Saturday, November 21, 2009

Schmatta, the documentary

Saw mention of it on Lindsay T Sews blog, found it on HBO and watched it last weekend. Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags documents the history of Manhattan's Garment District and the slow ebb of American-made apparel.
It was very interesting but I found a couple points to be contradictory. Immigrants and the bottom earners of society could find work in the thriving industry. One person noted jobs were done by mostly Jews and Italians and with each wave of immigration, the work force became more diverse. The industry needed controls to protect the safety and rights of workers and the unions answered that call. Over and over, the documentary subjects stated that their grandparents and parents worked in the "rag trade" just looking for a slice of the American dream but complained that the current economy does not allow them the middle class dream of earning enough money for a house, a car and tuition to a nice school for their children. That's the part that tripped me up. One generation comes to America with no education, finds employment at the entry level, seeks and achieves protection through a worker's union but the second and third generations expect to earn enough money to achieve middle to upper middle class levels and they wonder why their union jobs went overseas?
In the book Snobbery: The American Version, author Joseph Epstein explained that most immigrants strived to attain affluence for their future by the Three P's: becoming peddlers in the first generation, plumbers next followed by the third generation reaching the level of physicians. The garment industry workers did not look to the future to realize greater aspirations but instead are unhappy that their children will not be able to find work in their industry.
Agreed: It is sad that only 5% of apparel is manufactured in America and domestic manufacturers cannot compete with low labor rates overseas.
Contrast that with the testimony of one man stating that he is currently collecting $405 per week on unemployment with only 10 remaining weeks of benefits AND he said he didn't mind sharing that before being laid off, he made $3100 per week for 35 hours which brings the question: is an annual salary of $161,200 considered an average level for a skilled worker with no higher learning, diploma or license? There were many factors to led to the loss of American jobs. Unions, profit driven corporations and manufacturers seeking lower costs elsewhere but the ancestors of the garment workers need to look at themselves as well and ask why they relied on one industry to sustain them and their future generations.
Adapt and change are the learning words.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

I watched it too, and it was also very interesting but I think I had that same reaction when they got to the part where people were talking about being laid off, not being able to find anything else...and I kept thinking...transferrable skills!!! Like the woman who was a fabric designer, well...what about looking for something in graphic design? Interior design? Could you look for work with perhaps, companies that designs wallpapers? Or wrapping papers? Isn't it the same principle? I found myself very disappointed in their inflexibility...or maybe I was just reflecting myself onto them, as someone who has been laid off, and had I had the inflexibility of thinking that they did, I never would have found work!!