Making Sweatshops: The Globalization of the U.S. Apparel Industry by Ellen Israel Rosen


Making Sweatshops: The Globalization of the U.S. Apparel Industry
By Ellen Israel Rosen

Making Sweatshops

List of Figures and Tables vii
Preface ix
1. introduction 1
2. free trade, neoclassical economics, and women workers in the global apparel industry 13
3. roots of the postwar textile and apparel trade: the reconstruction of the asian–pacific rim textile
industry 27
4. the emergence of trade protection for the textile and apparel industries 55
5. the u.s. textile industry:responses to free trade 77
6. the u.s. apparel industry:responses to capital flight 96
7. the 1980s:the demise of protection 119
8. the reagan revolution:the caribbean basin initiative 129
9. trade liberalization for textiles and apparel:the impact of nafta 153
10. apparel retailing in the united states:fr om momand- pop shop to transnational corporation 177
11. finally free trade:the future of the global apparel industry 202
12. the new global apparel trade:who wins, who loses? 220
Notes 253
Index 311

Before beginning the research for this book, I spent more than a decade investigating the problems of America’s domestic apparel workers—the unionized women employed in New England’s men’s and women’s apparel industry. By the early 1980s, like their male counterparts, the predominantly female workers in a variety of light industries, such as electrical assembly, jewelry making, and apparel production, had begun to lose their jobs. Technological change, deindustrialization, and the growth of competing imports from low-wage countries were beginning to erode manufacturing communities of the region.

Industry and union leaders, workers, and employers recognizing these global trends sought ways to maintain the viability of domestic production. In the apparel industry they looked to scholars, consultants, and other experts who were exploring the potential of new technologies, better human resource management, and new forms of work organization to improve competitiveness. Could industrial restructuring save at least a segment of the U.S. apparel industry and retain some of its jobs? Was it possible to improve, or at least maintain, the deteriorating wages and working conditions in the industry and to halt the trend of deunionization?

While costly efforts were being made to restructure apparel production, a major debate about trade protection for textiles and apparel was taking place in Congress and the White House. Ultimately, apparel producers who pressed for stronger tariffs and quotas to help solve their problems were disappointed, as America’s presidents, with support from U.S. clothing retailers, began a major challenge to the Multifibre Arrangement, the managed trade regime that had regulated import levels since 1974. Since the 1980s, America’s presidents have pressed for new accords to reduce tariffs, end quotas, and in other ways liberalize international trade in textiles and apparel.

By the early 1990s it was clear that new technologies and work reorganization were not likely to prevent the hemorrhage of apparel jobs. Nor were they likely to halt the deteriorating employment conditions in an industry that had, decades before, boasted that such problems had been solved. Indeed, it became apparent that sweated labor was emerging in apparel production in many countries of the developing world and was reemerging in the United States.

Such discoveries raised the questions that led me to write Making Sweatshops. In doing the research for this book, I saw that the process of remaking sweatshops in the United States began not in the early 1980s but more than thirty years before, in the period after World War II. The process of trade liberalization, not merely in textiles and apparel products, has played a major role in U.S. foreign policy since then. The policies that govern today’s international trade were at the very heart of promoting American power and American hegemony in the postwar world. What follows, then, is not only about the globalization of the textile and apparel industries but also touches on important debates about the integration of the world economy.

Globalization is generating dramatic transformations that bring a multiplicity of new problems for the people directly affected by it. Making Sweatshops sheds light on a number of these issues. It will elucidate the process of globalization and argue that it ought to be promoted in a way that blends industrialization and economic development in both poor and rich countries, with concerns for social and economic justice.

I thank all the people who supported me as I spent more than half a decade researching and writing this book. Let me begin with the librarians of the Government Documents Division of the Boston Public Library. Before the flood of 1996 that severely damaged the room in which the government documents were stored, the room was housed in one of the most research-friendly environments I have ever worked in. Many of the documents I sought were nearly half a century old, and before the flood they were always there, to be found by some of the most resourceful, helpful, and courteous library professionals I have ever worked with.

I want to express my gratitude to the Women’s Studies Scholars Program at Brandeis University. The program has provided me with a gloriously esthetic and comfortable place to work. But more important, being in the program has made it possible for me to meet and talk with many scholars steeped in the joy and despair of studying women’s lives. I am also grateful to Nichols College for giving me a sabbatical year to spend in full-time research. I also thank Naomi Schneider, my editor at the University of California Press. It was her expertise and experience that made it possible to turn this sometimes awkward and lengthy manuscript into what I hope will prove to be a valuable book. I also thank Richard Appelbaum and Robert S. J. Ross for their comments on this manuscript, as well as Louise Lopman and Susan Tiano, whose own interest in this topic has been a source of pleasure and enlightenment. Thank you also to Judith Barrett, Corey Hope Leaffer, and Erika Bu¨ ky.

This book is for Jeremy, whom I always reminded at dinner that I was not just proffering my own opinion on social issues but reporting “what the data said.” He is now a published author in his own right. And it is for Richard, who, although he hasn’t yet read this manuscript, knows what the book is about and, perhaps more important, what it means. And it is for Ruth Weinstein Israel, my mother, who was a garment worker and member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Finally, it is for my father, Benjamin Israel, who still, on special occasions, wears his union pin.

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