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Chinese Workers Who Assemble Designer Bags in Italy (newyorker.com)
174 points by waqasaday 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments



An all too familiar predicament[1], except I grew up accustomed to also seeing Filipinos (services) and Bangladeshi (construction) in similar melting pots.

> Locals suspected that Chinese mobsters were disposing of corpses in exchange for passports, which they then sold to new arrivals, a scheme that took advantage of the native population’s apparent inability to tell any one Chinese person from another. There was a note of jealousy to the Pratans’ complaints, as well as a reluctant respect for people who had beaten them at their own game.

Morbid humor aside, this game and it's variants are apparently quite common[2].

[1] https://mobile.nytimes.com/1993/07/18/world/made-usa-hard-la...

[2] https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/05/04/business/saipan-casino...


Chinese owned a big chunk of Italian textile industry for quite a while. For at least 12~14 years, a big portion of made in Italy stuff were Chinese made.

Owning a factory in Italy can be quite cheaper than to do so in China, to a lot of people's surprise. An added benefit to it is that you can claim "Italian quality"

For more on topic stuff, if you are a Vancouverite, you can visit an Italian cafe by Gastown Starbucks that is ran by a lady from Wenzhou who speaks decent Italian.


There's a town near Florence called Prato that has a large population of Wenzhou Chinese. Most work in the textile industry.

If you visit Milan's Chinatown, it is full of textile and clothing shops as opposed to most Chinatowns around the world which are dominated by food and grocery stores.


I'm from Prato. The Chineses do not produce fabrics in Prato, they just sewing clothes.


>There's a town near Florence called Prato that has a large population of Wenzhou Chinese. Most work in the textile industry.

That's exactly what the article is about :)


This was one of the best didn't read the articles I've seen in a while.


Prato is one of the most talked about because of the high contrast between irregular workers (wether legally resident or otherwise) working for the high margin high fashion industry, but there are a lot similar realities like these to be found everywhere.

I.E a big earthquake happened a while ago in romagna and the most surprising fact was that once the chinese sweatshop were evaquated the local pupulation found themselves almost outnumbered by them in certain areas.


Neither surprising, nor new.

This has been going on for years in a number of countries (Spain, Italy, etc...) just so the goods can be marked "Made in *". The TV image of the careful old craftsman hand-sweing your luggage is a falsehood. It's sweatshops all over again.

It's even happening in the United States. Louis Vuitton does its repairs with immigrant labor in southern California so it can say the work was done in America. (The whole thing is tremendously complicated because of California laws about handbags and leather goods, but that's off topic.)

There are compounds in some states that are essentially isolated towns surrounding a factory where Chinese laborers put things together so they can be marked "Made in USA." The laborers eat, sleep, work, and live without ever going outside the compound. It's like the horror stories we see about China, but on U.S. soil.


I think Japan, for the most part, has been able to avoid having to resort to low paid immigrant labor for their craftsmanship-centred goods.

Sure, some mass produced items in Japan do use cheap foreign labor but it has not yet bled into their legendary craftsmanship industries.


What's wrong with immigrant labor (apart from them taking "our" jobs)?


Nothing is wrong with immigrant labor.

It's the abuse of immigrant labor that's wrong.


it is implied that they are payed at a sweatshop price in sweatshop conditions


So it's implied that in Southern California they are breaking minimum wage laws?

Also, exploitation only applies if the workers 1) have no better option and 2) their options are artificially constrained by the party offering their only option. Anything else is simply failing to understand their situation.


Segregation is technically illegal, but if you look at a census map for 8 Mile Rd in Michigan, it’s all white people to the north and black people to the south. In other words, please don’t assume that injustices can’t somehow still occur within systems that, by the letter of the law, have done away with injustice. I don’t know how to epxlain to you that immigrants assembling consumerist garbage in the US probably aren’t doing it because they weighed other options and thought it was the best one... And if you think they can “just leave”, ask yourself why so many of them haven’t.


Also, exploitation only applies if the workers 1) have no better option and 2) their options are artificially constrained by the party offering their only option. Anything else is simply failing to understand their situation.

Simply because they are abiding by minimum wage laws and making less than you are per hour does not mean they are exploited. Simply because Detroit is segregated in practice (as a result of factors beyond the control of most of the individuals) does not mean these workers are exploited. The fact that the dinosaurs went extinct even though they too, like us, deserve a chance to exist does not mean these workers were exploited.


“Segregation is technically illegal, but if you look at a census map for 8 Mile Rd in Michigan, it’s all white people to the north and black people to the south”

Is theRe a historic reason for this, or example of schellings segregation model?

http://ncase.me/polygons/


ahhh.... now it makes sense. I always thought the issue was just the inferior quality of the designer bags.


Did you even read the article? There are pleanty of negative impacts caused by this specific method of cheap immigrant labor.


They are often exploited, trafficked, abused, and paid less than anyone else.

Again, see "sweatshops."


As I read this, the New Yorker seemed to highlight the problems from a more leftist, social safety net perspective. The Chinese immigrants circumvented the tax code in every way they could - working under the table, starting unregistered businesses in garages and vans, living in the garages and vans, even dying secretly so their passports could be repurposed for new immigrants. This meant hospitals and other public services went underfunded.

What I found interesting, though, were the competing right-wing narratives in the lives of the immigrants. They were so ready to live industrious, entrepreneurial lives (largely) outside of the protection of government, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, while their work ethic, frugality, and ultimate success led to anti-immigrant, nativist sentiments and the politics that reflect them.

I tend to be relatively laissez-faire in my tastes for both economic and immigration policy, but watching the right-wing in Europe and the United States reject the latter makes me think the sentiment comes from a deeper, visceral level. Almost like an immune system rejecting something it doesn't recognize. For all the posturing and intellectual maturity of free-market economics and small government policies, it seems that right-wing politics will always find easier alliances among those with xenophobic or even racist sentiments because those motivations are hardwired into our DNA, and embracing your hard wiring is a lot easier than comprehending Friedman or Hayek.


It's interesting to me that you would see the economic arguments and assume they were a genuinely held first principle and not an inauthentic PR line meant to resonate with the more base fear and hatred.

In the United States at least there is a long history of this. Go look up what Lee Atwater said about the southern strategy. Summary: they embraced lines about low taxes and small government because it was getting impolite to campaign with the n word.


After this most recent presidential election, I believe that racism is ingrained in our DNA.

I couldnt believe what I was seeing in the 21st century.

Politicians will use this tool until humanity goes extinct.


You really must be a troubled individual.


Unless I'm misunderstanding you, it's interesting to me that you see arguments and (seemingly) can't consider that it's even possible for them to be genuinely held as first principles, and that they must be motivated by "fear" and "hatred" (as if economic protectionism cannot be based in rationality, it must always be racially motivated).


In the US political example I gave (Lee Atwater), you have a Reagan era strategist who admitted privately on tape that it was racially motivated.

And then we have about 4 decades worth of the policy record of what happens when the supposed "small government" advocates get into power. Tell me, why do they end up deficit spending? Is it because they are overwhelmed by the reality of running government? Or is it that they never held the position very strongly in the first place? My personal interpretation is even more cynical, that perhaps they actually like the thing they claim to oppose, so long as it benefits the "right" people.


So you're telling me their deficit spending proves they're racist?


+1, most talk of "economics" in politics is just to couch or justify some political position that a side wants to push. Actual economics is boring and frankly going to produce some mixed results and no one on either side wants to hear.


> This meant hospitals and other public services went underfunded.

I don't buy it.

At the wage these folks would make if on the books (ie, minimum wage) they'd pay no or almost no taxes.

So we're only talking about lost payroll taxes. Yes, the part of that that goes to public services is lost, but the people on whose behalf they are paid are also not using public services to a large degree.

I'm sure it's not exactly a wash, but for the most part public services are paid for by high wage earners.


  What I found interesting, though, were the competing
  right-wing narratives in the lives of the immigrants.
I got the impression from the article that most of the immigrants interviewed were factory owners, rather than workers.

Of course factory owners are keen their workers have "industrious, frugal lives outside the protection of government" - that's the definition of working 12 hours a day in illegally dangerous conditions for a fraction of minimum wage.


> I tend to be relatively laissez-faire in my tastes for both economic and immigration policy, but watching the right-wing in Europe and the United States reject the latter makes me think the sentiment comes from a deeper, visceral level.

That neatly encapsulates the downward spiral of left-wing thinking. You've become incapable of listening to anyone else's ideas without finding malicious underlying motives.


You can't compare the right-wing in Europe and United States. For example in Sweden our right win party SD is much less about the free market and small government policies. Instead I would say the main goal of SD is to preserve Swedens generous welfare society.


Thats an odd way of looking at SD. There is a clear macroeconomic consensus that immigration is good for the economy as a whole, the GDP growth Sweden has enjoyed strongly support this. An SD government would be a threat to the Swedish welfare society.

This is a party started not by right leaning nationalists but by actual nazis. Gustav Ekström, one of the founders of the party was a volunteer in the Waffen-SS in 1941. Yes the party has changed but these are the kinds of people running the party when the current leadership joined.

Its overwhelmingly clear the main reason for the party is to turn Sweden into some sort of white nationalist fantasy where anyone with a brown face is not welcome.


SD has a very dark and disturbing history I think we can all agree to that but they have cleaned up and become a different party then before. They are now for example proponents of "open swedishness" where ethnicity have no bearing on if you are Swedish. http://www.lt.se/opinion/debatt/sd-ar-for-en-oppen-svenskhet

"Its overwhelmingly clear the main reason for the party is to turn Sweden into some sort of white nationalist fantasy where anyone with a brown face is not welcome. "do you really believe this?

Maybe it wasn't clear in my original reply but to me it seems SD thinks the way to save the Swedish welfare state is reduced immigration.

Immigration can be good for the economy sure, but in my opinon you can't just state that all immigration is good for the economy as a whole. Just today a report from Konjunkturinstitutet came that said that warns that if more immigrants don't get jobs the taxes will have to be higher. https://www.svt.se/nyheter/ekonomi/konjunkturinstitutet-darf...

In the paper Refugee immigration and public finances in Sweden by Ruist, Joakim. The cost is refugee immigration and their family members is calculated to 1 % of BNP in the year 2007.


"Its overwhelmingly clear the main reason for the party is to turn Sweden into some sort of white nationalist fantasy where anyone with a brown face is not welcome. "do you really believe this? - yes. Anecdata, what relatives and other acquaintance tells me who votes for the party say that thats what they want.

You don't have to scratch surface particularly hard to see statements such as Zlatan is not Swedish, or for example what leading members called Soran Ismail during the iron pipe scandal.

SD has also been very open with what kind of society they want when coming into power, they have been studying Hungary and Poland closely, countries which has openly racist policies and are defacto not democracies anymore.

"Maybe it wasn't clear in my original reply but to me it seems SD thinks the way to save the Swedish welfare state is reduced immigration." I am aware of that and its utterly, utterly hogwash. Immigration is the only way to save the welfare states all over western Europe since we face an ageing population.

"immigrants don't get jobs the taxes will have to be higher. " Perhaps some investment is needed to get immigrants up to speed.

Look, Sweden went through a very similar immigration wave in the early nineties from the balkans. Those immigrants and their decedents have mostly stayed in Sweden and have today similar levels of employment as native Swedish people. It took awhile and yes there where real issues but I have a hard time seeing that the end result is no less than an extremely positive outcome.

"In the paper Refugee immigration and public finances in Sweden by Ruist, Joakim. The cost is refugee immigration and their family members is calculated to 1 % of BNP in the year 2007."

Yes some investment is needed, it will pay dividends later. And in the short term there was a very nice correlation between gdp growth and immigrants arriving to Sweden.


> Immigration is the only way to save the welfare states all over western Europe since we face an ageing population.

What's the point of immigration in France where unemployment is ~10% and twice that for the younger generation? How _more_ immigration would be a good thing in that case?


>immigration is good for the economy as a whole

Or migrants will prefer countries which currently have robust economies, so more opportunities for them? Correlation does not imply causation.


I bet the name "SD" is no accident...


Please, enlighten us. How is it good for the economy to take in a massive influx of people who can't read even their own language? What Sweden has, is a huge population of people who's only income is from the state and that is not going to change. If GDP growth is the key to the kind of "economic growth" we want, why are we not just taking tens of millions of said people? Without the welfare state things would be different, people would actually have to be useful/productive and pay for their own lives. Too bad that is not going to happen before the system crashes.


Sweden has done it before very successfully. Also yes there is a limit on how many people you can sustainably take in. The Swedish government put on the brakes when the system couldn't handle more.


When the system cannot handle more it is already too late. And don't compare times when everyone was illiterate with today, it is not the same background and a similar outcome is not likely.


The new right in the US is also more ambivalent on the free market, though; note Trump's attempts at trade wars.


Free trade has always been the position of the elites on the US right (and left) more than the masses.


This is more true than false, but tariffs were popular with US business leaders really until a little while after the post-war period.


I either got it completely wrong or the tariffs were one of the major income sources in US before income tax was implemented.


That makes sense, but US business owners also preferred being insulated from foreign competition.


Left wing and right wing in my head has always been ivory tower speak, if one is to define left wing and right wing, one would always get distinct definitions. However if one was to rely on the right or left wings for living reasons, or for work or for any realistic situation, one would be hard-pressed to survive, thus left or right wing is only a perspective adopted by those with time as even your average hardworking white-collar investment banker has no time to play in politics.

Economics in its original state is not meant to be tainted by politics (this you can find online) as economy tainted with politics is biased and true economists dont follow party lines.


Sorry, but this is just nonsense. And it's the kind of nonsense that we are being taught to believe for a reason. 100 years ago, almost every worker, down to the most menial of labourers, did care about "left vs right". These kind of talking points that tell hardworking people they don't have to care about politics is exactly why hardworking people aren't forming unions and have been getting the shit end of the stick in society for the last few decades.

The personal is political and politics has everything to do with living conditions. It's easy for people in cushy programming jobs to pretend that politics and work are separate. But when politicians can set your minimum wage, your benefits, and other workplace conditions, it becomes an important factor that isn't just "academic".


Saying you are left wing or saying you are right wing wont get you a job is my summarization, its interesting dinner talk.

I cant directly survive on left or right wing politics unless Im a political commentator but you're right in that I'm indirectly affected. Its almost like religion, just because I'm Christian doesnt put food on my table but Christianity affects the culture and society I'm in but I have to be a programmer to actually get a job that pays.

You cant apply to jobs saying you're right wing or left wing, all in all people overestimate the 'wings' for their own life.

What I hate about modern politics is that people treat it almost like religion, and never question decisions just because its in their own party lines and to follow their party leaders.

Left wing, liberals, right wings, or conservative, these are just titles now, but can be fought like Christians and Muslims in the Crusades. Politics isnt blindly following a doctrine or a party like a religion, if people lose the ability to question their own leaders' decisions and instead just faithfully follow, what is the point of separating church from state.


I don't think politics is about party allegiances. I think politics is about caring which dynamics your society operates with and taking whatever actions you can to influence them. Many conflate this with voting for parties but that is only one way of taking action out of many. Sure, it's similar to religion in that your desired social structure depends on your adopted ideology. But, whether you think it or not, you have an ideology - you can't not have one.

My argument is that, if you don't act, you are effectively siding with the dominant ideology of the current social structure. Being comfortable with the current structure, whether or not you agree with it, is something only pretty well off people can afford to do. Most of us won't fight to end the wars and the wars won't have any impact on our lives, while many people's lives will be utterly ruined by them. Many others may not necessarily act against the structure they disagree with, even if they are not well off, but this is thanks to a culture which tends to make it impossible for them. Bringing politics into the workplace can get you fired in a lot of places, and there's a good reason why that's the case. We should not be cheering it on.

"Saying you are left wing or saying you are right wing wont get you a job"

This is usually true, but saying it can get you fired (or not hired in the first place), and this is a problem. Workers could end wars if they were political in the workplace, as they have in the past. We need to acknowledge that power and prevent it from being suppressed.


My argument is that people are fighting too much on left and right wing lines.

Saying you are left wing or right wing can now be accepted as the distinction of right and wrong, then there is no point of political discussion, as a title puts you in either the right and wrong.


When I was in Amsterdam I chatted with a guy. His job is to fly to Amsterdam and Milan, go to all the bespoke stores, buy up all their goods, and then take them to a shop which clones them for production-scale. I'd have thought the designers would be working with the producers at scale, but that's not how it works.


"Bespoke" means custom-tailored to an individual. I'm not sure if it makes sense to clone them for production-scale -- mass-produced clothing are cut to average measurements to fit as many people as possible.

Are you sure you meant bespoke?


"Bespoke" actually means more than custom-tailored; to be "bespoke", the client must have commissioned the creation of the design of an article of clothing. The usual dividing line between "bespoke" and "made-to-measure" is that in a "bespoke" process, there is more input in the design process, and there are a number of fittings of the garment (rather than just a set of measurements as in made-to measure). In the case of a shoe, a custom 'last' is generally the indicator of a "bespoke" product.


No, I guess I meant artisinal.


Film Camorra has a dialog based on this! its a must watch!


You're probably referring to Gomorra, based on a novel by Roberto Saviano - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0929425/


There is also a TV show which I honestly think is much better than the movie.


Yes, I've heard about it but never seen it. The book is just fantastic, anyone should read it to understand what's become of Italy.


Apparently if you are Chinese then you are a "worker" who "assembles" Gucci handbags but if you are Italian you are a "craftsman" who "makes" them.


so brave




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