Letters to the Editor
Layoffs and Sweatshops Threaten Our Economy
In response to your Sept. 4 article describing the criminal practices of several owners of garment factories in New York: The fact that this situation--in which men and women work behind illegally locked fire exits and at wages as low as $106 a week--exists at all is one of the most shameful things to ever take place.
As chief negotiator for a large union and as a union organizer, I've seen many horrors that go on behind closed factory doors throughout the metropolitan area, including frequent industrial "accidents" such as severed fingers and crushed bodies, and workers regularly fired for trying to change horrible conditions that often include wages below the poverty level.
Eli Siegel, the American philosopher and founder of Aesthetic Realism, understood and explained that our economy, based on using the labor of many for the profit of a few, is fatally flawed and essentially over, because it has arisen from the worst thing in the human self: the desire to have contempt. Mr. Siegel defined contempt as "the lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it." Contempt can be the feeling that you are better than another because of your family background, nationality or skin color. And contempt is also what makes one person see another in terms of how much money can be gotten from him or her. It is what causes some employers to squeeze as much work as possible out of managers, secretaries, assembly-line workers, while giving them as little as possible and hoping to discard them. Contempt for people is what I see on a daily basis as employers try to slash wages, cut benefits, force longer working hours, violate safety regulations, throw out longterm employees--all in the name of profit for themselves and stockholders.
In a series of lectures beginning in 1970, Mr. Siegel described what has been going on in our economy and why it will never recover. He said: "There will be no economic recovery in the world until economics itself, the making of money, the having of jobs, becomes ethical, is based on good will rather than on the ill will which has been predominant for centuries" ("Goodbye Profit System: Update," Definition Press, 1982).
The massive layoffs throughout America, the closing of whole industries that are then moved to places where labor is "cheaper" and labor laws are weaker, and the huge increase in sweatshops every year since 1970 have borne out the truth of Eli Siegel's lectures.