Page 1 of 1

The cost of an Iphone

Posted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 1:43 am
by ton321
I thought i would share an article I got from reddit/poetry about a 24 year old chinese poet who worked at an Iphone factory.

On 30th Sept 2014, one day before China’s National Day, Xu Lizhi, a
worker in Foxconn’s Shenzhen Longhua factory took his own life. In doing
so, he joined18 Foxconn workers who took their own lives in 2010-2011, in
a drastic refusal of factory life and their fates as migrant workers, as well as
the many silenced Foxconn workers who have done the same since. In light
of these damning actions, Terry Gou, CEO of Taiwan-based Hon Hai
Precision Industries, which owns the Foxconn factories, conducted a series
of public relations maneuvers, including offers of humanitarian payouts to
families of dead workers coupled with some dramatic kow tows to the
No number of kow tows or corporate apologies to deceased Foxconn
workers will erase the fact that these lives were lost. Guilt and crocodile
tears do not bring them back. Tragedies of this sort will continue to happen
until society ceases to be arranged in a way that pushes people to such ends.
It is a raw fact: workers’ lives are made disposable by Foxconn and
the larger capitalist system it is a part of. Human life is quantified and
reduced to work hours and production quotas. The only thing that matters
is one’s capacity to produce for the sake of profit. Human worth, time, and
energy is congealed and encapsulated into new Apple products sold on the
market. As these commodities forge divergent paths around the world,
they wrench out traces of workers’ life energy, separated and alienated
from their bodies like an idol made sacred behind the veil of a temple. As
Xu puts it, “Even the machine is nodding off / Sealed workshops store
diseased iron / Wages concealed behind curtains.”
So when a fellow worker jumps off a building, Xu calls them a screw
that fell to the ground. A breathing warm body with inspirations, sorrows,
complexity, and potential for human emotions - and a screw. It’s a stark
comparison, but it illustrates the glaring eye of capitalist surveillance and
discipline, and its effects on human bodies. Waged, disciplined, productive
labor in the capitalist economy, so fetishized in our capitalist world, is the
marker that makes one deserving of all other great things in life, and when
one is unable or unwilling to produce on command, one is discarded as
useless. This stark reality shows its true colors in Xu’s poems -- capitalism
3rips life away from us -- diminishes who we are, captures our tears before
they can fall. It freezes us.
We are deserving of life, of joy, of fullness, of healing, of food, of
sensuality and emotion, regardless of our earning capacity, regardless of
our ability to work, or lack thereof. We are capable of being sick, of healing,
of adapting, regardless of our productive capacity. Capital does not respect
these natural rhythms of our bodies, so they register only as leaks in the
social machine, static in the cybernetic network: crazy, dysfunctional,
disabled workers; broken screws falling to the floor.
This is the daily violence masked by capitalist social relations. To
resist it is to pose the question: how can we relate to each other in ways
that cultivate these bodily capacities, refusing to treat each other as
disposable? Marx described communism as the creation of a new set of
senses, a new sensorium, which we can use to communicate with each other
and with the planet. Xu’s poems show glimpses of these senses emerging
and then being brutally ground down:

Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts
With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust
They have stomachs forged of iron
Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric
Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall
Time flows by, their heads lost in fog
Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night
In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent
Xu’s dehumanizing experiences at work force us to confront our own
experiences as well. Do we too, lose our human capacities? How does the
discipline of work cause us to subvert ourselves and take on the function of
an object, of a “screw”? How does it isolate us from the other people who
share similar conditions? How are communities fractured by gruelling
schedules, endless overtime shifts, or the ways we turn our resentment
against work into resentment against ourselves and each other?
Some may be tempted to distance themselves from these tragedies, to
view Xu’s experiences as exceptions to an otherwise benign capitalist
system. For them, Xu is just a particularly unfortunate worker, a guy who
was depressed, someone who deserves our sympathy, but not someone
whose words and life illuminate our reality. In a public statement, the
Foxconn corporation said, “No matter how hard we try, nobody can
eliminate this kind of tragic incidents.” 1 This is a phony sympathy trapped
within the confines of the emotional vocabulary that capitalism allows us to
feel. It cuts short the new sensorium that Xu desired in his poems and
could not realize in his life within the factory and dorms. It cuts short the
desire and the strength that all of us might have to actually eliminate these
tragedies. Perhaps depression and suicide will continue to be a part of the
human experience even after the end of capitalism. But the reduction of our
bodies into discarded screw is not an unavoidable timeless tragedy. It is
violence. Deliberate violence perpetrated directly against Xu and millions
of others by the capitalist system, it’s machines, and their owners.
Xu’s death is not separate, distant, or exotic. Racists might claim it is
a result of a Chinese culture which they think devalues the dignity of the
human person. Not only are they ignorant about life in China, but they are
also in denial about the realities of life here in the US. In fact, Xu’s poems
1 ... -haunting-
5should resonate deeply inside the US empire, where suicide rates climb
through the roof, where people blow out their brains in lonely rooms to
finally get some rest from the endless stress of the daily grind.
Prisons & the social factory of US society
Here in the imperial metropolis, many lives have also been made
disposable, our senses are also numbed by the suffocating, bland white
walls of the social factory, pushing down on our dignity. Even if we are not
working in Foxconn factories, we labor in various ways through urban
landscapes organized into gigantic networks of nonstop production,
distribution, and consumption. This social factory reproduces and feeds off
of our desires, it regenerates our sense of insecurity, leaving us no choice
but to plunge into paid and unpaid work as often as possible. We are kept
anxious 24/7, clocking in and out of our jobs, looking for new jobs, caring
for children and elders with limited resources and support, trying to get a
degree or certification so we can have a little more security, and generally
losing sleep. Unaffordable apartments, homeless shelters, and schools that
feel like prisons and prisons that are cages... these are the Foxconn dorms
of America -- fluorescent, incessant, noisy, occupied places where we feel
alone in the crowd.
The most extreme version of this capitalist reality exists in America’s
prisons, which are condensed microcosms of society, experiments in social
control. Slave labor and solitary confinement strip human beings of social
connection and warmth, the foundation of our being as a mammalian
species. Through this violence, potentially rebellious unemployed people
are remolded and forced to become workers again, slaving onward in fast
food restaurants and newly “insourced” low wage factories, surveilled
constantly by probation officers and the courts, told they will be
reincarcerated if they don’t accept shitty working conditions. This and the
Foxconn factories are two dimensions of the same global capitalist system.
Xu’s is a workers death -- this is clear and easy to understand because
he worked in a factory that produces the iPhones we consume. When poor
people kill themselves here in the US, the media does not describe their
deaths as “worker suicides” even though their bodies are also dropping to
the floor of the global social factory. This social factory that rips out our
desires and manipulates our needs, is also responsible for the conditions
6that lead to suicide here. Xu’s exact motivations for suicide one can never
know, but the context leading to them that breeds alienation, frustration,
isolation -- these aren't too far away from us either.
We don’t call it work-related only because work is invisibilized in the
contemporary US. This is the land where most people suffer from work
and/or unemployment, but TV and social media tell us this is temporary,
that we are on our way to becoming rich. We are told we are better than
those poor Chinese workers, better than those migrant farmworkers. Better
than the world. This thinly veiled sense of imperial superiority leaves us
blaming ourselves when we don’t make it into the so-called “middle class”.
When we suffer, we view it as a personal failure, not a product of the
capitalist system. For that reason, many of us sink into depression and
Some “middle class” activists here might ignore all of this context,
thinking that Americans’ relative privilege means we are not suffering and
that we should focus on helping poor workers like Xu rather than rebelling
in solidarity with them. This is the basis for anti-sweatshop organizing on
many college campuses. The message is one of moral shame: don’t buy
iPhones or other products made in such oppressive factories; wipe your
hands of Xu’s blood. While it’s good that people are organizing and raising
awareness, this approach is extremely limited. It views workers like Xu
only as a victims, not as writers, lovers, intellectuals, and possibly future
rebels and accomplices.
This approach also presents people here only as consumers, not as
workers along the supply chain of the global factory run by Apple, Foxconn,
and similar companies. It fails to recognize how for some workers here, our
iPhones are the very medium by which capitalism keeps us working 24/7,
scanning credit cards in a store, or responding to emails from our bosses
late at night while we’re trying to get some much needed rest.
We all have reason to want to destroy this system that is destroying
us. Instead of simply boycotting iPhones, what if we organized ourselves as
port workers, warehouse workers, retails workers in Apple stores, and
workers who use Apple products on our jobs? When Foxconn workers in
China go on strike, what if we try to generalize these strikes all along the
7supply chain, shutting down the production, distribution, and retail of Apple
This might seem far-fetched. But it becomes more imaginable when
we remember that Foxconn workers in China are not simply committing
suicide, they are also rebelling. In 2012 there were riots at another
Foxconn factory. The Chinese working class in general has been engaging
in militant strikes, occupations, riots, kidnapping of bosses, and direct
confrontation with police who protect corporate property. Keep this in
mind when you hear American trade unionists claim that Chinese workers
are stealing their jobs because they are too docile and willing to accept low
wages. In fact, they are much more militant than American unions have
been in recent years, and for that reason they are forcing the capitalists to
grant higher wages. In fact, that’s why some companies are starting to
move production back to the U.S.
When Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire in Tunisia, this sparked
the Arab Spring revolts. So far the Foxconn suicides have not sparked a
similar response in China, but they are definitely part of a simmering
discontent that the Chinese and American ruling classes seem to fear.
Perhaps that’s why translations of Xu’s poems were taken up by the Wall
Street Journal and the Washington Post. His words are a spectre haunting
the global economy.
“Revolutionary suicide”
Huey Newton, co-founder of the Black Panther Party in the US,
argued that Black people in America face the choice between reactionary
suicide and revolutionary suicide. Reactionary suicide means suicide from
a constrained life in the ghetto, fueled by the self-resentment that comes
with not fighting back against one’s oppressor. Revolutionary suicide means
really living: being willing to risk one’s life to get free, together with one’s
community. As Newton puts it,
“Revolutionary suicide does not mean that I and my comrades
have a death wish; it means just the opposite. We have such a
strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence
without them is impossible. When reactionary forces crush us, we
8must move against these forces, even at the risk of death. We will
have to be driven out with a stick.”
This summer in Ferguson, Black youth rose up in response to the
police murder of Mike Brown. Heavily militarized cops pointed rifles at
them. With the laser sights on their chests, some of these youth made it
clear they were not afraid to live, even if that means dying fighting. After all,
their only other choice is to risk being killed at some later point by a cop or
vigilante. This happens every 28 hours in the United States. The courage of
these youth has sparked a continent-wide and international movement
against the police.
The situation these youth are facing, and the situation Xu faces, are of
course very different. The Ferguson rebels face rapid murder, their very
skin color marking them as targets; Xu and his fellow workers face
anonymous, slow death through alienation, chemical poisoning, isolation,
and depression. However, the Ferguson rebels’ fearlessness and Xu’s poetic
meditations both illuminate the meaning of life and death in late capitalism.
Both express the limit experiences of a human species trying desperately
not to destroy ourselves as capitalism strains under what might become its
own fatal contradictions.
What if all of us who are made disposable under this global capitalist
system decide to dispose of the system itself? What if we affirm our lives by
risking them in a common struggle against the forces of death so powerfully
communicated in Xu’s poems?
Jomo & Mamos
Dec 2nd 2014
Seattle, USA
“On My Deathbed”
I want to take another look at the ocean, behold the vastness of tears from
half a lifetime
I want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lost
I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light
But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world
Everyone who’s heard of me
Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving
Even less should you sigh or grieve
I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.
30 September 2014
“River • Shore”
Translated by Lucas Klein, published by China Labor Bulletin
I stand by the road watching the road
a flow of pedestrians and vehicles coming and going
I stand under a tree, under a bus stop sign
watching the flow of water coming and going
the flow of blood and desire coming and going
I stand by the road watching the flow of them coming and going
on the road they watch the flow of me coming and going
they are in a river, I am on the shore
they are bare and struggling to swim as fast as they can
the sight infects me
I try to decide if I should go into the river too
to struggle with them, to clench my teeth
I try to decide, as the sun sinks beneath the hills
6 October 2013
"Rented Room"
A space of ten square meters
Cramped and damp, no sunlight all year
Here I eat, sleep, shit, and think
Cough, get headaches, grow old, get sick but still fail to die
Under the dull yellow light again I stare blankly, laughing like an idiot
I pace back and forth, singing softly, reading, writing poems
Every time I open the window or the wicker gate
I seem like a dead man
Slowly pushing open the lid of a coffin.
2 December 2013
"I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That"
The paper before my eyes fades yellow
With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black
Full of working words
Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages...
They've trained me to become docile
Don't know how to shout or rebel
How to complain or denounce
Only how to silently suffer exhaustion
When I first set foot in this place
I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month
To grant me some belated solace
For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words
Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons
Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early
By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,
How many days, how many nights
Did I - just like that - standing fall asleep?
20 August 2011
"A Screw Fell to the Ground"
A screw fell to the ground
In this dark night of overtime
Plunging vertically, lightly clinking
It won’t attract anyone’s attention
Just like last time
On a night like this
When someone plunged to the ground
9 January 2014
Translated by Lucas Klein, published by China Labor Bulletin
I see a grave, in a village in the city
for such a long, long time
I see her pink tombstone, in pink grass
a pink stream and pink cumulous clouds
I will contract a pink disease
and lie in a pink coffin
and when the lids closes softly
will stare straight at the pink sun and the pink noon sky
crying two silent, pink streams of tears
21 October 2013
“I Speak of Blood”
Translated by Lucas Klein, published by China Labor Bulletin
16I speak of blood, because I can’t help it
I’d love to talk about flowers in the breeze and the moon in the snow
I’d love to talk about imperial history, about poems in wine
But this reality only lets me speak of blood
blood from a rented room the size of a matchbox
narrow, cramped, with no sight of the sun all year
extruding working guys and girls
stray women in long-distance marriages
sichuan chaps selling mala tang
old ladies from henan manning stands
and me with eyes open all night to write a poem
after running about all day to make a living
I tell you about these people, about us
ants struggling through the swamp of life
drops of blood on the way to work
blood chased by cops or smashed by the machine
by casting off insomnia, disease, downsizes, suicide
each explosive word
in the pearl river delta, in the pit of the stomach of the country
eviscerated by an order slip slicing like a kaishaku blade
I tell you these things
even as I go mute, even as my tongue cracks
to tear open the silence of the age
to speak of blood, of the sky crumbling
I speak of blood, my mouth all crimson
17 September 2013
"The Last Graveyard"
Even the machine is nodding off
Sealed workshops store diseased iron
Wages concealed behind curtains
Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts
With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust
They have stomachs forged of iron
Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric
Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall
Time flows by, their heads lost in fog
Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night
In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent
The jig forces the skin to peel
And while it's at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloy
Some still endure, while others are taken by illness
I am dozing between them, guarding
The last graveyard of our youth.
21 December 2011
"I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron"
I swallowed a moon made of iro
They refer to it as a nail
I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents
Youth stooped at machines die before their time
I swallowed the hustle and the destitution
Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust
I can't swallow any more
All that I've swallowed is now gushing out of my throat
Unfurling on the land of my ancestors
Into a disgraceful poem.
19 December 2013
“Heart Buried by Life”
Translated by Lucas Klein, published by China Labor Bulletin
continue to bear it?
eyelids heavy as mountains
his head tries lifting in the night
tear-drenched starlight gushes down
with wind, his frail body always about to shake
moments of youth flee in annoyance
leaving behind a snowstorm, a turbulent tumult
in dreams, the flames he tastes are ice cold
and his ground-off skin a bed of cotton bolls
spread out in the winds of time
intrinsic beliefs unable to find direction
like his heart buried deeper than
the depths of the ocean by life
15 December 2011
"My Life’s Journey is Still Far from Complete"
This is something no one expected
My life’s journey
Is far from over
But now it's stalled at the halfway mark
It’s not as if similar difficulties
Didn’t exist before
But they didn’t come
As suddenly
As ferociously
Repeatedly struggle
But all is futile
I want to stand up more than anyone else
But my legs won’t cooperate
My stomach won’t cooperate
All the bones of my body won’t cooperate
I can only lie flat
In this darkness, sending out
A silent distress signal, again and again
Only to hear, again and again
The echo of desperation.
13 July 2014
They all say
I'm a child of few words
This I don't deny
But actually
Whether I speak or not
With this society I'll still
7 June 2013
"A Kind of Prophecy"
1943 年秋,鬼子进
享年 23 岁
我今年 23 岁
Elders in the village say
I resemble my grandfather in his youth
I didn’t recognize it
But listening to them time and again
Won me over
My grandfather and I share
Facial expressions
Temperaments, hobbies
Almost as if we came from the same womb
They nicknamed him “bamboo pole”
And me, “clothes hanger”
He often swallowed his feelings
I'm often obsequious
He liked guessing riddles
I like premonitions
In the autumn of 1943, the Japanese devils invaded
and burned my grandfather alive
at the age of 23.
This year I turn 23.
18 June 2013
23《惊闻 90 后青工诗人许立志坠楼有感》
"Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi's Suicide"
by Zhou Qizao (周启早), a fellow worker at Foxconn
The loss of every life
Is the passing of another me
Another screw comes loose
Another migrant worker brother jumps
You die in place of me
And I keep writing in place of you
While I do so, tightening the screws
Today is our nation's sixty-fifth birthday
The country is in joyous celebrations
A twenty-four-year-old you stands in the grey picture frame, smiling ever so
Autumn winds and autumn rain
A white-haired father, holding the black urn with your ashes, stumbles
1 October 2014
Wandering around my grandfather's small mountain town in Guizhou
province, it's not uncommon to see people missing a hand, presumably from
factory injuries while working awayfrom home. Guizhou is one of the biggest
suppliers of migrant labor to China's coastal cities, especially the Pearl River
Delta. Almost everyone has a child or relative working in Guangdong province.
Shaped by Guizhou's history of scarcity, conversation here is
materialistic, revolving around how much things cost, or how much so and so is
earning per year. Working conditions are not discussed during people's visits
home over Chinese New Year. Those who stayed behind know that dagong
conditions outside the province are tough, but not exactly how tough. I see this
in my own family - both sides are eager to avoid the gruesome details.
Sometimes locals vie to purchase the very products their relatives are slaving
away to produce.
Xu's poetry, with its simple, accessible yet captivating language, exposes
the elephant in every home. We are forced to confront the physical, emotional
and spiritual toll these jobs take on its workers. My hope is that Xu's poetry
finds an audience not just with urban Chinese and international consumers, but
also with rural families in China whose children are working in factories like
Xu's, so that we can begin a different kind of conversation.
R Luo
writing from Guiding, Guizhou, China
Even if we thought we already understood, these poems have the power
to shock us and force us close to the deadening work and world of that Foxconn
factory. With the simplest of words, without lecture or rant, the poet calmly
brings us to stand next to him at the workstation, almost as if he continues to
work and keeps his eyes on his hands as he answers our questions. Without
raging, he expresses rage. He seems to discover his words and images at the
same moment we do. Even in translation, the words and images make us feel
how a system can make life seem not so different from death.
Ed Mast
Seattle, USA
Borrowed from the philosophy of mind, specifically critiques of
Cartesian conceptions of mind-body duality, the idea of the “ghost in the
machine” has taken on new and changing forms of cultural resonance since
its introduction in the post war period. Originally the phrase was intended
as a diss of Descartes philosophy of mind as a kind of occultist ephemera, a
hazy notion of cognition somehow separate from the “mechanical” –
biological and chemical – functions of the brain. The idea grew from a
materialist determinism of the scientific community in the height of the
post-war triumph of capitalism, and drew on a scientific and rationalist
worldview that had long animated the industrial revolution, and industrial
capital. Belief in ghosts, a human mind, and human affections, outside the
machine, industry and the body, was a kind of backward superstition.
Of course in reality, the body, materialism and industrial capital have
plenty of ghosts. In Marx’s theory of alienation, the animating spirit of
human labor, a defining characteristic at the heart of the “essence of the
species”, was removed from working people through the mechanization of
production, and more importantly, the loss of control and ownership of the
materials of production and human creative activity. Humans, workers,
under industrial capital, lost the ability to control their labor, and their lives;
they became alienated from their products, their labor, and themselves.
People became a kind of living accessory to the machine, ghosts that haunt
the process of production and capital formation itself. In his more poetic
moments, Marx extended the metaphor, calling capital a kind of “living
machine” that derives its animating spirit from the ghosts of labor, from the
histories and generations of “dead labor” it sucks and destroys, “vampire-
like” in its quest for further profit.
That process continues today, all the more harshly and dramatically
in the industrial landscapes of southern coastal China, places like Shenzhen.
Here, Xu Lizhi’s life and poetry are embedded in these processes, a
testament to the resilience and obstinacy of the human ghost caught in the
heat of the inhuman machine. When Xu writes of the “young workers” for
whom “industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall,” he
indelibly marks for us the clarity of it all – the dehumanization, alienation,
26loss of control, of one’s life and even one’s affections, in Foxconn, and other
sites of world profit making.
But his poetry does something more. It demands of us a reevaluation
of the very materialist conceptions of history from which his, and our,
world springs. His “disgraceful poems” push out to us a corporeal person,
now a ghost - living, plunging, and falling asleep, in the deadly and
deadening machine of the current information economy; his work a
humanist affront to the dead economism of the materialist framework.
Of course, the overwhelming tragedy of his work is his suicide. Xu,
now a ghost, cannot give us more. His words are silenced, his future
insights erased, “before they have a chance to fall.” But there is joy here too,
a joy found in resistance, in the assertion of the human. Xu joins the ranks
of countless workers lost to capital – the ghosts of the Triangle Shirtwaist
fire, the Homestead rebellion, the Haymarket martyrs, the Foxconn suicides
– whose stories and lives, their very humanness, stand in contrast and
resistance to the machine of capital. Echoes of past recriminations of capital
could not be more present. To paraphrase August Spies, a Haymarket
martyr, the power of their voices are made all the more resonant through
their silencing at the hands of the state. They stand to tell us that if given to
this machine, all that is left are the ghosts. Xu seemed to understand this
too; marking his legacy as one of resistance. In his words “Whether I speak
or not / With this society I’ll still / Conflict.” Xu Lizhi, his life and life’s work,
are now given over to this great silence in the graveyard of the machine; he,
and those like him, are the specter that forever haunts capital. For a poet
there can be no greater achievement.
M Reagan
Seattle, USA