Yvonne Shortt

Yvonne Shortt
December 01
Yvonne Shortt owns her own technology firm and is the executive director of the Rego Park Green Alliance, a community based non-profit in Queens, NY. She is also the author of A New York City Public School Goes Green. In her spare time she teaches robotics and works on a new book called All About Maddie where a little girl deals with her grandpa's fading memories. http://www.allaboutmaddie.com


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JANUARY 25, 2012 12:22PM

The Expendable Worker

Rate: 9 Flag

 Dedicated to all those men and woman working in Shenzhen, China and the people in the United States who can’t find work. 

 There is an 8 x 12 room with 4 beds stacked one on top of the other. There is a small round thick pillow on the floor next to the bottom bunk. No, this is not a prison.

 The man on the top bunk yells, “one” then rolls over. He rolls to the edge, does a stomach crunch putting each hand behind his head, and then turns one last time into the air. Those below him hear him hit the pillow. He has perfected the fall.  Two seconds later anther man yells “Two” and rolls over. Again the same sound, a man hitting below. This goes on until number four rolls out of his bed. Two years ago the Ministry of Efficiency took away the stairs that led to each bunk. Based on their innumerable hours of research, it was decided a pillow at the bottom of the bed was cheaper than stairs and saved forty-five seconds of time for each worker.  Only .1 percent are inclined to miss the pillow.

 The men walk together out their room where others join them. All are headed to the bathroom where they take their place. As if in perfect synchronicity they drop their pants, wash their private parts, rinse their face, brush their teeth, then get dressed. Next, they go to the cafeteria where they are joined by more men and women. The noise in the cafeteria is a loud buzz. Some men sit next to their wives where they eat and talk about their kids. Their kids do not live with them.  They are lucky if they get to see their kids once a year.

They eat and then they are off to work. Once they arrive at the factory they do a series of exercises to prepare them for the twelve-hour shift yet to come. A bell sounds. One crew walks off the floor and another walks on.  Each man and woman goes to his or her station. No one sits. They pick up their tools and start working.  They are putting glass screens on smart phones.  They have been doing this task for the last twelve months.

Managers walk around the floor whispering into the workers ears. “1 5, 8.”  The workers know what these numbers mean. They’re falling behind. They work hard to catch up but have been doing this job, the same job, for a year. Their hands and fingers shake but they can’t quit.  Where they came from is worse than where they are.

Four thousand men and woman are working. And, when their bones start to fall in pools, they will be swept aside to make way for the new, soon to be old.



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OMIGOD. This is reality but it's like the cautionary tales of science fiction that I read as a kid, or an especially nightmarish episode of Dr. Who or Star Trek. This is not the future that was promised in Apple's "Think Different" campaign with its pictures of Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Joan Baez and Martin Luther King, nor is it the Apple present day that gets gussied up by Apple's PR dept.

I read somewhere that Steve Wozniak, (inventor of the Apple II and the nicer Steve) broke down in tears when he learned how modern Apple products were made.

I'm typing this on a Mac Mini and I have no quarrel with Apple's design and the utility of many of its product. It's not even really about Apple, as the other tech companies use pretty much the same manufacturing and supply chain. One thing about the new computer technology though, it makes it easier for workers around the planet to join in a global justice movement to put an end to this cruelty.

My hope is the global capital will soon run out of countries they can escape to so that this kind of labor and environmental exploitation will become a thing of the past. Perhaps then, humanity can truly become civilized.
Heard about this on NPR and then did some googling a couple of weeks ago. The plant described there had 420,000 worker bee Chinese. 20 cafeterias that seat 10,000 at a time. Hives for sleeping, as you described. The average worker doesn't make it past 26 or 27, worn out-- then discarded... all so our our smart phones will cost 23% less.

Their suffering subsidizes our cost saving and pleasure.

I wonder what the karma of the US is?
Bob it really does sound like science fiction. I cant help thinking about the handmaid's tale every time I read what I wrote.

Trig & Asia & Bleue the first time I heard about this stuff I was sad. When I read about those who threw themselves off of one of Foxconn's buildings I couldn't sleep for days

Michael Daisy has a very interesting Monologue he did for NPR-I Think- but if you google him you can hear a portion of it.
We live in a twisted world. Thank you for opening the door on this for me. I tend to avoid what would distress me and that I can't change. What would be the way for the average person to make an impact?
Great question Phyllis. I decided not to buy my own ipad and instead use my husbands for home stuff. When purchasing certain products I will ask myself do I really need this or do i just want it? If I just want it I've decided to let it go.
“There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism" ― Walter Benjamin

I want to resign from living when I am made aware of things like this, so that I don't have to be part if it.

An interesting take on Jobs by Eric Alterman of The Nation:

An amazing excerpt worth listening to

“Where they came from is worse than where they are.”

If you truly believe that, why are you so unhappy and downright gloomy? Thanks to international trade these people have jobs, and are able to live a better life than the one they would otherwise have. Take a look at the median income of the Chinese population for factual evidence of why you should put a smile on your face.
Thanks for your comment Johnny. I've been there and I suggest you go. Its best when you go for a big company because they let you see a great deal.
I’ve been to China and witnessed the people working in the factories similar to the one you described in your post. It’s a lifestyle I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. But as you say, it’s a far better situation than rural China, which is the main reason these factories have no trouble attracting workers despite the miserable conditions.
Agreed. And the expendable worker is not only in China. They are in the U.S. The more desperate we are the more a dog bone looks like a T-Bone steak.
I've been hearing about the "new slavery" in China. Bring Apple jobs HOME where there is at least some modicum of decency. WE need those jobs. I agree with Obama that outsourced jobs/salaries should NOT be tax deductible. That would make it profitable to move jobs home.
All the more reason for workers to know and understand the purposes of unionization in this country. Read the history of the labor movement. It's not all pretty, but unions developed out of more than unfair practices. They came from situations akin to those you described. People need to take back their government and their unions. Union leaders are just a likely to become overcome by power and greed and their political counterparts.
See Does the American Apple Rot at its Capitalist Core?


To quote John Perkins in his jaw-dropping book Confessions of and Economic Hit Man

"Today, men and women are going into Thailand, the Philippines, Botswana, Bolivia and every other country where they hope to find people desperate for work. They go to these places with the express purpose of exploiting wretched people - people whose children are severely malnourished, even starving, people who live in shantytowns and have lost all hope of a better life, people who have ceased to even dream of another day. These men and women leave their plush offices in Manhattan or San Francisco or Chicago, streak across continents and oceans in luxurious jetliners, check into first-class hotels, and dine at the finest restaurants the country has to offer. Then they go searching for desperate people.

Today, we still have slave traders. They no longer find it necessary to march into the forests of Africa looking for prime specimens who will bring top dollar on the auction blocks in Charleston, Cartagena and Havana. They simply recruit desperate people and build a factory to produce the jackets, blue jeans, tennis shoes, automobile parts, computer components, and thousands of other items they can sell in the markets of their choosing, Or they may elect not even to own the factory themselves; instead, they hire a local businessman to do all their dirty work for them.

These men and women think of themselves as upright. They return to their homes with photographs of quaint sites and ancient ruins, to show to their children. They attend seminars where they apt each other on the back and exchange tidbits of advice about dealing with the eccentricities of customs in far-off lands. Their bosses hire lawyers who assure them that what they are doing is perfectly legal. They have a cadre of psychotherapists and other human resource experts at their disposal to convince them that they are helping those desperate people.

The old-fashioned slave trader told himself that he was dealing with a species that was not entirely human, and that he was offering them the opportunity to become Christianized. He also understood that slaves were fundamental to the survival of his own society, that they were the foundation of his economy. The modern slave trader assured herself (or himself) that the desperate pople are better off earning one dollar a day than no dollars at all, and that they are receiving the opportunity to become integrated into the larger world community. She also understands that these desperate people are fundamental to the survival of her company, that they are the foundation for her own lifestyle. She never stops to think about the larger implications of what she, her lifestyle, and the economic system behind them are doing to the world - or of how they may ultimately impact her children's future."