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Race to the Bottom: another view of what “cheap labor” looks like

Patients working in a compound at the Kunming Municipal Compulsory Rehabilitation Center in China Photo: GETTY

Patients working in a compound at the Kunming Municipal Compulsory Rehabilitation Center in China Photo: GETTY

Today’s New York Times has another tale of “cheap labor” in China:

The cry for help, a neatly folded letter stuffed inside a package of Halloween decorations sold at Kmart, traveled 5,000 miles from China into the hands of a mother of two in Oregon.  Scrawling in wobbly English on a sheet of onionskin paper, the writer said he was imprisoned at a labor camp in this northeastern Chinese town, where he said inmates toiled seven days a week, their 15-hour days haunted by sadistic guards.

[Prison officials] buy small-time offenders from other cities on a sliding scale that begins at 800 renminbi, or about $130, for six months of labor.

Do the math.  The Chinese prison buys their labor for $5 a week.  And those inmates are working 105 hours a week.

How on earth can US workers compete with that?

The really bad news is: prison labor isn’t just a problem in China.  It’s a problem here in the US, too.  Read “The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor” in The Nation here.

Just one example:  Arizona inmates working for private agricultural companies are paid a “whopping fee” of “more than 50 cents an hour.”  Read “How US prison labour pads corporate profits at taxpayers’ expense” in The Guardian here.

How on earth can US workers compete with that?

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About Liz Iacobucci

Liz Iacobucci is the former Public Information Officer for the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984. Over the past three decades, she has served in government at the federal, state and municipal levels; and she has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians.
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