I was doing research for a school project about Nike and some other companies who have been tagged with the negative publicity of using third world “Sweatshops” to produce their products. As the research I was doing blended with the traditional pre Thanksgiving festivities and media blitz, the North Korean attack on South Korea and the complaining about security by those who want to fly on someone else’s airplane, it occurred to me we have so much to be thankful for. If you woke up today and have access to the internet on the computer you own to read this blog posting, you have something to be thankful for.
As I did my research, remembered my own overseas travels and saw the news about Korea I quickly remembered the drastic contrast between our own society and that of other countries. My sweatshop research was showing two points of view on the issue, with a majority siding against the sweatshops and demanding their closure or making changes that simply would create economic and cultural devastation. The unintended consequence of sweatshop closings in the past in countries like Honduras, Nepal and other countries was that the sweatshops closed, the workers were saved from their demonized employers, and the tens of thousands of mostly women and children were unemployed. The affected countries’ economies were damaged and many of the displaced women and children were turned to prostitution, as reported by several investigative reports (John Stossel, Nicholas Kristof , United Nations report State of the World's Children 1997).
The well intended self absorbed saviors of the oppressed who organized and campaigned against sweatshops were for the most part misinformed college students and other people who have never stepped foot in any of these other countries, and if they did, it was only to see what was wrong, and in contrast not see what may have been good. One such opponent to sweatshops was a journalist (Kristof) who moved to Asia and after spending time there changed his view after seeing the positive impact having a sweatshop job had on the quality of life for these people. Yes, believe it not, even though these jobs may have only paid a $1 a day, it was double or triple what they would made anywhere else, it helped the economy, and improved their lives, similar to the early sweatshop days of the United States.
Now there is no denying that there are issues with conditions and abuses, but to put an estimated 100,000 people or more out of jobs could be considered by some a much harsher abuse. So, when you woke up today and went to work, was it to a $1 a day sweatshop? If not you have something to be thankful for, and if live in one these other countries where when you got up today and went to work at your $1 a day sweatshop job, you also had something to be thankful for.
It is interesting how people make judgments about other cultures, even with best intentions, but yet without any firsthand experience. I have been to many countries and feel I understand other cultures. I also know poverty even though I didn’t know it at the time when I lived in Ireland. It was around 1962-1966 when I was 7-10 years old, my parents divorced, my mother left the US taking me with her to Ireland. I lived in my grandmother’s house and electricity had just been put in the house, but that was it. There was no pluming, the house was concrete walls and floor and straw roof. There was a daily walk about a mile to a water pump for the drinking water and a rain water barrel outside the house for everything else, oh yeah, and a hen house full of chickens. I returned to New York in 1966 with my mother and after a few months I had fattened up on hamburgers. I then saw my father who was happy to see me, but I always remember when I gave him a picture of me from when I was in Ireland it made him cry, seeing an image of his son, frail framed, resembling a starving third world child. That memory and the culture shock has instilled in me that I had something to be thankful for.
For all who may be socially displaced from the war in Afghanistan, terrorism and the recent Korean attack, I am also reminded of my past travels to Korea. Since 9/11 many people in the United States express their personal fear of another attack, however hope, pray and want to believe it will not happen. In South Korea, it’s a little different. Every day in South Korea since about 1953 the people not only fear an attack and fear an invasion from North Korea, they believe in their heart and live their daily lives believing it is going to happen tomorrow morning. When South Korea goes to sleep every night, their military prepares for the invasion that is going to happen in the next few hours. When they wake up in the morning and it hasn’t happen, they have something to be thankful for. They then get ready again for the invasion that is coming tomorrow.
So, as we enjoy our traditional Thanksgiving and give thanks for waking up today, for our health, our families and the other traditional thankfulness we generally give thanks for, maybe we can also remember and give thanks for those in the past and present who served and sacrificed in service to the country. We can give thanks that our country has grown past the days of the sweatshops and consider the irony of how thankful the sweatshop workers of the world are for what they have, and yes, just try to imagine being thankful for a $1 a day job instead of being thankful for…well, all that material stuff we give thanks for. Be thankful that when we go to bed tonight we have enough confidence and faith to not believe that when we wake up we will have been invaded. Be thankful that even though we have whiners about stricter security on airplanes, we live in a county where we are allowed to whine and then sit down together at a table and give thanks.
Let’s be Thankful for Thanksgiving and being allowed and able to dress up a dog in a pilgrim outfit carrying a rifle and pose for an animated picture.