Results tagged “Labor” from

Say No to Labor Losses

TPP world.pngIt's a well-established fact that neoliberal trade deals weaken labor safety standards, dispense with the right to unionize, evade and disregard minimum wage standards and exploit child labor.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership further demonstrates this idea.

NAFTA meant that we lost jobs to Canada and Mexico -- Canada to dodge paying U.S. taxes, Mexico to avoid anything close to decent wages. (This year, the minimum wage was raised to $4.30 (in U.S. dollars) per day; the average wage in the country is $5.06 per day).

In Vietnam, the minimum wage varies by region and can be less than four U.S. dollars a day. In 2012, Nike factories paid $0.27 an hour -- this has since been raised to $0.48 cents. With wages like these, customs barriers -- already low -- are no obstacle to outsourcing; the U.S. has trade deficits with Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, Canada and Japan already. (In fact, companies with Chinese factories keep re-outsourcing to Vietnam.) Clearly, we need to work on bringing these jobs back stateside, not sending more away.

In an attempt to deflect from the main issue, the Office of the United States Trade Representative has released a lot of gobbledygook on the subject. It contends that the TPP will promote the following goals:

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
  • Elimination of forced labor;
  • Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor; and
  • The elimination of employment discrimination.
Of course, there are some obvious issues with these specious claims.

The right to join a union -- implied in the first statement -- is highly unlikely to actually be protected. For example, according to Human Rights Watch, "Vietnam bans all independent political parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations. Authorities require official approval for public gatherings and refuse to grant permission for meetings, marches, or protests they deem politically or otherwise unacceptable." In this country, workers often have difficulty exercising their rights when the NLRB and court system is supposed to defend them -- will a panel of corporate lawyers (per the ISDS system) really do better? No, so there goes your "freedom of association and right to collective bargaining."

Second, "forced labor" is not defined. Does it mean blatant slavery, or could it refer to the necessity to work at a job that puts one's life, health and well-being at risk, for paltry wages and (in some, "lucky" cases) accommodations in a huge, crowded, dirty company dormitory? The workers whose deaths caused Apple to put up its famous suicide nets certainly didn't seem to be employed there by their own volition. Wage slavery can be almost as repressive as the unadulterated article, but it's hardly probable that our governments -- or the ISDS courts -- will actually work to abolish the system.

The third provision contradicts itself. How can you promise the "Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor." If you're really abolishing all child labor, why would you need to specifically ban "the worst forms" of it? This is just a taste of the duplicity involved in this deal.

Finally, just exactly how does the Trade Representative define "the elimination of employment discrimination?" We don't have that here. When women make 77 cents for every dollar men are paid, that's employment discrimination. When U.S. jobs are outsourced overseas because American workers tried to form a union, that's employment discrimination. When companies like Smithfield and Holiday Inn preferentially hire illegal immigrants over American citizens -- then intimidate and selectively deport those who agitate for better working and living conditions -- that's employment discrimination on a lot of levels. Companies are getting away with all of this right here in the U.S.A. -- why in the world would we expect America-as-global-policeman to be better at controlling even more flagrant abuses worldwide?

Uzbek Cotton.pngSupposedly, the U.S. will implement "consistency plans" with some of the other TPP countries (notably, not with Mexico) to enforce compliance. This begs the question -- compliance with what? The Atlantic states that "The minimum wage" required by the deal "could be set at a penny an hour--which wouldn't do much to help workers." The Office of the Trade Representative promises to "Establish rules that wil ensure that TPP countries do not waive or derogate from fundamental labor laws in a manner that affects trade or investment" -- because having sanctions instated wouldn't be fun for fat cat stockholders. But we turn blind eyes on some of the most flagrant labor violations occurring today -- for example, no government has applied sanctions to Uzbekistan over their use of child slave labor to harvest cotton. While companies from Walmart to Fruit of the Loom to IKEA to Tesco have banned the use of Uzbek cotton in products they sell, the United States has refused to do anything, since much of Uzbekistan has functioned as a giant military base during our war in Afghanistan. When "national security" -- or profit margins -- enter the picture, labor is ignored.

In conclusion, the United States needs to implement a "consistency plan" with itself, not give lip-service to labor while exploiting all the workers of the world.

Workers' Rights to Unionize, Strike Defended

OUR Walmart.jpgOver the years, countless numbers of men, women and children have suffered and died for the right to strike, from Ludlow to Lattimer; the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to Loray Mill; New Zealand to the Netherlands; Colorado to Colombia; South Africa to Sri Lanka; Hilo, Hawaii to Harlan County, Kentucky.

This right, however, is still not assured to millions of people around the world, including here in the USA. Too often, our corporate giants are still able to browbeat workers into submission -- or fire those who won't be cowed.

Geoffrey Carter.pngThanks to Judge Geoffrey Carter of the National Labor Relations Board, however, one such megabusiness -- Walmart -- has been rebuked for its behavior toward the "OUR Walmart" advocacy group, allied with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Judge Carter, who has previously defended workers' rights to display union pins or logos on the job,  declared that Walmart unfairly and illegally fired employees who went on strike. He has ordered the company to offer to re-hire its sacked workers -- with back pay -- and to hold meetings in 29 stores emphasizing employees' rights to unionize and strike.

Frank Little.pngJudge Carter's decision comes just a month after Walmart's top executives (including former board member and shareholder Hillary?) were celebrating the fact that no court had held them accountable for their intimidation of OUR Walmart, which had organized protests for better wages, full-time jobs and the cessation of corporate bullying.

According to the NY Times, one manager had expressed his desire to "shoot the union," while another threatened an OUR Walmart member who was pulling a load with a rope around his waist, "If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck." Makes you wonder how far we've come from 1917, when Montana labor leader Frank Little (a member of the Industrial Workers of the World) was hung by vigilantes who opposed his fight against the Anaconda Copper Co...

Don't Mourn -- Organize!

joe hill.jpg100 years ago today, labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill was executed after being framed for a murder he didn't commit.

Later renowned as the "Singing Wobbly," a nickname derived from his affiliation with the International Workers of the World, Joel Emmanuel Hägglund was born in Sweden on October 17th, 1879. When he was 23, he immigrated to the United States, where he became a migrant worker and began learning English. Blacklisted for joining a union, he changed his name to Joseph Hillstrom, which he would shorten to Joe Hill when he began publishing songs and cartoons through the I.W.W.'s press.

The impact of Joe Hill's songs on American society was incredible. They were rollicking, satirical tunes, set to the melodies of popular songs or hymns, that were easy to learn and quickly spread to workers in all industries and parts of the country.

"Mr. Block" described a "common working man" whose "head is made of lumber, and solid as a rock," which leads him to believe everything his bosses tell him about his own upward mobility, the efficacy of courts and elections in achieving social change, and, especially, the subversiveness of labor unions.

Similarly, "Scissor Bill" is a worker -- referred to as "the missing link that Darwin tried to trace" -- who is satisfied with his condition and thus "says he never organized and never will" and who "is down on everybody," particularly foreigners and minorities. Scissor Bill was only interested in protecting himself. According to another labor songwriter, Ralph Chaplin (the author of "Solidarity Forever"), "When asked by a police court judge to define the word "scissorbill", Joe Hill is reported to have replied 'The "scissorbill", your Honor, is an "I guy"; we happen to be "we guys".'"

"The Preacher and the Slave" parodied the hymn "Sweet Bye and Bye," lambasting the "long-haired preachers" and members of "the starvation army" who would attempt to drown out I.W.W. speakers with their choirs. The song also ridicules their notion that the union member who fights for "something good in this life" is "a sinner and a bad man," while the worker who is content to "work and pray, live on hay" will "get pie in the sky when you die" -- a phrase Hill coined in this song.

"There is Power in a Union," referred to by the more recent I.W.W. singer Utah Phillips as "Joe Hill's best song," delivered a like message, declaring that only "the grand Industrial band" could deliver workers from "misery and hunger."

Joe Hill wrote that "if a person can put a few cold, common sense facts into a song, and dress them up in a cloak of humor to take the dryness off of them, he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read a pamphlet or an editorial on economic science." He was right: Ralph Chaplin reported that "Joe Hill could stop traffic on busy skid row street corners singing [his] hilarious songs"; strikers died at the hands of brutal strikebreakers singing his rousing lyrics.

From the perspective of the "bosses," such an effective voice had to be silenced. One night in Salt Lake City, Joe Hill was shot by his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend. This injury was used to connect him to a murder that had taken place nearby, even though a known serial killer was apprehended nearby (and soon set free). Thus, Joe Hill went before the firing squad on November 19th, 1915.

This strategy did not turn out as expected. Hill himself came to embody the cause he had lived and died for. Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson wrote a song, officially titled "Joe Hill" but more often referred to as "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night," in which an apparition of the slain singer declares that it "takes more than guns to kill a man/I didn't die," concluding, "Where workers strike and organize/It's there you'll find Joe Hill." This song became a favorite of folk legends Pete Seeger, Paul Robeson, Joan Baez and Bruce Springsteen, and has helped keep Joe Hill's memory alive.

Paul Robeson's version of the "Joe Hill" song declares, "The copper bosses killed you, Joe." To this day, their successors continue to kill both people and the planet alike. This is evident in the trial of Don Blankenship, the CEO of an energy company whose Upper Big Branch Mine, located in West Virginia, exploded five years ago, killing 29 miners. He is a living example of Joe Hill's description of the "greedy master class," who "live by robbing the ever-toiling mass/Human blood they spill to satisfy their greed." The environmental impacts of his company's practices on the region have been similarly devastating. Jurors are currently deliberating whether to hold him accountable for his company's heinous neglect.

This instance, as well as thousands of similar cases worldwide, demonstrate the importance of our remembering Joe Hill's message. The industrial interests he campaigned against still threaten the lives of workers and the survival of the planet. Mines, factories, agricultural corporations, so-called "development projects" and other manifestations of this mindset exploit labor while leeching toxins into the environment and ruining irreplaceable ecosystems. When companies prioritize profits above all else, everything suffers. Thus, we must "do our share, lend a hand" to end this terrible system. As Joe Hill said just before his death, "Don't mourn -- organize!"


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