Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry

Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry

Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry

Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry

Synopsis

In a study crucial to our understanding of American social inequality, Edna Bonacich and Richard Appelbaum investigate the return of sweatshops to the apparel industry, especially in Los Angeles. The "new" sweatshops, they say, need to be understood in terms of the decline in the American welfare state and its strong unions and the rise in global and flexible production. Apparel manufacturers now have the incentive to move production to wherever low-wage labor can be found, while maintaining arm's-length contractual relations that protect them from responsibility. The flight of the industry has led to a huge rise in apparel imports to the United States and to a decline in employment.

Los Angeles, however, remains a puzzling exception in that its industry employment has continued to grow, to the point where L.A. is the largest center of apparel production in the nation. Not only the availability of low-wage immigrant (often undocumented) workers but also the focus on moderately priced, fashion-sensitive women's wear makes this possible. "Behind the Label" examines the players in the L.A. apparel industry, including manufacturers, retailers, contractors, and workers, evaluating the maldistribution of wealth and power. The authors explore government and union efforts to eradicate sweatshops while limiting the flight to Mexico and elsewhere, and they conclude with a description of the growing antisweatshop movement.

"Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2

Excerpt

The growing disparity between rich and poor, in Los Angeles, in the United States, and in the world in general, is evident for all to see. In general, this divide is marked by a color line: The poor tend to be the darkskinned peoples of the earth, the formerly colonized, some of whom have moved or been forcefully relocated to areas of the world now settled and ruled by people of European descent. The world's wealth is now controlled by giant, multinational corporations and financial institutions able to exercise inordinate power over the fate of most peoples. They operate on the principle that what is profitable for them benefits everyone else, a proposition that is patently false in practice.

As residents of southern California, the authors of this book are appalled by the growing social division of our society (and the world). We find this unconscionable. We reject the idea that immense wealth and power should be permitted to collect in the hands of a small class. We feel it is not permissible that vast numbers of people should be allowed to labor for the benefit of society and not receive their just reward. We find intolerable the growing divisions along race and class lines that lead people to view one another with hatred and suspicion.

Our goal in this book is to describe in detail the way in which race and class inequality is reproduced in one industry in one location. Although our topic is limited, we believe it is paradigmatic. This is an example of the way our social system works. We believe something is horribly wrong and we want to demonstrate how this has come about.

Despite the passionate judgment that has served as the spur to writing this volume, we have made every effort to be fair to everyone. We . . .

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