Our dad could kick YouTube’s dad’s ass.
By Charles Kernaghan
[This is an excerpt from the introduction
and executive summary of a report released by the National Labor
Committee in February 2009, High Tech Misery in China: The Dehumanization of Young Workers Producing Our Computer Keyboards. Click here to download the full report in PDF format.]
“I think it’s fair to say
that personal computers have become the most empowering tools we’ve
ever created. They’re tools of communication, they’re tools of
creativity, and they can be shaped by their user…The Internet is
becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” — Bill Gates
“We feel like we are serving prison sentences.” — factory worker making Microsoft keyboards
Workers sit on hard wooden stools
without backrests 12 hours a day racing to complete 500 keyboards an
hour. Each worker will complete 35,750 operations a day.
The new assembly line: Making computer keyboards and other peripherals for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Microsoft and IBM
The workers sit on wooden stools, without
backrests, as 500 computer keyboards an hour move down the assembly
line, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with just two days off a
Every 7.2 seconds a keyboard passes each worker, who has to snap six or seven keys into place—one key every 1.1 seconds.
The assembly line never stops. The
workplace is frantic, monotonous, numbing and relentless. Each worker
inserts 3250 keys an hour; 35,750 keys during the official 11-hour
shift; 250,250 a week, performing over one million operations a month.
Workers are paid 1/50th of a cent for each operation they complete.
Of the 2000 or so workers at the Meitai factory, the majority are young women, ranging in age from 18 to their mid-twenties.
While working, the women cannot talk,
listen to music, or even lift their heads to look around. Workers are
ordered to “periodically trim their nails” — to facilitate work, or be
fined. Workers needing to use the bathroom must learn to hold it until
there is a break. Security guards spy on the workers, who are
prohibited from putting their hands in their pockets and are searched
when they enter and leave the factory.
The factory operates 24 hours a day on two
12-hour shifts, with the workers rotating between day and night shifts
each month. The workers are at the factory for up to 87 hours a week,
and all overtime is strictly mandatory. There are just two half-hour
meal breaks per shift, but after racing to the cafeteria and queueing
up to get food, the workers have only about 15 minutes to eat.
The base wage is 64 [US] cents an hour,
which after deductions for primitive room and board drops down to a
take-home wage of just 41 cents an hour.
There is also mandatory unpaid overtime to
clean the factory and dorms. At the end of a shift, workers must stand
at attention as the foreman reviews the day’s work and what
improvements must be made.
The workers get up around 6.00 am When
they return to their dorm, sometime between 9.00 and 9.30 pm — they
bathe using a small plastic bucket. Summer temperatures routinely reach
into the high 90sF. During the winter, workers have to walk down
several flights of stairs to fetch hot water in their buckets. Ten to
twelve workers share each overcrowded dorm room, sleeping on narrow
metal bunk beds that line the walls. Workers drape old sheets over
their cubicle openings for privacy.
If a worker steps on the grass on the way
to the dorm, she is fined. The workers are locked in the factory
compound four days a week and are prohibited from even taking a walk.
Management tries to brainwash the young
workers, telling them they “… must love the company like their home…”
and that “to serve society, each worker must be devoted to their duty …
continuously striving for perfection…” and “developing good personal
work habits”. These good workers also have to spy on each other for “…
employees should actively monitor each other”. Communism in China has
come a long way as the young workers at the Meitai factory are taught
that “economising on capital … is the most basic requirement of factory
Workers who hand out flyers or discuss
factory conditions with outsiders will be fired. Many young workers
have never heard the word “union” and have no idea what one is.
All the workers know is that they all “feel like we are serving prison sentences”.
God help us if the labour-management
relations being developed in China becomes the new low standard to be
accepted by the rest of the world. The $200 personal computer and the
$22.99 keyboard may be seen as a great bargain, but in the long run
they come at a terrible cost.
A good question is: Would you want your
daughter to work in this factory? Corporations attempt to dumb down
every job so they can slash wages and benefits. If workers oppose this
and try to fight back, the work is outsourced. The result is a race to
the bottom, where workers are pitted against one another to compete
over who will accept the lowest wages, the least benefits and most
miserable working and living conditions. There are no winners in this
“I feel like I’m serving a prison sentence…”
“The factory is forever pressing down
on our heads and will not tolerate even the tiniest mistake. When
working, we work continuously. When we eat, we have to eat with
lightning speed. When I need to go to the bathroom, I have to try my
hardest to control myself, to hold it in and not go. The security
guards are like policemen watching over prisoners. We’re really
livestock and shouldn’t be called workers.
“Even when you get off your shift,
there is no freedom. Even such simple pleasures as taking a walk or
strolling down the street are closely managed by the factory.”
Meitai worker #1
``My hands are moving constantly…”
“Every day I enter the factory and I
assemble keyboards. My hands are moving constantly and I can’t stop for
a second. Our fingers, hands and arms are swollen and sore. Every day I
do this for 12 hours. What makes it even worse is the constant pressure
and boring monotony of the work.”
Meitai worker #2
“We are not human…”
“Working like this every day I don’t
see how we are any different from machines. Management treats us so
harshly; it is like we are not human. They don’t see us as people. They
treat us like tools. The factory has to pay money to purchase the
machines, but they don’t have to spend money on us.”
Meitai worker #3
“We have to beg the boss for mercy…”
“The factory rules are really like a
private law. We are forced to obey and endure management’s harsh
treatment. Some young workers have boyfriends and girlfriends outside
the factory and if they want to go on a date, we have to beg the boss
for mercy to be able to leave the factory compound.”