The Immeasurable Cost Behind Our Holiday Shopping

Worker at Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics manufacturer best known for producing Apple (AAPL) iPhones and iPads.

‘Tis the season for consumerism! But it’s about time we open our eyes to capitalism and imperialism.

This is a time of the year when consumption peaks. Amazon warehouse and shipping workers work insane hours to make sure Christmas is perfect – gifts arrive in time to be wrapped and placed under the tree… all without ever having to leave the house. Dying malls get an infusion of business, as retail workers continue to smile and fold and re-fold and re-fold every 15 minutes as people dig through clothing displays, hunting for the right size. Scoring the right gift, “and it was on sale!” feels oh-so-good… We never stop to think where this gift came from, or how it was produced.

Tech gifts are always big sellers. Start a google search and you’ll quickly find top tech gift lists for him, her and kids – – the latest HD TV, computers, cat headphones, AI like Alexa, bluetooth speakers, Roku, cameras, and of course cell phones. Marketers tell us these latest gadgets are to die for, while people who produce these goods are literally dying in factories.

Since nearly every Apple store looks like a mob scene this time of year, let’s look at an iPhone. At Apple’s giant factories in China, employees are paid as little as $1.50 per hour. An entry-level position pays around $240 per month. The cheapest phone, iPhone SE cost $349, plus service.  As Apple factory workers struggle to meet their basic needs with $1.50/hour, we in the US, pay crazy markups based on brand marketing and image. So where does this excess money go?

Tim Cook – Apple CEO

Capitalism requires ever-increasing profits, which demands lower production costs, ie lower wages and exploitation.  Imperialism is the natural expansion of capitalism. That constant need for growth and increased profits sends capitalists beyond national boundaries in search of new markets and lower production costs (read unregulated exploitation of labor and environment). This is how capital is accumulated.

Productivity/output/profits must constantly increase and input/costs decrease. This is why sweatshops exist and why iPhone factory workers face unbearable working conditions. After working a 12 hour shift, in a factory line, doing the same repetitive task for 6 days a week, there is no going home. Workers live in the factory’s facilities (increased productivity). Dorm rooms are often shared with about 7 people in buildings that have around 200 people and one bathroom per floor.

Employees line up for roll call at a Pegatron Corp. factory in Shanghai, China. They produce iPhones.

Under these insanely oppressive conditions, some employees understandably see suicide as an escape. Don’t worry, though, Apple addressed this issue. No, they didn’t increase wages, or improve working conditions. They barricaded windows to prevent workers from jumping.

This article is not written to guilt you. It’s written to help us understand ourselves in relation to the world around us. Wealth and access to relatively cheap goods comes off the backs of others – through exploitation.

And, the reality is that we in the US are also dominated by capitalism. Odds are, you worked a ton of hours also, underpaid, saving up to buy that iPhone Christmas gift… or more likely you put it on a credit card or a payment plan, because you can’t actually afford it on your wages. We do not face the exploitation that Apple factory workers do, but capitalism does dominate us with low wages, high rents, rising food costs and student loans.

The global relations of capitalism/imperialism move the entire world around us, from the clothing on our backs, the food on our plates, to the ideas we have about the world. We cannot affect this arrangement with our consumption choices.  There are no guilt-free products. So, boycotting Apple or any other company isn’t going to address the issue of exploitation and domination.

Capitalism/imperialism will continue to expand, exploiting people and planet. This is why we need a broad movement that goes beyond single issues and makes the connection that all of us, dominated and exploited by capitalism, must unite and fight back. We must put a stop to this cycle that is affecting every aspect of our lives, from our food, to our identities and our collective solidarity. It’s time to organize for an alternative that will let us live in a society where we can thrive without the exploitation and suffering of others.

One Struggle is organized around this concept—uniting all who can be united at this moment; growing organized relationships and networks of people who agree that capitalism must die; and determining how we can fight together.

This holiday season, enjoy time with your family and friends. Think about the labor that went into making your holiday possible. Take time to pause, reflect, and come back ready to fight.

We must organize and fight to get capitalism off our backs!

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