Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push for Fair Labor, by Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross reveals a number of talents as an author in his book Low Pay, High Profile: The Global Push For Fair Labor (The New Press, 2004). With academic flare that isn’t ostentatious, he writes about each of the many areas intersecting at Global Labor issues with color and insight. Known for his critical approach to Globalization from many angles, Ross brings to Low Pay, High Profile a sweeping view of the new and historic labor struggles. From activists striking in Drag at Barneys in Manhattan, to mass cultural uprising in China and from Timberland putting the boot down on urban culture to Nike’s rebellious foray into world-class soccer, there’s a bit for everyone.

In retrospect, Ross’s devoted Chapter to China in the book, “Are The Chinese Losing China”, is a precursor to his latest work Fast Boat To China: Corporate Flight and the Consequences of Free Trade; Lessons From Shanghai (Pantheon, 2006). Both these works flow respectively from his earlier book No Sweat: Fashion, Free Trade, and the Rights of Garment Workers (Verso, 1997). Perhaps Ross’s professorship at NYU allows him the influence from a chic student body, but he captures dead-on the absurdities of the Fashion stratosphere in a world of impoverished garment workers. This extends to the Sports industry where Ross puts an important emphasis on the link between Celebrity and Sweatshop. This is the world of branding, such as the world of Naomi Klein’s No Logo, where the wide-eyed young are infected by the status of adidas shoes, Umbro shorts, or Ralph Lauren Polo. This is especially relevant, even ubiquitous in the Sport’s Arena, but Ross points out that financial domination of sport’s clubs kills the competitive nature all sports thrive on. If Reebok owns both teams about to clash at the World Cup, nobody wins except Reebok.

While honing in on the already vulnerable targets of sweatshop operations like Nike, it reinforces a truth forgotten after the millennium and September 11th. Particularly fascinating for American readers is Ross’s deconstruction of soccer culture in the post-industrial reality of Manchester, U.K., as even though the world’s most popular sport, it has not reached iconic status in the U.S. as it has elsewhere. If not for his sharply critical eye of globalization, Ross could very well have been a dazzling sport’s writer. Lucky such talent focused in on the rise of an activist movement, stylistic history and a future in the shadow of China.

Though sweatshops bring to mind young female needle workers in 3rd world conditions who supply the discount shelves at Wal Mart, the concept of Fair Labor is not so limited for Ross. The rising consumer want of electronics poses not only problems of labor standards in developing nations, but also the toxic dumping of “dirty industries” into their lands. After touring the global travesty of garments, Ross kicks the book into the high gears of 21st century digital destruction. More critical and challenging still, a closing chapter on “Mental Labor” reveals the depreciation of the just as grueling job of higher education. Perhaps Ross is plugging a call to arms for his own profession, but he fully grasps in just a few pages why the girl with an advanced degree in neurolinguistic anthropology is pouring your double-mocha-soy-latte. Its’ an alarming look at labor’s value across the board of our livelihoods, and Ross brings a unique style of seeing solidarity in work no matter how disparate the trade may seem.

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