Thursday, August 21, 2008

Labor Rights and the 2008 Olympic Games…

Let me start by saying that I never have been a sports fan and likely never will be. For whatever reason sports just never attracted me as a kid and unless you develop such an interest in childhood, I think it unlikely that you will take an interest later in life. It’s not because I lacked the aptitude for sports. I spent much of my youth on swim teams and running cross country. I would often start a season as one of the better athletes on the team; but by mid season my lack of interest and lack of willingness to put in much effort to the sport would usually mean I would fall to the back of the pack. I also played nearly every team sport except football at some point in my youth because my father’s firm belief that playing sports was good for you. I was less convinced. I think I generally rejected the whole idea that competition should be valued and I preferred the life of the mind rather than the world of the body. Asian martial arts were the only physical activity that interested me as young boy and I always gravitated to the styles like Kung Fu over Karate because they seemed to emphasize the power of the mind over the body. My heroes as a young boy were famous scientist, philosophers and historical figures instead of baseball or basketball stars.

That said I must admit, with some embarrassment, that two sporting events have captured my interest over the years. The futbol World Cup and the Olympic games (both Winter & Summer) have seemed to capture my attention like no other sporting event (other than basketball in the final years of the Bull’s dynasty). Clearly part of the reason is the international character of both the Olympics and the World Cup. I particularly enjoy the events in which U.S. dominance is not a foregone conclusion. In the case of the Olympics I am particular drawn to the more obscure sports – canoe/kayak, archery, fencing, pentathlon, etc. All of this is meant to explain away and apologize for the fact that I have spent much of the past two weeks trying to watch as much of the 2008 Olympics coverage as possible. Part of my guilt at enjoying the Olympics stems from my awareness that behind all the supposed high minded principals of this international athletic competition is a very ugly reality of global exploitation. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the International Olympic Committee’s continued refusal to take responsibility for the working conditions of those who make the Olympic experience possible. From the workers who construct the sporting venues of the games to those who produce the official apparel sold at the event, there is a long history of exploitation. This time around an organization has been formed to challenge the callousness and the obstinacy of the IOC in regards to labor rights.

Play Fair 2008 is a coalition organized by the The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker’s Federation (ITGLWF). Their goal is to convince the IOC and related bodies to take steps to… “eliminate the exploitation and abuse of workers in the global sporting goods industry.” You can be a part of this campaign by sending a letter to the IOC requesting the take…“immediate action to address the violation of workers' rights in their supply chains.”

You can find out more about the campaign and how to write your letter at the Play Fair 2008 website…

If you, like me, have spent much of the past 14 days enjoying the games, you can take out a few minutes to play a role in demanding an end to the exploitation behind the Olympics. You can also find out more about the issue by listening to this Sunday’s episode of the Labor Express Radio program. Part of this week’s episode will be devoted to last week’s Building Bridges report on the Chinese workers who produce Speedo sporting goods for the 2008 Olympics and the difficult working conditions the face. That’s this Sunday night, 7:00 P.M. on 88.7 FM in Chicago. On listen online at…

One last word on politics and the 2008 Olympics. Once again I think the mainstream media in the U.S. has demonstrated their bias and incompetence. The U.S. press has shown great jingoistic exuberance in its China bashing throughout the Olympic games. They have found plenty of irrelevant stories to focus on which they use to demonstrate the failings of the Chinese and reassure their American audience that it is still U.S. Über Alles. From the so called “faking it” of the games opening ceremonies (first fireworks, than lip syncers), to the age of its athletes, to selective readings of the medal counts, the media takes great glee in diminishing the achievements of the world’s most populous nation, while ignoring any critique that raises issues of real substance. The U.S. corporate media is much more interested in fake fireworks than the exploitation of millions of Chinese workers and the role U.S. corporations play in that exploitation. China is, after Colombia, probably the world’s second worst violator of labor rights and is one of the world’s most serious violators of human rights in general. U.S. corporations profit from the fact that China has remade itself into the world’s sweatshop, including those trans-national companies that produce gear for the 2008 Olympics. But you won’t see these issues raised on the nightly coverage of the Olympics. Once again, it is only on alternative news source like Labor Express Radio and Building Bridges that you will hear the real story – the issues that mater – the concerns and struggles of the world’s working people.

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