Working well into the night, and long past their usual quitting-time of Right About Now, a group of human beings working at a factory in a Vietnamese free-economic-zone bent to the task of making free shirts. “Remember,” their foreman had told them at the beginning of their long shift, the unpleasant man screaming at the top of his lungs so as to be heard over the cacophony made by the running looms. “These #7 through #16 upper-body garments will be given out free-of-charge to persons attending the Global Summit of Capitalistic Inequality in Dubai, next month, so they must be made well, and quickly!” The workers – mostly women belonging to an underprivileged ethnic group who were working for mere pennies an-hour – shared secret and contemptuous looks with one another before hurrying to their posts within the cavernous production-hall, some of them risking health and safety to access hard-to-reach portions of their respective machines. In an attempt to live up to the quality-control demands of their corporate slave-masters, the women produced the required quantities of shirts in just under the amount of time allotted for their task, which prompted further screaming and abuse from the foreman, who accused them of trying to pad their paychecks by lolly-gagging, and dragging their feet.
After walking in single file out of the factory under the watchful gaze of a pair of security guards who executed random searches of their persons and lunch containers, the women all but ran to the gates leading to the road outside. Waiting dejectedly in the rain for a shuttle to take them back to the outskirts of the slum where they lived (unaccompanied workers are prohibited from walking through, or existing in, the free-economic-zone), the women sang songs and told stories of their tribes' long-lost glory days as behind them a different group of underpaid workers loaded the free shirts into trucks for transport to a nearby seaport. “Someone mentioned that these were free garments,” said Humei Hong, a local truck-driver, as he was doing a voluntary inspection-walk around his leased rig. “I don't know for whom they are free, though, since they're not free for us – the last time I asked if I could have one for free, I couldn't find work for six months.”
Later that year, at the Inequality in Capitalism summit in Dubai, the shirts were indeed given out free-of-charge, mostly to corpulent rich people with lightly-toned skin arriving on tax-payer-funded corporate jets, who wore them for but a single day before tossing them in the trash.
(p.s. TANSTAAFL – There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)
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