September 23, 2021

Garment workers, brickies, firefighters

Newsletter No.02 - Unravelling the threads of chaos in the garment industry, plus protest fashion, solitary confinement in Myanmar, and a $665 million lawsuit.

Garment workers, brickies, firefighters

Hello, how are you feeling about the September Equinox? Here in London I'm relieved to see the end of the jarring hype from brands and the media about a 'summer of love' and 'hot vaxxed girl summer' which added to a sense of disappointment when it turned out to be anything but carefree.

This was the summer I caught Covid-19. I was ill for two weeks and off sick for a month with post-viral fatigue (even with two jabs). I still feel cloudy and slow, hence the delay in writing this newsletter. If you haven't already, please get your vaccine and join the campaign for it to be globally accessible.

PROFIT AT ANY COST

One of the first things I did after emerging from hibernation was join a panel of speakers at a War On Want event at the British Trade Union Congress. This was a chance for me to talk about current labour struggles in the fashion industry. Two things stood out as I was writing my notes on Bangladesh, Myanmar, Honduras, and Los Angeles - 1) Jeeeez the industry is chaos; 2) this chaos has a common cause.

Click on the photo to watch the video on Facebook

Anton Marcus the Joint-Secretary of Sri Lanka's Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees' Union, which represents thousands of garment workers, spoke about the fight to protect people from Covid and to unionise the Next clothing factory. Then Rob Johnston from TUC Midlands talked about factories in Leicester where workers are caught between giant brands and unscrupulous factory owners. Sri Lanka and Leicester are over 5,500 miles apart but face the same issues - marginalised migrant workers who are mostly women, unsanitary conditions, poverty wages, and anti-union laws.

To tie this together, My Quote Of The Month comes from Riccardo la Torre of the Fire Brigades Union who spoke of the need for the labour movement to work together towards long term solutions to exploitation:

"We have to realise that capitalism and its ruthless drive for profit at any human cost is the root of this picture - so whether you're a garment worker in Sri Lanka, a brickie in Bulgaria or a firefighter in Essex, we're all under threat, it's a shared struggle among workers."

Time after time, crises like Covid show capitalism to be a failed system that cannot adequately feed, house, clothe or care for the human inhabitants of this planet, let alone create any form of harmony with the biosphere. Ricardo's talk was a good reminder that instead of always crashing from one crisis to the next, we must think systemically and link up these struggles around the globe.

You can watch the full video by clicking here.

NOTES FROM THE PROFIT MARGINS:

These are some of the things I am keeping my eye on in the industry right now:

  • The escalating violence in Myanmar and the extremely worrying news that Daw Myo Aye, leader of Solidarity Trade Unions of Myanmar, has not been allowed visitors for three months. She is very unwell and is being held in solitary confinement in the appalling Insein Prison. Clean Clothes Campaign have a sample letter for you to send to your local Myanmar embassy - the London one is here. These letter writing campaigns REALLY work so please take literally a minute or two to send an email.
Daw Myo Aye
  • The continuation of the Bangladesh Accord. Set up after the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the Accord was due to expire on 31st August. After a concerted campaign, a new version came into force on 1st September and is called International Accord for Health and Safety in the Textile and Garment Industry. Let's hope this factory safety programme spreads beyond Bangladesh.
  • Protest at New York Fashion Week by End Forced Labour In Fashion - calling on brands to end their complicity in Uyghur forced labour in China.
  • The Model Alliance pushing forward with their RESPECT programme to end sexual violence in the modelling industry. Former Elite model agency boss Gerald Marie is currently under investigation by the French authorities for multiple rape allegations including from models who were minors at the time. Sign the petition to support the Model Alliance here.
  • Protest fashion - Afghan women posting photos of themselves using #DoNotTouchMyClothes and #AfghanistanCulture in protest at the Taliban. And then Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing a Tax The Rich dress to the Met Gala.
  • This story about Dolce & Gabbana filing a defamation lawsuit against the Diet Prada instagram account...to the tune of $665 million in damages. This relates to the publication of alleged messages from Stefano Gabbana which were so racist they sank D&G's Chinese market. Fashion is an industry so traditionally devoid of criticism, and with a press so hopelessly sycophantic and driven by advertising money that it is no surprise Diet Prada came to exist, or that so many brands and media figures dislike them.
  • The SB62 BILL in Los Angeles passing a major legal hurdle in its journey towards becoming law. It aims to give garment workers an hourly wage instead of piece rates, plus the right to hold big fashion brands and retailers responsible for stolen wages.

Okay, enough from me, this afternoon I am continuing to work on the second edition of Stitched Up. I am now over half way through the manuscript having agreed a new deadline with Pluto Press.

Thank you for signing up and please spread the word to anyone you think might be interested. This fledgling newsletter is still an experiment so I'm very happy to hear suggestions for what you'd like to read about.

In solidarity, Tansy.