My son and I agree on just about everything philosophically – but we differ in problem solution. He and his friends are on a big toot to boycott WalMart in protest of Chinese sweat labor. There is no argument from me on the atrocities of the Chinese labor market. But the idea of boycotting WalMart is more symbolic than practical in resolving the sweat labor in China – and especially in hard economic times.
The ‘free trade’ agreements of the past thirty years have done little more than line the pockets of the rich and degrade the American middle class. Rich folks and big corporations, such as WalMart and the Walton family, have profited enormously by contracting for products produced in China. We must note they have passed some savings along to the American public – but their reward on sweat shop labor is much greater than the savings passed on to Americans.
Boycotting Walmart is a noble gesture. And all 200 people in America who participate in this boycott can sleep well at night. The harsh reality is that Walmart does provide comfort, convenience, and generally lower prices to the general public – and the sweat labor in China continues. Many Americans believe in buying American, supporting their local economy and their neighbor, while denying rewards to the Chinese brutality.
Here is the problem: When both parents work to collectively reach for the lower rungs of the middle class, when three children are in school activities such as a sports and school plays, when there is not enough time in the day, and when money management is an imperative – what are people to do? They go to WalMart – maximizing their time and paycheck in one-stop-shopping. If American workers were paid fair wages then they could afford to boycott sweat-labor-driven retail enterprises. The pendulum has swung in favor of the rich and powerful.
The solution is a more realistic version of ‘free trade.’ Let me be clear – it is not ‘free trade’ to expect our American workers or businesses to compete with people who are forced to earn fifty cents a day – for twelve hour days, six days a week. (Children under twelve get Sunday off). Tariffs have been appropriately used in the past to protect the American economy – both protecting the businessman and the worker.
Tariffs should be used to promote realitic ‘free trade.’ Import taxes should be assessed to force the price of foreign goods to compete with a healthy and equitable labor market. Wal mart should have to compete in a fair market – with wholesale purchases from legitimate businesses who reward their employees. Let them buy from China – but do not let them benefit from abusive labor practice.
We the people do not have to organize boycotts – we are already represented by an organization with the power and authority to enforce a free trade environment. That organization is called the United States Government.
Call your representatives and demand an honest look at ‘free trade.’