Still Sweatshop Free and Made in the USA: American Apparel

Our favorite made in America garment enterprise and the Canadian immigrant and CEO Dov Charney have made a fantastic comeback

By Javier Rodriguez, La Rayuela de Javier
Published on LatinoLA: June 7, 2012

Still Sweatshop Free and Made in the USA: American Apparel

Originally published at: La Rayuela de Javier

To all family and friends, American Apparel is a stone rebel company, with a liberal/progressive outlook, an aggressive pro-immigrant and pro-immigration reform corporation which made enemies under the George W. Bush presidency and ICE began a clearly political EVerify investigation of the worforce in early 2008.

But ironically the job was finished by the right wing government institution - ICE, in 2009 under the Barack Obama administration and the company was forced to dismiss 1,800 highly experienced employees. The principal ICE victims were the workers, driving them and their families into poverty and insecurity.

Of course, the ICE move was politically charged. I would say it was an ultra right wing pay back against Charney. Why? Because of its open activist participation in the immigrant rights movement and the mega marches since 2001 and the closing down of all the factories in support of the Great American Boycott/ A Day Without an Immigrant on May 1st 2006. ICE intentions had been made public around March 2008.

Upon the huge loss, the company then began a desperate campaign to replace the workers, and as a recent LA Times article points out, production was significantly set back.

I was there throughout 2008 and for that year's May Day march we actually had three mobilizations by the March 25 Coalition, MIWON and American Apparel. All three converged on Broadway and staged one unified political and cultural program at the ending point on 1st and Broadway. The unified approach moved approximately 40,000 people, and as always, since March 25, 2006, American Apparel had the largest single contingent made up of thousands of workers.

2008 was also an intense political year and the hope was Barack Obama and the promise of Change. My brother Jorge and I were in close contact with the CEO Dov Charney and the threat of a raid or the loss of their jobs on the mostly Latino work force on 7th and Alameda was torturous.

Around August of the same year, Jorge and I made a proposal which contained an aggressive political strategy, which we believed would effectively forced ICE to retreat. We began to implement it, but after the fourth media event which brought Mayor Villaraigosa to visit American Apparel and partake in a press conference at the factory employee lobby, the heat began to rise.

Then unfortunately out of left field, a move to "destroy the village in order to save it entered the picture." The company's Attorney Peter Schey and a well-known activist got to the CEO's ear and advised him to "stay away from the radical March 25 Coalition." The campaign was abruptly put to a halt on the eve of an already publicized American Apparel visit by 15 National Lawyers Guild attorneys, which the always radical Atty. Cynthia Anderson-Barker and the LA NLG chapter had organized in support of the campaign.

Regardless, it is now obvious that our favorite Made in American garment enterprise - who offers its workers a whole team of inside the plant masseurs, subsidized meals and a medical clinic - and the Canadian immigrant and CEO Dov Charney have made a fantastic comeback. This, despite the brutal EVerify ICE raid in the first year of the Obama administration which Charney coined as a clear betrayal by the president of change.

The full story of this chapter with the political strategy is highly fascinating and its broader political context and narrative will be included soon, hopefully in the book, if I ever finish it.

Lastly two more points:

1) Allow me to include publicly for a second time the following detail: the rebel company contributed 25 boxes of Legalize LA TShirts, pants, shorts and bikini panties, approximately $30,000 value that was part of the truck convoy with 10 tons of humanitarian aid that was taken at the beginning of March this year, to the Tarahumara Indians in the Sierra of Chihuahua.

2) If Charney does make a move to open plants in other countries I will throw my hat in the ring for Mexico City. With 24 million people, it has been successfully governed by consecutive progressive left of center administrations and even with a five year war that has left close to 60,000 dead, I believe the second largest city in the planet, is now considered the safest city in Mexico with a fantastic first class subway built for and used the millions of working and middle class Mexicans and students of all levels. I was just there for two months and used it every day and the rides are incredibly fast, with no gang graffiti but lots of subway irregular street vendors.


About Javier Rodriguez, La Rayuela de Javier:
Javier Rodriguez is a long time activist in LA's social movement, particularly Latino politics, has been active in the field of immigrant rights since 1971, an independent journalist and a media and political strategist.
Author's website

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