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Why I Wouldn’t be Caught Dead Shopping in Wal-Mart May 29, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Capitalism, Economic Crisis.
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images

$16 billion
Walmart’s Profit

$144 billion
Wealth of Walmart Owners (the Waltons)
(as much as 42% of Americans combined!)

$7 billion
Subsidies and Tax Breaks that Benefited Walmart & the Waltons

< $25,000
Most Walmart Workers Annual Wage

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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

pam_ramos2-620x412

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.

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.”

As Death Toll Rises, Report Shows Big Retail Brands Chose Profit over Safety in Bangladesh April 26, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Bangladesh, Labor.
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Hundreds of thousands protest dangerous “sweatshop” conditions as police fire tear gas, rubber bullets

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A Bangladeshi woman was lifted out of the rubble by rescuers at the site of a building that collapsed in Bangladesh. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

As the death toll soared past 300 in the aftermath of Wednesday’s garment factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and over 1,000 remained unaccounted for on Friday, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at hundreds of thousands of mourning protesters fed up with an international garment industry that continues to place profit over workers’ lives.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports Friday that in 2011 several major western retailers rejected a proposal made by a group of Bangladeshi and international unions that outlined a way to clean up Bangladesh’s garment factories. The plan would have established an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh “with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions.”

“The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly,” AP reports.

At the time, Wal-Mart’s representative told the meeting it was “not financially feasible … to make such investments,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by AP.

‘Not Financially Feasible…': Inspections would have been funded by contributions from the companies of merely $500,000 per year, compared to the $20 billion Western brands such as Walmart, the Gap and H&M make from the garment industry in Bangladesh per year.

The inspections would have been funded by contributions from the companies of merely $500,000 per year, compared to the $20 billion Western brands such as Walmart, the Gap and H&M make from the garment industry in Bangladesh per year. All told, garment manufacturing is a $1 trillion global industry.

Five garment factories were housed in the eight-story building that collapsed on Wednesday in Dhaka. The factories have been sub-contracted to supply clothing for Wal-Mart in the past, but Wal-Mart officials said that they are still investigating whether their products were being produced in the factory at the time of the disaster.

Among the factory owners in the building were Phantom Apparels Ltd., New Wave Style Ltd., New Wave Bottoms Ltd. and New Wave Brothers Ltd. garment factories, who at the time were making clothing for a number of brands including Benetton, Primark, Loblaws, The Children’s Place and Dress Barn.

On Friday, the New York Times reports, labor groups distributed photos showing that they had discovered garments with labels from J.C. Penney and El Corte Inglés, a Spanish retailer, at the site of the collapse.

The collapse is the latest in a series of factory disasters in Bangladesh tied to western brands including a massive blaze which broke out in the Tazreen factory in November, killing 112 workers. Clothes made for Disney, Wal-Mart and other western labels were found at that factory.

Factory owners from the building ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after a crack was detected in the building’s structure on Tuesday.

On Friday, hundreds of rescuers continued to dig through the masses of factory rubble for the third day in a row as “the cries of the trapped and the wails of workers’ relatives gathered outside the building,” AP reports.

Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of workers and relatives from the hundreds of garment factories continued to protest throughout the day Friday.

Bangladeshi media reported that two factories have been burned by protesters demanding the death penalty for the owner of collapsed building, said to have broken many building codes, as well as the owners of the factories inside the building.

However, as Dara O’Rourke, an expert on workplace monitoring at the University of California, Berkeley, reminded the New York Times, it is important to remember the source of labor exploitation in places such as Bangladesh: “Even in a situation of grave threat, when they saw cracks in the walls, factory managers thought it was too risky not to work because of the pressure on them from U.S. and European retailers to deliver their goods on time,” O’Rourke, said, adding that the prices Western companies pay “are so low that they are at the root of why these factories are cutting corners on fire safety and building safety.”

“Improvement is not happening,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, who said a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade. “The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system,” Amin said. “But yet these things keep happening.”

Rescue workers, army personnel, police and members of media run after they heard someone shouting that a building next to Rana Plaza is collapsing during a rescue operation in Savar, 30 km (19 miles) outside Dhaka April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

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Outcry as Walmart OK’s Monsanto GM Corn August 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Health.
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Published on Saturday, August 4, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

- Common Dreams staff

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that despite protests from environment and food-safety advocates, it will not restrict sales of genetically modified corn in its stores.

The corn will not be labelled and consumers will not be notified that the sweet corn they are buying are engineered by agro-giant Monsanto and genetically-altered (GMO stands for genetically modified organism) to resist the toxic impact of being sprayed with chemical pesticides and herbicides.

“A lot of people who were their customers explicitly said we don’t want you to carry this product, and I think it’s unfortunate that they chose not listen to that feedback,” said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. The consumer group had submitted a petition to Wal-Mart with 463,000 signatures, she said.

Consumer advocates argue that too little research has been done on to be certain of the effects such products can have on those who eat or them, but say certain troubling health trends correspond to the rise of GMO foods in the marketplace. At the least, they argue, such products should be labeled so consumers are aware of what they’re purchasing.

“How would you ever know if there are adverse health effects?” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports. “There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996. Is it connected to genetically engineered foods? Who knows, when you have no labeling? That is a problem.”

Earlier this year, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills said they would not carry or use the genetically modified sweet corn.

In California this year, a state referendum is up for a vote that would require all GMO products to be labelled so that consumers are aware if modified ingredients are contained in the products they buy. The chemical pesticide companies and companies like Monsanto are fighting hard against the measure, fearing that if California, the country’s most populous state, passes such a sweeping consumer protection laws other states will likely follow.

The initiative, Proposition 37, will be voted on in November.

Walmart’s Forced Labor: We Feel Like We Are Slaves June 20, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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20 June 2012, www.commondreams.org

 

by Abby Zimet

How does Walmart keep its prices so low? The so-called guest workers from Mexico who peel crawfish at a Louisiana seafood supplier for Wal-Mart know: They are locked inside the plant, forced to work 24-hour shifts, cursed and threatened with beatings by shovel if they fail to make their quota, and endure constant surveillance at their nearby trailers from a boss who warns them, “You don’t want to know me as an enemy.” Having gone on strike from C.J.’s Seafood and filed federal complaints, they head to New York today to protest Wal-Mart, its subsidiaries and related boards – including Goldman Sachs – at their corporate headquarters and homes. Brought to you by the feisty National Guestworker Alliance.

Walmart: The Stench of Bentonville Spreads to Mexico — and Back May 5, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor, Mexico.
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Published on Saturday, May 5, 2012, www.commondreams.org

 

by Jim Hightower

Wal-mart has long boasted of its “Always Low Prices,” but now it has confirmed that it also has “Always low morals.”

The bottom line has always been THE line for Wal-mart executives, and sinking to the ethical bottom to enhance that line has not only been tolerated, but legitimized as a proven path to executive promotion and riches. Squeezing suppliers, crushing competitors, exploiting employees, using enslaved workers in foreign factories and resorting to other brutish tactics to pound out another dollar in profit are central components of Wal-mart’s management ethos and business plan.

Now, we can add bribery to the list of accepted practices — so accepted that even getting caught at it doesn’t mean you get fired.

Walmart de Mexico is now the largest retailer and employer in that country, an exalted status that it gained the old-fashioned way: by doling out millions of dollars in corporate bribes. With sluggish sales and a tarnished brand in the U.S., the retailing giant has been pushing hard to expand internationally, and in amazingly short time, its Mexican branch became huge, with one out of five Walmart stores presently located there.

All it took, we now learn from an excellent investigative report by The New York Times, was the systematic spreading of muchos, muchos pesos to government officials across the country to gain needed permits quickly, dodge environmental restrictions and generally have the company’s path cleared for market domination.

Not only is this wrong, it is seriously criminal — a blatant violation of our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And, lest you think the corruption was the work of some lower-level manager gone rogue, the knowledge of this wholesale bribery scheme goes all the way to the top, including the current and one former CEO.

David Tovar, a Wal-mart PR agent, was rushed out as the scandal was gaining media coverage to assert, disingenuously, “We are committed to getting to the bottom of this matter.” Too late, sir.

Wal-mart already reached bottom.

Apparently, though, a skunk doesn’t smell its own stink — or at least it’s not offended by it.

Thus Wal-mart honchos are addressing the nauseating stench of this still-evolving bribery scandal as though it’s coming from somewhere else.

“We are deeply concerned by these allegations,” declared PR man Tovar, “and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

Well, gosh, you could just walk aggressively over to the executive suite and ask CEO Mike Duke, board member Lee Scott and vice chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright. All three have first-hand knowledge of what happened, for they were butt-deep in it. You see, while Wal-mart’s massive bribery payments took place in Mexico, the corruption emanated from the very top of corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.

It stems directly from Wal-mart’s ruling ethic of grabbing market share and profits at all costs, pressuring managers to achieve “very aggressive growth goals” by doing “whatever was necessary.” A decade ago, when Castro-Wright became head of Wal-Mart operations in Mexico, he decided that “necessary” included unbridled bribery. As early as 2005, this was known by the corporate chieftains in Bentonville, including then-CEO Scott. Also, Duke, who oversaw all international divisions at the time, was told in 2005 about corrupt payouts, which eventually totaled some $24 million.

So, did Scott and Duke rebuke the perpetrator? No. Instead, Scott rebuked those who’d brought the illegalities to his attention, chiding them for being too aggressive.

Fearing that exposure could hurt Wal-mart’s stock price, he killed the internal investigation by turning it over to — guess who? — Castro-Wright. Yes, the very same man pushing the bribery scheme! The bribes continued, and in 2008, Castro-Wright was promoted to vice chairman of the corporation. Scott has since retired with a golden pension and a multimillion-dollar fortune, and Duke was elevated to CEO, now drawing $18 million in pay.

It’s all part of Wal-mart’s business model — and it’s stinkier than a whole den of skunks could possibly be.

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Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Banana Republic Legacy Thrives in Today’s Latin America February 18, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Guatemala, Labor, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, February 18, 2012 by In These Times

The term “banana republic” has become a cliche to describe economic imperialism throughout history, but the legacy of colonialism persists in Latin America today. The tradition of predatory capitalism echoed in the recent death of Miguel Angel González Ramírez, a member of the Izabal banana workers’ union SITRABI in Guatemala.

According to the International Trade Union Confederation, the unionist was “shot several times whilst carrying his young child in his arms.” This seems to be another casualty in a labor battle between labor and corporateers who would rather see workers shed blood than be paid fair wages.

The ITUC has demanded an official investigation, noting that in the past year several unionists have been killed or targeted with threats. Last October, SITRABI member Pablino Yaque Cervantes was shot by an unidentified attacker, according to U.S. Labor Education in the Americas Project (US LEAP).

Manuela Chávez of the ITUC’s Department of Human and Trade Union Rights told In these Times, “Freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively have been endangered by a very high anti-union repression for years,” adding that the threats to unionists are aggravated by government inaction.

But it’s not just the cruelty of the killing–nor the connection to the infamous banana crop–that evokes a history of enslavement and dehumanization of indigenous, African and migrant peoples. The company in question, BANDEGUA, is a Del Monte subsidiary that has come under fire for refusing to comply with the Guatemalan government’s minimum wage standards.

The incident reflects business as usual in the banana industry, well known for oppressive working conditions. Labor advocates have long protested unfair wages and other violations in Latin American agriculture, especially under international giants like Dole.

The crisis has reached a boiling point under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a NAFTA-style trade regime that expanded multinationals’ power over the region’s industrial and agricultural sectors. Evidence of systemic abuses prompted SITRABI and other Guatemalan unions, along with the AFL-CIO, to initiate a worker rights complaint in 2008. As documented by US LEAP, the campaign cites violations of union rights as well as outright brutality, “including the 2007 murder of the brother of the General Secretary of the union.”

It remains to be seen whether there will be any consequences for the latest killing, but if past is prologue, Del Monte will likely remain comfortably insulated from labor troubles in the recesses of its global empire. After all, that’s what trade systems like CAFTA have been designed to do, with their notoriously flimsy labor provisions. SITRABI’s activists are veterans of this war of attrition, having led global efforts to raise awareness of the rampant human rights abuses in the industry, from terrorizing violence to illegal firings to lack of collective bargaining protections.

Noting that the CAFTA complaint still drags on as the body count ticks up, Lupita Aguila Arteaga, executive director of the advocacy group STITCH, told In These Times:

This prolonged process shows how ineffective CAFTA is at protecting the rights of workers. The U.S. needs to continue to pressure the Guatemalan government to obey its own labor laws and uphold its labor rights obligations as mandated in the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

STITCH points out that labor violations in the banana industry are deeply entwined in global trade networks that send cheap fruit to hungry U.S. consumer markets. Since even so-called “fair trade certified” bananas may come from nonunion plantations, Arteaga says, American appetites are driving a hemispheric race to the bottom:

The banana industry in Latin America is facing a decline in unionization rates and wages. Companies like Wal-Mart are now buying directly from Latin American producers where unions do not exist and therefore labor and prices are cheaper. Banana companies are trying to stay afloat of this game by moving their production to other areas that can allow them to make a bigger profit by paying workers less and not providing any benefits.

Perhaps the best hope challenging Latin America’s labor injustices won’t come from government or consumer campaigns, but from within–a surge in progressive unionism led by women. In a report on women banana workers (informed by a documentary project on feminist labor struggles), Arteaga describes how the fight for gender equity has become a wellspring of self-empowerment:

Bananeras, as they are dearly called, have achieved victories we can only dream of in the U.S., including clauses in their union contract that allows them to take a paid day off for a mammogram and/or a pap smear, union-wide campaigns with workshops against domestic violence, as well as union-led campaigns against HIV/AIDS with a focus on reproductive justice and accessibility to healthcare for all women in their communities. Not to mention the fact that ALL local banana unions have a women’s committee.

Today’s banana republic is still rife with neocolonial horrors, but if you unpeel the layers of bitter struggle surrounding these communities, you might find some surprisingly sweet triumphs.

© 2012 In These Times

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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.

Beyond suffrage: How far have women come since? August 30, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Women.
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Op-Ed, LA Times, August 26, 2011

American women won the right to vote in 1920. But how far have we come since
on other issues important to women?

 

Today we celebrate the anniversary of female suffrage, a
victory that took more than 70 years of political struggle to achieve. After
women won the right to vote in 1920, socialist feminist Crystal Eastman observed
that suffrage was an important first step but that what women really wanted was
freedom. In an essay titled “Now We Can Begin,” she laid out a plan toward this
goal that is still relevant today.Eastman outlined a four-point program:
economic independence for women (including freedom to choose an occupation and
equal pay), gender equality at home (raising “feminist sons” to share the
responsibilities of family life), “voluntary motherhood” (reproductive freedom)
and “motherhood endowment,” or financial support for child-rearing and
homemaking.Since the 1920s, women have won many rights and opportunities
in areas as diverse as higher education, professional sports and, in six states,
same-sex marriage. But on the core priorities that Eastman identified, how far
have we come?

Eastman optimistically called equality in the workplace
“the easiest part of our program,” noting that “the ground is already broken” on
women’s participation in various professions, trades and unions. One of the
chief barriers was “inequality in pay,” a problem that has proved remarkably
enduring.

Women on average still make only 77 cents for every dollar paid
to their male counterparts, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This
pay disparity is worst for women of color, who earn only 61 cents if they are
African American and 52 cents if they are Latina. This pattern has been
remarkably constant.

Women’s lower earnings are related to gender segmentation in the workplace that relegates women to the lower rungs of the
economic ladder. At Wal-Mart, for example — the nation’s biggest employer — women make up about 70% of hourly
workers but only about 30% of managers. The Supreme Court recently ruled that
the retailer’s female employees could not join together in a class-action
lawsuit, making it nearly impossible for them to challenge patterns of
discrimination.

Although women now outnumber men on college campuses, the
upper echelons of most professions and political bodies remain male-dominated.
Just look at Congress: Only 17% of its members are women. Between 1923 and 2011,
only 28 women have chaired congressional committees, and only 45 women of color
have ever served in Congress — just one in the Senate. The new congressional
“super-committee” of 12 legislators charged with reducing the federal deficit
has one white woman and not a single woman of color.

On the home front, gender norms have changed significantly since 1920, but women still do the
lion’s share of child care, elder care and household planning. And child-rearing
is still regarded as a private matter rather than a contribution to society.
Although a recent Time magazine cover story suggested an end to “chore wars,”
its own data showed that married women with children still do more work at home
than their husbands, and full-time employed moms with children under age 6 spend
more hours on household chores than any other group.

Given women’s disproportionate responsibility for child-rearing amid lesser economic
opportunities, the ability to plan whether and when to have children is
critically important. As Eastman said: “Freedom of any kind is hardly worth
considering unless it is assumed that [women] will know how to control the size
of their families.”

This was a tall order in 1920, when it was a crime
simply to disseminate information about contraception. Fertility control is now
legal, but women’s reproductive freedom is under intense attack. The 2011
legislative session saw a record number of anti-choice bills introduced — and
passed into law. In just six months, state legislatures passed 80 laws to
restrict access to abortion.

State legislatures also have made deep cuts to family planning budgets, which has the
perverse result of increasing unintended pregnancies. The Hyde Amendment bans
federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, and only 15 states pay for abortion care
with their own revenue. This means that low-income women in most of the country
can have an abortion only if they can afford to pay for it out of pocket, making
the right to abortion an empty promise for millions of women.

When it comes to support for child-rearing, the United States is the only major
industrialized nation without a national policy guaranteeing paid parental
leave. While a few states and cities have taken the initiative to implement
their own policies, the vast majority of mothers (and fathers) have no right to
paid time off to care for a newborn baby. Many workers do not even have a right
to take unpaid leave, because the federal Family and Medical Leave Act applies
only to relatively long-term workers in workplaces with 50 or more employees,
leaving out small businesses, new employees and workers who have put in fewer
than 1,250 hours at that job.

With no paid leave, and discrimination against pregnant
women on the rise, women are a long way from Eastman’s vision of having
child-rearing “recognized by the world as work, requiring a definite economic
reward and not merely entitling the performer to be dependent on some
man.”

In all four areas that Eastman discussed, female suffrage has not
ushered in the wide-ranging changes that its opponents feared and its advocates
championed.

Eastman understood that work and home are inextricably bound,
that women’s freedom depends on resolving what we now call “work/family”
conflict. As long as women face a “motherhood penalty” while men benefit from a
“fatherhood bonus,” gender equality will remain out of reach. Racial
discrimination has made the path to equality that much harder for women of
color.

The real question now is, in Eastman’s words, “how to arrange the
world” so that women have “a chance to exercise their infinitely varied gifts in
infinitely varied ways, instead of being destined by the accident of their sex”
to lesser economic opportunities and heavier domestic burdens.

To do this, our institutions must become more responsive. The workplace has to change
to allow people with families to hold good jobs, and policies must change to
allow women to plan their families and to ensure that no one is left behind. In
the 90 years since winning the right to vote, women have achieved gains by
organizing in the streets and the workplace, by lobbying legislatures and
bringing lawsuits. Arranging a more just world will require a new wave of
political action at all levels, from local to national, home to
workplace.

On Aug. 26, 2020, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of
women’s suffrage. Let’s make this the decade we create the conditions that bring
true equality.

Eve Weinbaum is director of the Labor Center and an
associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Rachel Roth is director of communications and foundation support at the National
Network of Abortion Funds and the author of a book on women’s
rights.


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Happy New Year December 31, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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A Very Bad Year

 

 

 

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist

 

 

There is no present or future, only the past, happening over and over again, now.
- Eugene O’Neill
bush
 George W. Bush presided over a very bad year. (Photo: Getty Images)
The year 2008 began on a Tuesday. Matters went downhill swiftly from there.
     On that first day of 2008, the Taliban threatened to further escalate attacks in Afghanistan, eight people died in Gaza amid the violence of the Fatah-Hamas conflict and US diplomat John Granville was murdered along with his driver in Sudan. After that first day of 2008, the price of crude oil jumped to $100 a barrel, five armed Iranian boats confronted US warships near the Strait of Hormuz and a Taliban attack upon the Serena Hotel in Kabul killed six people. The Pentagon announced they were sending an additional 3,200 marines to Afghanistan, the year’s first significant stock market convulsion brought the Dow down 482 points, Barack Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, Clinton won New Hampshire and Florida and George W. Bush delivered the last State of the Union address of his presidency. Edmund Hillary died, Bobby Fischer died and Heath Ledger died. Forty American soldiers died in Iraq, seven American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in January of 2008.

    At least 43 people were killed in Baghdad when bombs exploded in two marketplaces, the US military admitted accidentally killing nine civilians south of Baghdad and George W. Bush introduced a $3.1 trillion budget on top of a near-record deficit of $410 billion. Tornados killed 57 people in the Southern US, a $158 billion economic stimulus package failed to pass a procedural vote, but a subsequent $168 billion stimulus package was successfully passed. Hamas launched 20 rockets into Israel, a suicide bomber killed 20 people at a political rally in Pakistan and a car bomb killed 25 people in Iraq. The US Congress voted in favor of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies involved in the NSA surveillance scandal, voted against letting the CIA use “waterboarding” while interrogating prisoners and voted to hold Bush administration officials Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt regarding the fired US attorneys scandal. Obama won a bunch of states, Clinton won a bunch of other states and Ralph Nader got into the race. Roy Scheider and William F. Buckley died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in February of 2008.

    A US submarine flipped at least one missile into Somalia, two bombs killed 54 people in Baghdad, a bomb was set off outside a US military recruiting center in Times Square and the US began talks with Iraqi officials about establishing the long-term presence of US forces in that country. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was implicated in the investigation of a prostitution ring and resigned his office, the US Congress failed to override Bush’s veto of the anti-waterboarding legislation and Adm. William Fallon resigned as commander of the US Central Command over disagreements with the Bush administration regarding their posture towards Iran. The value of the US dollar dropped to its lowest point in 13 years, Bear Stearns received emergency funding from JPMorgan Chase and was later bought out by Chase for pennies on the dollar. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and McCain won enough states to become the presumed GOP nominee for president. Arthur C. Clark died, Richard Widmark died and Dith Pran died. Thirty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, eight American soldiers died in Afghanistan and the total number of US soldiers killed in Iraq passed 4,000. That’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in March of 2008.

    A suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint in Mosul and killed seven people, the US State Department renewed their security contract with Blackwater despite several investigations into that company’s involvement in the massacre of Iraqi civilians, gunmen kidnapped 42 university students in Mosul, all of whom were later released unharmed. Twenty people were killed in Sadr City clashes, rockets fell into the US Green Zone in Baghdad, two bombings in Baquba and Ramadi killed 60 people and the massive $736 million US embassy in Iraq opened for business. The Bush administration brought back the one-year Treasury note to combat the onrushing recession, real estate prices plummeted 12.7 percent and consumer confidence dropped again. Clinton won Pennsylvania but lost Mark Penn, the GOP lost Alan Keyes and John McCain kept on rolling. Charlton Heston died and Albert Hoffman died. Fifty-two American soldiers died in Iraq, five American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in April of 2008.

    The Fed auctioned off $24.12 billion in Treasury securities to try and blunt the impact of the subprime mortgage crisis, crude oil futures reached $130 for the first time in history, US home prices dropped 14.1 percent and the US Congress approved a $300 billion loan to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Cyclone Nargis killed nearly 30,000 people in Burma, dozens were killed and wounded in Iraq during fighting between Iraqi militias and US forces, suicide bombers killed dozens more in and around Baghdad and an independent investigation into Pentagon spending on Iraq contracts found that 95 percent of the billions of dollars spent could not be accounted for. Obama won some states, Clinton won some other states and the Democratic primary season inched closer to a final conclusion. Willis Lamb and Sydney Pollack died. Nineteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 17 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in May of 2008.

    A suicide bomber killed eight people outside the Danish embassy in Pakistan, US forces accidentally killed ten Pakistani soldiers in an airstrike, two bombs killed 12 people at a train station in Algeria and a car bomb killed 51 people at a bus station in Baghdad. Wachovia fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, AIG fired its CEO over the subprime crisis, General Motors announced the closing of several factories and the elimination of 10,000 jobs, two Bear Stearns executives were arrested on criminal charges and the price of a barrel of crude oil spiked $11 in one day. A bill to lower greenhouse gas emissions died in Congress after being successfully filibustered by Senate Republicans, and flooding in Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa killed ten people. Clinton officially conceded defeat, making Obama the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. Bo Diddley died, Tim Russert died and George Carlin died. Twenty-nine American soldiers died in Iraq, 28 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in June of 2008.

    Starbucks closed 600 coffee shops in the US, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke assured Congress that neither Fannie May nor Freddie Mac were in danger of failing and GOP Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was indicted. The Pentagon extended the 24th Marine Expeditionary Force’s tour of duty in Afghanistan, an explosion near the Red Mosque in Pakistan killed ten people, a car bomb killed 41 people outside the Indian embassy in Afghanistan, another suicide bomber killed 18 people near a Pakistani police station, a suicide bomber killed 35 people in Baquba and Iran test-fired nine long- and medium-range missiles. A global study of coral reefs determined that one-third of the world’s coral-building species faced extinction, wildfires in California forced 10,000 people to evacuate and George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling. Jesse Helms died, Tony Snow died and Estelle Getty died. Thirteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 20 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in July of 2008.

    US unemployment rose to 5.7 percent, the highest level in four years, 12 people were killed when a minibus exploded in Baghdad and 21 street cleaners were killed by an explosion in Somalia. The Georgia-Ossetia conflict erupted, thousands of civilians were killed and GOP presidential candidate John McCain declared all Americans to be Georgians. Taliban fighters forced the retreat of Pakistani soldiers from the Afghan border and later attacked a US base in the Khost province. The US inked a missile shield deal with Poland, causing Russia to declare Poland a “legitimate military target” that had “opened itself to a nuclear strike.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak retired, former Democratic Senator and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards admitted to cheating on his cancer-stricken wife, the Democratic National Convention nominated Barack Obama for president and GOP presidential candidate John McCain chose Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes died. Twenty-three American soldiers died in Iraq, 22 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in August of 2008.

    The Republican National Convention nominated John McCain and Sarah Palin for president and vice president and Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the US lobbying scandal. The US economy lost 84,000 jobs, the US government took Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship, Washington Mutual fired its CEO over the subprime mortgage crisis and HP announced they were eliminating nearly 25,000 jobs. In the space of 48 hours, AIG asked the US government for a $40 billion loan to save it from collapse, Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch, Citibank acquired Wachovia, Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11 and the Dow dropped more than 500 points. The US government loaned AIG more than $80 billion, a car bomb in northern Pakistan killed more than 30 people, video surfaced implicating the US military in the bombing deaths of more than 90 civilians in Afghanistan, a car bomb killed 32 people in Iraq, five explosions in India killed 30 people, the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was bombed and Hurricane Ike made its deadly landfall in Texas. David Foster Wallace and Paul Newman died. Twenty-five American soldiers died in Iraq, 27 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in September of 2008.

    The Senate approved a massive $700 billion bailout plan aimed at salvaging the American economy, Bush signed it, the Dow dropped 800 points in its single largest loss on record and retail sales plummeted for the third straight month. A senior British military commander was quoted as saying that victory in Afghanistan would be impossible to achieve, a suicide bomber killed 27 people in Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 people in Sri Lanka, the Taliban executed 30 people they had kidnapped in Afghanistan, a series of bomb blasts killed 66 people and wounded nearly 500 in India, North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into “debris” and US forces attacked a civilian building in Syria. The NSA was accused of listening in on thousands of telephone conversations between Americans at home and Americans abroad, including conversations between US soldiers serving overseas and their families and two white supremacists were arrested for plotting to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Tony Hillerman and Studs Terkel died. Fourteen American soldiers died in Iraq, 16 American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in October of 2008.

    The Alaskan legislature concluded that Gov. Sarah Palin acted improperly in the “Troopergate” scandal, which mattered little after the McCain/Palin GOP presidential ticket was soundly thrashed at the polls by the Democratic presidential ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. The passage of Proposition 8 ended same-sex marriages in California and inspired protests by millions of people in 300 cities. An anonymous hold by a GOP senator disrupted the mandated oversight of the $700 billion bailout deal, an explosion on a Minibus killed 11 people in Russia, five Guantanamo detainees were ordered released by a US judge and terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India’s financial heartland, killed hundreds of people. Unemployment levels in the US reached their highest level in 14 years, a second bailout of AIG cost taxpayers an additional $150 billion, retail chain Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 and the euro zone entered the first official recession in its history. Citigroup announced the elimination of 75,000 jobs and got $32 billion from the US government, Pepsi announced 3,000 layoffs and representatives from the “Big Three” automakers began pushing for a bailout of their crippled industry. Two people were shot to death in a Toys ‘R Us in California and a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death in New York on the first official day of the Christmas shopping season. Michael Crichton and Mitch Mitchell died. Seventeen American soldiers died in Iraq, one American soldier died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in November of 2008.

    GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss won re-election, O.J. Simpson was sentenced to prison and Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for his role in a vast pay-for-play bribery scheme involving, among other things, the open Senate seat recently vacated by president-elect Obama. The Tribune Company filed for Chapter 11, Sony announced the elimination of 8,000 jobs and the closure of 10 percent of its manufacturing facilities, the “Big Three” automotive industry bailout staggered to and fro in Washington, hundreds of thousands in New England lost electrical power for more than a week after a massive ice storm struck the region and the US consumer price index fell to its lowest point since the Great Depression. A suicide bomber killed ten people in Afghanistan, a bomb in Pakistan killed 17 people and rioters turned Athens into a war zone. A suicide bomber killed 48 people in Iraq, four Royal Marines were killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan deployed thousands of troops along the Indian border amid rising tensions after the Mumbai attacks, Israel launched a massive attack against Hamas and an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at George W. Bush. Odetta died, Bettie Page died, Deep Throat died, Harold Pinter died, Eartha Kitt died and Freddie Hubbard died. Twelve American soldiers died in Iraq, three American soldiers died in Afghanistan, and that’s not nearly all that happened, but that’s some of what happened in December of 2008.

    Happy New Year. Who else needs a drink?

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress

 

 

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