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

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

 

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

Walmart arrests


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My trans­la­tion from the Span­ish.
– Richard Fidler

Clintons’ Pet Project for Privatized ‘Aid’ to Haiti Stealing Workers’ Wages: Report October 17, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Haiti, Hillary Clinton.
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Roger’s note: Ah, the Clintons, the couple I love (to hate), major destroyers of what little was left of liberal progressiveness in the Democratic Party.  Here they are in Haiti with their bloodsucking “private” capitalistic venture in Haiti, which is the home to one of the poorest peoples in the world, helping to make them even poorer.

“We’re sending a message that Haiti is open for business again,” Hillary Clinton declared upon the announcement of the opening.  What she mean was “open for exploitation.”

 

 

‘This calls into question the sustainability and effectiveness of relying on the garment industry to lead Haiti’s reconstruction’

 

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Former President Bill Clinton and then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attend the opening ceremony of the Caracol Industrial Park in Caracol, Haiti, Monday, Oct, 22, 2012. (Photo: AP/Larry Downing, Pool)

Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park—the U.S. State Department and Clinton Foundation pet project to deliver aid and reconstruction to earthquake-ravaged Haiti in the form of private investment—is systematically stealing its garment workers’ wages, paying them 34 percent less than minimum wage set by federal law, a breaking report from the Worker Rights Consortium reveals.

Critics charge that poverty wages illustrate the deep flaws with corporate models of so-called aid. “The failure of the Caracol Industrial Park to comply with minimum wage laws is a stain on the U.S.’s post-earthquake investments in Haiti and calls into question the sustainability and effectiveness of relying on the garment industry to lead Haiti’s reconstruction,” said Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in an interview with Common Dreams.

Caracol is just one of five garment factories profiled in this damning report, released publicly on Wednesday, which finds that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” This is due to systematic employer cheating on piece-work and overtime, as well as failure to pay employees for hours worked.

WRC charges that the wage theft at these 5 factories is “typical” across the country’s garment industry, leading to the suppression of national wages at deep poverty levels. As a result, workers have trouble affording food, shelter, and medical care, the report finds.

Through a series of in-depth interviews, as well as review of pay records, researchers discovered that the problem of wage theft throughout the country’s garment industry is “egregious” at Northern Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park, which sits at the center of U.S. ‘reconstruction’ efforts and is slated to employ an estimated 20,000 people.

Financers included the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the Clinton Foundation, who invested a total of $224 million with promises to uphold high labor standards. Its anchor tenant is the Korean S&H Global factory, which sells garments to Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and Old Navy, according to the report.

The largest post-earthquake U.S. investment in Haiti, Caracol’s backers have championed it as a model for privatized reconstruction. In a July press release, the U.S. State Department champions the park as a chance to “spur economic growth and bring jobs to Haiti’s underserved regions.”

Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended Caracol’s opening ceremony a year ago. “We’re sending a message that Haiti is open for business again,” Hillary Clinton declared upon the announcement of the opening.

The Clinton Foundation did not immediately respond to a request from Common Dreams for an interview.

_____________________

A Free-Speech Victory at the ‘University of Nike’ September 22, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Labor.
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Friday Sep 20, 2013 6:12 pm

 

By Rebecca Burns

The University of Oregon’s ‘Football Performance Center,’ which was paid for by Nike founder (and U of O alum) Phil Knight. (Photo by Wolfram Burner via Flickr)  

 

The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.

Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.

During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”

Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”

But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.

In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”

The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”

The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.

But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.

Yet in the face of creeping academic commercialism, writes Jen Washburn, author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, the AAUP and other advocates have been slow to respond, adhering to a “narrow, individualistic interpretation of academic freedom” that disregards the broader politics of today’s universities.

According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”

 

 

Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

Walmart Workers Arrested in Peaceful Protest August 22, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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MCAW-logo

 

BREAKING: Ten current or recently fired Walmart workers were just arrested in Washington, DC for peaceful civil disobedience near Walmart’s downtown office. This action comes after the company fired or disciplined more than 70 workers for going on strike. Now workers say that if Walmart does not reinstate the illegally fired workers and publicly commit pay a decent wage by Labor Day, the company will face some of the most intense actions it has seen to date. Below is a letter from one of the arrested workers.

http://action.changewalmart.org/page/m/86f1ab2/3529af95/17464875/9cb5f48/3020380531/VEsH/

 

I was arrested today for standing up to Walmart. Can you sign my petition to call on Walmart to respect workers’ rights and pay a living wage?

I was raised by a strong single mother. I owe everything to her. She taught me how to work hard and stand up for what is right.

I did well in high school and loved sports. In college, I became a collegiate athlete and my future looked bright. That’s when my mom got sick. She wasn’t able to support herself, so I made a tough choice. I moved home and got a job at Walmart to help support my mom.

I soon found that Walmart didn’t pay me enough to get by. We were constantly understaffed and stretched thin. Worst of all, we were treated with such a lack of respect they made you feel like you weren’t even a human being.

That’s why I decided to stand up. I went on a legally protected strike in June and travelled all the way to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas to defend my coworkers’ right to stand up.

But when I got home, Walmart fired me. I’m not the only one. Since June, Walmart has fired or disciplined more than 70 of us for standing up. The company has written us up, cut our hours, bullied us, called the cops on us and even fired us for going on strike.

We’re not backing down. Today, we peacefully demonstrated in front of Walmart’s office in Washington, DC calling on the company to reinstate the illegally fired workers.

Instead of listening, Walmart had me and 11 other people arrested (19 of us workers and 2 activists).

It’s time to draw a line in the sand. Let’s send Walmart a clear message: If you fail to act by Labor Day, actions will intensify around the country.

Can you please send them this message by signing my petition today?

www.action.changewalmart.org/ARealWage

Thanks,

Brandon

Brandon Garrett
Baker, Louisiana

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees

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.”

_____________________

Even After One of Worst Worker Atrocities in Human History, Gap & Walmart Won’t Get Serious About Preventing Another July 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Bangladesh, Labor.
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AlterNet             /               By Jake Blumgart           
<!–

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–>Should the government of Bangladesh or the companies that sell products manufactured in the country be held responsible for working conditions?

 

photo_3

 

Photo Credit: Fight for Philly

July 1, 2013 |

On Saturday, June 29, Center City Philadelphia hummed with activity as shoppers and gawkers surged across the sidewalks, enjoying the first sunny day all week. But outside of the Gap outlet on Walnut Street, the crowds pause to look at the dozen people lying on the sidewalk. Again and again people came up to those standing at the fringes of the recumbent group: “What’re they doing?”

Amy Offner was quick to engage passersby. She explained the garment industry’s troubled history in Bangladesh, culminating in the April 24 collapse of Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza. Almost 1,130 people were killed, most of them garment workers who were forced to return to work in the obviously structurally compromised building. Following the disaster, which was the deadliest in the history of the global garment industry, many European and a few American companies signed the “ Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh” (U.S. signatories include Sean John, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the company that runs Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.) The agreement is legally binding and would require independent inspection of all factories by an investigator “with fire and building safety expertise…who is independent of and not concurrently employed by companies, trade unions or factories.” When problems are found the companies must fix them and cover lost wages for the duration of the renovations.

But many prominent American companies, including Walmart and Gap, refused to sign. Hence the corpse-like bodies strewn on the sidewalk covered in signs reading “GAP: Death Traps” and “Workers Shouldn’t Die for Fashion.”

“People were really curious, and most people were surprised Gap even uses sweatshop labor,” says Offner. “They assumed sweatshops had been wiped out a hundred years ago, or at least by the actions in the 1990s. They were shocked to find out Gap uses sweatshops and is refusing to seriously try and improve the industry.”

The Philadelphia action coincided with similar protests in 35 other cities, representing a further escalation the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) campaign against Gap. The protests came two days after the Obama administration announced it would be severing Bangladesh’s trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences. The move ends duty free privileges that were extended to some Bangladeshi products. It is explicitly meant to be a punishment for Rana Plaza and other recent industrial accidents. Although the dollar value of the sanction is only estimated to be $40 million annually and does not affect the garment industry, some Philly activists used the administration’s decision as a rallying cry, urging passersby to “support Obama’s executive order.”

“This is one of the stronger actions our government has taken—it sends a very strong message to the government of Bangladesh that our country takes seriously the egregious labor rights violations that have been going on,” says Cathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO’s International Department, which has been pushing such a punitive policy since at least 2007.“What is happening is a struggle to really figure out issues around global governance. The binding accord is really significant because it’s the first time we’ve seen corporations do something [besides] the traditional voluntary route. It will complement the political message coming from the U.S., because they are not just suspending GSP but engaging the Bangladeshi government so it can [improve] and get those benefits returned.”

The White house has stated that there isn’t a timetable regarding the possible reinstatement of trade privileges. The AFL-CIO expected the Obama administration to release a road map of necessary reforms when it announced the suspension of benefits last Thursday, but so far no such document has been forthcoming. The AFL-CIO suggestions include assurances that the right to collectively bargain be respected. Currently there are very few formal worker organizations in the Bangladeshi garment sector and labor organizing is often met with brutal force. (In May a new law was passed allowing garment workers to unionize without the permission of factory owners.)

Wendy’s, What Are You Waiting For?: Calling on the Fast Food Giant to Stand up For Farmworkers May 18, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Human Rights, Immigration, Labor.
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Who has freckles, pigtails, and is still holding out from joining the Fair Food Program? If you guessed the fresh-faced mascot of Wendy’s, give yourself a gold star. As part of its efforts to improve conditions in the fields, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of farmworkers based in Florida, is calling on the fast food giant Wendy’s to step up for farmworkers and their families.

The Coalition has had an impressive wave of wins as many companies — eleven to date — have signed an agreement to improve conditions for farmworkers.  Of the top five fast food chains, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, and Yum! Brands (owners of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and A&W) have all joined the Fair Food Program. In response to pressure from the Coalition and its allies, the list has grown to include Chipotle, food retailers (Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s), and food service companies (BAMCO, Aramark, Sodexo and Compass Group). The overwhelming majority of tomato growers now participate in this farmworker-driven commitment through the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which represents 90 percent of the industry.

By signing on to the agreement, companies must now comply with a code of conduct that includes protections for cases of wage theft, sexual harassment, and forced labor. Companies also agree to pay a small premium for tomatoes — just a penny more per pound. As a result, workers have safer working conditions and have started seeing increases in their paychecks for the first time in more than 30 years.

Think a penny a pound doesn’t sound like much? It adds up. Over $10 million has been paid out through these victories since January 2011. That number will only keep growing as more companies sign on.

Hey, Wendy’s, are you listening?

Wendy’s, of all companies, can afford paying this premium. One of the highest earning fast food chains in the country, Wendy’s comes in at number two behind McDonald’s. Nearly 6,600 restaurants in the U.S. and around the globe afford the company serious market power– influence that can go a long way to shift purchasing practices. Instead of leveraging that power to demand lower prices from suppliers, Wendy’s could be rewarding growers who respect workers’ rights.

Other fast food companies have stepped up, like Taco Bell. The fast food giant was the first company to sign on to the Coalition agreement back in 2005, after four years of pressure and organizing. In its announcement, Taco Bell said:

“As an industry leader, we are pleased to lend our support to and work with the CIW to improve working and pay conditions for farmworkers in the Florida tomato fields… We recognize there is a need for reform… We hope others in the restaurant industry and supermarket retail trade will follow our leadership.” – Emil Brolick, Taco Bell President (2005)

 

Brolick and Taco Bell showed that signing on to the agreement wouldn’t threaten a company’s bottom line. In fact, Brolick’s tenure is credited with boosting sales and ‘turning things around at Taco Bell. Proof that profits don’t come at the expense of workers’ rights.

Seven years later, Wendy’s is still dragging its feet instead of following Taco Bell’s example — or more accurately Brolick’s own example, since he has now taken over as CEO of Wendy’s.

This week, as Wendy’s convenes its annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City, the Coalition is in town to make sure the company has its priorities straight. On Saturday, May 18th, farmworkers and allies will march from Union Square to nearby Wendy’s locations, reminding shareholders that farmworkers aren’t an abstract budget line item, but hardworking women and men who deserve respect. (And, sure, to give Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick a dose of déjà vu. He already has some experience with this, after all.)

If you’re in or around New York, show your support: join the march from Union Square this Saturday at 2pm. And if you’re miles from the action: raise your virtual voice and sign the e-petition!
As farmworker and organizer with the CIW, Gerardo Reyes Chávez says, “The change we are seeking is underway–and it is unstoppable. And it is unstoppable not because we say it is — but because there’s people like you taking action.”

Anna Lappé

Anna is the author of Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope’s Edge. She is a founding principal of the Small Planet Institute.

Christina Bronsing

Christina Bronsing is an activist and researcher supporting social movements that protect the rights of producers and farmers in the face of a largely industrial, corporate food system. Based in New York, she is currently engaged in research, writing and web roles with Food MythBusters, ongoing research around the social and environmental impacts of global quinoa production with Food First, and editorial support for the Food Security Learning Center at WhyHunger.

Walmart: “Not Financially Feasible” To Take Minimal, Legally Required Steps to Save Workers’ Lives December 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Bangladesh, Labor.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Roger’s note: Marx wrote that one of the essential flaws of capitalism is that it is inherently incapable of protecting living human beings.  It is all about competition, profit, and the expansion of capital.  In our lifetime we are witnessing the coming to fruition of the logical consequences of capitalist economic relations, and this is truly frightening.  Government was forced to intervene in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to mitigate the barbarism of unfettered industrial capitalism; in our time nothing less that the kinds of popular uprisings we see today in Europe and the Middle East and last year in the Occupy movements can save us from the consequences of twenty-first century capitalism with its massive resources directed at militarization and total control of governments.
12.06.12 – 10:54 AM, www.commondreams.org

by Abby Zimet

_walmart_fire

In the wake of last month’s fire in a Bangladesh garment factory that killed over 100 workers, Bloomberg has gained access to notes from a 2011 meeting where Walmart officials decided against paying suppliers high enough prices to cover costs of needed safety improvements because they deemed it “not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.” The meeting was attended by more than a dozen retailers, including Gap, Target and JC Penney. Over 300 Bangladeshi garment factory workers have died since 2006. Walmart reported a 9% increase in third-quarter net income, bringing their earnings for that quarter to $3.63 billion. An estimated half of Bangladesh’s garment factories don’t meet legally required work safety standards. At a fire in a nearby warehouse two days after the Tazreen factory fire, workers had to climb down a bamboo pole because they couldn’t get to the stairs; graffiti on a restroom wall there read: “Work here and your life is a living hell.”

“Specifically to the issue of any corrections on electrical and fire safety, we are talking about 4,500 factories, and in most cases very extensive and costly modifications would need to be undertaken to some factories,” they said in the document. “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

bangladesh-fire-mourner-horizontal-gallery

COMMENTS

  • gardenernorcal

     

    “It is not financially feasible for the brands to make such investments.”

     

    Guess what if that is their firm position, then mine is: It’s no longer morally feasible for me to purchase your goods.  I am thinking if fewer people buy their goods they may change their way of thinking.

  • sLiM_mC_sHaDy

    Yes, please do not shop there. I never have; they sicken me.

  • Catherine Carre

    People forget that it is precisely this type of immoral exploitation that led Marx and Engels to develop their communist philosophy…Engels’ “The condition of the working class in England” describes very similar conditions as suffered by those workers in developing countries employed by behemoths such as Walmart…communism is the child of capitalism..

  • nveric

    Show me how Communism works?

  • Tom Carberry

    Communism works fine in Cuba, despite over 60 years of a crushing blockade.  Communism worked fine in the Soviet Union if you consider general equality and the absence of crime a good life.  Muhammad Ali said he felt safer in Moscow than any other city in the world, because it had no crime.

    Communism had its horrors, like Stalin’s gulags.  But the American slavery system, followed by 160 years of Jim Crow, and the largest prison system in the history of the world (dwarfing Stalin’s gulags at their largest point), makes those horrors look like minor glitches.

    And don’t forget the many tens of millions of people America has slaughtered in its wars for profit.

    American capitalism works for the top 20% of the people, but not for the rest.

  • Gubdeb

    I dunno…which is worse?: 1: Walmart, or, 2: the MIC/American Capitalism that makes a “Walmart”possible? How many wars did we wage to get to this point. How many “Deals” were cut to have these products sold here? (see NAFTA & Robert Reich) The POINT is, until we face who we really are, things will never change. Walmart is just a symptom, not the problem.

  • AmonVerite

    Here is the problem: http://www.stateofnature.org/d…

  • giovannalepore

    Remember Bhopal India and now Bangladesh: Symbols of why they hate the USA. Your “democracy” and “freedom” are nothing but smoke screens for crimes against humanity.

  • Gubdeb

    I thought Indians loved the USA(?) Why, the MSM in recent years has woven Indians into the very fabric of American life. In network programming, ads, and they seem to all love Walmart. Yes, Walmart.

  • giovannalepore

    I doubt that this is the case with the overwhelming numbers of Indians IN India especially those who were the US victims. At the rate the US is going it will have the entire world despise it.

  • Matthew Grebenc

    Money is power, and corporations pursue it at any cost. They are psychopathic.

  • wildcarrots

    Well yes there is a sick mentality.  Once a factory burns down it will have to been re-built or replaced.  You either re-build it before or after the employees are there working.  that is the sick really stupid part.

  • theoldgoat

    This is where we are, its emblematic of the massive shift that must be brought about in order to restore balance.

    “Work here and your life is a living hell.”

    … the system, owned by interests that value profit over life, scorn those who see from other perspectives – an absolutely essential aspect of life – yet do so brutally, without compunction, on the backs of BILLIONS OF PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD>

    Boycott any brand you cannot identify and source to ethical satisfaction.

  • itsthethird

    Corporations and workers  can take the heat while the stockholders, capitalists, consumers, and  management, can take the profits.  However the costs of profit are spread disproportionate to benefits if any exist the benefits are captured immediately while costs are avoided by all.  The whole system is dysfunctional because cost avoidance or shifting is acceptable and or encouraged.

  • greatbear215

    Walmurder: Were they value profits over people!

  • Shantiananda

    Not just Walmart, but the whole American Empire, “value profits over people”!   Walmart is just the paradigm of the American corportocracy.

  • AmonVerite

  • Gubdeb

    Thank you, Shan.

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    In Support of WalMart Strikers on Black Friday: “The Belly Button Theory of Economics” November 23, 2012

    Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    add a comment

    Roger’s note: Several years ago while I was in Los Angeles, workers in three major supermarket chains were on strike because their employers wanted to lower them to WalMart standards of salaries and benefits.  I spent some time at one of the picket lines and had the opportunity to speak with several of the shoppers who were crossing the picket line.  It was disheartening to hear shoppers, working people themselves, complain that supermarket workers had benefits that they lacked and therefore deserved no sympathy.  It reminded me of the world’s oldest political strategy: divide and conquer.  Instead of advocating for higher standards for everyone, employer, politicians and the media play on the emotion of envy to promote the notion of lowering standards to the bottom.  This experience inspired me to write the following essay, which I re-post here in solidarity with the striking WalMart workers.

     

    The Belly Button Theory of Economics

     

    Roger Hollander

     

    Call it the belly button theory of economics, if you will.  Every one knows there are two types of umbilicals: innies and outies.  Well, when all is said and done, all complexities aside, doesn’t one’s economy simply break down into what comes IN and what goes OUT?

     

    Let’s talk about the ordinary working person.  She earns from her job (IN), and she meets her needs and pleasures by making purchases (OUT).  The well-being of her “economy” depends upon there being at least enough IN to take care of all the OUT.

     

    One might be tempted to say that both are equally important, that is income (IN) and the cost of things (OUT).  Here is where I would argue that many economists miss the boat.  I believe that what one does through her work to acquire the means to live (IN) is fundamental, whereas the cost of things (OUT), while important, is secondary.  Think of is this way.  If you are unemployed you sure appreciate a good bargain, but what you really need is a good job.

     

    There can also be a “dialectic” between IN and OUT.  Take health care.  It is something we purchase (an OUT).  However, for millions of Americans, their health care comes as a benefit attached to their work (an IN).  In other words, health insurance as a benefit is an IN that offsets the cost of health care, an OUT.

     

    That is why I believe it is so important for all working people that in the current labor dispute that grocery giants — Safeway, Vons, Ralphs and Albertsons — do not succeed in their efforts to cut drastically the wages (IN) and health benefits (IN) of their workers.  They argue that this is necessary in order to compete with the Wal-Mart super stores, who pay their workers substantially less in wages and benefits[note: cf. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America] Wal-Mart does this by keeping its prices (OUT) lower than anyone else.  Interestingly, and here is that dialectic at work again, Wal-Mart is able to offer such low prices (OUT) by pressuring its suppliers to cut labor costs (their workers’ IN) in order to provide Wal-Mart with its goods at cut-rate prices.

     

    In the end, you see, it always boils down to IN(come).  Of course, the worker is also a consumer and naturally loves low prices.  We all appreciate a bargain, and who can blame us?  But if the price of bargains is that, in the long run, we don’t have a living wage (IN) that meets our needs to provide for our expenses (OUT), then the bargain is, in effect, no bargain.  It is a cruel trick disguised as a bonus.

     

    Human beings are by nature, first and foremost, producing animals.  We produce the means by which we survive and thrive.  Only then are we able to “consume.”  I am no great fan of capitalism because it treats human labor as a commodity, just one more expense for the capitalist along with things such as materials, rents and other overhead costs.  But as long as capitalism exists, working people have no choice but to demand wages and benefits that meet their fundamental needs.  Health care, along with food and shelter, is one of the most basic of human needs.  Because the United States government, the only one in the world of industrial nations, has not seen fit to provide universal health coverage for its people, then this need for most of its working people gets fulfilled through employer health care plans.  It is not an “extra.”

     

    I have spoken with shoppers crossing the picket lines at the supermarkets, fellow working people, who justify their non-support of the grocery workers on the basis that they too must pay part of their health care costs (“If I can’t have it, you can’t have it either”).  This sad lack of worker solidarity is a product of the divide and conquer strategy of the supermarket chains, and it is in contrast to the solidarity the chains themselves have shown by sharing their profits amongst themselves, possibly in violation of anti-trust legislation.  How ironic that the supermarket industry is turning around that famous dictum to read: “chains of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your workers!”

     

    Think of this the next time you are tempted to support them by shopping in one of the on-strike or locked out supermarket chains.

     

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