“You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country”
— Donald Trump
“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt”
— Colin Kaepernick
“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.
— Malcolm X
Nike’s catchphrase “Just Do It” was inspired by murderer Gary Gilmore’s famous last words. Nike has been a bloodbath ever since. In the 1990s, there was real pressure on Nike to change their nightmarish working conditions. Those were the days when we cared about slavery. Nike cleaned up its image and not much else. Since then they have been peddling apparel without consequence, save a few brave protestors.
Nike appeared to have changed its course to some degree, but recent findings tell a different story. in 2016 Nike denied the Worker Rights Consortium access to 690 supplier factories says labornotes.org. The 2018 documentary Behind The Swoosh details the sickening conditions. Piled together in cement boxes infested with rats, surrounded by sewers, workers tried to survive on 1.25$ a day. Jim Keady, former coach of St. John’s soccer, says he lost 25 pounds working in Indonesia on Nike’s wages.
Workers end up working overtime to compensate, never seeing their children. These children soon go into sweatshops at a young age themselves. The full cycle hits in Behind The Swoosh when we see the piles of Nike shoes brought from overseas and dumped for burning. The toxins burned in these shoes give the children cancer.
Resistance (I hesitate to even use that word anymore) to Nike is handled by the mafia bosses, according to the documentary. When Keady and Leslie Kretzu tried to get near a Nike factory they were surrounded by security. They then were followed by factory security, who were highly linked to the local mafia. Keady and Kretzu met with a local organizer Dita Sari who was put in prison and tortured for her union organizing.
There is no way to describe Nike’s working conditions other than modern day slavery.Workers work all day, breaking their backs and numbing their fingers. Some figures estimates that 250 million children under 15 work in sweatshops today. If one tries to organize, they are silenced with force. One has to wonder what is greater, the hunger or the hopelessness?
In the age of climate change, water evaporates and heat is extreme. Workers in sweatshops can work for 100 hours a week. Sometimes one can’t sleep for days. This never makes the news. Meanwhile Americans buy and buy. Materialism is the undiagnosed disease that uproots our souls and replaces them with possessions. Achieving material gains and rising in social status eclipses any capacity for empathy we have for the unseen.
Nike is not alone. The clothing, shoes and retail industry is amongst the most brutal in the world. They primarily target poor girls to do their bidding. Workers face tremendous amounts of abuse and wage theft and have little power to stop it. These industries are amongst the most environmentally heinous as well. From animal skin to fossil fuel to coal to waste to dangerous chemicals, the shoe industry wreaks havoc. The United States alone bought nearly seven pairs of shoes a person in 2016. What a ridiculous society we live in! We buy our way into extinction, keeping our fellow humans in slavery through the process.
Like war, slavery has become so normalized it is barely a story anymore. We (this author sadly included) are most likely to think of slavery when it intersects when one of our rich and famous household names in the endless petty culture wars that postures as American politics. Colin Kaepernick may be my second favorite spokesperson for Nike (after the greatest athlete of all time, Serena Williams). Yet one has to be disappointed in Kaepernick’s latest ad campaign for Nike.
While Nike workers make a dollar a day, Kaepernick is raking in millions for his endorsement deal. Kaepernick has exposed police violence at home but the war on the working class remains invisible. As soon as supporting the man became trendy, the slaveholder Nike touted him as inspirational. The brand became taking a stand (or a knee). But who will take a stand against the liberal slavery industrial complex?
It is possible to have a left critique of Black Lives Matter, a movement Kaepernick is often linked with. Bruce Dixon writes it better than I can here. I’ll just say it is hard to imagine Malcolm X appearing in a Nike ad. Malcolm X would surely link police violence at home with slave labor and imperialist violence abroad. Above all, Malcolm was a curious and open-minded internationalist. In the age of Trump an uncompromising working class figure like Malcolm has never been more necessary. A giant like Malcolm reminds us that there was a time when souls mattered more than soles.
The liberal resistance was once again blind to real world politics in the age of Trump-like sensationalism. How many fools pledged their support for this organization that has more buried more harassments than #MeToo has even brought to light? How many suckers concerned about Barack Obama’s legacy turned away from brown children who are starving, enslaved and infested with cancer? How many people complaining about ignorant climate deniers went ahead and endorsed an environmental disgrace? The outpouring of support for Nike was just as sick as the John McCain procession just a week earlier. Could no one see through the liberal propaganda that offered trendy symbolism with one hand and slave labor on the other?
Heroes are hard to come by in the age of Trump, and one can see why people are tempted to tip their caps to Kap. The paranoia that the ex-NFL star inspires in Mr. Trump and his rabid supporters is impressive. They hilariously began burning their Nikes after Kaepernick appeared in a commercial for Nike. Note that Nike’s slave labor and environmental destruction did not move these people an inch.
Now what exactly will these Trump supporters be thinking of Nike? Are they just another globalist institution pedaling transgenderism, science and vaccines for all? Is Nike on the wrong side of the Qanon wars? Perhaps they were upset by the fact that Nike’s sweatshops contained more female workers than male workers, surely believing that the abuse by their bosses was consensual, their courage to stand up to them a witch hunt, and the lack of male workers a serious plot in the campaign to castrate all men vis-a-vis the lasers on Hillary’s pantsuit? Or perhaps it was the multiculturalism poured into each shoe by this equal opportunity employer who mysteriously ran most of its shady business out of black and brown countries? Why do they make you take off your shoes at airport security anyways? Is it because the shoes are Muslim?
Where does one start with the layers of contradiction? The anger against products made in China only comes when a “veteran-killing terrorist”a.k.a. an educated black man is endorsed by Nike. Does burning the Nike shoe, made in China, constitute less of a crime than burning an American flag, made in China? How about burning a MAGA hat, made in China? What kind of snob are you if you don’t give a hoot about child slavery and only become concerned with “elitism” after your least favorite football player appears in a commercial? Who burns their 120$ shoes as a protest against elitism anyways? Across the world, burning these shoes isn’t cool, it’s cancer inducing.
Those looking to explain away Trumpism through a backlash against globalism, elitism, liberalism, etc. may be on to something. But when Trump targets globalism he targets diversity, not slave labor. When Trump targets elitism he targets education and free thinking, not the 1%. When Trump targets liberalism, he is not taking on the Democrats from the left, he is challenging the notion of a pluralistic multiethnic society with women as equal citizens.
Perhaps once and for all Trumpism can be exposed for what is truly is. A movement whose only depth is the return of the white male ethos and whose only breadth is a coalition amongst the most angry, privileged and reactionary characters in today’s grim political landscape.
Trump and his fans once again whine about something legitimate, but for all the wrong reasons. They stumble upon the reality of the world only when it touches their fragile egos. They remain too ignorant and self-absorbed to know about anything else. Then again we all allow and endorse slavery from companies like Nike everyday, no matter who is in power.
For a moment let us dwell on the fact that a real, devastating, and hopeless pain is upon our sisters and brothers in sweatshops across the world. Are we this numb to the world’s most cruel condition of slave labor? The left may want to blame this all on capitalism, the liberals may want to blame this all on fascism and the Trumpettes may want to blame this all on liberalism. Above all we should agree that slavery in all forms is a cruel and unnecessary condition and that stopping it is urgent. So the next time one buys their shoes, just avoid a sweatshop. It’s not that hard. Here are some options to start. Many more options are available online or locally.
Boycott Nike. Just Do It.