May 18, 2000
By Linda Gorman
What do the people in the WAAKE-UP! coalition have against the poor? And why are they so intent on forcing the University of Colorado to act like the worst kind of imperialist?
WAAKE-UP!, a coalition of everything from the Rain Forest Action Group to the AFL-CIO, wants the University to adopt its Code of Conduct for determining who may and may not manufacture licensed CU apparel. The model Code, as posted on the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) web page, imposes the agenda of wealthy Americans unions on poverty stricken workers in other countries. It is a central planners dream.
The Code mandates that licensees establish a dignified living wage for workers and their families and limit a working week to either 48 hours or a countrys maximum legal workweek, whichever is less.
Never mind that data for determining this living wage would be difficult to come by even in the United States. The average family household size in the U.S. is about 3.2, with 25% of family households having only one wage earner. 3.2 divided by 1.75 adult wage earners equals 1.8 wage earning adults per household. Using the Statistical Abstract of the United States, a rough calculation of the cost of housing, energy, nutrition, clothing, health care, education, potable water, childcare, transportation, and savings for the requisite average family unit divided by the average number of adult wage earners produces a living wage of about $13,000.
U.S. workers earning the minimum wage make only $10,300 working 50 weeks, 40 hours per week. Under the Code, they would not be allowed to sew CU sweatshirts.
Licensees must also comply with American laws like Title 29 CFR of the Federal Code of Regulations as enforced by the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration, American recommendations like the Threshold Limit Values of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists for chemical, biological, and physical agents, and American consensus standards for process, mechanical and building issues. This type of regulatory regime is famously expensive. OSHAs 1987 formaldehyde requirement forced employers to spend an estimated $72,000,000,000, in 1984 dollars, for every life saved.
100 years ago the United States was a developing country. Imposing WAAKE-UP! regulations would likely have prevented it from ever becoming anything else. In 1900, young men began work by 15. According to the 1900 census, 25% of all male children over the age of 10 listed an occupation. Manufacturing workers worked eleven or twelve hour days, six days a week.
As the employed labor force created wealth and capital, wages rose. Higher wages, along with technological changes and an immense flow of immigrant labor, reduced the demand for child labor. People could afford leisure time and began working fewer hours. Safety and labor regulations that codified existing practices began to be enacted.
WAAKE-UP!s rules would have wiped out millions of jobs and prevented the capital that has made us rich from ever being accumulated. They would have helped ensure that the demonstrators at the Hellems building would be living permanently in a real shanty town.
Poor people are poor because they lack enough productive work. The WAAKE-UP! code destroys productive work. This, as a group of Honduran girls discovered when anti-sweatshop posturing caused Wal-Mart to cancel its contract for the Kathie Lee Gifford clothing line and cost them their jobs, cuts no ice with activists. Unemployed Hondurans are far less important than raising the self-esteem of the wealthy Left and helping American unions protect their high cost jobs.
Should you need to bolster your self-esteem by throwing poor people out of work, all of the elements needed for a WAAKE-UP! style campaign, from protest carols and chants to detailed narratives for consciousness raising sweatshop fashion shows, are available at the USAS web site. The USAS shares a Washington, D.C. address and fax number with the United States Student Association. It, too, is probably underwritten by student fees.
According to the USAS Popular Education Workshop script you should be prepared to overlook a few centuries of evidence and strive to make others, presumably the well-intentioned ignorant, believe that it is a myth that international trade benefits workers and local economies in poor countries. It is also a myth that international trade has increased prosperity and economic equality between countries. In sum, people must be made to understand that A small number of bankers, billionaires, and politicians made the global economy and created the situation that allows sweatshops to thrive; a large number of people, working together, can dismantle it!
So much for the lessons of history. If abolishing trade helps the poor, why does the Left rail against the trade embargos on Cuba and Iraq? And when, exactly, does moral preening become moral culpability?
 UNITE, a supporter featured on the USAS web page, is a web site for the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees of the AFL-CIO.
 USAS Model Code as posted on the United Students Against Sweatshops web site on 13 April 2000. http://www.umich.edu/~sole/usas/organizing/info/modelcode.pdf.
 United Students Against Sweatshops Model Code, http://www.umich.edu/~sole/usas/organizing/info/modelcode.pdf as of 13 April 2000.
 Tables in the 1998 Statistical Abstract of the United States show that in 1995, median costs for rental housing were $612 per month or $7,344 per year. The cost of operating a car (transportation) for 10,000 miles was $4,891. The cost of feeding a family of four according to the thrifty plan was $4,584. Family health insurance, which all activists assure us is essential for access to medical care, runs roughly $3,500 per year. Put child care or schooling at about $2,000 a year. Assume one child in school or day care and that clothing runs about $1,000 for a family familiar with Goodwill. Throw in about one months rent for savings and round the total to $24,000.
 W. Kip Viscusi. Summer 1996. Economic Foundations of the Current Regulatory Reform Efforts, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10,3, p. 125.
 Claudia Goldin. June 1994. Labor Markets in the twentieth Century, NBER Working Paper Series on Historical Factors in Long Run Growth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: National Bureau of Economics Research, p. 17.
 Claudia Goldin. June 1994. Labor Markets in the twentieth Century, NBER Working Paper Series on Historical Factors in Long Run Growth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: National Bureau of Economics Research, p. 39.
 Price V. Fishback. June 1998. Operations of Unfettered Labor Markets: Exit and Voice in American Labor Markets at the Turn of the Century, Journal of Economic Literature, 36, 2, p. 754.
 Alan R. Myerson. June 22, 1997. In Principle, a Case for More Sweatshops, The New York Times. As quoted in Sweatshops Offer Ways to Survive, National Center for Policy Analysis, http://www.ncpa.org/pd/pdint152.html as of 15 April 2000.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. This article originally appeared in the Colorado Daily (Boulder), for which Linda Gorman is a regular columnist.
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