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Nearly 500 Hundred Arrested as Fast-Food Workers Rise Up September 5, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor, Poverty.
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Roger’s note: Only in this world of cancerous capitalist economic relations would a working person have to risk inevitable arrest to advocate for a living wage from from the employers for whom her labor helps to build billions of dollars in profits.  Socialism is not, as often mistakenly thought, the state ownership of everything.  Genuine socialism is worker democracy where the working people whose labor creates the value of the product or service share equally in the revenue generated.  Given the enormous productive capacity of worldwide human labor, in such a world everyone would have a living wage.  No private owners, all productive enterprises owned collectively by those who work them.  This is neither an unattainable or Utopian dream, rather it is what must inevitably replace capitalism’s inherently unequal and undemocratic way of distributing wealth; otherwise the planet is doomed by the war, pestilence and environmental destruction that are  a direct product of capitalist economic relations.

 

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Strikes and protests in more than a hundred US cities reveals rapidly growing effort by labor unions and low-wage workers to join forces and reclaim power of organized people
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(Photo: Twitpic / ‏@aaroncynic)

Hundreds of fast-food workers and their supporters were arrested in cities across the country on Thursday as they stood up (and in some cases sat down) as they demanded a $15/hour minimum wage, the right to unionize, and better working conditions across the industry.

In what was the largest coordinated action yet by the low-wage workers movement that has been establishing itself over the last several years, nearly 500 people participated in civil disobedience that led to their arrest outside major fast-food chain restaurants, that included McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, and others.

The New York Times reports:

Organizers said nearly 500 protesters were arrested in three dozen cities — including Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, New York and Little Rock, Ark. All told, the sit-ins took place in about 150 cities nationwide, the organizers said.

In Milwaukee, United States Representative Gwen Moore, Democrat of Wisconsin, was arrested along with several fast-food workers.

“I’m doing this for better pay,” said Crystal Harris, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, minutes before she sat down in the middle of 42nd Street in Manhattan outside a McDonald’s restaurant about 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. “I struggle to make ends meet on $7.50 an hour.”

The protesters carried signs saying, “Low Pay Is Not O.K.,” “On Strike to Lift My Family Up,” and “Whatever It Takes: $15 and Union Rights.” They also want McDonald’s and other fast-food chains to agree not to fight a unionization drive.

(See pictures of the day’s actions here, here, and here.)

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At least nineteen demonstrators were arrested in Times Square after carrying out a sit-in outside McDonald’s. (Photo: mic.com)

The Guardian reports:

Many fast-food jobs pay little more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Thursday’s day of action called for a minimum wage of at least $15.

By the afternoon organisers reported police had arrested 436 people nationwide with more than 43 arrests in Detroit, 19 in New York City, 23 in Chicago, 10 in Little Rock, Arkansas, and 10 in Las Vegas. Protestors were arrested in New York after blocking traffic in front of a McDonald’s in Times Square. In Los Angeles police warned fast food workers sitting in the street they were part of an “illegal assembly” before arresting them.

“We’re definitely on the upward move because we feel justice is on our side … we can’t wait,” said Douglas Hunter, a McDonald’s worker in Chicago who said he has difficulty supporting his 16-year-old daughter on his hourly wage. “We think this is ridiculous in a country as rich as America.”

Also in the Guardian, economy columnist Heidi Moore suggests that not only is the fast-food workers movement growing—it’s working. She writes:

From the first $15-an-hour protest in Seattle in May 2013 to a convention in July, 60 cities on 29 August 29, and Thursday’s first widespread act of intentional civil obedience in the movement, the development of the fast-food protests has shown evidence of a labor movement ready to re-make itself.

“The unions themselves are recognizing that the old system is broken and they need to retool and try new strategies and new things, and that’s what the fast food strikes represent,” says Professor Ruth Milkman of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (Cuny), who has co-authored a new report on the progress of the labor movement in New York and the rest of the US.

Today’s strikes are different from previous ones in a number of ways, demonstrating the willingness to innovate, said Milkman. The widespread civil disobedience – courting potential arrest by walking out on the job – is one aspect that has been widely mentioned. Other innovations: the addition of home healthcare workers, a separate industry that major unions like the SEIU have worked hard to unionize, but which has not received as much attention as fast food. Tying the two industries together is, for the unions, a way to widen their reach.

And the Huffington Post adds:

The high-profile strikes — which tend to draw national news coverage when they happen — have helped progressive legislators push through minimum wage hikes on the state and local level in recent months, including a $15 wage floor that will slowly go into effect in Seattle. Even President Barack Obama has held up the protests as evidence that Congress needs to hike the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised since 2009. The current level of $7.25 is less than half of what the Fight for $15 campaign is calling for.

“You know what? If I were looking for a job that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union,” Obama said Monday in a Labor Day speech. “If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”

While the fast-food companies themselves have generally remained quiet, critics of the campaign who sympathize with the industry have tried to dismiss the protests as stunts orchestrated by the Service Employees International Union. The union has devoted millions of dollars to the campaign in an effort to bring unionism to what’s generally a union-free industry.

With some exceptions, the fast-food strikes generally haven’t been large enough to shut down restaurants. In fact, it isn’t always clear how many of the people participating in a protest are striking workers. In Charleston on Thursday, several workers said they had the day off and wanted to take part in the protest; others told HuffPost they were missing a scheduled shift and were formally notifying their bosses they were taking part in a protected one-day strike.

Jonathan Bennett said he was supposed to be working at Arby’s on Thursday.

“If we don’t do this, I don’t know who will,” Bennett said. “$15 could change everything.”

The Cost of Lower Prices August 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Labor.
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Roger’s note: human beings are both producers and consumers.  As consumers we enjoy a good bargain.  As producers we NEED a decent job.  Collectively labor should always trump consumption, although we are seduced by lower prices to betray the solidarity essential to the human community of producers (i.e. those of us who work for a living, which is the 99 percent).  This cartoon shows us graphically how capitalist economy is destructive of the human community, in this case globally.

 

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My personal Wal-Mart nightmare: You won’t believe what life is like working there May 9, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Roger’s note: Barack Obama, soon to be if not already a millionaire, shows just how out of touch he is with reality by his visit to one of the most exploitative  enterprises on the face of the earth.

 

The president’s visiting my store Friday. He won’t see how I sleep on my son’s floor and eat potato chips for lunch

, , http://www.salon.com

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Pam Ramos

When I woke up to see the news, I could hardly believe it: President Obama is planning a visit to the Mountain View Wal-Mart where I work.

But the excitement quickly passed when I found out the store would be shutting down hours in advance of his visit. I wouldn’t be able to tell the president what it’s like to work at Wal-Mart and what it’s like to struggle on low wages, without the hours I need. I am living at the center of the income inequality that he speaks about so often, and I wanted to talk to him about how to change this problem.

My situation is not unlike that of many of the 825,000 Wal-Mart associates – and many other Americans – who are working hard, but just can’t keep up. Most of us aren’t even paid $25,000 a year even though we work at the largest employer in the country and one that makes $16 billion in profits.

I wanted to tell the president what it’s like working – and living – like this.

Things have always been tight. After four years working at Wal-Mart in Mountain View, I am bringing home about $400 every two weeks (I’d like to get more hours, but I’m lucky if I work 32 hours a week). That’s not enough to pay for bills, gas and food.  All I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips. I’ve always done everything possible to stretch paychecks and scrape by. Sometimes it means not getting enough to eat.

But then I got some bad news that made stretching my budget impossible.

Two months ago, I started feeling ill. My doctor told me I needed to take a week off to have a series of medical tests. Every day for a week I went to the hospital and had to pay $30, $60 or $100 in co-pays for each appointment, test and X-ray.

With these additional expenses and without a paycheck for the week I was out, it pushed me over the edge. I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent.

Right now, I don’t have a place to call home.

I sleep on the floor of my son’s living room because I can’t afford my own place. All of my belongings are in my car. I don’t know where to send my mail.

I used to think, “At least I have my health and my family.” But my doctor thinks I may have colon cancer, and with all of the money I still owe the hospital, I’m not sure how to finish the tests and get treatment. Even though I do have insurance through Wal-Mart, the co-pays are more than I can afford with only $400 every two weeks.

I wanted to tell the president I am scared. I am scared for my health. I am scared for the future for my grandkids. And I am scared and sad about the direction that companies like Wal-Mart are taking our country.

I don’t wish the struggle I’m facing onto anyone. But sadly, my situation isn’t unique. I know that I am one of many living in the Wal-Mart economy who has no financial stability. We expect to work until our deaths because we don’t have any retirement savings and are concerned about the future in front of our children and grandchildren.

There are so many of us who have it so hard – trying to live paycheck to paycheck. While the president is here visiting my store, I want him to look inside at what is really happening at Wal-Mart.

I want the president to help us and tell Wal-Mart to pay us enough to cover the bills and take care of our families. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask from such a profitable company, a company that sets the standard for jobs in this country. And I hope it’s not too much to ask from a president who believes that income inequality is the defining challenge of our time.

Pam Ramos has worked for four years at the Walmart in Mountain View, California. President Obama is visiting this Walmart on Friday. Ramos is also a member of OUR Walmart, the worker organization calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying workers $25,000 a year, providing full-time work and ending illegal retaliation.

Putin’ it to Putin: the Russian Oligarchy and the Primitive Accumulation of Capital May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis, Labor, Marx and Marxism, Russia, Socialism.
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BjCHxNICMAAaVSj.jpg largeMeet the 11 Putin cronies and Ukrainian officials facing U.S. sanctions: http://t.co/0WOAuGtABa http://t.co/30T2yhxH4p

 

I don’t intend to go into the politics and economics of the situation in the Ukraine other than to point out the fact that the threats coming from the U.S. president against the Russian government seem to center on economic sanctions against the friends, associates, colleagues – well, let’s use the correct term: cronies – of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. In other words, the Russian Mafia/Oligarchy. The New York Times reports that Obama’s spies are hard at work to discover Putin’s own fortune. What this circus amounts to then is the government of the nation with the world’s largest collection of parasitic crony capitalists attacking its rival nation’s crony capitalists. Russian Billionaires, take cover!

What his begs, however, is a question that no one seems to be asking: to wit, how did these billionaires come to be billionaires in the first place in Russia’s transition from Soviet “Communism” to Reaganite “Capitalism?” Or, more importantly, what this implies theoretically and philosophically about the very nature of capitalism itself. It indeed takes us to the heart of the origins of capitalism, what is referred to as “primitive accumulation” of capital, which is what this article is all about.

First we have to backtrack with a short discussion of economics. I assert that, despite popular opinion, economics is indeed a science in the sense that its elements can be measured and independently verified. The problem with Economic’s bad reputation is that the vast majority of economists are of the same ilk as biological “Creationists” and atmospheric climate change deniers. What they fail to take into account are the very dynamics that make capitalism what it is (usually in the form of ignoring obvious class divisions or making a fetish of the market place instead of focusing on what is fundamental in any economy, i.e. production).

Definitions are important. A simple but scientifically accurate definition of capital: vast accumulations of wealth (value) that today come in various forms, real estate, industrial and other corporate wealth, high finance, etc. Capital ISM then is the system of producing goods and services based upon the relationship between those who own and manage capital and the rest of us, who do the work that is responsible for the increase in value in the first place; that is, the relationship between capital and labor. It is a relationship that is hierarchic and despotic; that is, inherently undemocratic. A simple, yet accurate definition of socialism (the antithesis to capitalism), then, would be not state ownership of the means of production (as we saw in the former Soviet Union), but economic democracy, that is, direct ownership and control by those who produce the value. Note: it was not Karl Marx, but rather Adam Smith who demonstrated that new value added to land and natural resources can only come from living human labor.

Anyone who has ever had a job knows that the boss is the boss (be it the actual owner or his/her designates). You do not get to vote on what you do. You do what you are told, or you are shown the door (only union organization has mitigated this phenomenon to a degree). There are others waiting to take your place if you don’t like it. You do not get to decide what is produced (be it goods or services), how it is produced, or under what conditions (e.g. safety). But most importantly, you are paid for your creative effort as little as your owner/boss can get away with, and the rest of the value you create goes into his or her pocket (the pockets of heirs, stock holders, bankers, etc., i.e. capitalism’s parasites). This is what Karl Marx called surplus value (and what capitalists call profit), and it is the reason for the reality that we have always been aware of but are coming to see in greater relief more and more every day: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. One example: the geometric increase in the proportion of CEO salary in relation to worker salary (according to the Washington Post, “The ratio of CEO pay to average worker pay is 273-1, down from a high of 383-1 in 2000, but up from 20-1 in 1965.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/06/26/congrats-ceos-youre-making-273-times-the-pay-of-the-average-worker/). In other words, the average worker has to put in about six weeks of eight hour days to earn what your typical CEO earns in one hour.

 
Forget all the crap that has been that has been shoved down your throat since you came off your mother’s breast (or the bottle) about the wonders of capitalism: the miracle of free enterprise, the invisible hand that makes everything just, the value of competition, capitalists taking all the risk, capitalists creating jobs – as if without capitalists we would all stop working to produce what we need to survive and thrive. Forget about free markets: there haven’t been free markets since Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple. The deck (the economy) is stacked in favor of capital; capital essentially owns government and uses it to maintain its strangle hold on the rest of us – economically and militarily. And this was true long before the US Supreme Court made corporations into people.

So now let’s go back to “primitive accumulation.” How did there come to be such huge fortunes, such accumulated wealth in the first place; in other words, how did the feudal economy become a capitalist economy?

Here are the contrasting explanations from Adam Smith and Karl Marx:

“In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …

“It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.”

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II
(cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008)

 
“The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.”

Karl Marx, Capital, Vol . I, Chapter 31

Karl Marx was a philosopher, whose primary concern was human freedom. In order to understand the un-freedom that was obvious to him in his age as well as it is to us in our own, he had to and did become a full-fledged historian and economist. He read, digested, analyzed and critiqued not only the famous economists like Adam Smith, Malthus and Ricardo, but the entire body of political economy of his day. Needless to say, with respect to the primitive accumulation of capital, he was aware and demonstrated how it was ongoing; and we see the unbelievably gigantic proportions it has taken in our own time.

The political economists like Adam Smith, showed us how only human labor can create value, then they proceeded to ignore human labor as they obsessed on the market placed and the distribution of goods and services. Karl Marx corrected the fundamental error by show us scientifically the inherent inequality and un-freedom of capitalist economy. It is ironic that Marxism is often criticized for ignoring the individual in favour of the community, whereas it was Marx who demonstrated how capitalist productive relationship created misery for individuals within their community. It was Marx, for example, who showed us that even if a nation’s economy may be thriving, suffering and injustice can abound for the majority of its citizens. It is the notion of the “economy” that is abstract and ignores the individual, not the notion of community. This is a fact that the vast majority of economists ignore completely.

And anyone who believes that “democratic” political institutions in the form of periodic elections can tame this insane and out of control Monster known as capitalism, is either naïve or uninformed (for which we can thank our bought and paid for mass media and institutions of higher learning).

Now we are ready to go back to Boris Yeltsin, Putin and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union had become the opposite of its revolutionary class destroying origins. The Soviet State (brutally tyrannical under Stalin, then reformed and softened under Khrushchev) became the single owner of value, i.e. capital, in what is almost universally recognized theoretically as State Capitalism. With the collapse of the Soviet empire, which resulted from massive popular uprisings (aided and abetted by the democratic and progressive reforms of Gorbachev), things could have gone either one of two ways. All of Soviet capital, all that enormous wealth (value) could have been democratized, that is decentralized and put democratically into the hands of those who worked in the various industries (and who create the wealth in the first place). Any genuine Marxist left in Russia would have reminded the angry masses that the original soviets were democratic organizations made up respectively of industrial workers, peasant workers, and soldiers. With the theoretical and organizational backing of the Bolshevik Party, they were the impulse that overthrew the Tsar and established a union of soviets, which for a few years before the Stalin coup was striving for worker democracy at the same time as it was at war with the rest of the capitalist world, fighting for its very survival.

Alas, things didn’t go in that direction. They went instead in the direction of looting of the state’s enormous resources by those Adam Smith like industrious Communist apparatchiks cum Mafia. We see them everywhere today, as they have moved their newly gained capital around the world. We saw them at the Sochi Olympics and we see them as owners of American professional sports teams.

As with the Spanish Conquistadores and the slave traders of African skin, their wealth is stolen. That is what is meant by the slogan “property is theft.” Hegelian Marxism talks of continuing negations, ongoing revolution, if you will. The overthrow of the former Soviet Union was a first negation; the second one did not happen at the same time. We see the same phenomenon with the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution,” Egypt’s “Arab Spring,” the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, etc.

But some day, if the capitalists do not destroy the earth first with nuclear or environmental catastrophe, it will happen. The capitalist way of creating and sharing wealth will come crumbling down simply because it is not sustainable. Capital will no longer exist, just working people producing and owning outright what they produce. When and how this will happen no one can say. But if it doesn’t, we are surely doomed.

One more theoretical point. It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent academics and pundits fail to understand the obvious contradiction between political democracy and capitalist economics. It is as if democratic institutions, however primitive, can somehow ensure freedom and justice, while at the same time working people are being systematically bilked by the capitalist Behemoth. Democracy, which is in fact the most highly advanced political notion, is just that, i.e. political. Capitalist economy is just that, i.e. economy. They are two entirely different animals, notwithstanding the fact that they are intimately entwined. Failing to understand this, leftists, progressives, liberals, etc., make a fetish out of the concept of democracy, ignore the economic implications of capital, and end up being entirely irrelevant. Note: capitalism cannot be reformed because it is inherently unjust and undemocratic.

For those who are interested in a truly scientific understanding of capitalist economic relations as outlined in Marx’s Capital, I recommend the first four chapters of Raya Dunayevskaya’s “Marxism and Freedom: from 1776 until Today,” Humanity Books, 2000. Of course, there is no substitute for reading Marx in the original, which I acknowledge is not an easy task. I recommend beginning with the so-called Early Writings or Economic Manuscripts.

 

Wikileaks Reveals Obama Administration’s Role in Stifling Haitian Minimum Wage January 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Haiti, Imperialism, Labor.
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Roger’s note: I just watched the playing of the national anthem in Seattle at the NFC championship game.  The usual orgy of patriotism, with a flag on the field the size a battleship.  After I cleaned up the vomit, I sat down to post this article.  The story of using government bullying to screw Haitian workers is what the red white and blue really stands for around the globe.  The misery caused by American imperial economic, diplomatic and military might worldwide is incalculable.  Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, due largely to U..S. interventions over the years, is only one small example of the American government wielding its power in the service of corporate interests at the cost of the welfare of millions of third world victims.   

 

January 16, 2014  |  Alternet, Rod Bastanmehr
American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss prefer to pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes.

Strike another one for Wikileaks. The ever-controversial leaker of the world’s best-kept secrets has published a wire on The Nation that reveals the Obama Administration fought to keep the Haitian minimum wage to 31 cents an hour.

According to the published wire (which came to light thanks in large part to the Haiti Liberte, a newspaper based in Port-au-Prince and New York City), Haiti passed a law in 2012 raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. America corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss vociferously objected, claiming such an increase would irreparably harm their business and profitability. According to the leaked U.S. Embassy cable, keeping these garment workers at “slave wages,” was better for the two companies The corporations in question allegedly stated that they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, eventually going so far as to involve the U.S. State Department.

Soon, the U.S. Ambassador put pressure on Michel Martelly, the president of Haiti, to find a middle ground, resulting in a $3-a-day minimum wage for all textile companies. To put it in perspective, the United States’s minimum wage—already considered extremely low—works out to roughly to $58 a day.

Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers, who are somehow getting by on these abysmal wages. According to Business Insider, if each garment worker was paid just $2 more a day, it would cost their given corporate employers $50,000 per working day, or $12.5 million a year. Hanes, the garment company best known for their t-shirts, had roughly 3,200 Haitians working in their factory. An increase of $2 a day would cost the company a mere $1.6 million a year—for a company that had $4.3 billion in sales last year alone.

 

Homeless Japanese Being ‘Recruited’ To Clean Up Fukushima Disaster December 30, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness, Japan, Labor, Nuclear weapons/power.
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Investigation reveals systematic exploitation of homeless by big business and organized crime

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Shizuya Nishiyama, a 57-year-old homeless man from Hokkaido, speaks during an interview with Reuters at Sendai Station in Sendai, northern Japan December 18, 2013. (Credit: REUTERS/Issei Kato)

Private labor contractors in Japan are “recruiting” homeless individuals throughout the country, luring them to perform clean-up work in the areas near the destroyed nuclear power plant at Fukushima for less than minimum wage.

That’s the finding of a new special Reuters investigation which says that shady business operators are employing men like Seiji Sasa to “prowl” train stations and other places throughout the country targeting “homeless men” who are “willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.”

The investigation found a shady but systematic labor scheme—much of it run by organized crime but also involving some of the nation’s top construction firms—in which day laborers are exploited by contractors receiving state funds to clean up areas near the plant.

“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” said 57-year-old Shizuya Nishiyama, a homeless man recruited at a train station in the city of Sendai. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”

In exchange for bringing workers to the sites, the middlemen receive a cut of their wages.

“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” said Sasa, one of these so-called “middle men,” in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”

Reviewing police records and conducting interviews with some of the people directly involved, Reuters reveals the ongoing and perilous nature of the clean-up work at Fukushima and the ways in which society’s most vulnerable are being exploited for profit in the aftermath of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history.

According to Reuters, the scheme plays out when large construction firms like Obayashi, the nation’s second biggest and major contractor at Fukushima, employs sub-contractors like Sasa:

Seiji Sasa, 67, a broad-shouldered former wrestling promoter, was photographed by undercover police recruiting homeless men at the Sendai train station to work in the nuclear cleanup. The workers were then handed off through a chain of companies reporting up to Obayashi, as part of a $1.4 million contract to decontaminate roads in Fukushima, police say. [...]

Only a third of the money allocated for wages by Obayashi’s top contractor made it to the workers Sasa had found. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima, according to wage data provided by police. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.

Read the complete investigation here.

Qatar’s World Cup Spectacle Brought to You by Slavery November 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor, Qatar, Sports.
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The big controversies surrounding Qatar as the site of the 2022 World Cup have been the shady bidding process and fears that the desert heat will ruin the soccer games. But in the past few days, the spotlight has finally begun to move to longstanding concerns over the treatment of the migrant workers who will be building the physical infrastructure for the sporting bonanza.

Migrants laboring in Qatar. Most are underpaid and face torture or abuse. (Photo by WBUR/ Flickr)

Throughout the summer, according to an investigation by Amnesty International [PDF] released this week, the future site of the sporting spectacle became a death trap for the Asian workers brought in by Qatar and its booming construction industry to work on the building sites of the planned World Cup facilities, including commercial areas and transportation infrastructure.

Amnesty found that the workers were encamped in sweltering heat, fell from precarious heights and suffered heart failure under the strenuous labor conditions. One Nepalese official described the entire system of indenture as an “open prison,” according to Der Spiegel. In light of dozens of reported deaths, union activists predict that up to 4,000 may die on the sites between now and the 2022 games.

Through interviews with the World Cup construction workers, the Amnesty investigators gathered horrific stories of an array of abuses, including “not being paid for six or nine months; not being able to get out of the country; not having enough—or any—food; and being housed in very poor accommodation with poor sanitation, or no electricity.”

Workers testified that migrants were frequently forced to work for poverty-level wages or sometimes none at all. Often, they said, employers confiscated their identification documents, effectively holding them hostage out of fear of being detained for lacking papers.

Unfortunately, while horrific, these stories are far from unique in Qatar. More than 90 percent of the labor that fuels the country’s oil-slicked economy is imported, typically brought in by recruiters from South Asian countries. Not only are these migrant workers non-citizens; in the eyes of their employers, they are barely human. They live in barbaric, squalid dormitories, their movement restricted, invisible under Qatari law and cut off from their home communities.

Under the transnational migrant “sponsorship” system, according to Amnesty, workers were drawn into the labor trade by recruiting agents who falsely advertised decent, high-paying work abroad–sometimes taking on heavy debt to secure a job. The byzantine residence permit system further disenfranchises workers. When employers illegally fail to arrange permits for workers, as was frequently the case in the shadowy migrant labor market, they generally cannot return home without paying extremely heavy fines. The restrictions on migrant workers’ movement mean that “rather than protecting the rights of migrant workers, the government is adding to their exploitation,” Amnesty contends.

Underlying the whole system are fundamentally weak protections for labor organizing on the part of Qataris and migrants alike, as well as prohibitions on migrants forming trade unions. The lack of organization among workers means many migrants remain in the dark about their labor rights. One Nepalese worker explained to Amnesty, “There are many workers who keep working like donkeys, without asking a question. They don’t understand what is legally our entitlements, what our rights are.”

Some have tried to challenge employers. According to the report, the Labour Ministry and the courts have each received thousands of worker complaints, many related to basic wage and hour and other labor issues. But due to fear of retaliation and the difficulty non-Qataris face in navigating the justice system, most aggrieved workers, according to investigators, probably do not go through with the complaint process in the first place.

One worker with the U.S.-based electro-mechanical engineering contractor Krantz Engineering wrote in a desperate letter to Amnesty in April 2013 about his lack of legal recourse for his abuse:

I am writing this email after lots of pain and struggle … I have complained in several places like Labour court, Indian Embassy, High court, CID and National Human Rights Council Qatar but no any positive response from anyone of them … I don’t have money to eat food from last five days as I didn’t get salary from last nine months.

Not all of the employers using this labor are Qatar-based—the report linked multinationals such as Hyundai Engineering and Construction and OHL Construction to the subcontractors building the World Cup-related facilities. In the case of Krantz, Amnesty discovered that one of the company’s subcontractors was receiving technical training from a company called TEEX, which is affiliated with Texas A&M University. When questioned by Amnesty about the treatment of migrants, Texas A&M argued the firm “does not have any role in the management and supervision of the labor force at the facility.”

Amid international criticism from Amnesty and other organizations like the UN, Qatar’s 2022 Supreme Committee, a managing body for the preparation for the games, has vowed to address the reported abuses, and FIFA has issued similar comments. In a formal response to the Guardian published in September, the committee cited numerous labor protections available to migrants, including restrictions on passport confiscation.

But Sharran Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation tells Working In These Times via email she is unconvinced by Qatar’s promises. “Qatar continues to announce that it will reform the visa sponsorship system, yet nothing changes,” she says. In the wake of mounting criticism over the human rights issues surrounding the event, she adds, “Unless Qatar reforms its ways, FIFA should re-run the vote for the 2022 World Cup.”

There is also a question of who is directly responsible for regulating labor issues. Amnesty’s report focused on infrastructure construction related to the World Cup but not just the stadium itself—including transportation and supporting commercial facilities. In any case, the primarily responsibility, argue human rights advocates, lies with Qatar to reform its overall labor laws and to tighten oversight of private sector labor practices, particularly for international-sporting projects aimed at creating a global commercial spectacle.

This is not the first time FIFA has come under political pressure; earlier this year, populist protests erupted over the lavish costs of the preparations for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Though FIFA generally urges host countries to comply with international human rights, the World Cup is notorious for inducing local labor violations. For example, labor activists have condemned FIFA for not taking strong enough action against Russia’s temporary suspension of key labor protections for the migrant workers at the building sites for the 2018 World Cup.

The human rights crises haunting World Cup stadiums reveal global sport’s economic realities: the commercial spectacle that brings the world together is built on vast inequalities.

=

Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

Largest Civil Disobedience In Walmart History Leads To More Than 50 Arrests November 8, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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Roger’s note: welcome to wage slavery in capitalist America, the land of freedom.  Freedom to vote.  Freedom to watch your children starve.

 

Posted: 11/08/2013 1:04 am EST  |  Updated: 11/08/2013 2:21 am EST

Walmart arrests


Surrounded by about 100 police officers in riot gear and a helicopter circling above, more than 50 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested in downtown Los Angeles Thursday night as they sat in the street protesting what they called the retailer’s “poverty wages.”

Organizers said it was the largest single act of civil disobedience in Walmart’s 50-year history. The 54 arrestees, with about 500 protesting Walmart workers, clergy and supporters, demonstrated outside LA’s Chinatown Walmart. Those who refused police orders to clear the street after their permit expired were arrested without incident. Those who fail to post $5,000 bail would be jailed overnight, Detective Gus Villanueva, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, told The Huffington Post.

Their primary demand to Walmart: pay every full-time worker at least $25,000 a year.

One of the protesting Walmart workers, Anthony Goytia, a 31-year-old father of two, said he believes he will make about $12,000 this year. It’s a daily struggle, he said, “to make sure my family doesn’t go hungry.”

“The power went out at my house yesterday because I couldn’t afford the bill,” Goytia told HuffPost. “I had to run around and get two payday loans to pay for my rent from the first” of the month. “Yesterday we went to a food bank.”

To make ends meet, Goytia said he sometimes participates in clinical trials and sells his blood plasma. He has been asking his managers for full-time employment for a year and a half. Instead, he said, they hire temporary workers, who can be fired at any time.

Goytia was one of several dozen Walmart workers in Southern California who went on strike Wednesday and Thursday, calling for an end to low wages, unpredictable part-time hours and retaliation for speaking out. They were joined by other employees on their days off and dozens more who rode buses from Northern California.

The strike, protest and arrests are the latest in a series of worker actions across the country coordinated by OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization with ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The strike and protest in Los Angeles this week are the first in what organizers said would be a series of protests leading into the holiday shopping season.

The protesters said Walmart can afford to pay every worker at least $25,000 a year — pointing to Walmart’s $17 billion profit from the latest year and the founding Walton family’s fortune, which equals the wealth of the bottom 42 percent of American families.

Walmart CEO Bill Simon disclosed in a presentation recently that 475,000 Walmart workers are paid more than $25,000 a year. That leaves 525,000 to 825,000 Walmart workers earning less than $25,000. House Democrats seeking to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour have criticized Walmart for its low wages.

Walmart invited HuffPost to speak to a couple associates working in the Chinatown store during the protest Thursday. In the presence of a consultant working for Walmart, two employees — Do Nguyen, 29, and Aldo Hernandez, 55 — said that they are treated well at Walmart. Nguyen, who has worked for Walmart for almost a year, said that asking for a minimum of $25,000 is “a national issue, not a Walmart issue.”

Hernandez, who has worked for Walmart for almost five years, said he gets good health benefits through Walmart and doesn’t struggle to support himself and his son. Both Nguyen and Hernandez declined to say how much they make.

Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, said that the company has hundreds of thousands of associates who earn $25,000 or more and that others have the opportunity to do so.

“There are unparalleled opportunities at Walmart,” Lundberg said. “We’re going to be promoting 160,000 associates this year. That’s larger than the total workforce of most companies out there.”

“Folks can come in as entry level or whatever level they’re at and can work up as far as they’re willing to go,” Lundberg said. “That’s one of the things we’re proudest of.”

After working full time at Walmart in Paramount, Calif., for 10 years, Martha Sellers, 55, makes $25,400 a year. In the last few years, she said, her managers have been cutting her weekly hours, sometimes to as few as 12 hours a week.

With that income, she said, she has to pay her rent in pieces. “If I pay all my rent at one time, then I have $12 to live on and put gas in my car until I get paid again,” Sellers, who attended Thursday’s protest, said.

“I have a very nice neighbor who lends me money. But then the next month, I’m short again,” Sellers said. “I never get caught up.”

LA’s Chinatown Walmart, about one-fifth the size of the company’s regular stores, opened in September despite thousands of Angelenos protesting it during the summer. It is the retailer’s first store in central LA.

In October 2012, for the first time in Walmart’s history, some workers went on a one-day strike, even though Walmart jobs have never been protected by a labor union. More than 70 LA Walmart workers from nine stores walked off the job, followed by over 80 Walmart workers walking off the job in a dozen other U.S. cities.

Last year, through online organizing, OUR Walmart coordinated strikes on Thanksgiving and Black Friday in 46 states and 100 stores. The actions put a spotlight on the world’s largest retailer during one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. Walmart had its best Black Friday ever, according to the company.

Regarding associates being required to work earlier on Thanksgiving, Lundberg said, “Folks understand that when they come to work for Walmart, that we’re a 24-hour store, and Thanksgiving is one of those days that we serve our customers.”

Sellers went on strike on Black Friday last year and said she plans to do so again this year. “Walmart claims to be a family-oriented company,” she said. “But where’s the family time? They took away Easter too.

“Where is the American economy going if we’re all working poverty wages?,” Sellers said. “There will be no working class. We’ll all be in a poverty class.”

Boli­vian gov­ern­ment autho­rizes work­ers to take over closed or aban­doned firms October 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Labor, Latin America.
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Richard Fidler, La Paz, Life on the Left, http://boliviasc.org/

On Octo­ber 7, Pres­i­dent Evo Morales issued a gov­ern­ment decree that allows work­ers to estab­lish “social enter­prises” in busi­nesses that are bank­rupt, wind­ing up, or unjus­ti­fi­ably closed or aban­doned. These enter­prises, while pri­vate, will be oper­ated by the work­ers and qual­ify for gov­ern­ment assistance.

Morales issued Supreme Decree 1754 at a cer­e­mony in the pres­i­den­tial palace mark­ing the 62nd anniver­sary of the found­ing of the Con­fed­eración Gen­eral de Tra­ba­jadores Fab­riles de Bolivia (CGTFB – the Gen­eral Con­fed­er­a­tion of Indus­trial Work­ers of Bolivia). The Min­is­ter of Labour, Daniel San­talla, said the decree was issued pur­suant to arti­cle 54 of Bolivia’s new Con­sti­tu­tion, which states that workers

in defense of their work­places and pro­tec­tion of the social inter­est may, in accor­dance with the law, reac­ti­vate and reor­ga­nize firms that are under­go­ing bank­rupty, cred­i­tor pro­ceed­ings or liq­ui­da­tion, or closed or aban­doned with­out jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, and may form com­mu­ni­tar­ian or social enter­prises. The state will con­tribute to the action of the workers.”

In his remarks to the audi­ence of sev­eral hun­dred union mem­bers and lead­ers, Pres­i­dent Morales noted that employ­ers often attempt to black­mail work­ers with threats to shut down when faced with demands for higher wages.

Now, if they threaten you in that way, the firm may as well go bank­rupt or close, because you will become the own­ers. They will be new social enter­prises,” he said.

Labour Min­is­ter San­talla noted that the con­sti­tu­tional arti­cle had already been used to estab­lish some firms, such as Ena­tex, Instra­bol, and Tra­bol­tex, and that more such firms could now be set up under the new decree.

Busi­ness spokes­men pre­dictably warned that the new pro­vi­sions would be a dis­in­cen­tive to pri­vate invest­ment and risk the via­bil­ity of com­pa­nies.

San­talla also said that firms that do not com­ply with their work­force oblig­a­tions under the law will lose pref­er­en­tial mech­a­nisms to export their prod­ucts to state-​managed mar­kets. And he cited some recent cases in which the gov­ern­ment had inter­vened in defense of work­ers vic­tim­ized for their attempts to form unions. In one such case last month, Burger King, the com­pany was fined 30,000 Boli­vianos ($4,300 US), ordered to rein­state the fired work­ers and to rec­og­nize the union.

In the fol­low­ing arti­cle Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s Deputy Min­is­ter of Coor­di­na­tion with the Social Move­ments, draws atten­tion to some impor­tant devel­op­ments within the country’s labour move­ment and sug­gests some means by which the unions can be more effec­tively incor­po­rated within the “process of change” being cham­pi­oned by the gov­ern­ment of the MAS-​IPSP, the Move­ment for Social­ism – Polit­i­cal Instru­ment for the Sov­er­eignty of the Peo­ples.

My trans­la­tion from the Span­ish.
– Richard Fidler

‘The Economy Runs on Our Toil': Record Protests Sweep Bangladesh September 22, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Bangladesh, Human Rights, Labor.
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Roger’s note: the myth is that we are living in a post-industrial society (as if somehow the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the houses we live in, etc. somehow are magically made).  In reality exploited industrial labor has been shifted for the U.S. and Europe to the third world, mostly Asia.  Just about anything we buy, from running shoes, to screw drivers, to pillow cases, is manufactured by some exploited worker, quite possible a child working 12 hours a day for slave wages, in Bangladesh or the Philippines.  It is an iron law of  capitalist production to continually search out sources of cheap labor.  Capital accumulation originated on the backs of indigenous miners in Peru and African slaves.  Today, while it is mainly low paid services industry workers who are subjected to exploitation in the former industrial nations, the beat goes on for dark skinned factory workers in the third world.

Over 50,000 demand ‘dignity’ in garment industry where majority-female worke-force faces dangerous conditions and some of lowest wages in world

 

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Garment workers rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, September 21 (Photo: Reuters / Andrew Biraj)

50,000 garment workers demanding higher pay flooded the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh Saturday, and 20,000 shut down dozens of factories by walking off the job, in the largest demonstrations to ever sweep the notoriously dangerous and low-wage Bangladesh garment industry.

The protests continued on Sunday, with workers and their supporters blocking traffic, marching along a key highway, and clashing with police who shot rubber bullets and tear gas at crowds of thousands, the AFP reports.

“Our backs are against the wall, so we don’t have any alternative unless we raise our voice strongly,” Nazma Akter, president of the United Garments Workers’ Federation, which groups 52 garment worker’s groups, told Saturday’s protest, Reuters reports. “We will not hesitate to do anything to realize our demand.”

Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest in the world, accounting for 80 percent of the country’s annual exports. Its estimated 4 million workers, 80 percent of whom are women from rural areas, earn a paltry $38 U.S. dollars a month, making them some of the lowest-paid garment workers in the world.

Unions have demanded a wage increase that would bring them to a monthly wage of $100 dollars to lift workers out of deep poverty, but factory owners rejected the demand, offering a paltry 20 percent raise.

“We are not the object of mercy, the economy moves with our toil,” Akter declared addressing Saturday’s rally.

Bangladesh’s garment industry has been swept with protests since the collapse of a factory in April killed more than 1,200 workers and injured over 2,500, with most victims women—one of many tragedies to sweep the country’s dangerous garment industry. While the catastrophe captured global headlines, little has been done to improve the bleak conditions of an industry that sells to numerous U.S.-based corporations, including Walmart, Gap, Sears, Disney, and Benetton.

“[W]e want these jobs with dignity,” Akter declared previously, “with safe working conditions, decent wages, and a voice in the workplace, and a unionized work place.”

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