Last month, Zach linked to this Village Voice piece reporting that American Apparel, the New York clothing outfit promoting itself as worker-friendly and advertising itself in the left alternative press, treats its workers in a manner which falls far short of its progressive image (much like, well, the Village Voice itself):
In September 2003, American Apparel workers began organizing with UNITE to address concerns like no paid time off, problems with production methods, conflicts with supervisors, and lack of affordable health care…Charney resorted to time-honored bad-boss techniques: interrogating and intimidating employees, distributing anti-union armbands (and T-shirts!), holding captive meetings, and worst of all, threatening to close down the plant altogether if the drive was successful. The union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, the result of which was that the company had to promise to drop its union-busting tactics, but for now, at least, the union drive is derailed…three employees have filed two suits alleging, among other things, that Charney invited an employee to masturbate with him, gave an employee a vibrator as a gift, exposed himself to an employee, conducted business in his underpants, and instructed an employee to offer a shopper a job on the spot because he wanted to have sex with her.
Attempts by commenters to dismiss the sexual harassment complaints strike me as contrived, as extremely sketchy, as insufficient, and cast doubt on the veracity of other claims they are making. Whether or not any of this goes to trial, these claims, like all claims of sexual harassment at work, need to be taken seriously. Otherwise you end up with Clarence Thomas. I find Dov Charney’s statement in the infamous Jane article, quoted by a Washington Square News columnist, that “women initiate most domestic violence,” deeply troubling…Commenters claim that UNITE HERE duped workers into believing Charney didn’t want the union but offer no proof of this. I remain skeptical…Commenter “Julio” argues that workers could have simply gone up the block to the LA Times to complain. I wonder how long they could have kept their jobs if they had done so openly or had been discovered doing so clandestinely. I’m not buying Julio’s argument…Why is Dov Charney so opposed to his workers having a collective voice? What kind of equilibrim has he created in which workers can’t speak unless through channels initiated and controlled by management? Just who printed those armbands anyway? How does an ostensibly “pro-labor” or “pro-worker” company justify captive audience anti-union rallies and threats of plant closure? High wages, benefits, and even paid time off are no substitute for a voice on the job. If American Apparel’s corporate brand managers want to keep representing their product as “socially responsible,” they have some questions they need to answer.
Check it out (as well as this intriguing digression reminding us of what noble and necessary worker resistance to reactionary unions actually looks like). Looks like – as is all too often the case (check out Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool– American Apparel’s “progressivism” exists more a marketing strategy than as a principled commitment. Just listen to Dov Charney – who claims his company is sort of “capitalist-socialist fusion”, defend busting unions: “”If you ask 1,000 CEOs worldwide if they thought a union would be an obstacle to the company, I think the majority would say it’s a risk.” No surprise from the man who believes that “women initiate most domestic violence.”