Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Schmatta- The World We Have Created


Last night I could not sleep.

I find this to be a state I am in allot recently. The life of a tramp and the life of the poet tend to meld together and one realizes that trying to live two lives is not always possible.

Last night however on HBO they aired their documentary on the Schmatta (apparel)business in New York that is the Apparel and Fashion industry. As I watched it I could not help but remember the great quote by Martin Niemoller about Nazism

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
I remember when I was kid and the huge manufacturing concerns around Chicago began to close, US Steel in Chicago, Westinghouse in Cicero, Brach's Candy in Chicago, the great mail order houses, Spiegel, where my Dad worked, Alden's, Montgomery Ward, and so many others. I watched as middle class people became lower class. I watched as the Working Class melted away and no one cared no one fought for those people.
We were told that the new "globalized" America would be richer and that all those people losing jobs would be better off. That we would all now work in offices and that we did not need Unions to protect us because we were all free Agents. We would make more money. While we became enamoured of Microsoft and Apple it became apparent that what was being created was an Oligarchy. Technology is fungable and movable and in the end India and China were allot cheaper so we became poorer. In 2009 5% of America owns 95% of its real wealth. The rest of us have Debt.
HBO's Documentary Schmatta talks about the growth in New York of the Garment Center.
It chronicles unionization and professionalization and how 'productivity' resulted in the destruction of the business. This could be transposed to a whole slew of industries in America, Shoes, Furniture, Newspapers, Education, Steel, Autos and more. It was the goal of the corporate titans and their allies to make as much money as possible, which they did. The costs were not important I remember everyone saying "as the market dictates" . Which really means I got mine for you... nothing.
MyDad was in the apparel business he was Director of Sourcing for Spiegel Catalog. I grew up and benefited from a professional industry that paid workers well and allowed my family to have the so called "american dream". My Dad was formed in the world of New York's Schmatta business and knew that world and the world of southern apparel manufacturing very well.
My early life was filled with interesting characters who sold socks, underwear, pajamas and suits. Most of them were Jewish some were Italian like my Dad but it was a culture that employed thousands in the US. Most of these guys worked really hard and did well.
One statistic of interest in the show was that in 1990 85% of all the apparel sold in the US was made here, by 2009 only 5% was made here. For all those people who made the 85% of apparel here what did they do when the jobs left? Whole job categories apart from the sewers have been exported off shore. Thousands of skilled pattern makers, designers, fabric designers and sales people are without work. Whole industries like trims and printing have been out sourced.
What was once the fashion capital, New York, is now just a memory as that world has moved to China to use child labor and slave labor to make a profit. It was moving to see the men and women who worked in apparel who put there kids through college who now are jobless. People who are skilled and worked hard who have been discarded.
Michael Moore's work on the Auto industry compares to what this film does. It illustrates what has happened to the solid, hardworking people that so many of us originate from and how that world has disappeared. The world that I grew up in no longer is possible.
My father started out after the military working for Sears. He learned the garment business and moved up in that world. Later he was one of the first people to take his lines "off shore" which first meant Puerto Rico and then Hong Kong. As he was 'innovating" he was also digging out the foundation of his world.
Short term gain resulted in long term devistation.
So when I refer to Martin Niemoller's quote I think about all the industries that have been taken away and no one said anything...
First they Came for the Shoe Industry and I said Nothing Because I did Not Make Shoes
Then they Came for the Apparel Industry and I said Nothing Because I did not Make Apparel
Then they Came for the Steel Industry and I said nothing because I did not make steel
Then they Came for the Car Industry and I said nothing because I did not make cars
Then They Came for the Printing Industry and I said nothing because I was not a Printer
Then they Came for the Newspaper Industry and I said nothing because I did not Write for a Paper.
Then they came for the Furniture Industry and I said nothing because I did not make furniture
Then they came for the College Professors and teachers and I said nothing because I did not teach.
And when they came for me there was no one left to speak for me....
What have we gained?


Pris said...

I grew up in a small town filled with family run businesses, If you wanted to work you could. Now chain stores and fast food places circle the town for a round-up. They've taken away mom and pop. Not much left downtown anymore and people commute to a bigger town to work.

Ella said...

I saw the same documentry about a month ago,I haven't slept ever since.I went to fashion school and graduated in 1992 .when I looked for a job they needed people with minimum 5years experience because they did not have the money to waste on training someone .So I worked my first job as a piece seeing worker from my moms basement for 15 cents a jump suit then I manage to get a job in the industry to be trained for 50dollars a month. After 15years now I have the experience ,but there is no jobs to have they have all gone off shore.what little jobs there are left we try to scam big chain stores by huffing the mistakes and problems that the offshores have done.Now I am trying to get by raise a family with 2or3jobs because the immigrants are getting government help and slot of the jobs....