Letter to the editor:
In Dongguan, China, nearly 50,000 workers employed by Yue Yuen – the world’s largest athletic shoe manufacturer, which contracts with apparel giants such as Nike and Adidas – have been on strike for the last three weeks in the biggest work stoppage in modern Chinese history. The workers called the strike because they believe the company has been substantially underpaying their social security payments over the last two decades. It is estimated that Yue Yuen owes its workers millions of US dollars in back social security payments. Since workers in Dongguan have started the strike, Yue Yuen workers throughout China have also gone on strike in solidarity.
Although Dongguan might be a continent away, and the struggle of garment workers throughout China and elsewhere may seem disconnected from our daily lives as students, we should see supporting their struggle as in our interest as OSU students. As The Lantern reported in December, our university recently extended a $46 million “brand-building” licensing deal with Nike for the production of athletic apparel. Simply put, when our athletes compete, they’re most likely wearing shoes produced by workers at Yue Yuen – workers demanding what they’re owed. This gives us as students and consumers leverage over Nike. We can pressure Nike to hold its suppliers accountable by calling on OSU to take a stand for the dignity and welfare of workers worldwide.
The connections between the striking workers and us aren’t limited to athletic apparel. As future (and current) workers, we’re facing a climate similar to those faced by low-wage workers throughout China and elsewhere. The Associated Press recently found that 79 percent of all American adults will experience at least one year of poverty or reliance on social welfare programs . As if that’s not bad enough, about 50 percent of recent college graduates in the United States are unemployed or underemployed and face few alternatives to working low-wage jobs in the retail and food service industries, while also shouldering the ever-growing burden of student loans.
When workers in China win strong labor protections, safer working conditions and better pay, we as workers are better positioned to fight for our own welfare. International solidarity and support can improve conditions for all of us, irrespective of nationality.
The striking workers at Yue Yuen are calling on supporters internationally to place pressure on Nike and send messages and photos of solidarity and encouragement with the hashtag #ChinaSolidarity. Showing our support as OSU students for the tens of thousands of workers risking their lives and livelihoods for a better life is the least that we can do to assist their struggle.
Treasurer of International Socialist Organization – Columbus
Fifth-year in political science and geography