Love of Labor (Unions)
Fashion activism can take many shapes. Supporting women owned businesses, wearing vegan textiles, buying less in general. But seeing as it’s Labor Day, I want to focus on labor unions. Supporting companies that use union workers or allow their workers the right to collective bargaining is a super quick and easy way to ensure that your clothes align with your values.
As a fashion activist, the bare minimum of what I expect out my fashion brands is that their workers earn a living wage, work in safe conditions, and have paid sick leave. That’s just common human decency, right? Well, common human decency is seriously lacking in most garment factories.
Let’s talk about the factories in Bangladesh. Fair warning: things are about to get ugly here for a sec. Bear with me. According to a survey of Bangladeshi factories supplying Marks & Spencer carried out in 2015, the average take-home pay for a factory worker was 8,000 taka a month. How much do they need to live on and support their families? 15,000 taka a month. Even though they’re working 14-16 hour days seven days a week they’re making half of what they need to survive.
As you can guess their working conditions are just as terrible as their pay. Workers aren’t allowed to take bathroom breaks or drink water during their shifts. God forbid they don’t hit their target for production! They don’t have enough food to eat. The factories themselves are falling apart. After the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in 2013 killing 1,135 people you think things would have changed. It was a completely preventable tragedy. Workers had pointed out to management several times that the building looked unsafe, that there were cracks in the walls. But no one listened.
These atrocities thrive when workers don’t have a voice.
What amplifies workers voices?........UNIONS! How do they do it?............COLLECTIVE BARGAINING!
Collective bargaining is a fancy way of saying a bunch of workers negotiate with one voice. As a group they sit down with the employer and say “hey dude, we super like working here and this is what we need in order to live a decent life”. The aim of every union is to have fair pay for fair work. Pretty sweet, huh?
Being a Union worker is not just about better pay (although on average they earn 27% more than a non-union worker). There are lots of other factors that all add up to a good life.
The coolest part of unions is they actually benefit everyone. Even non-union workers. In order to compete with union jobs, employers have to keep wages high. Not only does that non-union worker benefit directly, they also pump that money back into the economy.
It kills me to say that in America, we’ve been losing all that awesomeness over the last 60 years. Union jobs are disappearing and they’re forced to slash their wages to try and stay competitive with non-union employers. As Representative Mark Pocan said “It’s a race to the bottom at the expense of hard-working Americans”.
As a card carrying member of 3 actor unions myself, I have nothing but love for unions. Their negotiations have allowed me to support myself as an actor for over a decade now. They’re not perfect, but unions exemplify the idea that every worker matters. I think that’s a motto any fashion activist can get behind.