One of my friends got a Kindle Touch for her birthday as a gift from her husband. She finds it easy on her eyes but she feels bad about using it. She knows that it was made in China by a worker who probably lives in a dormitory at the beck and call of his/her employer and who is paid very little for the work as compared with what a worker would be paid in another country. She calls it an “evil little box” and I do understand how she feels.
The Chinese people have not had an easy time of it. Mao’s Cultural Revolution was cruel, chaotic, and confusing. His dictates yanked people out of the lives they were used to and forced them to do something different. Workers who had done physical labor were elevated into positions of power and workers who did desk jobs or professional jobs were sent out to the countryside to do physical labor. While sometimes it would probably be good for us to switch places, these switches were combined with snitches. You (or one of your neighbors) had to keep the communist party leaders apprised of any activity which was not in line with a long list of arbitrary and changing rules. It was very easy to be reported for wrong doing and the punishments were extremely subjective and often delivered by an elevated laborer who had a grudge to bear against professionals and desk jockeys. After Mao’s craziness fell apart it is difficult to know what went on in China because not much has been written about this transitional time.
Since China decided to include aspects of modern culture and capitalism into the mix, we know that China has climbed on the manufacturing wagon big time. We also hear that the standard of living for Chinese individuals who run and work in these factories is rising. We hear that the Chinese are becoming consumers. We don’t know if this includes rural and remote areas of China or just big cities. We had heard some of the cultural errors that Chinese factories have made, like allowing lead paint to be used on toys. Now we are beginning to hear about the working conditions of Chinese workers.
When manufacturing began in America owners and managers of factories did not worry about abusing workers. They paid as little as possible and made workers work whatever hours the bosses required with as few breaks as possible. Workers were often locked into their factories. Without government regulation and the formation of the labor unions working conditions in America might never have improved. China may eventually reach a tipping point where the standard of living will rise enough to give way to resistance on the part of overworked, underpaid employees. But China is a dictatorship, not a Democratic society. We know what happened in Tiananmen Square. Will employees ever be able to ask for better working conditions? Will the government eventually set some regulations?
This takes me back to whether or not my friend should enjoy her Kindle or if, in fact, I should enjoy mine. If we boycott these tech toys will we be helping the Chinese workers win better working conditions? Will we have to fight the good fight on behalf of Chinese workers who can’t? I have not even discussed here the fact the purchasing goods made in China also hurts the American economy. At this point I am considering only the conditions Chinese workers face. This exploitation of Chinese workers makes me feel bad about my Kindle purchase too. I can’t give it back; well, I could, but I doubt they would refund my money. I can desist from buying any new tech toys for a while though. How about you?