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Behind the Label: Inequality in the Los Angeles Apparel Industry [Paperback]

Edna Bonacich , Richard Appelbaum
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 28 2000
In a study crucial to our understanding of American social inequality, Edna Bonacich and Richard Appelbaum investigate the return of sweatshops to the apparel industry, especially in Los Angeles. The "new" sweatshops, they say, need to be understood in terms of the decline in the American welfare state and its strong unions and the rise in global and flexible production. Apparel manufacturers now have the incentive to move production to wherever low-wage labor can be found, while maintaining arm's-length contractual relations that protect them from responsibility. The flight of the industry has led to a huge rise in apparel imports to the United States and to a decline in employment.

Los Angeles, however, remains a puzzling exception in that its industry employment has continued to grow, to the point where L.A. is the largest center of apparel production in the nation. Not only the availability of low-wage immigrant (often undocumented) workers but also the focus on moderately priced, fashion-sensitive women's wear makes this possible. Behind the Label examines the players in the L.A. apparel industry, including manufacturers, retailers, contractors, and workers, evaluating the maldistribution of wealth and power. The authors explore government and union efforts to eradicate sweatshops while limiting the flight to Mexico and elsewhere, and they conclude with a description of the growing antisweatshop movement.

Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 2000

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Included in the "Los Angeles Times Book Review's "Best Nonfiction of 2000."

From the Inside Flap

"Behind the Label should become the definitive work on the apparel industry. . . a goldmine for researchers and for members of the public who want to know how this industry works."—Robert J. S. Ross, coauthor of Global Capitalism

“Bonacich, Appelbaum, and their collaborators have plunged deep into the labyrinth of the Los Angeles garment industry. They have returned both well-informed and appalled by what they have seen. Here they share observations, conclusions, and recommendations that will stir concern for the conditions of low-wage workers everywhere.”—Charles Tilly, author of Durable Inequality

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"Los Angeles is now the apparel manufacturing center of the United States" (page 16). 2,900 sewing companies work in LA for the 185 firms. Sadly, the apparel manufactureres use sweatshops.
According to Dr. Bonacich and Dr. Appelbaum, a "sweatshop" is a factory that fails to pay a living wage and does nto allow a worker to purchase a house and health care(page 11). Sadly, workers make less than the poverty line of $7,200 a year. Hence, concerned citizens like us wonder how sweatshops come to be and exist?
Again, according to Dr. Bonacich and Dr. Appelbaum, sweatshops are caused by 1) a high turnover in styles (14), 2) low tech tools, such as sewing machines, 3) the neglect of union representation, 4) cheap start-ups in other countries, 5) cheap labor, and 6) bossy retailers. The authors write, "Thousands of contractors can produce small lots rapidly. The city's industry is primed for the production of fashion at cheap prices" (p. 18). Thus, Los Angeles is the "sweatshop capital of the U.S" (p. 19).
A city of sweatshops is not a healthy city. ""Polarization is destructive to society." A Chinese person making $25.00 a month cannot afford $100 pair of shoes" (p. 24). Furthermore, immigrants do not have access to politicians, since wealthy people can buy lobbyists and call the govenor and threaten to move the industry. 2.9 million Angelinos make less than $20,000 yr.
The solution to sweatshops is to spread the cost-cutting activities in every area of apparel manufacturing. "Yet cost cutting is never aimed at the executives professionals or profits." As a result, "the garment industry is a throwback to the earliest phases of the industrial revolution" (p. 14).
I hope the supervisors in the valuable garment industry read this fine book.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book -- May 26 2012
By D. Azinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want to understand how apparel companies oppress the poor and get away with it, its all written down in Behind the Label.

Like AT&T hides behind turf vendors (Bechtel/ General Dynamics)TO SHEILD THEMSELVES FROM LIABILITY FROM OSHA VIOLATIONS; APPAREAL COMPANIES hire subcontractors to skirt labor laws.

I'm not in the apparel industry, and knew nothing about it, but found this book to be really interesting and another eye opener on how rich apparel companies use their power to exploit poor immigrants including asians and koreans (not just mexicans). We're talking about a sea of people who work before they clock in to avoid overtime,
often have to take work home, and have no recourse because turning in their boss also exposes their illegal status.

The irony is this is an industry that is dominated and run by liberal democrats and the anti-union forces are stronger than any republicans can ever dream about. Alot of ungodly reprobate Democrats run these apparel companies who rob the poor and then run out to their charity functions to be seen of men, all with money that is not their own, but robbed from the mexican single mothers and other poor immigrants. So, just crooks pretending to be generous. It's mercy at the expense of justice -- they understand mercy by giving, but not justice because they give what is not their own. It's pretty sickening picture of what's going on -- and it'll probably never change.

Somehow the subs need to unite under one banner, so, apparel companies in LA who want stuff "made in LA" which they do, have no other option. The subs need to become one imo. That's what corporate america does, they become one thru consolidation and shake down farmers who have no other buyer to resort to. CARGILL is nothing but the accumulation of thousands of companies. There has been like around 10,000 consolidations in teh food industry in last decade -- so, the potato farmer has one buyer for his crop, and its not a price where he can make money, and there are no other buyers. So, only option for potato guy is to join with the other potato farmers, and become one also. Mano a mano. Look at it this way, if you have an auction, and one guy shows up, he controls every bid. That is what Cargill does, that is what the apparel industry does, and that is how workers can fight back by becoming "one" company by consolidating all the subs together. Fight consolidation with consolidation.

Good thing for apparel execs Im not in charge of LA -- I'd turn you life upside down for being rotten crooks that you are.

Good book, some slow parts, but all in all very interesting. Glad I bought it and read it.
4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on Sweatshops July 7 2000
By jgilde02@sprynet.com - Published on Amazon.com
This is an outstanding book that should be read by policy makers, academics, activists and elected leaders. Great effort and job. This is the best book on the subject.
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