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Sweatshop Warriors Fighting Against Oppression Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

Introduction

The growth of global society and the reduction of barriers through globalization represent major vehicles for expansion. Capitalism is essential to consider in this case because it represents an economic system based on the private ownership of production means to earn a profit (Weiss 189). All countries worldwide operate on the basis of capitalism to increase their prosperity and ensure the well-being of their citizens. However, some may abuse their power in the global arena and use the resources of less privileged parties for the purpose of getting rich. Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Factory by Miriam Ching Yoon Louie brilliantly discusses the growth and expansion of globalized capitalism through the direct testimonies of immigrant women workers. The analysis will aim to answer several questions regarding the gains from the book from a historian’s perspective, the events on which the work shed light, the point of view on the events, the accuracy of their representation, and the use in World History courses.

The book was chosen for the present analysis due to the author giving the voice to those people who were abused by the institution of capitalism and showing how they fought back against exploitation despite being at the very lowest step of the economic ladder. Sources used to write the review included Weiss’s Business Ethics and Logan’s “Emerging Ghettos” as they provide some insights into the economic and racial issues described in Sweatshop Warriors.

Analysis

Ching Yoon Louie explores the problem of the reemergence of sweatshops in the United States in the late twentieth century. It was assumed that sweatshops disappeared a long time ago, and their presence would not be accepted due to the increased awareness of society of the problem. Sweatshops represent an instrument to the development of capitalism both in the US and globally. The exploitation and oppression of workers that are put in inhumane conditions allow large companies to extend the production of their goods and become more equipped to compete with other capitalists. The extremely low pay that workers receive is the key to the success of organizations that abuse labor.

Historical Events

The creation of labor unions in the US was to end sweatshops in the country through collaborating with political allies, social institutions, and public supporters of no-abuse labor. In 1955, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was established as a significant step in the labor movement to provide advocacy and support to workers. Ching Yoon Louie reflects on the AFL-CIO in 2000 and the speech given by Rojana “Na” Cheunchujit in front of 20,000 workers, demanding to end sanctions against employees (215). Na was among the seventy-two Thai workers who were kept at the El Monte, CA sweatshop and forced to sew garments for little to no pay in 1988. Their case terrified the nation because, by that time, everyone thought that sweatshops only existed overseas and not in the States.

Historians will gain a tremendous number of benefits from reading Sweatshop Warriors. This can be supported by the author’s attention to the stories of women and the role to which they were diminished in society. A particular significance of the book is reflected in the fact that the leaders of the anti-sweatshop movement depicted in the book were women. The stories associated with the analysis of workers’ oppression underline the impact of the patriarchy and male supremacy with which those women had to deal. In many instances and accounts told in the book, the immigrant women came to the US to provide for their families and, apart from work, had to take care of their children, cook, clean, and fulfill all other nurturing responsibilities (Louie 237).

Author’s Point of View

The women were placed in a disadvantaged position but still managed to persevere and challenge the status quo through establishing their own organizations that were run by women, with the majority of members also being women. Historians should account for the fact that women were in the center of numerous social movements, and Sweatshop Warriors is instrumental for analyzing the role they had played. The challenges that women had to address were not only concerned with the problem of labor exploitation but also with gender stereotypes existing in their communities. In quoting the statement of the Sewing Sisterhood, “But when we ask listen learn cry belly-laugh with women, we can slice chop cleaver clean through such simplistic stereotypes” (Louie 254). The women understood that they could not stay silent about the disrespect and oppression and should organize themselves to stand up and win the battle.

The author manages to identify several workforces that the general society of the United States sees as vulnerable. These include predominantly Mexican, Korean, and Chinese workers who arrived in the country both using legal and illegal means. This has occurred not because of the idea that everyone comes to the US because it is considered a great achievement; rather, Louie quotes British activists from the United Kingdom: “We are here because you were there” (12). Put simply, immigrants from around the world are in the US because the country has played a significant role in suppressing the economies of their countries and giving them no other choice.

Accuracy of Representation

Sweatshop Warriors is an accurate representation of the events and processes discussed in it as it is based on the reflections of real-life people. The story of the Thai workers captured in a sewing sweatshop is proof that the author approached the problem of oppressive labor from the perspective of personal experiences. In addition to this, the book includes multiple references to the literature of historical value, such as the documents of the Committee for Asian Women, which means that she connects her work with what has been done previously. This is a valuable point since drawing references from other historic books enhances the narrative and makes readers more engaged in the story that is being told.

Use in World History Courses

The insights into the racial distribution of immigrant labor represent the proof for the book to be used in World History courses. The reflections of real women and their accounts of events that occurred ten and more years from now are invaluable in terms of historic literature since they offer much more than facts. Having a resource that provides both a historical and biographical look on such issues as immigrant sweatshop labor can be a positive contribution to learning. Sweatshop Warriors is also important for the representatives of different ethnic backgrounds. For black America, there is a need to participate in discussions regarding the role of immigration in the establishment of communities. For those who came from the global South, it is necessary to establish how the United States changed the political and demographic composition of the countries.

Concluding Remarks: Takeaways from the Book

The value of Sweatshop Warriors is attributed to the author accurately putting the question of immigration on the table. For the majority of African Americans, the issue of immigration is a problematic point insofar as they were often pushed to believe that they had to compete with immigrants from other backgrounds. However, the author’s analysis puts immigration in a larger context using the examples of women who worked at sweatshops. Capitalism is among the drivers of competition not only among large corporations but also among employees who work for such corporations (Weiss 120). The institution of capitalism thrives when workers participate in competition among each other to win limited resources. US capitalism, in particular, is racialized and therefore enables the development of ethnic niches, which evolve over the years. For example, janitors in New York City were predominantly Irish at the beginning of the twentieth century, African-American in the middle of the 1900s, and mainly Latino at the beginning of the twenty-first (Logan et al. 1057). This shows that capitalism ‘finds’ the most vulnerable populations and uses them for labor.

The current exploration will be concluded by noting that Louie should be applauded for the work that she did for Sweatshop Warriors. The book provides a vast array of insights into the lives of immigrant women forced to stay at sweatshops. The work is both informative and inspiring to read because it underlined the fact that despite the array of issues, the women fought back against oppression. In many ways, Louie’s contribution is a call to arms of challenging the status quo and ensuring that the oppressed individuals are getting heard. As the late twentieth century was seen as an era of new beginnings that will come with the start of the millennium, Louie wanted to impose inspiration to fight against the unfairness in society and ensure that all people have access to equal opportunities and are not forced to work to make capitalists richer than they already are.

Works Cited

Logan, John, et al. “Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880-1940.” AJS, vol. 120, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1055-1094.

Louie, Miriam Ching Yoon. Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Factory. South End Press, 2001.

Weiss, Joseph. Business Ethics: A Stakeholder and Issues Management Approach. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2014.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Sweatshop Warriors Fighting Against Oppression." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/sweatshop-warriors-fighting-against-oppression/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Sweatshop Warriors Fighting Against Oppression'. 8 July.

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