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Critics Blast US Retailers’ Corporate-Dominated Factory Safety “Sham” July 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bangladesh, Labor.
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Labor Rights Groups: ‘This confirms what we have long predicted: that Wal-Mart, Gap and companies like them do not want to make any promises they actually have to keep.’

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Names of killed Bangladesh workers are strung outside a GAP shareholders meeting in May 2013. (Photo: Anirvan/cc/flickr)

In what is being blasted as a “sham” and an “expensive PR stunt” by workers’ rights groups, 17 North American retailers—including the Gap and Wal-Mart—launched a Bangladesh worker safety plan Wednesday as a means of sidestepping a legally binding international agreement.

The plan, called the “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety” was devised as an alternative to the Bangladesh Safety Accord—a union-led and legally binding agreement signed by over 70 international brands and retailers.

“Gap and Wal-Mart’s safety plan is a sham which won’t make factories safe and only serves to undermine the Bangladesh Safety Accord,” said Murray Worthy, sweatshops campaigner at the human rights watchdog group War on Want.

Both agreements were spurred by the enormous international outcry following the Rana Plaza disaster in April when over 1,100 workers were killed in the collapse of a substandard Bangladesh factory. Previous to the collapse, a series of devastating garment factory fires highlighted the dangerous working conditions in the country and the enormous risk posed to millions of workers paid as little as $40 a month.

“This is just more of the same corporate-dominated voluntary measures that were so clearly proven to have failed in the Rana Plaza disaster,” Worthy continued. “Gap, Wal-Mart and the other brands behind the Alliance must scrap this expensive PR stunt and join the rest of the clothing industry in signing the comprehensive, legally binding and life-saving Bangladesh Safety Accord.”

Other signers of the Alliance include Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Sears, L.L. Bean and J.C.Penney.

The deal alleges to inspect all factories used by the signatories within a year and establish a common set of safety standards. Further, the retailers will reportedly pay up to $1m a year each to support mandatory training for factory staff and managers and to support “worker participation committees” in every factory to deal with complaints about working conditions, the Guardian reports.

However, according to a response by a half-dozen labor rights groups reported by IPS, “companies that decide to withdraw from the alliance are only penalized by being forced to pay their share of administrative costs. For large companies, this would work out to around five million dollars – while Wal-Mart alone brings in more than 400 billion dollars annually.”

“Companies that sign onto the alliance but fail to meet a commitment face no adverse consequences beyond expulsion from the scheme. Instead, workers will continue to pay,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told IPS.

Further, Trumka notes that the “so-called” Global Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety was developed without consulting with workers or union representatives and other critics point out that the “worker participation committees” will likely undermine workers’ rights to join trade unions and organize freely.

“This confirms what labor rights advocates have long predicted: that Wal-Mart, Gap and companies like them simply do not want to make any promises they actually have to keep,” said the labor rights coalition. “What they want is to be able to make promises now, at a time of major public and media scrutiny, that they can walk away from whenever it suits them, at a token cost.”

_____________________

Walmart Relentless as Thousands Set to Lose Out in New Health Care Policy December 2, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Labor.
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Published on Saturday, December 1, 2012 by Common Dreams

Box store implicated in federal wage-theft lawsuit

  – Common Dreams staff

Walmart will continue to disappoint workers and labor rights activists in the coming months as it continues to ignore the current widespread workers’ strike and protest movement against its labor policies and implements a new health insurance program that will deny healthcare coverage to employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post.

Photo via Facebook / Overpass Light Brigade.

Walmart is known for employing many of its workers part time and less than 30 hours per week, meaning a large majority of its employees is set to lose insurance through their employer.

In response to the Huffington Post, Walmart declined to disclose how many of its roughly 1.4 million U.S. workers will lose their insurance under the new policy, which is set to begin in January. Company spokesman David Tovar told Huffington that Walmart had “made a business decision” not to respond to questions from the paper.

“For Walmart employees, the new system raises the risk that they could lose their health coverage in large part because they have little control over their schedules. Walmart uses an advanced scheduling system to constantly alter workers’ shifts according to store traffic and sales figures,” the Huffington Post reports.

The discovery comes shortly after thousands of Walmart workers across the country walked off the job over the course of the week leading up to the national shopping day Black Friday. Workers continue to organize and speak out against the company’s attempts to silence employees’ complaints regarding the “company’s manipulation of hours and benefits, efforts to try to keep people from working full-time and their discrimination against women and people of color.”

In other Walmart labor news, Walmart warehouse workers in Southern California filed a petition in court this week in a bid to sue Walmart in a federal wage-theft lawsuit.

Walmart’s warehouses in California and Illinois have accused their employer of labor violations in the past; however, Friday’s filing was the first time Walmart has been directly implicated in the claims of abuse, rather than the company’s warehouse subcontractors, the Huffington Post reports.

“Walmart’s name does not appear on any of these workers paychecks, and the Walmart logo does not appear on the t-shirts they’re required to wear,” Michael Rubin, the workers’ lawyer, said on Friday. “But it has become increasingly clear that the ultimate liability for these workplace violations rests squarely on the shoulders of Walmart.”

 

Comments

  • oldblue63

    A) Why does anyone shop at Walmart?  We shoppers  could bring them around in a few weeks if we all just QUIT shopping there. They need our business …we are in the driver’s seat if we use our power. B) This is a perfect example of why health care should not be provided through employers. Part-time employment is extremely common and it makes the employee constantly up in the air about health care benefits…and many employers do not begin coverage until 3-6 months of employment anyway, so people are going without insurance for long periods.  We are all FULL-TIME citizens and that is where we should be getting our health care benefits.

  • gardenernorcal

    We weren’t offered national health care.

    Many people are forced to shop Walmart because when they move in many local shops close up.  Before Walmart moved into my town we had a Wards, Penneys, KMart and Sears store and assorted small shops like dime stores.  Today we have Walmart  a couple high end furniture stores, 1$ Store, a Staples and a Home Depot.

  • BuddhaNature

    Your story is very similar to our town with one exception. Our town refused a Wal-Mart, so they built in everytown around us and sucked the business away. We  too had a JC Penneys, and Sears. And they try and tell you that capitalism is about competition? I won’t shop in there. They keep their wages down to assure themsleves of a customer base.. Henry Ford paid his workers the then good wage of $5.00 dollars a day so that could afford to buy the car they were producing, Wal- Mart on the otherhand, under pays their workers to  assure they can’t afford to shop anyplace else.

  • natureschild3

     

    “Henry Ford paid his workers the then good wage of $5.00 dollars a day so that could afford to buy the car”

    yes! he expressed the opinion that assembly line workers should earn enough to buy an auto. also he insisted the employees show up in a christian church…and never, ever drink a beer or any alcohol–even at home.

    then one day ford had a great business idea–“I can grow my own tires in honduras!” there, too, henry made sure the brown people of honduras appeared his his church, but adequate pay? “naw. we don’t need a bunch o’ darkies driving cars!” if you can, watch or read transcript here:

    “Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City”

     

    http://www.democracynow.org/20…

     

  • Amurkan

    Henry Ford was obliged to pay his workers $5 hr because they quit in droves when they realized that they would be demeaned by his new assembly line. He didn’t do this from the kindness of his heart. No one seems to know this.

  • natureschild3

    yes! and doesn’t that $5 an hour allowing his faithful to buy a model t speak volumes about the ongoing devaluation of the paper dollar?

    “you load 16 tons of #9 coal and what do you get? “anothe day older and deeper in debt. “lord, don’tcha call me ’cause i can’t go…

    “i owe my so-o-oul. . . to the company store!”

     

  • gardenernorcal

    Yeah Ford was not quite the big stalwart supporter of labor as he’s painted today.

     

    But for years Ford also resorted to legal as well as thug tactics to prevent workers in Ford plants from unionizing. 

    In December 1937, the company was found in violation of the Wagner Act and was ordered to cease interfering with workers’ efforts to unionize. In 1941, when wages at Ford were in fact lower than the average wage for the industry, Henry Ford continued to insist that “we do not intend to submit to any union.”

     

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09…

  • Yunzer

    That’s what you get for living in Kalifornia.  Even the pre-Wal-Mart stores you listed are big-box chains!  Is there ANY part of you state that isn’t totally dominated by big chain-crap?  The Summer of Love ended 43 years ago, and the last Doobie Brothers hit was 35 years ago.  You should consider moving back here to the unfashionable mid-atlantic/northeast.

  • gardenernorcal

    But consider this pre Walmart my community of approximately 500,000 supported 4 large chain stores, whose employees were organized and received full benefits including health care and retirement.  People had choices.  I know I shopped Penneys for clothes, Wards for furniture, Sears for tools and KMart for miscellaneous little stuff.  Today I have basically one choice Walmart and they say they can’t pay their employees a living wage or provide them with health care and other benefits.  Why is that?  They are one of the largest and most profitable US corporations.

    And I was born in California. It’s my home. I wouldn’t be moving back to anywhere.

  • nveric

    You being Snobbish? Don’t you know the oceans are rising?

  • Lorenzo LaRue

    ….And your only entry here is smart ass?  Don’t you know that everyone doesn’t live on the beach?

  • Yunzer

    Fortunately all Wal-Marts are out in the public transit-hostile suburban sprawl-land and require a car, or incredibly crappy bus service to get there.  I’ve sworn off all car use except for the occasional long-haul intercity, hiking or hang gliding trip.

    The only reason I would set foot in a Wal-Mart of Sam’s Club would be to burn one to the ground.  Don’t worry, I’d give plenty of warning to evacuate first.

  • Dem. Socialism

    “Too Big To Care”…”Too Immoral To Share”.

    (Wal-Mart’s new slogan.)

  • N30rebel

    Perhaps better?: “Too Big To Care”…”Too Immoral To Shame.”

  • Matthew Grebenc

    Too immortal to care.

  • gardenernorcal

     

    “But it has become increasingly clear that the ultimate liability for these workplace violations rests squarely on the shoulders of Walmart.”

     

    No actually the responsibility lies with all of us that worry more about the DOW every morning than we do the moral and humane treatment of every worker on this planet.  When Reagan fired those air traffic controllers it wasn’t victory for anyone but big finance and Wall St..

    I remember a time when the financial news was the last thing reported on and only given a few moments at that.  We also didn’t have our TV waves saturated with ads by big pharma or attorneys.  And is it just me or am I seeing more and more alcohol ads as well?  Weren’t they outlawed?  How is it some companies are allowed to campaign but Spuds Mckensey was torpedoed into oblivion.

  • 69Tuscany

    The US and New Zealand are the only countries in the world who allow pharmaceutical advertising.

  • adiantum

    I think NZ recently disallowed it.

  • Dem. Socialism

    Also, gardenernorcal, have you noticed the amount of smoking done in movies lately? Rather blatant.

  • Amurkan

    The excuse given for smoking actors is the ‘in character’ thing. It’s baloney. The studios are complicit in the death later by millions of kids who start smoking because their film heroes do it.  Disgusting and criminal.

  • Richard_William_Posner

    Let’s not overlook the amount of advertising being done by the military. It’s sickening.

    There’s also more than one show that is being used as a propaganda tool to reinforce acceptance of the phony war on terror.

    Additionally, the existence of chemtrails is being normalised through increasing visibility in programming and ads. Pay attention to scenes with nice blue skies in them.

  • gardenernorcal

    There’s a lot of infuriating advertising I didn’t mention like BP’s telling how their actions have improved life on the Gulf.

  • Richard_William_Posner

    Not being critical gardener, just reinforcing your observations.

    The Bernaysian ministries of propaganda, both commercial and political (is there really any difference?) are manufacturing every aspect of our reality.

  • gardenernorcal

    I didn’t take it as a criticism.  I find the additions to my list kind of interesting.

  • Richard_William_Posner

    I’m glad. Wasn’t really sure. And by the way, yes, I find those BP ads really outrageous and infuriating.

  • Holygeezer

    The whole stock market thing is pretty criminal. If one is honest and thinks about it at all, there is no way you can “earn” money by doing nothing, unless you are in effect stealing it from others somehow. The others in this case being workers. Some may say this is too simplistic of a view, but in essence, earning money from investments is glorified stealing.

  • nveric

    The 1970s changed reason into insanity.

    Reagan was the tipper, not the gipper.

  • gardenernorcal

     

    Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, plans to begin denying health insurance to newly hired employees who work fewer than 30 hours a week, according to a copy of the company’s policy obtained by The Huffington Post.Under the policy, slated to take effect in January, Walmart also reserves the right to eliminate health care coverage for certain workers if their average workweek dips below 30 hours — something that happens with regularity and at the direction of company managers 

    Labor and health care experts portrayed Walmart’s decision to exclude workers from its medical plans as an attempt to limit costs while taking advantage of the national health care reform known as Obamacare. Among the key features of Obamacare is an expansion of Medicaid, the taxpayer-financed health insurance program for poor people. Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program, these experts said.

     

    How convenient the US’s largest employer can now foist off their overhead on the US taxpayer while receiving tax breaks and subsidies.

    Interesting chart on this site:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/…

  • Doug_Terpstra

    Yep, this was a predictable outcome of Obamacare, better known as “The Death Panel Profiteers Bailout Act.”  WalMart employees (or rather, taxpayers) will now be forced to buy a defective-by-design product from protection racket extortionists that some call insurance companies.  The full damage of this monstronsity won’t be understood until well after 2014, when its more onerous dictates are implemented.

    Thanks, Obama.

  • gardenernorcal

    Not just that.  Taxpayers will be subsidizing Walmart labor by providing them with medicaid, food stamps etc..  With their profits you’d think they could afford to pay  their employees a living wage.

  • Doug_Terpstra

    Good point.  The next logical step will be to lower corporate taxes even further and then repeal the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • Mike_Strong

    Yup! Repealing the Emancipation Proclamation is definitely on the agenda. Just slightly different job descriptions and this time with a paycheck. Sort of an upgrade on sharecropping.

  • natureschild3

    don’t just thank obama. top honors should go to lloyd blankfein, ceo of goldman sachs. lloyd is the real man behind the curtain pulling all sorts of political strings!

  • Donna M Crane

    Since my 41 year old son is already on ObamaCare for his pre-exisiting condition, I can assure you it is in no way defective, and is affordable.  He is able to pay his monthly fee of $188 and co-pays even though he is only working about 30 hours a week currently. The excellent RX Plan that is included (unlike Medicare) allows him to get his medications at an affordable price  that keeps him out of the hospital and able to work. In fact, as far as I can see, it works just like, and just as well as, my Medicare which I love.  And in point of fact, we are already paying for all Walmart’s employees, even the full time ones who still qualify for food stamps and Medicaid.  Most WalMart employees already don’t have health insurance thru the company.  In fact pretty much only the top levels have it. ObamaCares is already benefiting many people like my son and here in AZ we are using the Federal Government Set Up Exchange, since AZ isn’t going to set up its own Exchange…I consider this a benefit for us as I’m sure AZ wouldn’t do as well.  Before you start kicking around ObamaCare, you should talk to some people who are on it.

  • Inspector47

    Thank you! As far as Walmart being thieves they are the free market, capitalism at it’s best! The republicans are crying about the four people who were killed overseas, four thousand Americans die monthly due to the lack of health care. My daughter wreaked on her bike, she is a college student, at 23, she was able to be on our health ins for her injuries thanks to Obama care.

  • Doug_Terpstra

    Thanks.  I’m glad it’s working for you, at least for now. Most of the perceived good provisions of the 2,000-page bill were implemented upfront, pre-election, by design.  2014 is when the kickers come, too late, by design.

    [Adding: Walmart is the post-election coalmine canary.  Dropping employeer-provided healthcare will become a corporate rush by 2014.  Obamacare did nothing to cap runaway drug and sickcare costs.  Enjoy the good times.]

  • Inspector47

    Like the 80/20 law that forces insurance companies to spend 80 percent of premimuns on the policy holder or return it?

  • Doug_Terpstra

    Not quite. The rebate does not apply to individual policy holders as you imply, but to collective policy holders within a state. IOW, you don’t get a refund as an individual customer if you’re healthy and the company spends little or no money on you.  This is why Obama’s Death-Panel Profiteers Bailout Act is more than 2,000 pages of lobbyese.  It’s designed to confuse most people while enriching the investor class that Obama really works for.

    The theoretical rebate would be a share of whatever amount your insurer spends on health care that is less than 80% of aggregate premiums paid in by all of its customers in that state, and you can imagine how corporate attorneys will game that one).

    So, if your employer (like Walmart) drops you—as many or most will do in the next year or two—forcing you (or taxpayers for you) to pay thousands in out-of-pocket in premiums (no choice under the mandate), you might get a $158 rebate at the end of the year like the lucky lottery winners of North Carolina ($7 in Utah).  Partly, this depends on how successful the death-panel gatekeepers are at rationing care or denying claims in a particular state.

    http://www.examiner.com/articl…

    See also: Welcome to the Future of Your Health Insurance. It Sucks.

    http://www.nakedcapitalism.com…

  • Inspector47

    Death panels in the affordable care act, Sarah Palin won lie of the year with that one.

  • Doug_Terpstra

    Thank you.  Apparently, my use of the term for private versus public was unclear. Palin’s use of the term for her GOP handlers referred to government “death panels”, to scare people away from universal coverage by single-payer (for the same people waving signs reading “keep your government hands off my Medicare”).    My use of the term refers to the private profiteers (insurance racketeers), whose gatekeepers are a far worse form of “death panel” — denying claims and rationing care for profit only.

    The denial of coverage by for-profit gatekeepers is routine and far worse here than what occurs in civilized countries with single-payer universal coverage like Sweden, Canada and the UK.  And Obamacare rejected single-payer and any public option thus institutionalizing profiteering by private racketeers with a captive market — with almost no limits on escalating costs, including prescription drugs that are explicitly protected from market competition (free trade is remarkably selective).  It is the worst form of crony capitalism endorsed by the conservative Supine Court.

  • wildcarrots

    Well said.

  • wildcarrots

    I’m really glad it is working for your son, no doubt it will work better than standard insurance for some groups.  Just remember that the system you are comparing it with really sucks. If you really think it is good try comparing it to one of the other systems in the world that deliver better care at half the cost.

  • Kenneth C. Fingeret

    Hello gardenernorcal,

    Walfart has been doing this for decades.  As I understand it part of the paperwork when you are hired is getting government assistance due to your lack of a living wage salary that does not include much if anything in the way of benefits. This makes you eligible for different programs such as Medicade, AFDC, etc.  A special Walfart tax of 500% of all government payments that are made to Walfart employees due to lack of salary and benefits given to their employees. should be the minimum required for Walfart to pay.  I call them Walfart because they leave a bad odor wherever they are located!

  • nveric

    Blood sucking death mongers run Walmart, their oozing puss filled sores covering their faces, acidic drool plops from their crusted puffy lips burning holes to the center of the Earth, necks as short as their ‘other’ parts and as wide as their hips, and below are stubby trunk-like legs incapable of independent motion.

    You see, there’s no body and no heart for these Borg-like little people spawned from Sam Walton and an unknown surrogate, most likely an alien life-form kept in an undisclosed location in Nevada.

  • wildcarrots

    The U.S. is going to be a very unhealthy place to live and shop when you consider the number of people that do not have access to healthcare.  Disease does not respect ideological boundaries. .

  • Gubdeb

    Look around. It already is.

  • Poet

    I don’t know who designed the portable lit sign, but it gives the graffiti of protest an entirely new frontier (drive through territory after or just before dark) and flexibility (how difficult would it be to change the message to “Tax the Wealthy for a Change”, or “Shrink the Pentagon Not Social Security”?).

     

    It can be easily moved and, depending on the time, and location reach many people with a simple message they cannot avoid.  Flash mobs just got an entirely new twist unique to the US motoring culture!

     

  • 69Tuscany

    Great idea.

  • d9rich

    It’s been done with hand-made signs for over a decade or more.

  • Poet

    If by “hand made signs” you mean electrically lit like the one in the picture, then great–I have never seen any such example before the above photo.

     

    What I meant to convey was that most “hand made signs” are invisible after dark to all but the cars slowing to a stop at a traffic light.

     

    That one in the picture cannot be missed by passing motorists on their way to nowhere and as such expands both the potential audience and time of exposure to whatever message an activist wishes to present.

     

     

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    Declaration of the Occupation of New York City October 5, 2011

    Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Environment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Poverty, War.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    add a comment

     

    www.nationofchange.org

    What follows is the first official, collective
    statement of the protesters in Zuccotti Park:

    As we gather together in solidarity to express a
    feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together.
    We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the
    world can know that we are your allies.

    As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality:
    that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that
    our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up
    to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors;
    that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but
    corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the
    Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined
    by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place
    profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality,
    run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let
    these facts be known.

     

    • They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite
      not having the original mortgage.
    • They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give
      Executives exorbitant bonuses.
    • They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based
      on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
    • They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the
      farming system through monopolization.
    • They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of
      countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
    • They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate
      for better pay and safer working conditions.
    • They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on
      education, which is itself a human right.
    • They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as
      leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
    • They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with
      none of the culpability or responsibility.
    • They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get
      them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
    • They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
    • They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the
      press.
    • They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives
      in pursuit of profit.
    • They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their
      policies have produced and continue to produce.
    • They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible
      for regulating them.
    • They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on
      oil.
    • They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s
      lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned
      a substantial profit.
    • They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping,
      and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
    • They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control
      of the media.
    • They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented
      with serious doubts about their guilt.
    • They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.
    • They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians
      overseas.
    • They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive
      government ontracts.*

     

    To the people of the world, We, the New York City
    General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert
    your power.

    Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy
    public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate
    solutions accessible to everyone.

    To all communities that take action and form
    groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and
    all of the resources at our disposal.

    Join us and make your voices heard!

    NationofChange has been an unfiltered media
    resource for the Occupy Wall Street movement even while the mainstream media has
    ignored, censored, and undermined the progress of the people.

    Human Rights Activists Protest NBA-Linked Sweatshops June 14, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Labor.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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    Published on Sunday, June 14, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Peter Dreier

    Many celebrities will be in the stands to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play the Orlando Magic in the NBA finals at Amway Arena tonight, and even more Hollywood stars and political types will be at Staples Center Tuesday night if a 6th game is necessary. But outside both arenas, human rights, labor, and student activists will be picketing to protest the NBA’s links with a global corporation that violates workers’ rights and subjects them to sweatshop conditions.

    The protesters want the NBA to end its $125 million deal with the Russell Corporation, which owns Spalding and Huffy Sports, the official makers of NBA basketballs and backboards. Russell is also the NBA’s official institutional uniform provider. The company, which had $562 million in sales in 2007, also makes uniforms and equipment for pro baseball and football teams as well as many high schools and universities. Russell is a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, headed by billionaire Warren Buffett.

    The NBA’s deal with Russell is the apparel firm’s biggest contract. Indeed, it is the biggest equipment deal in professional sports.

    United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS), along with its union and human rights allies, have sought, without success so far, to meet with NBA Commissioner David Stern to discuss Russell’s labor practices. It has launched one website to provide more information about the campaign and another to encourage fans to write to Stern.

    The protests include leaflets, picket signs, and a life-size puppet of Stern, all designed to educate fans about the NBA’s complicity with Russell’s controversial workplace abuses.

    The N BA is only one of several targets of USAS’ campaign to draw attention to Russell’s human rights abuses. The campaign has heated up in recent months, with activists bringing their crusade to universities that do business with Russell, retail stores that sell Russell clothing, Berkshire Hathaway stockholders, and even the U.S. Congress.

    In addition to its contract with the NBA, Russell produces t-shirts, sweatshirts and other apparel for many universities under licensing agreements that allow the firm to use the colleges’ names and logos on items sold in campus bookstores and other retail outlets. Students activists have complained about Russell’s labor abuses in its Honduran factories, well documented by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a non-profit human rights group a nonprofit human rights group that has been monitoring the plants.

    More than 70 colleges and universities so far have cut ties with Russell in response to protests from student activists affiliated with USAS and human rights groups. These include five of the top seven schools that feed players to the NBA — North Carolina, UCLA, University of Connecticut, Duke and Florida. Four players for the NBA finalists attended schools that have ended their Russell contracts – Lakers Trevor Ariza (UCLA), Jordan Farmar (UCLA), and Josh Powell (NC State), along with the Magic’s JJ Redick (Duke). The University of Florida, which cut its ties to the sportswear maker earlier this month, is the latest university to revoke Russell’s license to use its logo.

    USAS recently sponsored a tour of American campuses for workers from Russell’s Jerzees de Honduras factory. One of those workers, Norma Mejia, told her story, including death threats and other abuses against workers, at Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholder meeting in May, including a heated exchange with Russell CEO John Holland , which can been seen on YouTube.

    Last month, 65 members of Congress wrote a letter to Holland, condemning “severe violations of internationally recognized labor rights” based on “troubling reports from credible labor rights monitors [that] detail numerous violations of workers’ associational rights at Jerzees de Honduras,” one of Russell’s plants.

    The student activists have also been leafleting outside Sports Authority stores in cities across the nation, asking customers to urge the giant retail chain to stop selling Russell’s products.

    For years, workers at Russell’s Honduras factories that produce the universities’ clothing have complained about low wages (an average of less than $1.50 an hour), unsafe drinking water, verbal abuse, and other labor violations. But they didn’t simply complain. They stood up for their rights and joined together to form a union. In response, Russell engaged in what the WRC called a “campaign of retaliation and intimidation”against the workers. The WRC conducted interviews with workers and management and issues several reports documenting the company’s violations of worker rights.

    Over a two-year period, Russell factory managers used illegal and threatening tactics to stop workers at two of the company’s Honduran factories from exercising their right to organize and bargain collectively, a right explicitly protected by the codes of conduct of Russell’s university business partners. The intimidation campaign included the illegal firing of 145 union supporters in 2007 and the persistent harassment of union activists and constant threats to close the Jerzees de Honduras factory in order to punish the union.

    In January, only days after workers rejected the company’s stingy offer – a four cent per day wage increase — Russell made good on its threat and closed down its only unionized factory in the country, Jerzees de Honduras, leaving 1,800 workers without jobs. It also placed them a computerized blacklist, making it extremely difficult for them to find other work.

    Although Russell insists that it closed the factory economic reasons, the WRC reports indicate others. Since 2007, for example, Russell has shut down its only two factories where workers had organized unions, but they have not closed any of the remaining eight plants in Honduras where there is no union. The WRC documented that on over 100 occasions, the factory’s managers told workers that they would shut the factory if employees continued to organize a union. The WRC, which works closely with 185 universities to monitor working conditions in factories that manufacture clothing made by licensees, has outlined a series of remedial steps for Russell to demonstrate its good faith, but so far the company has failed to comply.

    USAS’s successful campaign to get universities to end their contracts with Russell was designed to pressure Russell to comply with Honduran labor laws and the labor codes of conduct adopted by many universities that do business with global apparel corporations. These campus codes of conduct are the fruit of many years of student anti-sweatshop activism which began at Duke in 1997 and spread to hundreds of campuses, involving students in sit-ins, hunger strikes, rallies, sweatshop fashion shows, and negotiations with college administrators.

    Other colleges that have ended their licensing agreements with Russell include Boston College, Brown, Carleton, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown, Harvard, Marquette, Montana State, Northwestern, NYU, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, St. Louis University, Stanford, Louisville, Maryland, Minnesota, University of Miami, University of Houston, Penn, Wisconsin, Villanova, University of Washington, Brandeis, Hamilton, and the entire University of California system.

    So far, the NBA Players Association – whose president is Lakers guard Derek Fisher – has been silent on this controversy. What could the players union — which has made it possible for even ordinary players to become millionaires (average salary: $4 million) — do to demonstrate its solidarity with their fellow unionists in Honduras? In the off-season, the players union could send a fact-finding delegation of players to meet with the Russell employees and inspect the working conditions at its Honduran factories, in partnership with the WRC – a gesture that would shine a spotlight on Russell’s outrageous labor practices.

    Surely there are some NBA players with a social conscience who could bring this issue to the Players Association’s annual meeting June 24-26 at Wynn’s Encore Hotel in Las Vegas.

    (One likely candidate is the union’s first vice president, Adonal Foyle of the Orlando Magic. A native of the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and a magna cum laude graduate of Colgate University, he is a long time political activist who started Democracy Matters “to help students fight for progressive change by standing up to big money interests corrupting our democracy”).

    Meanwhile, ordinary consumers can look for the Russell label when they go shopping, and tell store managers that they won’t buy Russell products until the company cleans up its act. For consumers with a conscience, boycotting Russell is a slam dunk.

    Peter Dreier is E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban & Environmental Policy program, at Occidental College. He is coauthor of Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century and The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. He writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, and American Prospect.

    Obama Doesn’t Plan to Reopen Nafta Talks April 26, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Labor.
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    www.nytimes.com, Published: April 20, 2009

    WASHINGTON — The administration has no present plans to reopen negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement to add labor and environmental protections, as President Obama vowed to do during his campaign, the top trade official said on Monday.

    “The president has said we will look at all of our options, but I think they can be addressed without having to reopen the agreement,” said the official, Ronald Kirk, the United States trade representative. It was perhaps the clearest indication yet of the administration’s thinking on whether to reopen the core agreement to add labor and environmental rules.

    Mr. Kirk spoke in a conference call with reporters after returning from a regional summit meeting that Mr. Obama attended over the weekend in Trinidad. He said that Mr. Obama had conferred with the leaders of Mexico and Canada — the other parties to the trade agreement — and that “they are all of the mind we should look for opportunities to strengthen Nafta.”

    But while he said that a formal review of the 1992 pact had yet to be completed, Mr. Kirk noted that both Mr. Obama and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico had said that “they don’t believe we have to reopen the agreement now.”

    Mexico in particular, whose exports have exploded under Nafta, has little interest in such a renegotiation.

    Not only Mr. Obama but also one of his rivals for the presidency, Hillary Rodham Clinton, had promised during their campaigns to renegotiate the accord — a politically popular position in some electorally important Midwestern states that have lost thousands of manufacturing jobs.

    Thea Lee, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. policy director, said that the workers federation would have preferred “more definitive” language on addressing key labor concerns, but that it was understandable for a new administration to start its review with a less confrontational approach.

    “We were obviously very encouraged by what Obama the candidate was saying on the campaign trail in terms of needing to recognize the deficiencies of Nafta and to strengthen it,” said Margrete Strand Rangnes, a labor and trade specialist with the Sierra Club.

    Her group opposed Nafta from the start as lacking adequate environmental provisions, and contends that the side agreements added later have proved inadequate. “You have an environmental side agreement that doesn’t have as many teeth as the commercial provisions of the agreement,” she said. “You have an investment chapter that allows companies to basically file suit against common-sense environmental and public health measures.”

    But she said the Sierra Club recognized that change would not come easily, and added, “We’re eager to work with the administration in having that conversation.”

    Since the election, neither the president nor Mrs. Clinton, now secretary of state, has said much about trying to move side agreements on labor and the environment — which are subject to limited enforcement — into the main part of the trade pact, a potentially tangled and protracted process. As candidates in the Democratic presidential primaries last year, both said they would renegotiate or even opt out of Nafta, citing flaws in its labor and environmental provisions, while trading accusations over past support for the agreement.

    Mr. Kirk, who as mayor of Dallas was known as a strong advocate of free trade, also said the administration planned expeditious reviews of pending trade agreements with Colombia and Panama.

    He said that Colombia had made “remarkable progress” in reducing violence — attacks against labor activists have been a key sticking point — but that other issues remained, and he vowed intensive consultation with Congress on the matter.

    The Bush administration signed the agreement with Colombia in November 2006. But Congressional Democrats and United States labor groups have said the Uribe government must do more to stop the antilabor violence and hold perpetrators accountable, a position Mr. Obama supported during his campaign.

    Regarding Panama, Mr. Kirk said that differences on labor standards, and the question of the country “possibly being a tax haven,” needed resolution.

    Mr. Obama and Mr. Kirk met with leaders of both countries during the Trinidad meeting.

    Happy Birthday, Cesar Chavez! March 31, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Human Rights, Labor.
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    cesar-chavez

    David Swanson

    www.opednews.com, March 31, 2009

    No, he’s NOT the president of Venezuela. 

    Yes, he was the man who popularized the slogan “Yes, we can!”  Only he said “Si’ se puede!” 

    Cesar Chavez, American young people should know, was an American who 40 years ago was inspiring young people to work long, hard hours for social justice.  And not only did they do so in great numbers, but they actually achieved social justice, they won victories that kept them going.  And many of them are going still, having made long, enjoyable, and effective careers of it.

    Chavez organized the United Farm Workers, vastly improving the working conditions of farm workers in California and around the country.  The UFW pioneered numerous tactics that have been used with great success ever since, including most famously the boycott.  Half the country stopped eating grapes until the people who picked the grapes were allowed to form a union. 

    Now much of what we eat and otherwise consume is made by slave labor, sweatshop labor, and workers without rights or their basic needs met.  Many of these products are shipped to us from distant lands.  Some are produced in the United States, including California, where farm workers’ power is not what it was. 

    But the people the UFW trained have taken their skills “Beyond the Fields,” which is the title of a wonderful new book by Randy Shaw that chronicles the long-term effects of the UFW’s successes.  Techniques mastered by the UFW have been employed with great success beyond the fields, including the technique of targeting a corporation or politician from numerous angles at once.  In addition to boycotts, the UFW pioneered the use of fasting, the framing of workers’ issues in moral terms, actions aimed at gaining media attention, creating media with human billboards and other street theater, encouraging civic participation among union members, coalition building, and voter outreach and election day activities that have proved consistently powerful and effective. 

    UFW veterans have used these techniques to elect better politicians, to reform numerous corporations, to win union contracts and better conditions for janitors, to build a movement for immigrants rights, and to advance an endless list of social causes.  When I worked for ACORN, what I saw ACORN’s organizers and members doing was straight out of the UFW.  In fact, reading Chavez’ writings was mandatory.  A campaign like the one I wrote about here that won a half a billion dollars from a predatory bank for its victims was pure UFW, even if those working on it were a degree of separation or two removed from Cesar Chavez.  “If there were a post-World War II Hall of Fame for activists in America, UFW veterans would dominate the inductees,” writes Shaw. 

    That doesn’t mean there haven’t been failures and improvements, set backs and new innovations, and good techniques put to questionable ends.  But, on the whole, the approach of the UFW is one we would clearly benefit from following more closely.  We should focus on training and education.  We should build activist organizations that inspire young people to join and sacrifice.  That means taking principled moral positions and fighting for them.  And it means delegating responsibility to young people and training them above all to train others.  And it means taking risks.

    The cry of “si’ se puede!” comes out of a 1972 campaign to recall the governor of Arizona who had just signed an anti-labor bill.  In four and a half months, the UFW registered almost 100,000 new voters, most of them poor Navajos and Mexican Americans.  While the attorney general blocked the recall, four Mexican Americans and two Navajos were elected to the state legislature, and Mexican Americans were elected to local councils, judgeships, and school boards, and two years later to the office of governor.  In the process, the UFW showed others how to alter politics by organizing volunteers to sign up new voters.

    But the UFW didn’t just register voters who could be counted on to vote for the lesser of two lousy candidates.  The UFW backed candidates and got them elected while simultaneously forcing them to comply with farm workers’ demands.  This is the lesson that we’ve lost today, as we put massive efforts into electing candidates while making no demands of them.  In 1974 the UFW was critical to the success of Jerry Brown’s campaign for governor of California, and had high hopes that he would sign a bill friendly to farm labor once elected.  But the UFW did more than hope, it got a similar bill introduced and forced Brown to publicly express his support for it.  This required a sit-in in a campaign office staffed by friends and colleagues.  Once Brown was governor, Chavez had to threaten a massive march to the capitol.  The first Agricultural Labor Relations Act in the country was signed into law in June 1975, and UFW staff went on to coordinate Brown’s presidential campaigns.  They had earned his respect, something progressives today do not get from politicians by giving everything they have and never insisting on anything in return. 

    If Cesar Chavez were alive, he would be sitting in the office of a senator who is refusing to back the Employee Free Choice Act, he would be fasting, he would be refusing to leave, and he would be telling you Si Se Puede!

     

     David Swanson is the author of the upcoming book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press and of the introduction to “The 35 Articles of Impeachment and the Case for Prosecuting George W.

    Urgent Call For Solidarity With Mexican Miners January 10, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Labor, Latin America, Mexico.
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    Written by John L. Lewis

    January 10, 2009 at 4:41 am

    Union News, http://unionnews.wordpress.com/2009/01/10/urgent-call-for-solidarity-with-mexican-miners/

    The National Union of Mineworkers, Steelworkers, Steelmakers and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSSRM) is being subjected to fierce repression by the fraudulent government of Felipe Calderon and by the Grupo México, the mining monopoly that seeks to destroy the union. What is the mineworkers’ crime? It’s defending the right of workers to decide who their leaders should be without government interference; it’s defending their collective-bargaining agreement.On December 4, Carlos Pavon Campos, Secretary for Political Affairs of the mineworkers’ union, was arrested in Mexico City. He was immediately transferred to the city of Monclova in the state of Coahuila (in the north), on charges of alleged fraud. The day before, Juan Linares Montufar, president of the union’s Main Committee of Vigilance, was transferred to Mexico City. Linares Montufar had been arrested in the city of Morelia in the state of Michoacan.

     

    A few weeks earlier, the government “froze” the bank accounts of the union. On December 9, a judge ruled “Illegal and non-existent” the mineworkers’ strike in Cananea, Sonora. Those workers, together with mineworkers in Sombrerete and Taxco have been on strike for over a year to defend their working conditions and the existence of their union. Grupo Mexico has simply refused to negotiate with the union. Today [Dec. 13] the media report that 50 mineworkers in Cananea were issued arrest warrants.

    The crackdown against the union began under the Fox administration (2000-2006) through the creation of “white [scab] unions” in opposition the National Union of Mineworkers. Legal charges were brought against Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, president of the union, who was forced to seek political asylum in Canada. The crackdown has intensified under the government of Felipe Calderon and has reached a level of absolute arbitrary force, outside legal norms, with the appointment by the government of Francisco Gomez Mont Urrueta, a man who had previously been the legal assessor of Grupo México, that is, the very company set on destroying the union.

    The government aims to break the will of those fighting to defend the freedom of association and workers’ conquests. The government does not tolerate the union’s demand that the circumstances of the deaths in the Pasta de Conchos mine (in the state of Coahuila) be clarified and the union’s demand for the recovery of the bodies (still buried deep underground) of the deceased workers in this mine.

    All these repressive actions taken against the mine workers’ union are an indicator of what the government is preparing with the labor counter-reform it seeks to impose in 2009 (as announced by the Secretary of Labor). This new law aims to eliminate labor rights, to exert even greater pressure on the unions to impose individual and test contracts and to facilitate lay-offs.

    The defense of the Mexican mineworkers’ union requires the support of mineworkers and of all unions and union activists the world over. An urgent solidarity response is needed on an international with these embattled mineworkers.

    We urge you to demand of the Mexican government:

    * The immediate release of Carlos Pavon Campos and Juan Linares Montufar, leaders of the Union of mineworkers
    * The withdrawal of all arrest warrants against mineworkers in Cananea
    * The return of the bank accounts of the union
    * The strict observance of union autonomy and independence
    * No to government interference in the internal affairs of the union
    * Observance of ILO Conventions 87 and 98

    Please send your petitions to:
    LIC. Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa,
    Official Residence de los Pinos Casa Miguel Alemán
    Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, CP 11850, Distrito Federal, MÉXICOTelephone and fax: (55) 50935300
    Felipe.calderon@presidencia.gob.mx

    LIC. FERNANDO Francisco Gomez MONT Urueta
    Bucareli 99, 1er piso Colonia Juarez CP 06699 México DF,
    >Fax: (00 52) 5 55 546 5350, (00 52) 5 55 546 7388

    DR. José Luis Soberanes Fernánde
    PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

    Obama Defends Republic Windows and Doors Workers December 8, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
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    workers-rights

    Workers refuse to leave the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago. President-elect Obama has weighed in, supporting the workers’ demands for severance pay. (Photo: M. Spencer Green / AP) www.truthout.org

     

    by: Abdon Pallasch, The Chicago Sun-TimesAlso see below:     
    In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide    •

    President-elect Barack Obama put himself on the side of the workers at the Republic Windows and Doors factory Sunday:

     

        “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference announcing his new Veterans Affairs director. “What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

     

        “When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

     

        “Number two, I think it is important for us to make sure that, moving forward, any economic plan we put in place helps businesses to meet payroll so we are not seeing these kinds of circumstances again,” he said. “Have we done everything that we can to make sure credit is flowing to businesses and to families, and to students who are trying to get loans? And to homeowners who have been making payments on their homes but are still finding their property values so depressed that it becomes very difficult for them to make the mortgage payments?

     

        “That’s where the rubber hits the road and that’s going to be the central focus of my administration.”

     :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

     

    In Factory Sit-In, an Anger Spread Wide

    Sunday 07 December 2008

     

    by: Monica Davey, The New York Times

     

        Chicago – The scene inside a long, low-slung factory on this city’s North Side this weekend offered a glimpse at how the nation’s loss of more than 600,000 manufacturing jobs in a year of recession is boiling over.

     

        Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

     

        Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory. Their sharpest criticisms were aimed at their former bosses, who they said gave them only three days’ notice of the closing, and the company’s creditors. But their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers.

     

        “They want the poor person to stay down,” said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. “We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter.”

     

        The workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the 60 days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs. Lisa Madigan, the attorney general of Illinois, said her office was investigating, and representatives from her office interviewed workers at the plant on Sunday.

     

        At a news conference Sunday, President-elect Barack Obama said the company should follow through on its commitments to its workers.

     

        “The workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned,” Mr. Obama said, “I think they’re absolutely right and understand that what’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.”

     

        Company officials, who were no longer at the factory, did not return telephone or e-mail messages. A meeting between the owners and workers is scheduled for Monday. The company, which was founded in 1965 and once employed more than 700 people, had struggled in recent months as home construction dipped, workers said.

     

        Still, as they milled around the factory’s entrance this weekend, some workers said they doubted that the company was really in financial straits, and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay. Others said managers had kept their struggles secret, at one point before Thanksgiving removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night but claiming, when asked about it, that all was well.

     

        Workers also pointedly blamed Bank of America, a lender to Republic Windows, saying the bank had prevented the company from paying them what they were owed, particularly for vacation time accrued.

     

        “Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?” said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. “The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s.”

     

        In a statement issued Saturday, Bank of America officials said they could not comment on an individual client’s situation because of confidentiality obligations. Still, a spokeswoman also said, “Neither Bank of America nor any other third party lender to the company has the right to control whether the company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitments to its employees.”

     

        Inside the factory, the “occupation” was relatively quiet. The Chicago police said that they were monitoring the situation but that they had had no reports of a criminal matter to investigate.

     

        About 30 workers sat in folding chairs on the factory floor. (Reporters and supporters were not allowed to enter, but the workers could be observed through an open door.) They came in shifts around the clock. They tidied things. They shoveled snow. They met with visiting leaders, including Representatives Luis V. Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, both Democrats from Illinois, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

     

        Throughout the weekend, people came by with donations of food, water and other supplies.

     

        The workers said they were determined to keep their action – reminiscent, union leaders said, of autoworkers’ efforts in Michigan in the 1930s – peaceful and to preserve the factory.

     

        “The fact is that workers really feel like they have nothing to lose at this point,” Ms. Fried said. “It shows something about our economic times, and it says something about how people feel about the bailout.”

     

        Until last Tuesday, many workers here said, they had no sense that there was any problem. Shortly before 1 p.m. that day, workers were told in a meeting that the plant would close Friday, they said. Some people wept, others expressed fury.

     

        Many employees said they had worked in the factory for decades. Lalo Muñoz, who was among those sleeping over in the building, said he arrived 34 years ago. The workers – about 80 percent of them Hispanic, with the rest black or of other ethnic and national backgrounds – made $14 an hour on average and received health care and retirement benefits, Ms. Fried said.

     

        “This never happens – to take a company from the inside,” Ms. Mazon said. “But I’m fighting for my family, and we’re not going anywhere.”

     

     

    Angry Laid-off Workers Occupy Factory in Chicago December 7, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor.
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    Associated Press

    CHICAGO — Workers who got three days’ notice that their factory was shutting its doors have occupied the building and say they won’t go home without assurances they’ll get severance and vacation pay.

    About 250 union workers occupied the Republic Windows and Doors plant in shifts Saturday while union leaders outside criticized a Wall Street bailout they say is leaving labourers behind.

    Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days’ notice required by law before shutting down.

    During the two-day peaceful takeover, workers have been shovelling snow and cleaning the building, Ms. Fried said.

    “We’re doing something we haven’t done since the 1930s, so we’re trying to make it work,” she said, referring to a tactic most famously used in 1936-37 by General Motors factory workers in Flint, Mich., to help unionize the U.S. auto industry.

    Ms. Fried said the company can’t pay its 300 employees because its creditor, Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, won’t let them. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Republic Windows’ monthly sales had fallen to $2.9-million (U.S.) from $4-million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had “no choice but to shut our doors.”

    Bank of America received $25-billion from the government’s financial bailout package. The company said in a statement Saturday that it isn’t responsible for Republic’s financial obligations to its employees.

    “Across cultures, religions, union and nonunion, we all say this bailout was a shame,” said Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743. “If this bailout should go to anything, it should go to the workers of this country.”

    Outside the plant, protesters wore stickers and carried signs that said, “You got bailed out, we got sold out.”

    The Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights group, announced in a news release Saturday that Jesse Jackson planned to visit the workers Sunday morning to offer his support.

    Larry Spivack, regional director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 31, said the peaceful action will add to Chicago’s rich history in the labour movement, which includes the 1886 Haymarket affair, when Chicago labourers and anarchists gathering in a square on the city’s west side drew national attention after an unidentified person threw a bomb at police.

    “The history of workers is built on issues like this here today,” Mr. Spivack said.

    Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond Saturday to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

    Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

    Workers were angered when company officials didn’t show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, Ms. Fried said. Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday afternoon.

    “We’re going to stay here until we win justice,” said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, after occupying the building for several hours. Speaking in Spanish, Ms. Funes said she fears losing her home without the wages she feels she’s owed. A 13-year employee of Republic, she estimated her family can make do for three months without her paycheque. Most of the factory’s workers are Hispanic.

     

    Dealing With Killers and Kidnappers: the High Cost of Free Trade December 6, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America, Uncategorized.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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    www.upsidedownworld.org Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
    Tuesday, 02 December 2008
    President Bush is using his final days in office to push through a free trade agreement with Colombia that would reward one of the hemisphere’s worst human rights abusers.

    Meanwhile, major media outlets have ceded their role as critical watchdogs and instead have indiscriminately thrown their support behind a pact with a country which Human Rights Watch notes has “the world’s highest rate of killings of trade unionists… [and that] The violence there is so serious, and the lack of response by the authorities so overwhelming, that workers simply cannot exercise their rights,” such as the basic right to organize.

    The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report also makes a case for not passing the deal. Released in March, the report states that in Colombia “forced disappearances” occur, while the police and military have been tied to torture and extrajudicial killings. In September, the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, a non-profit that supports workers in Latin America, revealed that “41 union members were killed in Colombia in the first eight months of 2008, more than the entirety of 2007.”

    But never mind states the media. In a recent editorial, the New York Times argues, “The new agreement would benefit American companies.” The L.A. Times also states “Seal the Deal,” even though it admits “Colombia remains a violent country where…even the military and national police commit human rights abuses and atrocities.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post chastised Democrats’ opposition to the deal, and specifically for “arguing that Colombia has a dismal record on human rights.”

    Another argument you’ll hear from free traders is that allowing U.S. businesses greater access into these often times fragile countries will subsequently help democratize them. But unfortunately reality trumps this free trade rhetoric.

    Last year Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). And even more disturbing, as the Washington Post in an Aug. 2, 2007 article pointed out, is that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time of the payments assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it.

    We can also look to the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as an example of how unleashing the “invisible hand” of the market in Latin America ends up strangling the people of the region. On April 23 six Guatemalan unions, along with the AFL-CIO, filed a complaint allowed through labor provisions of CAFTA, charging that the Guatemalan government was not upholding its labor laws and was failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members-which include rape and murder. The complaint states that violence against trade unionists had increased over the past two years (since CAFTA was ratified) and that the Guatemalan government may be responsible for some of the violence.

    Commenting on the complaint and the violence of free trade in Guatemala, Thea Lee, chief international economist for the AFL-CIO, told Bloomberg News, “There is a climate of terror for trade unionists. But so far the Bush administration hasn’t lifted a finger to enforce any of the labor chapters.”

    Then there is Colombia’s paramilitary scandal (you could devote a whole book to this), which involves all levels of the government and the military—even President Alvaro Uribe and members of his family.

    So is opening up markets to U.S. companies in countries where violence against workers and impunity are the norm one of the “benefits” of free trade? When workers live in a “climate of terror” and are denied their right to organize so that they might be able to negotiate humane wages and working conditions, companies can keep wages and working conditions at inhumane levels. This undoubtedly maximizes profits. But is this the business model we want to continue export to the world?

    One thing everyone should have learned from the last eight years, and from our nation’s subsequent miserable standing in the world, is that it’s time to use human rights to guide our foreign policy. If that’s to be the case, Democrats can begin this process by denying President Bush this last parting shot. 

    Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org.
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