Guitar Sweatshops

via Another Line of Flight

Musicians usually show up at rallies to protest labour rights but it is very rare for that protest to be at a guitar show! If you own a Cort, Fender, or Ibanez guitar you will want to read about labour relations at their Korean factory.

Embarrassingly, I have never thought about labour conditions in Asian guitar factories. I reflected a little on this after hearing about this action. I think I can boil it down to a blind-spot: because it is music, there couldn’t be anything truly negative surrounding it” I mean guitar making, what could be more pure a pursuit than that? But of course there are always material conditions associated with the creation of things, and thus why should large scale industrialised guitar making be any different than shoes? I own one custom made instrument, I know the maker personally, and I saw the guitar emerge from pieces of raw lumber to become the instrument I now play. I also own an excellent Korean made guitar, a G&L “Tribute” Series. I have now learned that this guitar was very likely manufactured in a Cort facility, I now find this embarrassing. I also now have to question all of the other guitar accessories I own. One thing is for sure, I can use the guitar as an entry point into discussions of labour conditions in guitar factories, commodity fetishism, ideology, and labour more generally — as I pull it out of the case, or if someone remarks on it, for example. In this way, perhaps the workers can speak through the instrument? I dunno.

There has always been a highly racialised discourse about the supposed superior quality of American made instruments over their Asian made counterparts. This is part of a far reaching discourse that characterises the American labourer as a craftsperson, working with his/her hands to extract a beautiful instrument from a block of carefully chosen wood. This is contrasted with the common perception (and realistic) of the Asian factory, with all its attendant “Toyotaisation” (just in time shipping, hyper-Taylorist factory organisation, etc.), and the suggestion that it is impossible for anything truly beautiful to come from such a technologically sophisticated organisational paradigm. Perhaps this perception of the Asian factory has aided in dehumanising the labour process. But it turns out that there are still actual people at the end of that line, working to bring instruments to aspiring and accomplished musicians alike. We need to think beyond the commodity fetish and acknowledge the chain of events and human actions that bring us our products, perhaps we need to do this even more so for things like instruments, to which we attach such mythologies of purity and beauty that further mystify the material conditions of their makers.

What you can do:

Posted in Music, Politics, Rant and tagged , , , , .