Thursday, September 13, 2012

Same Shit/Tragedy, Different Day/Century

Yesterday there were two factory fires in Pakistan. The first was at a shoe factory in Lahore, which was illegally situated in a residential area. Twenty-five people were killed (a number expected to rise), most of them young men. The second fire was in Karachi, at a textile factory. Most windows in the factory were barred, and all but one of the exits was locked. The estimated death toll is 289, and also expected to rise.

It's 101 years since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York, when 146 women were killed. 101 years, and what have we learnt? Nothing, it seems. The lives of workers are still held so cheaply; it's just luck, or lack of it, that some of us are born in countries that have labour laws to protect us, and that some are born in countries which are exploited by others (frequently the countries that protect their own).

I say, without hesitation, that we are all accountable for the deaths of these people in Pakistan. We who live our lives without fighting, and more specifically, we who support the countries and companies who exploit these people. These people. Sometimes I feel as if the distance, or the safety of our bubble, mean we don't relate to victims such as these; they are unfamiliar, and their realities are so far removed from ours that we separate our lives from theirs, forgetting that ours are as fragile, and theirs are as valuable. The families of these men stood on the street, waiting to see of their husband, or son, or friend, or just familiar face, would walk out of that factory. 

Tonight's news devoted about three times as long to the Hillsborough Football Disaster; a tragedy that happened 1989. These fires happened yesterday. To workers, doing the jobs they do every day, in conditions directly related to what and who we are prepared to pay for the clothes and shoes we wear. We - you and me - here, in New Zealand. As long as we accept the convenience of buying things made  in countries who can't or won't protect their workers, we are complicit in these deaths. As long as it is profitable for companies to exploit vulnerable workers, they will; we have a responsibility to make it unprofitable. We have to make it clear that we will not support products that cause suffering; by boycotting, writing emails, and pressuring everyone we can to make changes. These things work; The Warehouse stopped stocking Cottonsoft toilet paper after Greenpeace revealed it was linked to deforestation in Indonesia, and we said that mattered. Ribena has never recovered since it was exposed for lying about the vitamin C levels in its juice, and we stopped buying it. We have to show that we care about these things - these people, and that we care enough to change our habits in a way that affects these producers.

Earlier this year I read, and wrote, about working conditions in Bangladesh factories. These tragedies aren't out of the ordinary, and that is completely unacceptable. I know this sounds angry; it is angry. I'm so angry at this callous treatment of precious people (that hasn't even ended with their deaths, such is the state of our nation's media), and I'm angry at everyone, most of all myself. The first time I ever heard the adage "Of whom much is given, much is expected" I couldn't stop thinking about it (partly wrestling with the grammar and whether or not it was correct), and that feeling of responsibility is something I think I was born with. Marx wrote "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need", and although he applied it to the distribution of wealth, I believe in  a true socialist sense, it applies to everything.

Here you can see some photos taken in Pakistan, on the NY Times website (whence I took my statistics; the numbers vary across different sources). Please look at them; really look at the faces of the people in them.

We can make a change, you guys. We have to make a change.

1 comment:

  1. this is a very inspiring post, i can feel the anger through the screen, it comes alive in your words. do you ever write letters about important things that need to change? my summer holidays start next week and i want to try and write at least one. i'm reading through your capitalism tag and it's all so intriguing.