The Song of the Shirt

Cheap Clothes Across Continents and Centuries

By Jeremy Seabrook  

Paperback $27.95

Labour in Bangladesh flows like its rivers—in excess of what is required. Often, both take a huge toll. Labour that costs $1.66 an hour in China and 52 cents in India can be had for a song in Bangladesh — 18 cents. It is mostly women and children working in fragile, flammable buildings who bring in 70 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange. Bangladesh today does not clothe the nakedness of the world, but provides it with limitless cheap garments — through Primark, Walmart, Benetton, Gap.

In elegiac prose, Jeremy Seabrook dwells upon the disproportionate sacrifices demanded by the manufacture of such throwaway items as baseball caps. He shows us how Bengal and Lancashire offer mirror images of impoverishment and affluence. In the eighteenth century, the people of Bengal were dispossessed of ancient skills and the workers of Lancashire forced into labour settlements. In a ghostly replay of traffic in the other direction, the decline of the British textile industry coincided with Bangladesh becoming one of the world’s major clothing exporters. With capital becoming more protean than ever, it wouldn’t be long before the global imperium readies to shift its sites of exploitation in its nomadic cultivation of profit.

‘The sweat and blood of Bangladeshi garment workers is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives. Seabrook, as he always has, delivers a brilliantly written jeremiad with an urgent moral message.”

— Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

  • Labour & Unions
  • ISBN: 9781552667675
  • $27.95
  • April 2015
  • 288 Pages
  • For sale in Canada

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Reviews

  • For half a century, in one delicately textured study after another, Seabrook has established himself as perhaps Britain’s finest anatomist of class, deindustrialisation, migration and the spiritual consequences of neoliberalism. The Song of the Shirt may well be his masterpiece.

    — The Guardian (full review)

Contents

  • Preface
  • Fire
  • Barisal
  • Dhaka
  • Murshidabad
  • Kolkata
  • Industrialism
  • Bibliography

Authors

  • Jeremy Seabrook

    Jeremy Seabrook was born in Northampton, England in 1939. Early on in his career, he was both a teacher and a social worker. During this time he was also a lecturer for the Workers’ Educational Association and the Working Men’s College. He became an associate honorary fellow at the University of Bradford’s Department of Peace Studies 1995 to 1998 and an associate at the Institute of Race Relations, UK, from 2004 onwards. He has made several documentaries for BBC radio and TV on social, environmental and developmental issues. Since 1963, Seabrook has written for publications including: New Society, the Guardian, the Times, the Independent, New Statesman, New Internationalist, Race and Class, Third World Resurgence, Third World Network and others. He has written over 40 books, including; Travels in the Skin Trade-looking at the psychology of western men who travel to southeast Asia for sexual adventures, and A World Growing Old-the implications of an ageing population, north and south. He is currently contributing a monthly column for the New Internationalist website; and preparing a new book The End of the Provinces-on the ways in which global metropolitan culture affects regional identities. He is also writing a book on how the evangelising project of the west has mutated, becoming an ostensibly materialist economistic ideology.