Gawker’s Adrian Chen has an interview with China labour scholar and Cornell professor Eli Friedman on how do-gooder Western consumers overestimate the impact of boycotts by themselves and underestimate the effectiveness of direct action by Chinese workers.
I have no problem with people paying attention to this stuff. But I think the idea that we as individual consumers in the West can have a major impact on labor issues in China has already been basically disproven by what’s gone on in the past 20 years. This sort of approach of doing things has been happening since the mid 90s with Nike, and it’s still a pretty raw deal to be a Chinese worker, for a number of reasons. The first I think is sort of an attitudinal question. It’s a personal opinion, but I think it’s a little bit paternalistic and self-referential to be like, ‘I as a consumer should be helping out these poor, disempowered Chinese workers.’
As has been the case in any labor struggle, the way things get better is when workers do things for themselves. They organize themselves and build up some real power on the shop floor. Freedom of association. The ability to have any organization and a voice in your own work place. This is tried and true. This has happened for 200 years in the West. If Apple really wanted to make a difference for what it meant to be a Foxconn worker, they could force Foxconn to hold democratic union elections. The government might not like that, but they could try that. I don’t think they’re going to do that.
Read the whole interview here.