Garment industry favouring foreign contracts
It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops in downtown Montreal and Toronto in the 1930s. But as the Depression wore on, clothing manufacturers began to exploit workers in what were already deplorable conditions. Female immigrants sweated in dimly lit factories, working up to 70 hours a week. A large group of textile workers decided to speak out. Their courage helped improve conditions in post-Second World War garment shops, until the introduction of free trade and a recession decades later.
In this CBC clip, manager Paul Bovie explains why he thinks the foreign trend "will eventually turn around."
• In 1989, Bovie lost one of their Kimberly-Clark contracts because the company began switching operations to Mexico. The contract was worth $1.5 million.
• Kimberly-Clark took the contract to Mexico's Maquiladora free trade zone where, in 1989, workers were paid 40 cents an hour, and worked without workers' safety regulations.
• Kimberly-Clark said its Mexican labour contract had nothing to do with the company discontinuing the Bovie contract. Bovie couldn't "meet our requirements in terms of volume, quality, costs, the whole works," Kimberly-Clark said.
• The Toronto Star reported in 1989 that a company called Bottom Lines Technologies was set up in Toronto to help companies relocate to the "Maquiladora free trade zone."
• A company advertisement said the zone had a "highly skilled, low-cost labour reservoir." The company guaranteed discreet help moving operations south.
• In the 1960s, American companies set up the Maquiladora zone on the Mexican side of the border. The mostly female workforce, manufacturing everything from clothing to luxury automobiles, was paid only five per cent of what U.S. workers made on average.
• Employees at Bovie attributed the loss of jobs to free trade. Union leaders were hesitant to make the same correlation. In another Toronto Star article, a representative of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers said he could not assume the connection.
• When workers at the Bovie plant threatened to strike in 1989, manager Paul Bovie came back with a letter that read: "The Mexicans are waiting … Your strike vote last night means as soon as you go out, the Mexicans will get your jobs immediately."
• NDP trade critic Dave Barrett waved the letter around in the House of Commons, accusing Liberal Trade Minister John Crosbie of being "out of touch" with workers.
• In 2004, Bovie Manufacturing was still in business in Lindsay, Ont., employing 15 employees. Paul Bovie continued to manage the scaled-back operation.
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: June 14, 1989
Guest(s): Paul Bovie
Reporter: Brenda Craig
Last updated: February 27, 2012
Page consulted on December 6, 2013
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It was known as the rag trade: a vibrant "patchwork" of textile shops ...