Hello! My name is Michael Christie and I am The Ruggist.
Welcome to Monologue. Short, concise, micro-pod-casts in which I share my opinions and thoughts about myriad topics as they relate to and intersect with the trade of handknotted and handmade rugs and carpets.
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Monologue – Episode 4 – Labour Day
Ahhh. Labour Day. No, not the one celebrated by the majority of world’s population on the first of May, rather the one almost obstinately observed in air quotes by Canada and the United States, in addition to Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, though I cannot speak to the latter’s observation habits. Perhaps you hear the disdain in my voice in reference to the word ‘observed’ for as much as the holiday is intended to celebrate and honour labour – the term we use to describe work we tend not to want to do ourselves – it remains, at least here in Canada and the United States, a day of rest primarily for those so privileged to enjoy leisure at the expense of those whose labour we should truly be celebrating.
Like the obnoxiously tone deaf person who, while patronizing a business on Labour Day, says ‘It’s a shame they make you work today,’ while not realizing they are, in fact, the shameful they, we collectively fail daily to take pause and celebrate the labour upon which society and civilization is built.
In the 2017 film, Blade Runner 2049, the character of Niander Wallace as played by Jared Leto says…
“Every leap of civilization was built on the back of a disposable workforce…”Niander Wallace, Blade Runner 2049
It is this truth, apparent to anyone who genuinely studies history without prejudice, which inspires me in the work of connecting carpetry to consumer; to bring into vivid technicolour clarity the reality of our exploitive treatment of labour – as a function of capitalism itself, not out of malignant intent – so as to hopefully foster change. I believe the less abstract we treat labour, the more tangible and relatable we make it, the more we will not only appreciate it intellectually, but also more equitably treat those we at one time not so long ago called ‘essential.’ It is lofty thinking at odds with our aspirational capitalistic consumerist ways.
Returning to May Day and a proper celebration of workers’ rights, this year I shared an infographic showing the percentage of end-consumer sales price which goes to the labour of weaving for an 8×10, approximately $10,000 (USD) carpet. It is five percent (5%), or about $500, split between three weavers. I likewise highlighted various other percentages, most notably calling out how much of the price goes to distribution instead of manufacture – eighty-one percent (81%). Many people whose livelihoods are built upon said distribution unsurprisingly protested, specifically commenting that I did not account for their overhead, which I concede has cost.
But these people miss the point of my observation as well as that of May Day and I presume, Labour Day itself; perhaps intentionally so, for entrenched modes of thinking are difficult to dislodge.
Speaking specifically to carpetry in Nepal, where minimum wage is intended to lift people from poverty and is regularly adjusted with the economy – umm, hello North America. How progressive are you really? – wages for weaving are higher than other handknotted carpet producing countries. This is fact. It is also fact that this has created, due to an antiquated distribution model bordering on colonial in nature, very-high consumer pricing owing to several layers of markup; a portion, but not all of which, I now consider obsolete.
What those naysayers from May fail to understand is that the phone you are likely listening to this on and its underlying technology have rendered moot so many former models of distribution; the handknotted rug and carpet trade may be lethargically slow in adapting, but the democratizing power of the internet will come for this model. Smart rug and carpet traders who generally eschew the entrenched importer and wholesaler rug-trade-show model, already know this; it is part of their success. In the future, I anticipate more people will find success via novel models, because, again, history informs insight.
Those essential workers from the pandemic truly are essential; luxurious living is dependant upon those willing – or coërced by systemic means – to labour, not just work. Likewise a weaver is essential to the production of handknotted rugs and carpets, yet in both instances more gross dollar value is assigned to those who work at a desk, instead of those who work with their hands. If we are to truly celebrate carpetry and weaving, handwërk of all manner, we must actually do so through equitable distribution of wealth and income. Not romanticized claims of preserving craft and keeping populations impoverished to provide luxury for the few, rather through minimum and skill-level appropriate wages and dignified respect of the person. We must avoid acting as though we are empowering people, for that implies power is ours to give; populations do not need to be empowered, they need free exercise of the agency of the individual, and a marketplace which does not intentionally hold back those from a prosperity we ourselves seek.
This has been Monologue Monday.