?"

    ReplyDelete
  11. You wrote, "Would Ira Glass ever allow his children, when grown, to work 60 hours a week?"

    How would any parent justify taking the position that s/he had the right to allow/not allow his/her GROWN children to do anything? I have grown children; they are autonomous human beings. Side note: Do you know any physicians or lawyers who do NOT work 60 hours a week? Your question above did not limit that work to factory work.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your worker conditions outrage isn't *all* about bleeding hearts, not by a long shot. A good part of this is good old fashioned first world labor protectionism - if you can bash Foxconn enough, you can hope to pressure computer companies into moving back, or you can force Foxconn to reduce its price competitiveness vis a vis American labor. The effect is that the Chinese are worse off, and maybe American labor is better off. This is possible to construe as a positive outcome, if you're sufficiently patriotic, but it's really cruel and cynical to brand it as concern for the poor exploited Chinese. It's also a game that's pretty transparent to any one from the third world.

    And as for weeping over the Chinese to begin with, it's sweatshops and factories and trade that have made the Chinese even as well off as they are. Before you glory in how non-exploitative you are, you ought to at least gesture at what you had in mind instead that would do better by them.

    Charles Krauthammer, of all people, has your number:
    http://townhall.com/columnists/charleskrauthammer/2004/04/09/how_times_have_changed/page/full/

    ReplyDelete
  13. It never stops being amazing how people are trained to never really challenge bad corporate behavior. They will go for the "safe" progressive causes like recycling and questioning the existence of obese people, but when it is close to home where they have to break out of their coolness and "never getting too worked up" about anything, especially labor related.

    Like there is some way they can be beyond criticism themselves and yet be "cool" and question the bad things in the world - openly. Only it is only recycling and diet that they take a strong stand on.

    I've read the comments on China factories and people have their blinders on. Great stupidity. The writers act like there is nothing to be done to create a position of strength for labor. Oh - except one dude that said we ought to let all the Chinese move to the US in protest. Mental giant at Slate.

    We ought to push for labor to have a position of strength. We ought to stop exclusively worshiping at the altar of corporate power and live the value that labor protections are family values and people values. We can, for instance, tax these imports coming from labor abusive companies. We can have independent inspectors. We can demand companies change this.

    It's bull that Apple has been appalled at 60 hour weeks and has tried to end them. After all, there are exacting specs and instructions they have on creating their little devices that they enforce with exacting standards. You're telling me they can't be as exacting with people standards?

    ReplyDelete
  14. Re: 60+ hour weeks

    It seems that the progressive goal should be for workers to be empowered. So it may be that Chinese workers will collectively decide that they want to work 60+ hour weeks, but the point is right now they have no say in their hours, or any of their working conditions. They aren't making that choice.

    Saying that we shouldn't "impose American standards" or whatever really has nothing to do with anything.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I'm off to China next month to visit our factories. I go every year. Would I want my daughters to work in a Chinese textile factory? Of course not. It's a silly question. The question that you should ask is: Would a Chinese rice farmer, whose life is not that different from a 19th century peasant, want their daughter to work in a textile factory. And the answer is often yes. It is a material improvement in quality of life. It is safer, cleaner, and contains more opportunities for meaningful social interaction than life on the farm. What's more it is improving. Every year I go back the factory has made some sort of improvement. The lighting is better, the ventilation is better, the dorms are more comfortable. Wages are rising fast. They have to improve to retain workers. Every year the workers go home for Chinese New Year. If they don't think the factory provides a better life they simply don't go back. I have no doubt that at some point in the next few decades conditions at Chinese factories will be comparable to conditions at western factories. They already have proper health insurance, which is more than I can say for many US workers. It's just a matter of time. Bottom line: it's perfectly understandable if you refuse to buy Chinese made goods because the working conditions are worse than they are here. I can respect that. But doing so does nothing to improve the lives of your average Chinese man or woman.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I am feeling very fresh and comfortable after reading you article. Nice work and keep doing well.

    ReplyDelete
  17. The usefulness and significance is overwhelming.
    Thanks again and good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  18. yes I heard about it too you are certainly right about that but I didn't understand why they did this?

    ReplyDelete
  19. I am feeling oh so fresh and happy myself! Thanks, Freddie!

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.