Posts tagged with labor

Klong Toey Market

Klong Toey market is a sprawling way station for something like half of the produce that reaches Bangkok’s restaurants every day, and no small amount of its meat and home goods either. Industrial-sized clear garbage bags full of limes are tossed from the backs of trucks, palettes of morning glory and parsley block the footpath, and whole pigs dangle freshly- Read the rest of this entry »

In Bangkok these past few months, everyday labor hasn’t missed a beat. Observing from afar, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole city shut down, as many malls, offices, and hotels indeed did. But actually, most workplaces kept up regular operations.

This was especially true for the networks of small-scale industrial/manufacturing labor situated on back streets, away from the main traffic arteries. These networks are vast and often informal, but they provide vital services for a big city and employ many people. Some businesses are run out of storefront machine shops, while others use little more than a patch of sidewalk. We’re talking small engine repair, recycling collection, welding, wire-stripping, and the like.

This montage includes five examples of the sounds of urban labor in a tense time. Each is about one minute; follow the annotations below as you listen.

0:00 – 1:07 A recycling facility on a large side street supports many young men in the neighborhood, who gather paper, cardboard, and plastic bottles from nearby buildings and bring them in for 2 baht per kilogram. Here, two men crush cans and stuff them into big clear bags, which they load onto a cart.

1:08 – 2:01 In the United States, ice cream trucks are just about the only mobile sonic advertisements we have. In Thailand, there’s a greater variety, including fruit trucks with speakers tied to the top, so the driver can call out that day’s price for mangosteens and lychees. In this recording, a mobile broom-and-bucket-shop plays its jingle again and again. Sonic ads for all kinds of businesses are more tolerated here, for whatever reason.

2:02 – 3:08 A welder fixes up a door. This neighborhood is a mixture of large, modern houses, international schools, and blue-collar family homes. Many of the blue-collar workers do construction work for their wealthier neighbors.

3:09 – 3:50 A pair of young men hammer thin metal poles into shape for use in construction.

3:51 – 5:45 Some of the more established shops supply parts for larger industries, including automobile manufacturing. Since most of the cars built in Thailand will be exported to other countries, these small shops are closely connected to global trade. As you can hear an example of from about five minutes onward, news reports were often the soundtrack to these shops in April and May.

Putting sound in the workplace is a two-edged sword; it inspires efficiency, but also, at times, insurrection. Cuban cigar factories have a centuries-old tradition of employing readers, who sit at the front of the factory room announcing their way through a stack of printed matter, to entertain the labor force.

Cigar Factory Reader

The practice continues today. A BBC piece from last week describes how the readings, the content of which includes the newspaper, self-help books, modern novels, and classics, “help[s] workers pass away the day.” The repetition of the job makes it easy to concentrate on other information and, in turn, alleviates boredom with the original task. (Which, as you might imagine, can be immense.)

The factory owner is arguably the main beneficiary of the reader’s work, since he’ll end up with more cigars to sell. For their part, the workers are – for both better and worse – mentally shielded from their shitty jobs.

But the segment also suggests an educational benefit. Cigar factory employees often have little or no contact with literature elsewhere in their lives, so the readings offer them access to useful information about the world. What the report doesn’t mention is that reading to laborers was an idea originally organized in prisons. The modern tradition of factory reading stems directly from that history. From the Cuban Heritage Collection:

In 1861 activist and intellectual Nicolás Azcárate proposed reading to prisoners in jail as part of their rehabilitation. His idea was implemented and, since many prisoners rolled cigars to earn wages, a direct link to the cigar industry was established. The wages, received by prisoners at the end of their terms, were managed in the meantime by the prison administrators and used in part to replenish the book fund.

This is liberalism in a classic sense. But education had effects beyond rehabilitation:

Factory readings became popular, attracting passersby who stopped to listen outside. Several newspapers dedicated articles to the subject and published reading lists. But the custom also had detractors who claimed it encouraged revolutionary ideas. They were not entirely wrong: tobacco workers became the best informed working sector and vital in the fight for independence, both inside Cuba and in Tampa, where they organized in support of the Independence movement.

What other stories about sound and labor are you aware of?

Thanks to ST for the original link.

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