For the past two years I’ve traveled across the country to film festivals, labor events and public forums to show my documentary, “Farewell to Factory Towns?” With Labor Day on the horizon, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the reactions of audiences to the film.
In recent news, New York City council members revealed that a new Manhattan high-rise, in which 20% of the units will be reserved for subsidized housing, will have a separate entrance for those units. In the basest terms, low-income residents will be entering through the “back door,” reminiscent of that reserved for servants in earlier centuries.
Many a magazine, including the usually liberal New Yorker, has gone ga-ga about Taskrabbit, AirBnB, Elance, and other new companies that in one fell swoop make a mockery of fair labor practices, regulated consumer products, minimum wage, and taxes. In a rather lengthy article in which a New Yorker writer gushed about her Taskrabbit experiences, not once did she consider how this new setup would affect people who need to make a living, not even when describing Fiverr, a company that preys on the truly desperate by posting jobs that only pay $5! The only concern was whether this would work for the consumer and “spoiled child.”
I began to eat organic after witnessing first-hand the effects of pesticides on migrant farm workers. I tried to stop using electricity from coal-fired power plants after I watched my students in Washington, DC struggle to breathe on “red-alert” air quality days. I read about the permanently disabling effects that some glues have on workers who make conventional upholstered furniture in the US, and about the dangerous conditions in overseas garment factories. Someone is always paying the price for the cheap things I buy, and that didn’t feel right to me. Thus I embarked on an adventure of living frugally and more sustainably.