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Topic: Labour NewsThe new items published under this topic are as follows.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Harmac Pacific: BC's worker-owned mill success story
An aerial shot of Nanaimo's Harmac pulp mill (2008). Photo: Nanaimo Daily News
Nanaimo's Harmac mill was as good as gone, until workers rallied to buy it, and their jobs, back. "They had to believe not only in themselves but also the people that they work with to get it done together," says Harmac Pacific president Levi Sampson. Author Tyler Harbottle is a Vancouver-based journalist and researcher who writes about natural resources and the environment.
BC's worker-owned mill success story
Tyler Harbottle TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 23, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
It was the summer of 2008, hardly the ideal setting for the beginning of a forestry fairytale.
The global economy was on the brink of collapse and thousands of British Columbian forestry workers had already lost their jobs. Dozens of mills had either shuttered their gates for good or cut back on production as the U.S. housing market crumbled.
But that year saw a group of unemployed mill workers scrounge up enough cash to rescue their 50-year-old Nanaimo pulp mill and reinvigorate the region's largest private employer. With $25,000 each and the support of three local investment groups, Harmac Pacific's employees bought their pulp mill, saved their jobs and defied the odds.
This month they celebrate their fifth year in business. The mill is operating close to full capacity, employee share prices have increased significantly and workers earned dividends for the first time last Christmas.
When Pope & Talbot, the mill's previous owner, filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2007, PricewaterhouseCoopers was charged with finding buyers for the Portland-based company's three B.C. mills.
It was obvious to Bob Smiley, a 40-year-old veteran of Harmac, that the only investors interested in buying Harmac were "chop-shop outfits" who would dismantle the mill, sell the parts and turn the land into a golf course or condo development.
"Everybody saw the value in the land, but nobody saw the value in the pulp mill -- except the employees," said the grey-haired, mustachioed Smiley, whose methodical recollection of events befits his years served as union treasurer.
Smiley was one of a trio of longtime Harmac staffers who brought the idea to the other employees. But his own story, the one he recounted recently sitting in the sparsely populated offices of the Harmac mill, where a faint miasma of decaying matter hangs in the air, starts much earlier.
Smiley said 225 workers bought in, about half of the original 530 workers employed by Pope & Talbot.
"The [previous] couple years had been so difficult here," said Smiley. "It was hard for people to believe that things could change for the good," he said. "And a lot of people didn't come back, particularly people with transferable skills."
"I know that each and every individual went home and talked to their families, because it was a big commitment, not just financial commitment because people were out of their jobs, it was an emotional commitment," said Smiley.
For those that stayed, months of uncertainty and the prospect of losing their livelihoods erased the hard-fought battle lines that once divided hourly, unionized workers from salaried staff.
"We were all very romantic about what we were doing," Smiley said. Where every staff member is also an owner, squabbles about overtime and flexible job descriptions faded.
They had trimmed overhead costs way back. No expensive corporate head office. No costly hoard of executives. No fancy marketing and sales team.
The company has attracted more than 100 new employee-owners since 2008. While you don't have to buy a share in the company to work there, Smiley said most workers choose to.
Sampson said there will be a BBQ held this month to celebrate their fifth year in business, but also to mark the completion of a $45-million electrical generation plant.
The plant uses wood waste for fuel and will produce 25 megawatts of electricity, 15 of which will feed the BC Hydro power grid, providing enough electricity to light and heat 17,000 homes. The rest will go to powering the mill -- further cutting costs.
And, when the plant goes online, the company will have a second revenue stream for the first time in its history, and it will conclude more than $100 million in efficiency upgrades and carbon emissions reduction work.
Image right: Rosie the Riveter poster (1944). Image: AllPosters.com
Related: Hopefully, a new era for worker ownership is dawning
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada July 3, 2012
Twenty-six links. Below one of those links and then a commentary we posted in the middle of all those links.
... many parts of the country are looking towards worker ownership as a way to root jobs in the communities that need them. - Gar Alperovitz
A new era for worker ownership
Gar Alperovitz CounterPunch USA July 3, 2012
The workers of the just-formed New Era Windows cooperative in Chicago—the same workers who sat in and forced Serious Energy to back down on a hasty shutdown of their Goose Island plant a few months ago, and famously occupied the same factory for six days in December 2008—not only are putting together a bold plan for worker ownership, they are likely to move the entire subject into national attention, thereby spurring others to follow on. Though they have a powerful start, if the past is any guide, they will need all the help they can get—financial as well as political.
I was one of the architects of an attempt to establish a worker-owned steel mill in Youngstown, Ohio in the late 1970s—a plan that began with powerful intentions, the financial support of the Carter administration, and the backing of religious and political leaders in the state of Ohio and nationally. The plan was on-track, including a promised $100 million in loan guarantees from the Carter Administration—until, somehow, those opposed to the plan sidetracked the effort, with the promised money disappearing conveniently just after the fall 1978 elections had passed.
The Chicago workers have a much, much greater chance of success. They have the skills they need to run a manufacturing business. They have a good market—an energy efficient window is a good friend in a Chicago winter, after all—and heavy, fragile, made-to-order windows are much less vulnerable to global competition than other products. And, thanks to their inspiring struggle to keep their jobs, they can count on a significant amount of public support.
They also have the backing of the United Electrical workers (UE): an independent and fiercely democratic union; and the support of the Working World, a non-profit that has helped make hundreds of loans to Argentina’s thriving network of “recuperated” worker-owned businesses.
Above all, their own track record of bold and brave action to defend their jobs is promising in itself, and stirring in terms of public response: many more people are rooting for this company than your average small manufacturing startup.
The workers are taking this very seriously; after all, it’s their livelihoods on the line. For the past few months, they have been engaged in intensive trainings in cooperative management, building the skills they’ll need to not just make windows, but market their product and secure and fulfill contracts. They’ve been scraping together a thousand dollars apiece to buy into the newly formed cooperative. And they’ve been exploring city programs—like a Midway airport noise insulation project and a city-wide energy retrofit effort that could generate significant contracts.
Still, this is a tough business. If there is one lesson from the early days of worker ownership attempts it is that building a powerful local and national support group of public figures, nonprofit organizations, national labor and religious leaders and others can be of great and unexpected importance. It can help keep the story alive at critical times, and also help create and sustain a market. (Churches, for instance, buy a lot of windows, as do many other nonprofit organizations.) As the workers in Chicago deal with the myriad of tasks involved in raising money, negotiating with their former employer, Serious Energy, to purchase the factory’s equipment, and restarting production (not to mention learning how to democratically manage their own workplace!), building local and national alliances to support their work is a critical task that can be taken on by allies. ...
Moreover there is now a quiet trend in the union movement—away from disinterest in new forms of ownership and towards positive assistance. The United Steelworkers, working jointly with Mondragon (the 80-thousand member strong complex of cooperatives in the Basque country), have taken the lead in proposing and developing “union coops” which will combine worker ownership and the collective bargaining process. The Service Employees union (SEIU) has taken some interesting steps here as well, with a worker-owned and unionized laundry slated to launch in Pittsburgh this year, and a groundbreaking partnership with New York City’s Cooperative Home Care Associates, the largest worker cooperative in the United States. Also notable is a growing sophistication among unions regarding a far more common form of U.S. worker ownership, the ESOP or Employee Stock Ownership Plan (which involve 10 million workers): unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) are taking a strong role in making sure workers’ interests are protected as companies convert to worker ownership. ...
Jim comment: Another world is possible. In his speech above, Noam Chomsky itemizes some failed attempts in the USA for worker's to buy and takeover companies that management/shareholders had decided to shut down. Here in British Columbia we have two examples of that happening successfully. Harmac Pacific is a new company located in Nanaimo , B.C., which was created by its employees after the transnational that owned the mill declared it unprofitable. Harmac Pacific operates a Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft (NBSK) pulp mill located on the east coast of Vancouver Island near Nanaimo, British Columbia. Nanaimo Forest Products Ltd., the owner of the Harmac Pacific trademark, restarted the mill with a single production line on October 3, 2008, producing NBSK at the rate of 226,000 tonnes per year. In 2009, a second production line was restarted and capital upgrades in 2010 and 2011 brought the mill's production capacity up to 365,000 tonnes of pulp per year. The pulp is sold in Asia, Europe, North America, and Latin America. The other business is CHEK. CHEK has served Vancouver Island since 1956. It was the first private TV station in BC, and CHEK is now the only employee-owned station in North America. Prior to the takeover CHEK, in its last private-sector incarnation, was part of the Canwest Global Communications behemoth who had announced they were shutting the station down at the end of August 2009. In September 2009, with overwhelming support from communities across Vancouver Island, CHEK employees and Island investors purchased the station to ensure the Island's most watched news remained on-air. In recognition, the employees of CHEK were honored with a national award for Journalistic Integrity by the Canadian Journalism Foundation. Below are four items from our archives relating to Harmac and CHEK.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Time to educate and mobilize Canadians on their rights and on the vital need to return to a humanly decent and high-wage economy
Intro: Are we undermining our schools by not investing enough in education?Posted at: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 07:20 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Iglika Ivanov rabble.ca, Policy Note blog Canada September 10, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
This year's back-to-school media coverage featured surprisingly little analysis on how our schools are doing. Not to say that articles about innovative approaches to help students stay alert, back-to-school parenting advice and school lunch ideas aren't useful, but surely those could have been combined with more in-depth analysis of the challenges and opportunities facing our schools.
Maybe it's because our students consistently perform well in international student assessments that British Columbians don't think they need to spend much time worrying about school quality. But are we undermining our schools by becoming complacent?
A thoughtful article I came across earlier this year argues that this is exactly what's happening, that chronic underfunding of our schools is threatening the high quality of education B.C. has been so proud of in the past. "The Observant Citizen's Guide to School Funding in BC" by John Malcolmson and Bill Bruneau is worth revisiting as we mark the start of a new school year.
Malcolmson and Bruneau sum up the B.C. school reality in one line: "our schools operate with inadequate supplies and support."
How did we get here? Years of funding increases that didn't cover costs, and most recently, flatly frozen funding despite escalating costs. Malcolmson and Bruneau explain:
When B.C. forests go up in flames, we spend what's necessary to save trees and take care of our communities. When communicable disease endangers public health, we don't count the cost: we send in our doctors and nurses, we make tough decisions and act on them.
And it's not just operating funding that is not keeping up pace with costs. Capital improvement grants, which were cut in 2009, have not kept up with school maintenance needs. ...
Malcolmson and Bruneau are right to be concerned that the chronic underfunding only worsens existing inequalities in our society, and hurts already disadvantaged kids the most:
In well-off neighbourhoods, parents may be able to raise funds for the essential tools of 21st-century education -- but elsewhere in urban and rural B.C., fundraising for classrooms and needy children is usually Wishful Thinking.
At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and education is no exception. As a society, we have been short-changing our schools for a while now, and it's time to reinvest in the quality of all our children's education in this province. Our children are worth it.
Items: Today, Statistics Canada reported that employment increased in August, although two-thirds of the additional jobs were part-time positions. Erin Weir, Part-time growth in a “hamster wheel” job market, September 6, 2013
Lost: Low-skill, decent-pay, 'entry' jobs
Pieta Woolley TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 10, 2013
[Editor's note: The Tyee Solutions Society's Pieta Woolley has been writing about the reasons why many graduates of the provincial foster care and child protection system become homeless as young adults. As 620,000 B.C. children and teens return to school, she looks at why the "launch" from adolescence to financially-independent adulthood is proving so hard for so many -- not just the most vulnerable -- and some ideas about how to help. Today, Woolley explores what's missing from today's B.C. economy that once helped untrained young people get their start. Find the series so far here.]
"So foster kids are flunking out of school. I guess the world always needs plumbers, eh?"
The person who said this to a reporter heads a national youth organization. Her offhand comment shows how thoroughly the mythology of well-paying, easy-entry jobs persists.
Once, a generous handful of sectors offered employment and family-supporting incomes to the least skilled and those who ditched school early. These days, that's one in five B.C. teens and most of those who graduate from the provincial foster care system.
But times have changed. Over the past 30 years, a perfect storm of social forces, from environmental collapse to labour-replacing technology, health and safety standards, the decline of unions, and global and local competition, has washed away those old standbys.
Wonder why it's so hard for one-fifth of today's young people to find work that supports them? A large part of the answer can be read in the combination of dwindling jobs in, and rising barriers to, these seven industries: ...
Unifor could shift Canadian political debate
Murray Dobbin TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 9, 2013
With the formation of Unifor, a "new kind of union" and the country's largest private sector union, there is at least a chance that the long slumber of the labour movement is over. An organization that big with a radical new mandate cannot help but influence developments elsewhere in the movement. The largely complacent leadership of other large unions will either be inspired by Unifor's approach, or be forced to recognize that change is in the offing -- which might just mean their replacement.
One key part of that mandate is the idea of community chapters consisting of any workers who want to join, and focused not just on the workplace but on the community. While dramatically declining membership in the private sector union world is clearly a motivating factor in Unifor's founding, a core part of the response to the crisis is to up-the-ante regarding social unionism -- that tradition of unions engaging in the social and political life of the country.
One of the strongest motivating factors behind Unifor, and a wide variety of other initiatives now being undertaken, is the desire to rid the country of the Harper government in 2015. If that is indeed a key objective -- and it must be -- then one of the most important elements of this social unionism needs to be to focus as much attention on the economy as possible, to engage the media, the public and political parties -- and workers -- in a broad discussion about the catastrophic economic policies of the Harper government.
A revitalized labour movement needs to challenge all these policies, but it has a unique role to play in exposing another set of policies implemented by both the Liberals and Conservatives: so-called labour flexibility. It is this bundle of policies that account for much of the gross income inequality (now matching that which existed in 1928), and the labour movement seems to have long since quit addressing them. It is time to get back to defending all working people -- and the Unifor model has great potential for doing just that. ...
But as unions already know, the impact of Liberal and Conservative economic policies has been the loss of good jobs and their replacement with low-paying, part-time, temporary jobs in the service sector. Canada has the second highest proportion of low-paying jobs in the industrialized world -- behind only the U.S. These are the positions that are the hardest to bring under the conventional collective bargaining umbrella. ...
Perhaps the toughest task facing a revitalized labour movement is changing the political culture regarding the role of unions. While many workers, especially young ones, want to join a union, too many others have been sucked into the race to the bottom mentality. They resonate to attacks on public sector workers along the lines of "I don't have job security or a pension, why should they?" Labour has to work overtime on reversing this self destructive mindset.
Workers don't need to be told they're being screwed. They know that.
They need to know who is doing it to them.
A sustained, highly public, well-financed campaign could help accomplish that -- and create line-ups at the union door.
Related: Leading the way back to the future? Young workers understand the social role and personal benefits of a union job
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada September 9, 2013
Two links. We introduced them with this quote:
These older guys who are 54, 55, 60 even, they're about to retire," he concludes. "All their fighting -- all these strong union guys, they're done. They've fought for the last 30 years: they've been shop stewards, they've sat in union meetings, they've been at the bargaining table, they've done all that stuff. They're out. And they need somebody new to take over. They're going to be passing the torch to us. And we've gotta be there. - Denis Chasse, 26, a concrete former and finisher, talking to Jesse Donaldson
Monday, September 9, 2013
Leading the way back to the future? Young workers understand the social role and personal benefits of a union job
These older guys who are 54, 55, 60 even, they're about to retire," he concludes. "All their fighting -- all these strong union guys, they're done. They've fought for the last 30 years: they've been shop stewards, they've sat in union meetings, they've been at the bargaining table, they've done all that stuff. They're out. And they need somebody new to take over. They're going to be passing the torch to us. And we've gotta be there. - Denis Chasse, 26, a concrete former and finisher, talking to Jesse DonaldsonPosted at: Monday, September 09, 2013 - 06:58 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Hard work, big gains for young union worker
Tom Sandborn TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 2, 2013
"I found out what I was good at," says longshore worker Krissy Murphy. Murphy is a graduate of the five-month-long women in trades program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Visit this page for its embedded links.
Imagine this. You are sitting in a plexiglass cabin perched high above the Vancouver docks, looking down a long 50 feet to the surface below as you maneuver a huge, cumbersome, rubber-tired gantry crane you're driving over the top of a 53-foot-long freight container.
You work the controls again and the gantry grabs the container and lifts it. You roll the gantry and the container in its clutches to a new position and gently ease it into place. Welcome to Krissy Murphy's world.
Murphy, a member of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 500, is a muscular and enthusiastic woman of 30, with bright red-henna hair and an infectious laugh. She's been working on the docks now for eight years. Shifting containers, she says with a grin, is "like playing a giant Tetris game."
Most young workers in Canada are not fortunate enough to have the kind of well paying, gratifying work that Murphy enjoys.
According to Stats Canada figures cited by the Canadian Labour Congress this April, 14.5 per cent of those between 15 and 24 are unemployed. Nearly 47 per cent are employed only part time.
Meanwhile, union density, the percentage of a workforce represented by unions, has declined precipitously in the private sector where Murphy works, from 26 per cent in 1984 to 17 per cent currently.
Big gains in public sector unionization over the same time period -- with public employees belonging to unions at a rate just over 70 per cent, a figure that has held steady since the mid-80s -- have kept the national union density numbers strong at about 31 per cent.
But union membership among younger workers has been eroded. A study by the Canadian Auto Workers showed union density among the 17-24 age group in Canada falling from 26.4 per cent to 13.6 per cent between 1981 and 2004. There was also a dramatic drop for the 25-34 age group over the same period, from 39.8 per cent to 26.1 per cent.
In B.C., union density among workers 25-44 years old stood at about 17 per cent in 2012.
"I always knew I wanted a union job," Murphy said in an interview at a coffee shop down the street from the dispatch hall where she's sent out to new tasks most mornings.
Her father was a unionized railway worker, her mother a postal worker and CUPW member, and she remembers early childhood lessons in labour solidarity -- like not being allowed to cross a picket line outside the movie house in Prince George.
Her parents taught her how important it was to stand with other workers, and she observed the ways her parents' lives were better because of their unions. They were both able to retire this year at 55, something she said would not have been possible without their union contracts. ...
Related: Denis Chasse is carrying the torch for a new generation of union members.
The accidental union activist
Jesse Donaldson TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 6, 2013
Aging, active union members 'need somebody new to take over,' says Denis Chasse. Visit this page for its embedded links.
At first glance, Denis Chasse doesn't seem like the type to have a passion for education or union involvement.
But the moment the 26-year-old opens his mouth, his dedication to both becomes instantly clear.
Bearded, with flowing sandy hair, elaborate tattoos on both arms, and an enthusiastic, jovial manner, Chasse works forming and finishing concrete with the City of Vancouver. He's a member of CUPE Local 1004, an organization whose roots stretch back more than 100 years, and remain tightly entwined with the very beginnings of labour activism in Canada. And, as well as being one of only a small handful of 1004 members his age who regularly attends his union meetings, Chasse is part of Alive After Five, a program administered by the BC Federation of Labour, that takes him into local high schools to discuss both workplace safety and workers' rights.
"When I talk to these kids, they're always amazed by the fact that I'm young," he chuckles. "I walk in there, I have tattoos, I've got long hair... I'm kind of on their wavelength, which is really cool."
Chasse, who grew up as part of a "really big family" in Squamish, moved to North Vancouver six years ago. He comes from strong union roots; his father has been a longshoreman for the past 13 years, working both in Squamish and at the Port of Vancouver. Chasse recalls being schooled in his youth on the benefits of union affiliation, but his original impetus to track down a union gig was the result of something much simpler: money.
"When I was at BCIT, I knew a guy who was in a union shop," he shrugs. "He was making 20-something bucks an hour, and I was making 10. And that's why I started working on the Sea-to-Sky highway. Because it was a union job, and I knew they made more money."
Work on the Sea-to-Sky soon led to a job with the City of Vancouver, a position obtained through a tip from a friend. However, this wasn't before learning a valuable -- and painful -- lesson in workplace safety, suffering a broken foot on the job, an injury incurred when he was asked by his boss to operate machinery with which he had no prior experience.
"I didn't know my rights," he admits. "Now I tell that story in schools, as an example of when you can say no."
Chasse was hired in 2008, just before a round of departmental downsizing. He lived under the constant possibility of layoffs, while rotating through a number of different road crews operating out of the city yard at National and Terminal.
Finding his way to his current position forming and finishing concrete came about due to a combination of initiative and ability. "They said I 'had it'," he laughs. However, his involvement in workers' rights and collective agreements -- concepts he now champions -- came about more or less accidentally.
"I didn't do anything for about a year-and-a-half, two years," he says. "Like a lot of young people. You know how it is: just give me the paycheque, I wanna go party. And I was getting -- not screwed around -- but I felt like I was being treated unfairly at work. Not getting paid properly for work, things like that. So I talked to my Shop Steward, and he said 'Well, why don't you come to the union meeting and express how you feel?' So, I went to the meeting, and realized I was the youngest one in the room. There was one guy there who was even close to my age."
While the direction of the meetings was difficult to follow at first ("I sat through 10 union meetings before I started to know what was happening," he admits), the meetings soon led to an association with the BC Federation of Labour, first as part of the annual Young Workers' School at Camp Jubilee, and finally, as an educator with the Alive After Five program. And, as Chasse notes with a grin, his turn as an educator, like his union involvement, seems to have happened largely by accident. ...
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Eye on the USA: Why are fast food workers walking out again?
Strikers march outside a Wendy's restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts August 29, 2013, as a part of a nationwide fast food workers' strike asking for $15 per hour wages and the right to form unions. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters
Fast-food workers begin strikes across U.S. over wages
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian Thomson Reuters Canada/UK August 29, 2013
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fast-food workers staged strikes at McDonald's and Burger Kings and demonstrated at other stores in sixty U.S. cities on Thursday in their latest action in a nearly year-long campaign to raise wages in the service sector.
The strikes spread quickly across the country and have shut down restaurants in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Raleigh and Seattle, according to organizers.
The fast-food workers were expected to be joined by retail staff from stores owned by Macy's Inc, Sears Holdings Corp and Dollar Tree Inc.
The fast-food workers want to form unions in the virtually union-free sector without employer retaliation and bargain for higher wages.
They are demanding pay of $15 an hour, up from $7.25, which is the current federal minimum wage.
Martin Rafanan, a community organizer in St. Louis, said local employees of McDonald's and Wendy's can't make it on the salaries.
"If you're paying $7.35 an hour and employing someone for 20, 25 hours a week, which is the average here, they're bringing home about $10,000 a year. You can't survive on that." Rafanan said. Missouri's minimum wage is $7.35 an hour.
"Unless we can figure out how to make highly profitable companies pay a fair wage to their workers, we're just going to watch them pull all the blood, sweat, tears and money out of our communities."
McDonald's profits totaled $5.47 billion in 2012. ...
Last November, some 200 workers walked off their fast-food jobs in New York City. Groups in Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit and other cities followed their lead in April and July.
The $200 billion U.S. fast-food sector as well as retail sales and food preparation have been under the spotlight because they have added most of the jobs, in many cases lower-paying and part time, since the recession.
Restaurant chains and trade groups say the protests are unwarranted because fast-food and retail outlets provide Americans with millions of good jobs with competitive pay and ample opportunities to rise through the ranks.
"Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's," McDonald's said in a statement.
Wendy's and Burger King did not respond to requests for comment.
The restaurant chains have not changed their wage policies as a result of recent strikes.
The National Retail Federation said in a statement the strikes are "further proof that the labor movement (has) abdicated their role in an honest and rational discussion about the American workforce."
And in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the conservative Employment Policies Institute ran a full-page ad with a picture of a robot making pancakes, warning that higher wages would mean "fewer entry-level jobs and more automated alternatives."
"You can either raise prices and lose customers, or (automate) those jobs," said Michael Saltsman, EPI's research director, adding that "the idea that restaurants are rolling in the money is not representative of the situation franchisees face."
The median wage for front-line fast-food workers is $8.94 per hour, according to an analysis of government data by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an advocacy group for lower-wage workers. ...
Why are fast food workers walking out again?
Erika Eichelberger and Jaeah Lee Mother Jones USA August 29, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links and calculator.
On Thursday, fast food workers around the country will walk off their jobs in what is expected to be the largest strike the $200 billion industry has ever seen.
Workers at McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and KFC will strike in 50 cities—from Boston to Denver to Los Angeles—demanding a wage increase to $15 an hour. They will be joined by retail workers at stores like Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, and Walgreens, and members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The strikes follow a massive walkout by fast-food workers in July, and are the latest in an escalating series of strikes hitting the industry.
As we noted last month:
Many fast-food workers are paid at, or just above, the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage is $7.25, though it's higher in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Fast-food wages have fallen 36 cents an hour since 2010, even as the industry has raked in record profits.
This is part of an economy-wide problem; the bottom 20 percent of American workers—some 28 million employees—earn less than $9.89 an hour, or $20,570 a year for a full-time employee. Their income fell five percent between 2006 and 2012. Meanwhile, average pay for chief executives at the country's top corporations leaped 16 percent last year, averaging $15.1 million...
The mobilization of fast-food workers is a pretty new thing, because the industry has traditionally had high turnover. But the slow economic recovery, which has been characterized by growth in mostly low-wage service sector jobs, has resulted in a growing population of adult fast-food workers who can't find other work.
Many fast food workers are forced to rely on public assistance just to get by.
Use our calculator to get a better sense of what fast-food workers are up against.
The non-unionized fast food workers are receiving financial and technical support from the Service Employees International Union, community activists, politicians and the clergy. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is the fastest growing union in North America.
"When the union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run,
Service Employees International Union homepage
We are the Service Employees International Union, an organization of 2.1 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Bangladesh: New safety standards have been established, but punishment for the bosses looks unlikely & Only two American firms and one Canadian have endorsed worker safety accord
Harrowing survivors' tales from the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh recount an ordeal of darkness and screams, with many recalling how bosses threatened them with dismissal for questioning the sanity of working in the crumbling building. New safety standards have been rushed out, but punishment for the bosses looks unlikely.Posted at: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 02:39 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Survivors of factory collapse speak out
Naimul Haq Inter Press Service International May 20, 2013
Many of the workers who survived the factory collapse in Bangladesh have lost their limbs. Photo: Naimul Haq/IPS. Visit this page for its embedded links.
DHAKA, May 20 2013 (IPS) - “It was dark and hot with choking dust all around. The air was filled with the smell of decomposing corpses,” recalled Nasima, a 24-year-old factory worker who spent four days buried under the rubble of an eight-storey building that collapsed in a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka last month.
The young woman recounted the terror that she and four fellow female workers experienced as they lay beneath glass and concrete, just “inches” from death. Rescue teams found them sandwiched between the fifth and sixth floors of the massive Rana Plaza that had housed five garment factories.
Nasima told IPS she was “too scared” to remember all the details of those 96 hours. “I saw my colleagues die, just a few yards from me, one after the other.” Her only indication that they were dead was when she could no longer hear their voices calling out to her in the dark.
Nasima had joined Ether Garments, one of the many companies housed in Rana Plaza, only 20 days before the tragedy, Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident, which killed 1,127 workers according to the latest count.
While families searched desperately for loved ones in the ruins in the town of Savar, 25 kilometres from Dhaka, reports of negligence and lack of workplace safety emerged. It became clear that factory owners had been warned of a possible collapse of the building that was only legally permitted to house five floors.
As survivors came to and began to speak out, they reported that management personnel had ignored recommendations by engineers to keep factories shut on Apr. 24, going so far as to threaten workers with dismissal if they failed to report for duty as usual.
The revelation sparked international outrage and shed light on the inner workings of Bangladesh’s garments sector, the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, which brings in about 20 billion dollars a year.
Multinational retailers like H&M, Gap, Walmart and Primark, which have outsourced most of their production to Bangladesh to take advantage of cheap, mostly female, labour, came under fire for failing to enforce safety standards.
While these accusations are not new, rights groups hope this latest tragedy will jolt the industry into implementing better labour laws and adhering to safety standards.
They say the roughly 2,500 rescued workers, many of them women, are living proof that Bangladesh must not repeat the mistakes that led to the Savar tragedy. ...
Meanwhile, the trauma has wiped some survivors’ memories clean. An operator named Runu, unable to recall a single thing about that fateful day, stares vacantly into space while her sister tells IPS that Runu spent a full two days under the rubble before finally seeing daylight.
Those who can remember have vowed neither to forget nor to step foot into a factory again. “I will resort to begging if I have to, but I’m not working in a garments factory ever again,” 25-year-old Mariam, whose legs and arms were pulverised by concrete and iron rods, told IPS.
“My freedom means I was born again,” added a former worker named Shakhina. “I will not make the mistake of stepping back into that death trap.”
Meanwhile, major players in the industry are finally taking heed.
A.K.M Salim Osman, president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), one of the industry’s apex bodies, told IPS that the incident in April was a “wake up call for us who depend on the labourers for business.”
“If we continue to ignore strict ethical standards (around) safety issues we will fail again,” he warned.
Osman said the recently ratified Bangladesh Building and Fire Safety Agreement is a step in the right direction. ...
Related: The companies who had joined the Accord [on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh] by its May 15 deadline include H&M, Inditex, C&A, PVH, Tchibo, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Primark, El Corte Inglés, jbc, Mango, Carrefour, KiK, Helly Hansen, G-Star, Aldi, New Look, Mothercare, Loblaws, Sainsbury's, Benetton, N Brown Group, Stockmann, WE Europe, Esprit, Rewe, Next, Lidl, Hess Natur, Switcher, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bonmarche, John Lewis, Charles Vögele, V&D, Otto Group, and the oddly named Oliver. The North American face of the retail garment industry is only represented by three companies, the American PVH [owner of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands] and Abercrombie and Fitch and Canada's Loblaw/Joe Fresh. - Tom Sandborn reporting
Loblaws only Canadian firm to endorse worker safety accord in Bangladesh
Tom Sandborn TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada May 21, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
With the butcher's bill for the garment industry's most lethal accident now standing at 1,127 workers killed in the factory collapse at the Rana Plaza factories outside Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, only one Canadian firm has endorsed a legally binding worker safety agreement crafted by unions and worker rights NGOs.
Loblaws, the Canadian retailer behind the Joe Fresh brand, which had garments being produced at the Rana factories when an illegally expanded building collapsed on April 24, signed on to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh last week, joining two other North American firms and over 30 major European garment retailers. ...
Meanwhile, the Retail Council of Canada has reportedly been meeting with American retailers and their trade organizations to develop more industry-friendly agreements that would substitute for the deal supported by worker advocates.
The Council did not respond to direct questions from The Tyee asking that it confirm or deny its reported involvement in the anti-Accord meetings in the U.S. However, Devon Pool, who speaks for the Council, did say by email that:
"We are still working with our members and will have more information in the weeks to come."
Industry giants The Gap and Wal Mart have both refused to join with Loblaws in endorsing the Accord, with the Gap citing perceived danger that the new binding agreement might leave signatory companies vulnerable to lawsuits and a confidence voiced by Walmart representatives that their plans for a voluntary safety procedures will be sufficient to reduce worker deaths
A Gap statement cited by the Toronto Star, the company argued that the union and NGO sponsored Accord was flawed. According the Star, the Gap's statement said:
"Companies that have supported the Accord so far are almost exclusively European. The litigation landscape in Europe is fundamentally different from the U.S. By signing the Accord as is, American companies would essentially be opening the legal floodgates on issues that have not been negotiated in sufficient detail." ...
Only one of the Canadian companies that had been publicly urged by activists and share holders to join the Accord by May 15 [but did not] responded to Tyee requests for comment. Canadian Tire's Joscelyn Dosanjh told The Tyee by email that: ...
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Watching over communities, the environment and workers around the world
... Every progressive group in the country should join the effort to bring high finance to heel. It's time for all of us to realize that inequality did not fall from the sky. It's not an act of god. It's not the result of globalization (look at Europe where unions are larger and inequality is smaller). It's the result of deliberate policies made by and for our economic elites, especially those on Wall Street. Those same policies can be changed. But only if we have the persistence and the guts to take on the powerful financial vampires, sharks and hooligans that now lord over us. ... - Les Leopold, executive director of the Labor Institute in New YorkPosted at: Sunday, February 10, 2013 - 03:40 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The Working World
The Working World finances businesses that are owned and run by their workers. In this way we help extend democracy to the workplace, where people spend much of their waking lives.
Democratic worker control puts into practice the idea that every contributing member of a business should have a voice in the decision- making process. Worker-owners, as they are often called, meet in regularly scheduled assemblies where business decisions are either made consensually or delegated to smaller working groups. This same process is used to elect members to the various positions of management within the business. ...
Cooperative assemblies have proven time and again to be an effective forum for making strategic business decisions and resolving internal problems before they fester. This democratic working climate is aided by, and in turn encourages, a sense of pride, equality, and responsibility that strengthens the businesses where it is practiced.
And perhaps most importantly, these warm and fuzzy descriptions add up to more than just a feel-good story: they appear in their businesses’ bottom lines. Studies have consistently shown that worker-owned businesses measure up to and often even surpass traditional enterprises in terms of internal efficiency and profit margin.
Part of this success is rooted in the ability of democratic workplaces to fluidly expand or contract according to the reality of market conditions. Put simply, during hard times a worker-run business is better able to tighten its belt and share losses equally among all its members, as opposed to letting the burden fall on an unlucky few or closing its doors and leaving everybody without work. This advantage also plays out in local communities, which are able to count on worker businesses as anchors of stability.
This is the experience we have lived, serving the worker cooperative communities of Argentina, Nicaragua and, more recently, the United States. And it has been the experience of democratic businesses around the world: from the many lumberyards of the United States’ Pacific Northwest to the vast network of small coops in Northern Italy, and of the nearly 12,000 members of the Mondragón worker federation in Spain. For all of us, and for many more around the world, democratically run worker cooperatives represent a sustainable, equitable, and successful business model for a working world today and a better world tomorrow.
What it's going to take to claw back middle class wealth from the 1%
Les Leopold AlterNet USA February 6, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded link and graphs.
If you truly care about economic justice, then you've got to worry about the precipitous decline of labor unions in the United States. Just take a look at these two charts. The first shows the rise and decline of union membership in the private sector from the depths of the Great Depression to today. You can clearly see that unions were a very big deal from the mid-1930s to the early 1980s. By 1953, more than one out of three American workers were members of private sector unions. That means there was a union member in nearly every family.
Through the late 1950s and 1960s, the percentage of union members declined, but the absolute number continued to increase, peaking at nearly 21 million members in 1979, (largely due to the influx of public sector workers during the 1960s and 70s). Then the decline accelerated as the share of union members fell by half between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. (If we include public employee union members, the current rate is 11.3 percent.)
The second chart traces the share of our national income grabbed by the top one percent of U.S. households. It's basically the inverse of the unionization chart. When unions were at their strongest, inequality was the lowest. In 1928, the top one percent hauled off 23.94 percent of all U.S. income. As unions grew, the income share for the richest dropped to less than 10 percent. And as unions declined, the income share going to the wealthiest shot right back up to 1928 levels.
It's not a coincidence. When unions are strong, they bargain for higher wages and benefits. At the same time, non-union employers increase wages and benefits to attract qualified workers and prevent unions from coming in. Also, unions work for legislation that benefits middle- and low-income people (unemployment benefits, minimum wage, progressive taxation, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security etc.). Overall, those efforts shift income from the top to the middle and bottom of the income ladder. ...
While working with the labor movement over the past 35 years, I've heard myriad explanations for the decline: unions are not democratic enough; they don't know how to organize the community; they're victims of globalization; they are too bureaucratic; they don't work hard enough in politics; they don't embrace young people and minorities...and so on. While many of these problems are real, I don't believe they explain what's really going on -- namely that unions and the rest of us are on the losing side of a gigantic class war.
The top one percent understands that unions are the only institution in America that stands in the way of the rich getting richer. As a result, the assault on unions has been deliberate and merciless. ...
Related: How shorter work hours and more vacation time can slow global warming
Alex Kane AlterNet USA February 5, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links. (This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.)
A new report published by a liberal think tank offers an intriguing solution to the problem of global warming: work less, and carbon emissions will be reduced. That’s what the Center for Economic Policy and Research says in a new study, according to a report in U.S. News and World Report.
If people around the world switched to a “more European”-like work schedule, it could “prevent as much as half of the expected global temperature rise by 2100,” the study says, as the publication notes. A “more European”-like schedule includes working far fewer hours and taking longer vacation time.
The author of the study, economist David Rosnick, writes: “The relationship between [shorter work and lower emissions] is complex and not clearly understood, but it is understandable that lowering levels of consumption, holding everything else constant, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” Rosnick notes that developing countries will have to decide whether they want a more American-like work schedule or a European one.
The economist noted that a move towards European-like working systems around the world would “result in a trade-off of up to one quarter of income gains in exchange for increased leisure time and vacation.”
Still, there are some flaws in the study, as even Rosnick admits. He says that the study does not take into account the rise of telecommuting, which cuts down on carbon emissions because there’s no transportation involved. And he also admits that there is no way to tell what a person might do with increased vacation time. If people use up that free time to travel on an airplane, for example, that would increase carbon emissions.
Audio: Is it time to rethink the 40-hour work week?
"Q" CBC Radio One Canada February 11, 2013
Anna Cootes, of the UK-based think tank The New Economics Foundation, on why fewer working hours makes economic, social and environment sense.
You can listen to this interview (14.12) from a pop-up link on this page.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is a British think-tank. NEF was founded in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES), a counter-summit to the annual G7 summits, first held in 1984 in London. It included diverse groups of economists, greens and community activists with the aim of working for a "new model of wealth creation, based on equality, diversity and economic stability". The NEF has 50 staff in London and is active at a range of different levels. Its programs include work on well-being, new kinds of measurement and evaluation, sustainable local regeneration, new forms of finance and new business models, sustainable public services, and the economics of climate change.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Organized labor, a firm foundation stone of prosperous liberal democracies, being undermined by corportists in government
The fascist-lite CPC politicians in Canada want their corporate friends to have access to this information so that they can undermine unions. Pure and simple—ignore their bafflegab and spin. (In the USA the corporatists are using all kinds of enticements to gain public supporters for their repressive laws. For example see the post below, Americans for Prosperity lures Michigan right-to-work fans with gas cards, free food, December 12, 2012).Posted at: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 - 01:32 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
MPs pass bill to force unions to open books
The Canadian Press/CBC News Canada December 12, 2012
A Conservative backbencher's bill to force unions to publicly disclose how they spend the dues they collect has passed the House of Commons.
Bill C-377 passed 147 votes to 135 after it was amended to remove provisions dealing with pensions, and to make it less expensive for the government to implement.
Five Conservative MPs voted against the bill — Rodney Weston, Brent Rathgeber, Mike Allen, Patricia Davidson and Ben Lobb — but the outcome was not really in question.
The bill now moves on to the Senate.
Conservatives said Wednesday that one of their final legislative moves before the Christmas break is a gift in the name of transparency, but opponents saw the bill as a lump of coal. ...
he bill is an attack on the rights of those Canadians, said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
"This is an attempt by the Conservatives to break down the system of representation and protection of workers' rights in Canada," Mulcair said.
"It will of course be defeated by the courts but in the meantime it will require a lot of bureaucracy."
In debates on the bill before a Commons committee, the Canadian Bar Association warned the bill could violate the Constitution, as it could be interpreted as an infringement on union business and therefore the right to association.
Quebec's labour minister also sent a letter to [Labour Minister Lisa] Raitt suggesting the bill sets a precedent that runs counter to the rights Quebec has to manage its own labour relations.
Raitt said she had received the letter and would speak to the minister.
Before the vote, Edmonton MP Rathgeber expressed reservations about the bill and said he intended to vote against it.
"I do not see that non-members of unions such as myself have any interest in how the unions spend those dues," said Rathgeber.
Another Tory MP, James Rajotte, said that while he's supportive of the bill, he thinks there is room for a broader conversation.
He noted that provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons or law societies are also tax-exempt organizations.
"That's part of the valid debate, but I think it's beyond the scope of this particular bill but I think that should be considered," Rajotte said.
Another major beneficiary of tax-exempt status is political parties, which have to disclose donors but not what they do with the money.
Stephen Harper goes after trade unions with Bill C-377
Duncan Cameron rabble.ca Canada December 18, 2012
CLC President Ken Georgetti. Photo: Frank Saptel/Flickr. Visit this page for its embedded links.
The latest victory of business-funded politics was recorded last week when the Harper Conservatives passed Bill C-377 aimed at hobbling the ability of trade unions to participate in public life.
With its legislation (technically an amendment to the Income Tax Act), the Harper government is imposing new financial regulations that will add steep compliance costs and time-consuming administrative requirements to the normal activities of representing trade unionists.
Bill C-377 rests on the proposition that because trade union dues are deductible from income reported by trade unionists at tax time, use of the money received as dues by unions needs to be fully disclosed in elaborated and detailed regular reports. Since labour issues arise in areas of provincial jurisdiction, the Harper government could not act directly to limit trade unions rights (though the federal government has the ability to legislate labour in federally regulated industries, and does use it). Instead, Harper proceeded by stealth. CLC President Ken Georgetti expressed his "disgust with the recent conduct of the government."
The Conservatives do not want people to know that trade unions already provide public financial accounts, that the members elect the leaders, debate public policy stances at conventions, and approve trade union policy statements by voting resolutions. What the Conservatives want to do is discredit trade union political activity and diminish the role unions play in public policy debate.
The harassment of trade unions by the federal Conservatives compliments the Ontario Conservatives' efforts to drum up support for "right to work" legislation. It is also a response to the effective political campaigns run in Ontario by the Working Families coalition. The provincial Conservatives challenged, unsuccessfully, union political spending in court; their federal cousins are trying to achieve with red tape what the courts refused to do. ...
Related: Americans for Prosperity lures Michigan right-to-work fans with gas cards, free food
Andy Kroll Mother Jones USA December 12, 2012
Visit this page for its embedded links.
The conservative group Americans for Prosperity is enticing supporters to rally at the Michigan state capitol in support of right-to-work legislation with $25 gas cards and free food and drinks, according to a staffer for the organization's Michigan chapter.
AFP's Michigan chapter also used gas cards and free lunches to lure supporters to a lobby day on December 6, the day GOP Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican lawmakers abruptly unveiled their right-to-work bills. Greg George, a government affairs associate with AFP-Michigan, says no one has taken the group up on its most recent gas card offer, but that the offer remains. "We've offered to gladly give them out," he says. (Because it is a nonprofit organization, Americans for Prosperity, which is partially backed by the Koch brothers, does not publicly disclose its donors.)
Despite what its supporters claim, right-to-work legislation does not prevent so-called "forced unionization." That's because forced unionization is a myth: No worker can be forced to become a full-fledged union member. What right-to-work would do is ban unions from collecting dues from nonunion members for representing them with management. After all, nonunion members can benefit from contracts negotiated by unions. Right-to-work allows those nonmembers to receive union representation without paying for it—unions deride those folks "free-riders." The result of right-to-work laws is that unions see their treasuries diminish and membership take a hit.
Michigan's Republican-controlled legislature fast-tracked three pieces of right-to-work legislation last week that would allow nonunion members in workplaces in the public and private sectors to receive representation without paying any dues. The bills would likely deal a killer blow to the state's unions. (Police and firefighters are exempt from the proposals.) Snyder's public support for the legislation signaled a whiplash-worthy turnaround for the governor—he previously said right-to-work was not a priority, and tried to stand apart from the rest of the union-blasting class of 2010 governors like Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Ohio's John Kasich. Snyder is expected to sign the right-to-work legislation as early as Tuesday. ...
Related audio: The end of organized labour?
"The Current" CBC Radio One Canada December 19, 2012
Visit this page for its appended and embedded. You can listen to the discussions from a pop-up link on this page.
Federal legislation is forcing all unions to publicly disclose salaries and expenses. And across Ontario teachers are striking over legislation that allows the province to suspend the right to strike and impose collective agreements. And in the US there are a growing number of states bringing in anti-union "Right-To-Work" laws. Our experts weigh in this morning on whether organized labour can survive these economic times.
The end of organized labour? - Panel
As many as 35, 000 of Ontario's teachers weren't in class yesterday, and many others are expected to be absent today. Their union, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, is furious with legislation that allows the province to suspend the right to strike and impose collective agreements.
So far, the province has tolerated the rotating one-day strikes, but the Conservative opposition is encouraging the government to stop them.
Nationally, a new private members' bill will force all unions to disclose salaries and expenses to the public. Bill C-377 passed through the House of Commons last week. Sid Ryan is president of the Ontario Federation of Labour. We aired a clip.
In the U.S., union members are infuriated with new so-called "right to work" legislation. Among other things, new rules forbid agreements that force employees to pay union dues. Opponents say that will undermine union financial stability and bargaining power. Michigan's Governor Rick Snyder says joining 23 other states in "right to work" laws will bring more jobs to the state and empower workers.
With unions being a hot topic on both sides of the border we were joined by two guests with very different perspectives.
Scott Hegerstorm is the state director of the organization Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. He joined us from Lansing, Michigan.
And Kendra Coulter is professor in the Centre for Labour Studies at Brock University. She was in our Toronto studio.
The end of organized labour? - History Professor, York University
The role of organized labour is credited with getting workers better wages, and safer working conditions, even maternity leave. Even workers who never signed a union card benefited from those efforts.
Despite that history, there has been a steady decline in Canadian private sector union membership and the wages of unionized workers have started to lag.
With more on these changes, we were joined in our Toronto studio by Craig Heron, a Professor of History at York University.
This segment was produced by The Current's Jessica deMello and Naheed Mustafa.
Noted: Federal Court turns down union bid over foreign worker injunction for miners
Camille Bains The Canadian Press/Vancouver Sun Canada December 14, 2012
VANCOUVER - An attempt by two unions to stop more temporary Chinese workers from coming to Canada has been tossed out by a Federal Court judge.
Judge James Russell said Friday in his ruling denying the injunction that any alleged loss the unions claim will be suffered by the Canadian labour market remains nebulous.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 and Local 1611 of the Construction and Specialized Workers Union wanted the injunction in place until their broader legal challenge against the mining company's foreign worker permits can be heard at a judicial review.
HD Mining International Ltd. is expecting about 60 Chinese workers to come to Canada — some as early as this weekend — to join 15 foreign miners already working at the proposed coal mine near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
The unions alleged HD Mining's plan to hire 201 workers and pay them considerably lower wages than what Canadian miners earn for comparable work will depress the labour market, causing irreparable harm.
"Without specifics and evidence from qualified witnesses, this is conjecture," Russell said in his written ruling, adding it's not clear whether the unions' position is that they or individual members would suffer harm.
The unions have argued there are qualified Canadians who can do the work at the Murray River project in northern B.C. ...
Thursday, December 6, 2012
The rending of Canada's social contract: Canadian labour law reform—consultation or imposition?
Intro: Conventions of labour: Movement or paralysis?Posted at: Thursday, December 06, 2012 - 06:27 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Dave Bleakney Briarpatch Magaxine Saskatchewan Camada November/December 2012 issue, Webposted November 6, 2012
The status quo is not working for working people. Unions need to seriously overhaul the way they operate if they are to remain relevant. One key example that reveals the directionlessness and impotence of contemporary unions is the perennial convention charade where the organized labour movement convenes with the professed aims of advancing the interests of workers and improving society as a whole. If only this were the case.
With few exceptions, a recurring drama plays out at conventions on the backs of working people, “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing” (to quote Macbeth.) Here are some of those recurring acts that paralyze a movement.
Every convention begins with some kind of rhetoric about “democracy” and the importance of the labour movement coming together to debate and participate with a view to social progress. Seriously, who are we kidding with this pretend democracy? Labour conventions are typically contrived. Everyone knows the fix is in – but no one wants to say it out loud. In some cases the problem goes as far as paid staffers attempting to influence the proceedings in the backrooms or even acting as delegates, when for all intents and purposes they are actually representing their employers, the top elected officers.
During these precarious times, one would think this coming together every three years would lead to deep and fiery discussions on where our labour movement is headed and what it will take to develop an effective resistance. Just the opposite is true. For example, during the 2011 Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention, debate was limited to approximately nine hours for an entire week. This script ensures that workers, representing their unions as delegates, will have precious little time to debate the issues. Further, the show is always conducted by those orchestrating the front stage at the expense of the delegates who become mere spectators of the labour scene.
Speaking out in the context of a union convention feels much like speaking out of turn in church. ...
I wonder if anyone was listening when the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) convention guest speaker, Canadian Union of Postal Workers President Denis Lemelin, broke the mould somewhat by calling on labour to develop our own “social project”? Lemelin explains that sectoral divisions and defensiveness can be replaced by a basis of unity with a clear long-term strategic plan to gain public support and fight for all of society. ...
Items: ‘Right-to-Work’ legislation provides no rights and no work
Andrew Stevens Briarpatch Magaxine Saskatchewan Camada November/December 2012 issue, Webposted November 3, 2012
Saskatchewan’s labour laws are being rewritten. Already, the governing Saskatchewan Party has made it more difficult for workers to unionize, and has given employers more freedom to interfere during union campaigns. As the first province to grant public servants the right to unionize, Saskatchewan was once home to Canada’s most progressive labour legislation. It still boasts one of the highest union density rates in the country. But this could change. Is Saskatchewan now the setting for a Wisconsin-style assault on trade union rights? Will the comprehensive changes to labour legislation that unfold in the province be a model for right-wing parties across Canada that seek to curb the political and economic influence of unions?
When the right-wing Saskatchewan Party was first elected in November 2007, unions anticipated a fight. Under a highly popular and charismatic leader, Premier Brad Wall, the Sask Party was quick to act on these expectations. Part of their sweeping changes involved the removal of three senior members of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB) before the end of their appointments in March 2008.
The Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers (CALL), the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, and other trade unions accused the government of jeopardizing the SLRB’s status as an independent and impartial tribunal. Kenneth Love, a lawyer who had represented employers before the Board in a decertification campaign, was appointed as the new SLRB Chair, drawing the ire of organized labour. Considering that the Labour Board is responsible for ruling on unfair labour practices and union certifications, the change was rightly contested by unions. ...
Unions in Saskatchewan must be ready to wage a political and social campaign against the undoing of labour regulations that have historically set a progressive standard for jurisdictions across Canada. To do so will require the support and mobilization of union and non-union workers in Saskatchewan.
Unions win right to continue challenging mining company's use of foreign workers
Jeremy J. Nuttall TheTyee.ca, The Hook blog British Columbia Canada November 23, 2012
Two British Columbia unions won the right Thursday to further their legal challenge to a mining company's plan to bring temporary workers from China for a project near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.
The Construction and Specialized Workers' Union Local 1611 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115 will now ask for access to documents they consider vital to their case against HD Mining.
Both unions alleged the company did not follow protocol to get permission to hire foreign workers.
The company and federal government had argued the unions had no right to intervene in the company's operations on the grounds they had no stake in the plan to bring more than 200 Chinese miners to the Murray River coal mine project. ...
Federal Court Justice Douglas Campbell granted the unions standing on the basis their probe is in the public interest. ...
Throughout the proceedings labour representatives questioned the attempt by the federal government to prevent the unions from being granted standing, despite the government's own assertions it has concerns over how the permits were granted. ...
The Murray River coal mine is a joint venture between HD Mining, its parent company Beijing-based Huiyong Holdings Group and Canadian Dehua International Mines group.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
North America: All the gains, often paid for with the lives of working men and women, have now been reversed. If rational reforms are not again enacted will we see violence again?
Intro:The battle of Blair MountainPosted at: Thursday, August 02, 2012 - 08:16 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Chris Hedges Truthdig USA July 16, 2012
Illustration by Mr. Fish. Visit this page for its embedded links.
Joe Sacco and I, one afternoon when we were working in southern West Virginia on our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” parked our car on the side of a road. We walked with Kenny King into the woods covering the slopes of Blair Mountain. King is leading an effort to halt companies from extracting coal by blasting apart the mountain, the site in the early 1920s of the largest armed insurrection in the United States since the Civil War.
Blair Mountain, amid today’s rising corporate exploitation and state repression, represents a piece of American history that corporate capitalists, and especially the coal companies, would have us forget. It is a reminder that citizens have a right to resist a corporate machine intent on subjugating them. It is a reminder that all the openings of our democracy were achieved with the toil, anguish and sometimes blood of radicals and popular fronts, from labor unions to anarchists, socialists and communists. But this is not approved history. We are instructed by the power elite to worship at approved shrines—plantation estates erected for wealthy slaveholders and land speculators such as George Washington, or the gilded domes of authority in the nation’s capital.
As we walked, King, a member of the Friends of Blair Mountain, an organization formed to have the site declared a national park, swept a metal detector over the soil. When it went off he knelt. He dug with a trowel until he unearthed a bullet casing, which he handed to me. I recognized it as a .30-30, the kind of ammunition my grandfather and I used when we hunted deer in Maine. Winchester lever-action rifles, which took the .30-30 round, were widely used by the rebellious miners.
In late August and early September 1921 in West Virginia’s Logan County as many as 15,000 armed miners, some of them allegedly provided with weapons by the United Mine Workers of America, mounted an insurrection after a series of assassinations of union leaders and their chief supporters, as well as mass evictions, blacklistings and wholesale firings by coal companies determined to break union organizing. Miners in other coal fields across the United States had concluded a strike that lasted two months and ended with a 27 percent pay increase. The miners in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky wanted the same. They wanted to be freed from the debt peonage of the company stores, to be paid fairly for their work, to have better safety in the mines, to fight back against the judges, politicians, journalists and civil authorities who had sold out to Big Coal, and to have a union. They grasped that unchallenged and unregulated corporate power was a form of enslavement. And they grasped that it was only through a union that they had any hope of winning.
Joe and I visited the grave of Sid Hatfield in a hilltop cemetery near the Tug River in Buskirk, Ky. The headstone, which is engraved with an image of Hatfield’s face, reads in part: “Defender of the rights of working people, gunned down by Felts detectives on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse. . … His murder triggered the miners’ rebellion at the Battle of Blair Mountain.” Hatfield’s brief life is a microcosm of what can happen when one does not sell out to the powerful. ...
All the gains, often paid for with the lives of working men and women, have now been reversed. We are back where we started. We must organize, resist and build movements. We must embrace radical politics and remain perpetually alienated from power or become a subjugated herd. I do not call for an emulation of this violence. But I do call for direct and sustained confrontation with all formal mechanisms of power, including the Democratic Party. The corporate state, for its part, should also remember the lesson from Blair Mountain. There are limits to how far a people can be pushed. And if violence continues to be the preferred mechanism for control, if the state refuses to institute rational economic and political reforms to address the growing misery that corporations inflict on the citizens, it will, as at Blair Mountain, engender a violent response.
Albert 'Ginger' Goodwin was born in Treeton, Yorkshire, England, and was a coal miner for most of his life. He mined in England, in Nova Scotia, and on Vancouver Island. It appears that the vicious coal strike on Vancouver Island in 1912-13 radicalized Goodwin's views. On July 27, 1918, he was shot and killed by Dominion Police Special Constable Dan Campbell. Goodwin was given a large funeral, but Campbell, who claimed he fired in self-defense, was never tried for the death. His killing sparked the Vancouver general strike in August 1918. The new highway near Cumberland, British Columbia was briefly named for Goodwin, though the resulting removal of the name signs indicates the continuing controversy over Goodwin's death and legacy.
Miner's Memorial Day
WorkingTV British Columbia Canada June 2003
June 21, 2003 ceremony at the grave of labour martyr Ginger Goodwin, on the 18th annual Miner's Memorial Day in Cumberland, British Columbia, Canada.
Click on the links below for webcasts. ...
Left: Ginger Goodwin. Right: Then Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton at Ginger Goodwin's grave on Miner's Memorial Day June 21, 2003.
Unwelcome hero of working people
Norman Farrell Northern Insight British Columbia Canada July 18, 2012
In the preceding article It is an old and cruel tactic, a reader's comment referenced long dead miner Albert 'Ginger' Goodwin. Today, few young adults know this icon of trade unionism but he deserves a more prominent place in the history of our province.
Goodwin had been targeted in 1918, perhaps assassinated, by Canadian military police. The 31 year-old pacifist was accused of dodging conscription although he had been declared unfit for service because of black lung, a common disease of workers exposed to coal dust.
Probably, Goodwin died because he frightened Canada's establishment. Unions had been prohibited in this country until the latter part of the 19th century and the organizations were strongly discouraged for decades after legalization. Goodwin was successful both as a labour organizer and as an anti-war spokesman.
He remained controversial even at the start of the 21st century. A section of the Island Highway near Cumberland had been signed as Ginger Goodwin Way but months after anti-union BC Liberals formed government in 2001, the signs were surreptitiously removed, an action influenced by MLA Stan Hagen.
Saying removal of Goodwin's name from the highway came through an excess of political correctness and ideological zeal, Stephen Hume wrote in The Vancouver Sun:
"The story of Ginger Goodwin is what marketing dreams are made of - - tragedy, mystery, noble purposes, bounty hunters, a posse, a whole town that defied the government to protect a beloved son and then kept his story alive when the authorities tried to rub it out."</blockqote>
Hume noted that government had tried to silence Goodwin's message by killing him. The message was not quieted but today it remains a target of attacks orchestrated by agents of unfettered capitalism. These sponsors are the modern day equivalents of James Dunsmuir, the province's wealthiest resident in Ginger Goodwin's day. The Dunsmuirs grew wealthy partly by employing Chinese mine workers in deadly labour at half the wages of white men. Dunsmuir entered politics - briefly serving as BC Premier - to protect the supply of cheap Asian labour.
Susan Mayse wrote the book GINGER: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ALBERT GOODWIN. BC writer and arts consultant Max Wyman called it:
"A vivid, carefully researched evocation of the circumstances of Goodwin's death."
Wyman noted that BC's mines were rated among the world's most dangerous and Goodwin was a man committed to improving those deadly conditions.
Book author Mayse says Goodwin was
"a revolutionary socialist, very outspoken about the Canadian government - vocal, eloquent, aggressive and charismatic. So from the government's point of view, he was a threat."
The threat was thought real by those who worried the 1917 Russian Revolution might spread to other nations. Days after Goodwin's death, Vancouver experienced Canada's first ever general strike.
Items: Private sector unions CAW, CEP propose merging to revitalize labour movement
Canadian Press/National Post Canada August 1, 2012
TORONTO — Two of Canada’s largest private sector unions have formally proposed joining forces to inject some life into the country’s flagging labour movement.
The Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada say the two organizations should merge in order to better protect existing members and to help attract new ones.
They say the merger comes in response to what it calls multiple attacks on the country’s labour force, including several pieces of back-to-work legislation passed by the federal government.
While laying out the plan at a news conference in Toronto today, the groups said the new union would consist of five regional councils and feature a 25-member executive board.
The still unnamed union would be created in 2013 once the proposal has been accepted by both the CAW and CEP.
The proposed merger comes after several months of talks between the two unions, which collectively represent more than 300,000 workers across the country.
CAW, CEP pitch merger of 2 unions
CBC News Canada August 1, 2012
Two of Canada's biggest unions about to take the next step toward a possible merger.
The CAW and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP) are set to release a final merger proposal Wednesday. It will be the blueprint that could form the foundation of the largest industrial union ever in Canada.
Officials at both unions were on hand at an event at Ryerson University in Toronto to pitch the idea of joining forces.
"We want to make it so that any worker in Canada who wants to be represented by a union will be," CEP president Dave Coles said.
"Even though we have differences, we have more in common," CAW head Ken Lewenza added.
The two unions say the merger comes in response to what it calls multiple attacks on the country's labour force, including several pieces of back-to-work legislation passed by the federal government.
"The private sector is not investing in jobs and technology," said Peter Kennedy, the CAW's co-chair of the committee proposing the merger. "They are holding on to their wealth."
Among the details revealed Wednesday are that the combined union would consist of five regional councils, and be headed by a 25-member executive board.
The final report to form a new union will be presented to members of both unions at their respective conventions later this year. The CAW convention is later this month. The CEP meets in October.
Formal discussions on a possible merger started more than eight months ago. ...
Friday update: CEP, CAW forge cutting-edge vision for new union
John Bonnar rabble.ca Canada August 2, 2012
"It is a new union for new times, a new political and economic reality."
That's how Dave Coles described the recommended association between The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) and the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) during a press conference Wednesday morning at the Ryerson Student Centre in Toronto where the New Union Proposal Report was released.
Last summer, leaders of both unions began initial discussion around the formation of a new union. Beginning in November, they held small group meetings with the top elected leadership of both unions. By January, they'd formed a Proposal Committee.
From March to June, the Proposal Committee met five times for three to four days each. They also visited locals, attended Council meetings and various bodies of both unions.
In June and July, they began to write the New Union Proposal Report and to prepare for both the CEP and CAW conventions.
"The rules have changed in our relationship with governments and with corporations," said Coles, CEP National President.
"And we envision this new union as being able to more effectively and efficiently take forward the needs and desires of working people across Canada." ...
CAW President Ken Lewenza said both unions recognize that they can no longer continue to operateseparately if they expect to take on corporations and governments in the years ahead.
"We intend to change the unequal labour rules in this country," said Lewenza. "In every province workers should have the right to organize and not be impeded by employers’ threat of them losing their jobs."
By partnering with labour councils, affiliated unions and grassroots activists across Canada, the new union hopes to become a powerful force that won't be walked all over by governments and corporations.
So how will this union differ from any other?
"This isn't a merger," said Peter Kennedy, CAW Secretary-Treasurer/ Proposal Committee co-chair.
"It isn't what would normally happen in these types of situations where, perhaps out of desperation, one union seeks a home with another union."
In this instance, said Kennedy, the new union will have a new name, a new identity and a new logo. Not simply a list of the current organizations.
"It will be truly a national organization," he said.
"Both our unions today claim to be national, but if you look at the demographics in some cases on the ground we're pretty sparse."
The new union will represent private and public sector workers from coast to coast. And not just those in certified bargaining units.
It will be open to the unemployed, students, self-employed and freelance workers.
"It will be open to anybody who shares the values that our organization will represent," said Kennedy. ...
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Stephen Harper seems determined to turn Canada into an anti-union paradise
Ottawa favours foreign businesses over Canadian employeesPosted at: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 - 03:32 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Linda McQuaig Toronto Star Ontario Canada January 16, 2012
Locked-out workers at the Electro-Motive facility in London, Ont. U.S.-owned Caterpillar, Electro-Motive's parent company, wants to cut wages in half. Photo: Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press
Hundreds of shivering factory workers locked out of their plant by manufacturing giant Caterpillar in London, Ont., might well draw some warm comfort from — of all things — the sayings of Newt Gingrich.
Of course, the conservative Republican presidential contender is no friend of labour or social justice; he recently proposed that poor children be schooled in the ways of free enterprise by being hired to clean school washrooms.
Nonetheless, Gingrich, one of the stars of the Republican freak show, is desperate to defeat front-runner Mitt Romney. With the mitts off, Gingrich is denouncing Romney’s background as a Wall Street corporate raider, accusing him of practising a form of capitalism where “you basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers.”
The multi-millionaire Romney showed his empathy for working people by noting, in a discussion about private health care, that “I like being able to fire people who provide services” and insisting that comments about the rich having too much money should be confined to “quiet rooms.”
All this has unleashed an unexpected and fierce debate about the brutality of unbridled capitalism — a debate the Republican establishment is scrambling to sweep back into the quiet rooms as quickly as possible.
Here in Canada, Stephen Harper has tried to head off a similar debate, dismissing the relevance of Occupy Wall Street on the grounds that “we have a very different situation here than the United States.”
In fact, under the Harper government, the slightly milder Canadian version of capitalism is rapidly giving way to a more virulent U.S.-style variant, with even greater wealth concentration and fewer protections for working people.
Indeed, Gingrich’s depiction of a capitalism where “you basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers” seems like a perfect description of what’s going on in London, where the highly profitable U.S.-owned Caterpillar is demanding its Canadian workforce accept a 50-per-cent wage cut. When the workers declined this take-it-or-leave-it offer, they were locked out on New Year’s Eve. ...
Ironically, the Harper government has complained forcefully about “foreign” interference from outside environmentalists protesting a proposed pipeline across the Rockies. But when it comes to foreign companies stripping Canadian workers of half their wages and then moving operations out of the country, the government hasn’t a negative word to say. ...
OFL and CAW visit locked out workers in London Ontario
Mike Roy and Occupy London Media Team Toronto Media Co-op/The Dominion Canada January 16, 2012
Includes video (4:00)
... In this video Tim Carry from Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Nancy Hutchison from Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) visit the lines outside the Caterpillar plant.
"It's frustrating that this government keeps giving handouts to corporations and in return these corporations just slam workers one by one by one and shut the doors and lock-out workers when they have made them so profitable," says Hutchison. ...
Related: When detailing his brief history working for Canadian Pacific Railways, Bill summarizes his relationship with management thusly: "F-ed if we were going to be herded around like sheep." - Jeremy Shepherd reporting
A Hard Man to Beat
Mordecai Briemberg Vancouver Cooperative Radio/rabble.ca Canada January 18, 2012
Mordecai Briemberg interviews Howard White. Audio (21:23)
Bill White was the head of the Vancouver Labour Council and president of the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union during the war. A Hard Man to Beat by author Howard White (no relation) was re-issued last year as one of 10 Vancouver 125 Legacy books. Howard White talks about how he came to know Bill White and write his biography.
A Hard Man to Beat: The Story of Bill White: Labour Leader, Historian, Shipyard Worker, Raconteur
Published by Harbour Publishing, October 2011
Bill White (1905–2001) was an itinerant ranch hand and trapper, a member of the RCMP and an Arctic traveller, but he was best known for his work as the head of the Vancouver Labour Council and president of the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union, the largest local union in Canada in his time. It was a position he held for eleven straight years during WWII, the heyday of the West Coast shipbuilding industry. Known as "Bareknuckle Bill," White was fierce and unrelenting in his condemnation of the companies and governments that refused to treat their workers like human beings. He personally fought one of the first big right-to-work cases in BC history, all the way to the Privy Council of England.
From the scaffolds and docks of the shipyards to the battleground of the bargaining table, White's stories about the struggle for labour and human rights in Vancouver in the '40s and '50s make for harrowing and fascinating reading. A Hard Man to Beat not only covers all the major labour events of the period, but brings to life the personality of the man, Bill White, in his own colourful—and sometimes expletive-filled—language. Author Howard White spent years of intensive research and worked closely with Bill to create this oral history, which sold out its first printing in two days when it was first published in 1983.
A Hard Man to Beat is one of ten Vancouver 125 Legacy books, an initiative created by the City of Vancouver, the Office of Vancouver's Poet Laureate Brad Cran and the Association of Book Publishers of BC to bring back into print a collection of books to celebrate Vancouver's 125th anniversary.
Learning about hard times in the vernacular
Book review by Jeremy Shepherd North Shore News British Columbia Canada January 13, 2012
North Vancouver's shipyards during the Second World War had a workforce so large it created traffic jams all over the Lower Mainland during shift changes. Photo: Submitted, for North Shore News
He was a communist and a farm boy.
He ripped cockroaches from his food during brief respites from welding in an unventilated area, and he became president of the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union during the Second World War, an unparalleled period of productivity in Vancouver shipyards.
Bill White's trials and triumphs are recounted with grit and affection in A Hard Man to Beat, recently chosen as a legacy book for Vancouver's 125th anniversary.
The entire book is told in Bill's sometimes profane, frequently insightful, and almost always honest voice.
"They've turned the Depression into an adventure now, but I tell you, it was no adventure. It was - depressing," he declares early in the book.
"That was the secret of that book," author Howard White says. "I didn't try and clean him up too much, just let him talk like he sounded."
The two unrelated Whites met as neighbours on Pender Harbour.
"He was farther down the road," Howard recalls. "He'd retired here and he used to come over and jaw with my father a lot. . . My father was a bit of a troublemaker, too," he adds.
Howard was interviewing British Columbia's pioneers when he first thought about doing a book with Bill. ...
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Labor beat reporters long an extinct species; with latest round of journalism layoffs in USA, agriculture beat reporters move to endangered list
Why laying off ag reporter Philip Brasher is bad for foodPosted at: Tuesday, July 05, 2011 - 05:56 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Paula Crossfield Grist USA June 25, 2011
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Well-known D.C.-based agriculture reporter Philip Brasher was recently let go by the Des Moines Register. His reporting also often appeared in USA Today; both papers are owned by the parent company Gannett. The loss is a reflection of the climate in journalism today, in which most mainstream media is forced to make cutbacks to editorial and reporting staff due to losses in advertising revenue. But here is why you should really be concerned about the future of food and agriculture policy in this country.
Journalism is necessary to inform the public and maintain our democracy. The agriculture beat was once an important area of coverage at all major outlets, delivering information about rural areas as well as policymaking on food in Washington. But the "agriculture beat" has been dying a slow death for five decades.
As I have written before, this issue area is currently evolving to engage consumers about where their food is coming from. Food-focused stories often go viral on the internet, and even win Pulitzer prizes. Unfortunately, while there is a growing hungry readership for this reporting, editors haven't all made that connection. Agriculture reporting has often been the first to get the axe during these times of austerity, and most major outlets have yet to dedicate anyone to the consumer-oriented food policy beat. ...
As Thomas Pawlick writes in his book on the death of farm news, The Invisible Farm, "The paucity of resources made available by the major media to cover agriculture and rural affairs, and the ignorance of most journalists regarding rural issues, has rendered the farming and food distribution systems that feed the people of the globe effectively invisible." This invisibility has allowed corporations to get ever bigger and call the shots in Washington. ...
Related: Below is an item that reveals why we still need both labor and ag beat reporters. To paraphrase the author, in our corporatized food system, beyond the meatpacking workforce: Abuse of animals is routine; entire ecosystems get trashed; family farmers are literally turned into serfs; we all face the menace of the antibiotic-resistant pathogens now brewing up on animal factory farms.
How the meat industry turned abuse into a business model
Tom Philpott Mother Jones USA June 29, 2011
Visit this page for its embedded links.
As a long-time student of the meat industry, I read Ted Genoways' extraordinary article on conditions at the "head table" of a factory-scale pig-processing plant with delight. As a human being, my reaction was revulsion.
In a single long piece, Genoways lays out the crude history of US meat over the past 80 years. We get the unionization of the kill floor in the wake of Sinclair's The Jungle, the post-war emergence of meat packing as a proper middle-class job, the fierce anti-union backlash of the '70s, followed by corporatization, scaling up, plunging wages, and then, well, all manner of hell breaking loose, graphically documented by Genoways. All I can add to the story is to emphasize how forces in the broader economy turned the meat industry into one that profits not by putting out an excellent product, but rather by relentlessly slashing costs.
In his story, Genoways reports that Quality Pork Processors sped up its kill line by 50 percent between 1989 and 2006, while the plant's workforce "barely increased." The strange malady acquired by those workers in Austin, Minn., makes for an eye-popping story; but the rough conditions they worked under aren't the exception—they're industry standard. By 2005, things had gotten so dire for meat-packing workers that Human Rights Watch—typically on the lookout for atrocities in war zones—saw fit to issue a scathing report on their plight. The report's title says it all: "Blood, Sweat, and Fear."
WHAT drives such routine worker abuse? What would make a company steadily increase pressure on its workers to the point of endangering them, even as wages flatline? ...
Tom Philpott provides a link to Genoways' focused history of the meat industry but here it is on its lonesome. Among other things, it outlines the metamorphosis of worker-friendly George A. Hormel & Co.—a family business that through its practices and products had earned national goodwill—into the multinational Hormel Foods Corporation. Genoways' essay also contains a sidebar that provides further links to an essay on the great speedup, harrowing first-person tales of overwork, and 12 charts on just how much is being demanded of American workers. Our desk dictionary defines "speedup" as an employer's demand for accelerated output without increased pay. The essay on the great speedup is entitled "All Work and No Pay: The Great Speedup". The lede is "You: doing more with less. Corporate profits: up 22 percent. The dirty secret of the jobless recovery."
The Spam factory's dirty secret
Ted Genoways Mother Jones USA July/August 2011 issue
Trucks outside the Hormel factory. Photo: Alec Soth/Magnum. Visit this page for its embedded links.
On the cut-and-kill floor of Quality Pork Processors Inc. in Austin, Minnesota, the wind always blows. From the open doors at the docks where drivers unload massive trailers of screeching pigs, through to the "warm room" where the hogs are butchered, to the plastic-draped breezeway where the parts are handed over to Hormel for packaging, the air gusts and swirls, whistling through the plant like the current in a canyon. In the first week of December 2006, Matthew Garcia felt feverish and chilled on the blustery production floor. He fought stabbing back pains and nausea, but he figured it was just the flu—and he was determined to tough it out.
Garcia had gotten on at QPP only 12 weeks before and had been stuck with one of the worst spots on the line: running a device known simply as the "brain machine"—the last stop on a conveyor line snaking down the middle of a J-shaped bench ... called the "head table." ...
Jim meandering: George A. Hormel & Co. debuted SPAM® in 1937. There are now many products in the Spam family but the product branded SPAM® Classic, the original flavor, is the one that started it all. Between 1941-1945 more than 100 million pounds of SPAM® were shipped abroad to feed the allied troops. In 1942, radio journalist Edward R. Murrow reported: "This is London. Although the Christmas table will not be lavish, there will be SPAM luncheon meat for everyone." In the United States of my youth, SPAM was fondly known as "the meat that won WWII". The K-ration was an individual daily combat survival food ration which was introduced by the United States Army during World War II. The C-ration was the only ration comparable to the K-ration in widespread issue, with six cans comprising one full ration. Introduced in 1938 (and refined in 1940, 1943/1944 and 1945), it was significantly heavier, with less variety in meals, but more calories. C-rations were designed to fill the need beyond survival K-rations when fresh food (A-ration) or packaged unprepared food (B-ration) prepared in mess halls or field kitchens were impractical or not available. SPAM was there to serve both the cause and the troops.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
In British Columbia, Gordon Campbell has overseen 'biggest rollback of worker rights in Canadian history'
In British Columbia over the past almost 10 years, the Campbell coalition has created a province in which it is shamefully possible to work full time and still not be able to house and feed yourself adequately, where the government has given up on any serious attempts to regulate child labor and worker safety, where child poverty is higher than anywhere else in Canada, where foreign workers are brought in by the thousands to flip burgers and harvest crops but denied a right to settle and make a life in Canada, and where it is harder and harder for workers to organize for better conditions via trade unions. In the USA—its non-military economy destroyed by the corporate globalizers and its struggling taxpayers made to fund military compensation rates more than triple the private sector rate—military recruitment is thriving and military communities are now among the wealthiest in the country. Will we see the same reshaping of society begin to happen in tag-along little neighbor, Canada?Posted at: Tuesday, September 07, 2010 - 01:26 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
'Biggest rollback of worker rights in Canadian history'
Tom Sandborn TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 7, 2010
... So, what conclusions can we draw from these stories and from the reflections of many seasoned labour relations observers? Here are a few.
The decade has seen the Campbell Liberals radically re-structure the legal and administrative bodies that govern labour relations in B.C., mainly in ways that tilt the regulatory playing field to give employers the home-team advantage on wage rates, employment standards, compensation for injured workers and the creation of new unions and union contracts.
"The removal of union members from Employment Standards protections, the exclusion of farm workers and the other changes in Employment Standards mean that at least a third of the workforce has been removed from ESA protection," noted SFU women's studies, economics and political science Prof. Marjorie Griffin Cohen.
"We are losing union density and that will continue," commented CUPE B.C. President Barry O'Neill. "Limits on union growth have been created by changes in the Labour Relations Code."
"One of the big stories this decade has been the destruction of employment standards in B.C.," HEU media spokeswoman Margi Blamey said.
Bill Saunders, head of the Vancouver and District Labour Council agrees. "The new rules the Liberals have brought in favor the corporations. They want to create a desperate workforce."
Lucy Luna, who organizes farmworkers in the Fraser Valley for the Agricultural Workers Alliance, says that one ruling by the newly employer friendly Labour Relations Board in 2008, which made temporary workers fear that employers can now get away with punishing them for joining a union by sending them home as soon as they unionize "has made my work almost impossible."
Sauder School of Business professor emeritus Mark Thompson calls the changes to the Employment Standards Act "the biggest roll back of worker rights in Canadian history."
Kim Pollack of the United Steelworkers told The Tyee that changes made to the Forestry Act in 2004 created a much more dangerous workplace, with safety de-regulated, increased subcontracting and a race to the bottom on safety procedures, resulting in 43 deaths in the woods the next year.
As evidenced by this testimony from the woods, worker safety continues to be an ongoing and sometimes heartbreaking story, as B.C. workers continue to die or come home crippled while trying to earn a living.
And more and more temporary foreign workers are being brought into B.C. under federally sponsored programs that critics say are consciously designed to drive down local wages and insulate employers both from the law of supply and demand and from collective bargaining.
Seth Klein, of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said that the explosive growth in temporary foreign worker programs was breaking a long established social contract, which offered new workers a pathway to citizenship and full rights.
"That contract has been broken, and the quid pro quo is no longer on offer, all in the name of worker discipline," he said.
Several of the experts who spoke with The Tyee noted that the response of organized labour in B.C. to temporary foreign worker issues has been remarkably free of the racism that has blemished union response to off-shore workers in times past. This time round, instead of lobbying to keep foreign workers out, B.C.'s labour movement has enlisted the new workers into existing unions, set up store-front service centres to meet their needs and called on the government to allow guest workers a pathway to citizenship.
Meanwhile, the face of the labour movement is changing, with more and more of its membership concentrated in public-sector bodies, many with predominantly female and visible minority memberships. In another significant change, the IWA, the logger and mill workers' union that was for many years an iconic presence in B.C. labour relations, was absorbed by the United Steel Workers this decade, and union density continued to fall. ...
When two jobs aren't enough
Justin Langille TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada September 8, 2010
Lyn is a shy mother of two, with long black hair, slim black-framed glasses and two draining jobs that even together don't give her much hope of getting ahead. ... Lyn is one of thousands of largely invisible people in B.C [21 per cent of women and nearly 30 per cent of men]. working two, three, sometimes more jobs in order to make ends meet, somehow piling those exhausting duties on top of caring for children and relatives while striving to gain the education needed to step up and off the low-wage treadmill. ...
The prospects for Lyn and others like her have been shaped not only by a rough economy but by policies enacted by the B.C. Liberal government since 2001. Complex changes to the Employment Standards Act have ushered in overtime averaging rules that cause employers to pressure workers into pulling long shifts over consecutive days. Call-in periods for employees have been reduced [to] two [from] four hours, giving people less time to rearrange their lives for the sake of a shift. Posting employment standards and work schedules in the workplace was deemed unnecessary. Enforcement of the act switched from routine government inspection to a complaint-based system devoid of requirement to investigate complaints. Fifty per cent of standards offices were closed. ... B.C. Liberal policy changes also increased both the supply of casual workers and the abundance of casual jobs, making it necessary for people to take nearly any available job, no matter how low paying or volatile. Access to social assistance was complicated and restricted, along with a 30 per cent cut to the budget of the ministry of housing and social development, according to the CCPA's 2008 report on casual work. Additional changes to eligibility for single parents with children, waiting periods for social assistance and cuts to benefits furthered the likelihood of job seekers to take on non-standard, precarious work. The privatization of crown corporations like B.C. Rail, part of B.C. Hydro and B.C. Ferries made well-paying jobs in the public service prone to cost reduction measures and cuts. Meanwhile, the passing of bill C-29 in 2002 privatized and contracted out 9,000 jobs in B.C. health support services. This transformed accessible, dependable full time jobs, worked largely by immigrant workers, into low-wage part-time positions, which many employees now have to work two or three of to get by. ...
Related: The Campbell coalition may be the most brutal but the war on the working class is being waged across the whole friggin' country. Below is the latest example from Ontario.
Wealthy go AWOL in deficit fight
Linda McQuaig Toronto Star Ontario Canada September 7, 2010
Ever since the 2008 financial crisis, Canadian banks have enjoyed almost heroic stature for not being like those bad Wall Street banks that collapsed, triggering a global recession. Certainly there’s been no talk of imposing higher taxes on Canadian banks, to make them help pay for the huge government deficits brought on by the financial crisis and resulting recession. That wouldn’t be fair, since our banks — unlike the Wall Street banks — played no role in bringing about the financial crisis. But why doesn’t that logic apply to other groups who also played no role in bringing about the financial crisis?
Specifically, why doesn’t it apply to Ontario’s public sector workers, who certainly did nothing to provoke the financial crisis, but who are being singled out to play a particularly large role in deficit reduction. Under Ontario’s two-year public sector pay freeze, for instance, a nursing home worker earning $25,000 a year would give up a hefty $1,000 annually, says Erin Weir, an economist with the United Steelworkers union. Ontario argues that its huge deficit leaves it no choice but to cut public sector pay. But that doesn’t explain why, at the same time, it is cutting corporate taxes, making the deficit even bigger. ...
But rather than being asked now to contribute to deficit reduction — along with public sector workers — the financial sector stands to be the single largest beneficiary of the province’s corporate tax cuts, saving roughly $500 million in taxes this year. In fact, the public sector pay cuts, which might save the province an estimated $1.7 billion annually, won’t really reduce the deficit at all. They’ll help pay for the corporate tax cuts. In other words, that $1,000 taken away from the struggling nursing home worker earning $25,000 a year isn’t really going toward deficit reduction. It’s going into reducing the taxes of some of our richest banks and corporations. No doubt, there are highly paid economists out there who can explain why this policy is sensible.
Hey, Joe Hill, Ginger Goodwin, 'member that song the ancient Greeks sang as they sailed to face the Persians in the Battle of Salamis? Maybe we should add it to the song book. Pete Seeger can arrange the tune, eh?
Ὦ παῖδες Ἑλλήνων ἴτε,
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Why are working Canadians and American growing angry? For sure, increasingly precarious labor markets in both countries contribute
The Canadian gov't satisfies corporate needs by flooding temporary workers into Canada; the American gov't satisfies corporate needs by essentially turning a blind eye to illegal immigration. In both countries, labor markets have become tragically (and dangerously) skewed.Posted at: Thursday, April 15, 2010 - 03:56 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Vision lacking on immigration
Editorial Toronto Star Ontario Canada July 23 2009
... For the first time in our history, we are accepting more temporary workers than permanent immigrants. Regrettably, this dramatic policy shift was made without any serious public debate. Harper's government did much of it by giving the immigration minister extra powers in an amendment buried in a budget bill last year. ...
Skilled immigrants squeezed out for temporary workers
Campbell Clark Globe and Mail Canada Last updated July 23, 2009
Canada is still bringing in temporary foreign workers at a near-record pace despite the recession, but a new study argues our immigration policy's increasing focus on filling jobs will hamper the economy over time by squeezing out qualified permanent immigrants. A record 193,000 temporary foreign workers received Canadian work permits last year to fill labour shortages - 80,000 more than came in 2004 - as Ottawa expanded the intake to respond to employers' demand for staff. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the sharp recession that struck Canada in late 2008 has hardly put a damper on employers' requests for temporary foreign workers in the first half of 2009.... Many came under perennial categories such as nannies and seasonal farm workers. But statistics for 2005 to 2007 show large increases in trades like carpenters, welders and pipefitters, and, especially in Alberta, unskilled labourers such as meatpackers, food-plant workers and kitchen staff.
Statistics don't yet show why demand remained high as unemployment rose from 6.2 per cent a year ago to 8.6 per cent last month, or how many temporary foreign workers already in Canada have been thrown out of work. Those who lose jobs can stay in Canada until their work permits run out, often two years, and usually they aren't eligible for employment insurance. They can only take a job from another employer who has convinced the government that it faces a labour shortage. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said there have been two trends: highly skilled temporary workers at stalled oil sands projects and construction sites suffered heavy layoffs, but service-sector workers "flipping burgers and changing beds in hotels" have not. More Canadians are willing to take those jobs now, but some employers feel guest workers work uncomplainingly for less, he argued. Mr. Kenney said the government has taken steps to better align immigration to the job market, and many companies would have gone out of business without temporary workers - such as an immigrant in his riding who two years ago feared he'd have to shut his two Subway stores because he couldn't keep up with the wage expectations of Calgary teenagers.
Government increases temporary workers while unemployment remains high
Sean rabble.ca/babble Canada July 22, 2009
This is a huge story. The implications are enormous. The government, even in recession, is bringing in increased numbers of temporary workers into markets that have heavy unemployment and heavy student unemployment in particular. Business wants government to bring in workers even though we have many able to do the work here-- even skilled workers from other countries willing to live 8 adults to an apartment and work for minimum wage while Canadians with skills will not do that. There is a reason for this-- they are not maintaining a permanent home here so living in a dorm like environment here for a while to make some money for a few months is fine. No Canadian resident can afford to do that while maintaining homes here. ...
The use of increased numbers of temporary workers makes the government of Canada even more of a traitor to the interests of Canadians and a parasite on the rest of the world (it has been both for some time). If we need these workers-- let them come here and be residents of Canada with the rights we enjoy. If we don't need them, still we should settle properly those who come here allowing them hope for a future here. Other countries went down this road using more and more temporary second-class residents. Some of the countries learned that the only way to resist a government doing this is to riot. I hope that our future does not invovle burning cities- but how can we expect security creating large numbers of people with no hope and nothign to lose- and by this I do not mean just the temporary workers but those who already live here affected by this policy.
Good news labour numbers hide bad news for many workers
Ken Lewenza rabble.ca Canada February 8, 2010
It's predictable. The minute the latest monthly Labour Force Survey results are released to the public, economists and politicians fall all over themselves making grand pronouncements about the health of our job market and direction of the economy. I could hear the champagne corks popping on Parliament Hill and Bay Street back in December when the monthly Statistics Canada jobs report card announced 79,000 jobs were created in November. BMO Capital Markets Economist Jennifer Lee excitedly declared to the National Post "Our economy is in recovery mode." Especially now, on the heels of a deep economic recession, Canadians are looking for any glimmer of hope on the jobs front. They want to put the economic devastation brought on by overzealous speculators, government complacency and a deeply flawed global financial system behind them, as fast as possible. But I'm skeptical. The "good news" announcements just don't fit with the constant stream of messages I receive from workers anxious to share stories about the hardships they face. ...
We could start by looking at the full Labour Force Survey. There is a wealth of information, some of it hard to find, and some only made available to the public for a small fee. For example, the survey's "R8 Tables" take a broad approach to unemployment. Some consider this Canada's true unemployment rate. They include workers who aren't looking for a new job because they expect recall within six months. They also count "discouraged workers" who've given up hope of finding a new job. These folks don't show up in the main numbers released each month. They're among the hidden victims of the crisis. Back in April, when official unemployment was 8 per cent, the R8 numbers were coming in at an incredible 12.4 per cent. What's more, the main survey counts everyone with part-time jobs as "employed" -- even if they were forced to take a job that provides low wages, few benefits, no pension and erratic work schedules. But other survey tables reveal the extent to which Canadians are being forced to take part-time jobs involuntarily. Today, nearly 900,000 Canadians fall into this category. And the number has been rising over the past three years. The number of part-time workers actively looking for full-time work has skyrocketed by 184 per cent since 1997. A rise in involuntary part-time work is one clear sign that Canada's labour market is growing increasingly precarious, a phenomenon that isn't captured in the month-to-month figures. ...
The temporary army that battles for the economy
Duncan Cameron rabble.ca Canada April 13, 2010
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Economists often take the economy for an elevator. Are we going up or going down? With the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) arrow recently pointing up, instead of down, you might think the economy is improving. But output (which is what GDP measures) does not matter to people lives as much as employment and its evil twin unemployment. Unemployment keeps wages from going up and workers from sharing in productivity gains (which have been poor lately), so it hurts all workers. Armine Yalnizyan (CCCPA), Erin Weir (Steelworkers), and Sylvain Schetagne (CLC) have been crunching the employment numbers, and each economist has a cautionary tale to relate. ...
Weir notes that while the number of employed people has gone up, the official unemployment rate has remained stable at 8.2 percent, representing some 1.5 million Canadians. Regional declines in employment occurred in Alberta, B.C., Newfoundland and Labrador, and P.E.I., over the last year. Alberta, the former jobs creation centre of Canada, is approaching near record numbers of unemployed. "March 2010 was the highest monthly unemployment total on record, with the sole exception of September 1984," Weir points out.
CLC President Ken Georgetti speaking to the CLC jobs analysis wanted to know what was being done to provide for younger workers. Already disproportionately unemployed, they will face competition from students looking for summer employment. The "real" unemployment rate was 12.4 per cent in March 2010, compared to 8.9 per cent in March 2008, Shetagne, a CLC senior economist, showed in his report. The real rate is obtained by adding part-time workers searching for full-time jobs, and workers out of the labour force because there is no work (so-called discouraged workers) to the officially unemployed. The CLC numbers reveal that it took 12 months (up to March 2009) for the real unemployment rate to climb to 12.4 per cent, and that in the following 12 months up to March 2010 it has shown no improvement. Making people scrounge for temporary jobs is a strategic policy helpful for companies trying to cut costs. Decent wages, benefits, and pensions are "savings" for the company. Even the CBC wanted to convert permanent jobs to temporary ones. It met resistance, and so locked out its employees. Our own labour laws facilitate attempts to create a "contingent" labour force. Temporary employment means you wait for someone to decide you are going to have a job, and for how long. Five years ago, Jim Sinclair, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, asked a Labour Day rally for locked-out CBC workers (and striking Telus employees, and Steelworkers) an important question: Are temporary workers supposed to have temporary mortgages, and temporary children as well?
12 reasons why millions of Americans are incredibly angry about the state of the U.S. economy
Prision Planet USA April 14, 2010
We have reached a very interesting turning point in American history. More than at any other point in modern times, Americans are deeply angry about the state of the economy. In fact, it is no stretch to say that millions of U.S. citizens are hopping mad about the economic situation. Most of them don’t know exactly what is wrong, and even fewer of them have any idea about how to go about fixing things, but they do know one thing. They know that they are mad. As Americans, we were raised with the belief that our overwhelmingly powerful economic machine would always provide good jobs and prosperity for all of us as long as we worked hard. But we have come to learn that is not true. We have come to learn that our politicians and our leaders have squandered the great inheritance that our forefathers left for us. We have come to learn that the financial future of our nation is beyond bleak. We have come to learn that our government has piled up the biggest mountain of debt in the history of the world. Now the foolish decisions of the past several decades are catching up with us. The U.S. economy is experiencing structural failure, and the American people are angry. They want answers. They want someone to fix things. They want things to go back to the way they used to be. But that isn’t going to happen. Once the American people truly start realizing that, the anger that will erupt will dwarf what we are seeing now. Not that they are aren’t already incredibly steamed. The following are 12 reasons why many Americans are absolutely furious about the state of the U.S. economy…. ...
The politicians who are in office when things really hit the fan are going to take the brunt of the anger, but it won’t be their fault. The truth is that this economic collapse has been building for decades. The American people are just not going to understand that the financial system cannot be fixed overnight. Dark times are coming. It is not going to be pretty. There is going to be a lot of anger and a lot of hate. But all of these economic problems could be seen well ahead of time and there have been those who have been screaming and yelling about them for decades. But very few people wanted to listen.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Out of reach: How the sustainable local food movement neglects poor workers and eaters
Generally speaking,Posted at: Wednesday, December 02, 2009 - 06:45 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
... farmers made good money supplying the war effort and for a while thereafter. Then big ag and vertical integration rose up swiftly to capture all agricultural profits and assure that people like your father and my grandparents could never again be so successful as independent farmers. Fearful, conservative, and self-defeating, our people, yours and mine, did not become that way all by their little lonesomes. They had a lot of outside help from government and corporations right after World War Two, when some 22 million (my family among them) were purposefully driven off their farms to work in industry, providing a cheap, docile, and anti-union work force. More importantly though, this migration caused millions more people to depend on paychecks in a wealth-based economy so the high profits of the wartime boom could be maintained for DuPont and many other corporations. Much effort and policy went into creating a nation of wage dependent consumers (commodity slaves). One government "social behavior film" shown in theaters before and between movies stated bluntly that "Being self sufficient is a waste of time. You can buy a better life in the city than you can create on a farm."
When World War Two started 45% of Americans lived on farms or in farming based communities. Ten years after the war only 12% remained on farms, and not much later it dropped to six percent. And believe me, they did not all leave willingly. The result is that we are into our third generation of underclass whites -- around 60 million of them. At one point in the 1950s when unions were at their peak, a large portion of these people briefly constituted a legitimate working class. Since then they have been ground back down into a malleable disposable work force with no real contours, no vision, no philosophy or principles of labor, zero negotiation regarding the price of their labor, and no avenues for self determination as individuals or as a class. ... - Joe Bageant, Cultural orphan of the class struggle, November 25, 2009
Out of reach: How the sustainable local food movement neglects poor workers and eaters
Caitlin Donohue San Francisco Bay Guardian California USA December 2, 2009
On a sunny afternoon in Civic Center Plaza, a remarkable bounty covered a buffet table: coconut quinoa, organic mushroom tabouli, homemade vegan desserts, and an assortment of other yummy treats. The food and event were meant to raise awareness about public school lunches, although it was hard to imagine these dishes, brought by well-heeled food advocates, sitting under the fluorescent lights of a San Francisco public school cafeteria. The spread was for the Slow Food USA Labor Day “eat-in,” a public potluck meant to publicize the proposed reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, national legislation that regulates the food in public schools. The crowd was in a festive, light-hearted mood. There was a full program of speeches by sustainability experts and a plant-your-own-vegetable-seeds table set up in one corner of the plaza.
A bedraggled couple who appeared homeless made their way through the jovial crowd and started scooping up the food in a way that suggested it had been a long time since their last roasted local lamb shish kebob. Their presence shouldn’t have been a surprise; most events involving free trips down a food table are geared toward a different demographic in this park, which borders the Tenderloin. In a flash, an event volunteer was on the case, nervous in an endearingly liberal manner. “Sir,” she began. “This food is for the Child Nutrition Act.” And then she paused, searching for what to say next. I imagined her thinking: “Sir, this food is to raise awareness about the availability of sustainable food to the lower classes, not to be eaten by them,” or, “Sir, this good, healthy, local food is not for you.” But there was no good way to say what she meant to convey. She knew it, and delivered her final line hurriedly before walking away. “If you could just, well, just don’t take like 25 things, okay?” Indifferent to the volunteer’s unspoken reprimand, the couple continued to eat, ignoring the whispers and stares of the social crusaders around them, who all seemed to take issue with their participation in this carefully planned political action.
It was a telling scene from a movement that has yet to really confront its class issues. Though organic grocery stores and farmers markets have sprung up on San Francisco’s street corners, it remains to be seen whether our current mania for sustainable, local food will positively affect the lower classes, be they farm workers or poor families. Even iconic food writer Michael Pollan acknowledges the challenge the sustainability movement faces in widening its relevance for the poor, citing the high cost of local and organic food as just one of the issues that Slow Foodies and their allies must tackle before they can count the “good food” movement a success. For the average heirloom tomato eater, the words “organic farm” often conjure up an idyllic agrarian picture: happy communes of earnest farmers growing veggies straight from the goodness of their hearts. In reality, a lot of the people who plant, tend, and harvest produce are poorly paid Latino immigrants. And it might come as a surprise that those who work on small or organic farms often face the same exploitative .. ... “This is one of the hardest nuts to crack in the sustainable food world,” said Michael Dimock, executive director of Roots of Change, a San Francisco-based foundation that has developed campaign strategies for improving agricultural working conditions. Three years ago, Dimock left his post as chairman at Slow Food USA, at a time when farm labor conditions “were generally not at the top of the list. Slow Food as an organization is just beginning to figure out what it can do in a meaningful way on this issue.” ... Labor issues are not the popular cause these days, at least in the sustainable food movement. Unlike the “eat local” and organic food movements, equitable treatment of farm workers has yet to spawn trendy slogans for tote bags or a book on the best-seller list. ...
On a bright autumn Wednesday, market assistant manager John Fernandez stands outside his “office,” a white van with the Heart of the City logo. The Heart of the City Farmers Market takes place in a plaza just between City Hall and the Tenderloin twice a week, year-round. Fernandez said it has the highest food stamp sales — second only to that of the Hollywood market — in California and has played a role in allowing low income families and individuals in the area to fit local and organic food into their budget. Fernandez has worked here for 13 years, and said that the use of food stamps has doubled since last summer. Most of his food stamp customers are families and individuals coming back week after week. They pass by the van to have Fernandez swipe their food stamp cards through a machine and hand them the yellow plastic coins used to buy everything from persimmons to what is far and away the market’s most popular item: the live chickens that squawk from cages at one end of the line of stalls. Efreh Ghanen was one of the shoppers we talked to who felt that being able to use her food stamps at the farmers market had improved the health of her family. Ghanen, who shops with her mother and sister, likened Heart of the City to the Yemeni markets where they bought their food growing up. “The honey, fruit, and vegetables here are fresher,” she said. “They just taste better.”
“I definitely wouldn’t be able to shop here if it weren’t for the food stamp program,” echoed Shana Lancaster. She teaches at Paul Revere Elementary School in Bernal Heights, a position funded through AmeriCorps whose low pay automatically qualifies her for the food stamp program. She selects an armful of organic Gala apples while noting the value of shopping local for working people like herself. “I like supporting the farmers. Everyone here at the market has a story. These days, everyone is struggling.” But both Lancaster and Ghanen tell us that when they can’t afford to shop at the farmers markets, they head straight for corporate retailers like Safeway and Walgreens, buying whatever they need to get by. Programs like these are essential if the sustainability movement is to remain relevant and widen its reach. Just as the environment will degrade if industrial agriculture continues unabated, so too will local and organic food sources falter if the majority of our society cannot afford to buy their wares. n the end, the obstacles are about class. Low-income groups, be they the people who grow the organic food or the schoolchildren who benefit from eating it, need to become more of a focus of the “good food” movement. What Slow Foodies and other activists must keep in mind is that over-accessorizing a cause (as with esoteric artisan products and exclusive dining experiences) makes it less a vehicle for change and more like reshuffling of the same old injustices. Social change, by definition, has to be for everyone. Because elitism tastes as bad as it always has.
All this is important in Canada and the USA where poverty is increasing and has been for years. In the USA:
Food stamp use soars, and stigma fades
Jason DeParle and Robert Gebeloff New York Times USA November 28, 2009
A GROWING NEED FOR A PROGRAM ONCE SCORNED Greg Dawson and his wife, Sheila, of Martinsville, Ohio, help feed their family of seven with a $300 monthly food stamp benefit. Center and right, the food pantry in Lebanon, Ohio, where residents can also enroll in what is formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Greg Dawson, an electrician, has kept his job, but now the drive to distant work sites has doubled his gas bill, food prices rose sharply last year and his health insurance premiums have soared. His monthly expenses have risen by about $400, and the elimination of overtime has cost him $200 a month. Food stamps help fill the gap.
MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs. Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.
While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away. From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day. There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times. ...
Food stamp usage across the USA
New York Times USA November 28, 2009
Multimedia: An interactive map, graphs and statistics. Our cultural cousins, with whom we Salt Springers share an archipelago, live in San Juan County, Washington state. It is the smallest of Washington's 39 counties in land area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 621 square miles (1,609 km²). Of this, 175 square miles (453 km²) of it is land and 446 square miles (1,156 km²) of it (71.84%) is water. The number of people on food stamps in San Juan County has increased by 137 per cent since 2007. ...
Related: Cultural orphans of the class struggle
Salt Spring News December 1, 2009
Three links. A snippet from one of them:
... I can guarantee you if you walked into that school with a tray of hot meals, there would be kids whose stomachs would be growling and lurching at the prospect of a good hot meal. That, my friends, that is a crime in my eyes,because this is happening in many, many schools all over the province, not just Langley and Surrey and the East side. The consequences of poverty and hunger throughout childhood are profound and long-lasting, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to tell you that. A child cannot learn properly and cannot develop to their full potential with an empty stomach. Hunger on the level some kids are experiencing is like having an animal inside you that never rests. It is all-consuming. Most people would assume that kids who live like this are from families on assistance, but that is not the case. Many are from families of the working poor- an increasingly prevalent condition in BC, in my opinion. ...
The motto of the city of Surrey, British Columbia is "The Future Lives Here." Based on Laila Yulie's comment just above and the following item, we hope not. The ranks of the homeless are growing in cities like Surrey, as the working poor slip their grip.
Welcome to the 'burbs, meet the new homeless
Monte Paulsen TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada November 19, 2009
Sherry and Chris spent the past few years "just getting by." The couple paid $420 a month to share a house in Surrey. The rent cost more than half their income. And yet, as Sherry put it, they got by. Until they didn't. Sherry, Chris and their many cats were evicted in September. Since then, they've camped out behind an abandoned strip mall a short distance from their former home. When they stepped across their threshold for the last time, they left behind the 1.5 million Canadian families that are "just getting by" -- the federal government describes these as households in "core housing need" -- to join the ranks of the estimated 300,000 Canadians who are homeless. Their story helps illustrate why homelessness is growing so rapidly in sprawling suburbs such as Surrey, which may already host more homeless people than Vancouver. And a day on the road with a pair of homeless outreach workers shows what suburban homelessness looks like -- when you can see it. ...
The Options minivan rolled to a stop at the edge of a small wooded lot. There was a shopping mall on one side of the lot, and a row of expensive-looking townhouses on the other. Rich and Lori led me through the brush to a small campsite near the centre of the lot. Rich called out to anyone who might still inside the tent, but no one replied. I reached down and placed my hand over the propane cook stove. It was still hot. Rich joked that they've been finding "a better class" of homeless people this year. By that he meant people who are still working, and who had not yet slipped into the well of addiction or mental illness. "They're just poor," he said. "They simply don't earn enough money to live in this society."
From where I squatted, I could see into the living rooms of the townhouses across the street. Had I been there at night, I probably could have smelled what they ate for dinner, or watched them watching TV. "When they are living in this condition, and they see the guy across the street in the expensive home -- the guy who's not doing anything to help them -- you can see how they begin to develop the mindset that society is against them," Rich said. I asked whether they thought the families across the street watched back. "I doubt it," Lori replied. "Most people just don't realize how close to their backyard other people are sleeping." ...
Monday, September 7, 2009
On this Labour Day in Canada, British Columbia has another worker-driven business, CHEK TV
Intro: Poorer with one less voicePosted at: Monday, September 07, 2009 - 04:14 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jack Knox Victoria Times Colonist Canada August 29, 2009
I won't pretend to be unbiased as the clock counts down on CHEK television. Partly, that's because many of the people who work there are my friends, and I want them to survive and thrive. ... Jody Paterson gave a lecture at UVic last year in which she lamented the loss of community in the digital age -- people isolating themselves in information silos, choosing to get their news from sources that reflect their way of thinking, to the exclusion of other opinion. Instead of never-considered perspectives, all they hear are their own echoes. The fabric of the community unravels. This, not the loss of jobs, or even of friends, is the real reason to mourn CHEK. Canwest Global said yesterday that the employees' bid to buy the station had fallen short of what it wanted. Business is business, and North America's media business isn't great these days, even if the thirst for news remains high. ("We don't have a readership problem, but we do have a revenue problem," is how the editor of the Seattle Times put it in 2008.) CHEK isn't the only outlet eyeing extinction. Others have disappeared. ...
It's more complicated today, the media landscape layered with a matrix of alliances whose complexity rivals those of Afghan warlords. For example, the Times Colonist and CHEK share an owner in Canwest Global, whose interests also include Global TV, the National Post, the Vancouver Sun and Province, the Nanaimo Daily News and a few other up-Island community papers. Other media are similarly connected. Torstar Corp., the publisher of the Toronto Star, owns 19.35 per cent of Black Press, which has more than 100 publications, including Monday Magazine and the various community papers around Victoria. Torstar also has a 20 per cent interest in CTVglobemedia, which bought CHUM, owner of A News in Victoria. Along with holdings that include the CTV television network and the Globe and Mail, CTVglobemedia also owns sister Victoria radio stations C-FAX 1070 and KOOL FM through its CHUM radio division. Got all that? (And Angelina married Brad, who dumped Jennifer, who....) People get worked up about concentration of ownership in media, but what matters more is the variety of voices on the ground -- the number, and quality, of people covering the news. (And by that I mean real news, not the happy-puppy stories and regurgitated press releases that fill too many bare-bones operations.) As of Monday, some of those voices are due to fall silent, and that should sadden us all.
Items: CHEK-TV employees buy Victoria broadcaster
CBC News Canada September 4, 2009
Employees and investors have purchased Victoria's CHEK-TV from Canwest Global. Photo: CBC. The station’s 45 employees rallied to save the station, managing to raise $2.5 million. Employees committed to $500,000 with private backers responsible for the remainder.
Victoria's oldest television station is staying on the air because employees and investors secured its purchase from Canwest Global Communications Friday. CHEK-TV had been scheduled to close Monday [August 31]after the company rejected an earlier bid. Dana Hutchings, a host and one of about 40 workers at the station, said staffers are aware of the difficulties in remaining open. "No one went into this to save our jobs. We went in with a very strong business plan. We've got a three-year model. And I think we went into it very realistically. It's tough with this economy," Hutchings said. Canwest's cut was part of the financially troubled company's efforts to get rid of its unprofitable small-market stations across Canada. CHEK first went on-air as a CBC affiliate on Dec. 1, 1956, three years after the CBC opened B.C.'s first station, in Vancouver.
Canada's CHEK-TV saved from closure
Etan Vlessing Hollywood Reporter USA September 7, 2009
Around 45 jobs have been saved after employees at Victoria, B.C.-based CHEK-TV secured an eleventh-hour deal to buy the local TV station. CHEK-TV, which launched on air in 1956, was set to be closed Monday by Canwest Global Communications Corp. Following marathon negotiations, the employees and a group of investors bought CHEK-TV for an undisclosed nominal price, Canwest Global indicated. "Many dedicated individuals on both sides of the table came together and the result is that it has preserved jobs and service in the community," Canwest Global president and CEO Leonard Asper said. "One week ago, we thought that this station was going to close and today we have a result that is beneficial for all parties," he added in a statement.
Canwest Global has recently been selling off loss-making local TV stations for between $1 and $12 as it phases out its secondary E! network to focus on the main Global Television network. Canwest Global is to provide leased space and support services to ensure a smooth transition for CHEK-TV as the employees and investors group secure regulatory approval to assume the broadcast license. The current broadcast license expired on August 31, and negotiations between CHEK-TV investors group and Canwest Global went into overtime as the current owner sought to ensure the employees could finance the purchase and succeed on their own. The employee-driven bid for CHEK-TV included around $2.5 million raised to secure new programming and run the local TV station after Canwest Global stepped away.
Image right: Rosie the Riveter poster (1944). Image: AllPosters.com
Related: CHEK TV workers are not the first on Vancouver Island to attempt to rescue their productivity from the failing corporatist ethos.
Harmac pulp mill: Receiver, court, numbered company seek to prevent syndicalist prescence in BC forest industry
Salt Spring News August 14, 2008
Two links. We commented at the time:
Syndicalism is a set of ideas, movements, and tendencies which share the avowed aim of transforming capitalist society through action by the working class on the industrial front. For syndicalists, labor unions are the potential means both of overcoming capitalism and of running society in the interests of the majority. No one knows whether the Harmac workers would have been succesful where the corporatists were not. But the corporatists are going to make sure we will never find out.
Despite our cynical pessimism expressed above, the workers, with a lot of help from non-ideologically-blindered friends, pulled it off. Let's rephrase that: With friends wearing different ideological blinkers....
Vancouver Island's Harmac pulp mill humming once removed from ideologically-bound ownership/management
Salt Spring News April 9, 2009
Five links. Here is one.
Harmac is humming—despite recession
Steve Weatherbe Business Examiner Vancouver Island Canada April 6, 2009
Each week brings news of another forest-sector company taking a hit. Ironically, one standout firm that seems in no danger looked like the sickest kid on the block not so long ago. By rights, the multimillion-dollar pulp machines at the former Harmac mill site outside Nanaimo should have been dismantled and shipped overseas after the firm was declared bankrupt. Instead an unlikely consortia of forest companies, private businessmen, Harmac workers and management have restarted one of the firm’s three lines and was prevented only by the world’s worst recession in a quarter- century from starting up a second. ...
Well, this brave marriage of capital and labor has produced a healthy child. As Robert Barron writes below about the CHEK TV change of ownership: "On the face of it, the plan seems like a long shot, but so did the plan for Harmac. I hope we'll get another success story."
Harmac a true success story
Robert Barron Nanaimo Daily News/Canwest News Service Canada August 21, 2009
"It's a made-in-Nanaimo success story," Forest Minister Pat Bell told me Tuesday when I asked him what he thought about the Harmac pulp mill's plan to start up a second production line by mid-September. Bell has always been a firm supporter of the plan by Harmac's workers to buy the mill after its owner, Pope & Talbot, went bankrupt last year and it is becoming increasingly apparent that his confidence in the new, worker-led model that the mill is now working under has been vindicated. "I'm not aware of any other pulp mills in B.C. expanding their operations at this time so the proof is in the pudding and I've been encouraging other unions and companies across the province to learn from Harmac," Bell told me.
I have to admit I was more than a bit skeptical about the plan for the workers to buy the mill and run it themselves when Gerry Tellier, past-president of the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Local 8, which represents Harmac's workers, explained it to me last year shortly after the mill shut down. There was an air of negativity at the time around the whole concept of a worker-led mill. Many predicted that even if the Supreme Court of B.C. did decide to sell the mill (for $13.2 million) to the workers during the hearings last year in Vancouver, when the court was tasked to decide the future of Pope & Talbot's assets, Harmac wouldn't survive beyond six months. A year has passed since then and Harmac is now one of the few coastal pulp mills still in operation as the industry continues to struggle. The mill's success is being attributed to its unique operating model that has allowed it to drastically shave production costs and keep the mill internationally competitive. That's why I'm keeping my usual skepticism in check this time as workers at Vancouver Island's CHEK-TV try a similar tactic to save their Victoria-based television station from closure at the end of August.
Canwest Global Communications Corp. announced last month it would close CHEK, B.C.'s oldest [privately-owned] television station. Most of the CHEK's 45 employees agreed to invest $15,000 each to pool funds for a 25% share in a new company to operate the station. (Harmac workers agreed to invest $25,000 each for a 25% share in the mill.) Like Harmac, the balance of the new television station would be held by outside investors. Recognizing the value of Harmac's experience last year, CHEK employees have been consulting with Harmac president Levi Sampson as they prepare to try and move their bid to take over CHEK forward. On the face of it, the plan seems like a long shot, but so did the plan for Harmac. I hope we'll get another success story.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Dispatches from the deathbed of the United States of America
Who would be against American manufacturing?Posted at: Friday, September 04, 2009 - 02:38 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Dave Johnson Campaign for America's Future USA September 1, 2009
The definition of “anti-American” might be up for grabs after so many years of conservatives using the label like a club, but can we all agree that when other countries are working against the interests of America, that it is fair to call that “anti-American?” I discovered something truly anti-American when I caught a registered foreign agent posting a comment on my blog. We are all used to hearing lobbyists argue against the broad public interest for their various clients. Often some big corporation is trying to get a rule changed to give them an advantage over their competitors or otherwise line their CEO’s pockets. Other times it is wealthy people trying to get tax breaks. All too often it is some representative of Wall Street trying to convince us that our wages are too high, we shouldn’t receive health or retirement benefits, taking on more debt is good or schemes that externalize costs onto the community while privatizing the profits…
For example, Wells Fargo, recipient of $25 billion of bailout funds from taxpayers, is cutting off credit and forcing a plant that is one more component of America’s manufacturing supply chain to close because the too-big-to-fail bank would make themselves a few dollars today, rather than allowing the company to sell or stay open and maintain America’s manufacturing infrastructure. It costs only $1.6 million to keep the plant open, but will cost the community $6.1 million in jobs, tax revenue etc. to close it. Wells Fargo doesn’t care, they aren’t losing the $6.1 million – they won’t even accept offers to buy the plant, because they get a little bit more from closing it. Never mind the harm done to American companies, workers and communities. This is not a "buggy whip" factory, it is an active business. We are used to this kind of bad – really bad – antisocial, economically destructive behavior from self-interested American companies, organizations and people. And for some reason we seem to tolerate it because we are so inured to it. But is this kind of lobbying always just done for the usual terrible reasons -- profits at the expense of the rest of us? Maybe not. Maybe sometimes it is from a source with a different kind of agenda that we just don’t expect. Let me tell you a story: ... So here is what it comes down to. It is one thing to hear from American interests who are trying to convince us to give up America’s manufacturing capacity, just so they can make a quick buck at everyone else's expense. We’re used to that these days. But would you feel differently and consider the opinions in a different light if you knew that you were hearing from a Greek or Korean or Chinese manufacturer, trying to convince you that it is a good thing for America to give up our manufacturing capacity and let them do it, and let them make the money and have the jobs instead? Perhaps you would. If you knew. [Emphasis in the original.]
Low-wage workers often cheated, new study finds
NUPGE Canada September 4, 2009
A new American study, entitled Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers, says low-wage earners are often denied proper overtime compensation and are frequently paid less than the minimum wage. Download Report
... “We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate,” says Ruth Milkman, one of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles and also at City University in New York. The survey was financed by the Ford, Joyce, Haynes and Russell Sage Foundations. In canvassing 4,387 workers in various low-wage industries, including apparel manufacturing, child care and discount retailing, the researchers found that the typical worker had lost $51 the previous week through wage violations from average weekly earnings of $339 - a 15% loss in pay. The researchers said one of the most surprising findings was how successful low-wage employers were in pressuring workers not to file for workers’ compensation. Only 8% of those who suffered serious injuries on the job filed claims to pay for medical care and missed days at work stemming from their injuries. “The conventional wisdom has been that to the extent there were violations, it was confined to a few rogue employers or to especially disadvantaged workers, like undocumented immigrants,” said Nik Theodore, one of the study's authors and a professor of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. “What our study shows is that this is a widespread phenomenon across the low-wage labor market in the United States.”
According to the study, 39% of those surveyed were illegal immigrants, 31% were legal immigrants and 30% native-born Americans. The study found that 26% of the workers had been paid less than the minimum wage during the week before being surveyed and that one in seven had worked off the clock the previous week. In addition, 76% of those who had worked overtime the week before were not paid their proper overtime, the researchers found. The new study was conducted in the first half of 2008, before the brunt of the recession hit. The median wage of the workers surveyed was $8.02 an hour - supervisors were not surveyed - with more than three-quarters of those interviewed earning less than $10 an hour. When the survey was conducted, the minimum wage was $7.15 in New York State, $7.50 in Illinois and $8 in California. ... The study found that women were far more likely to suffer minimum wage violations than men, especially among women who are illegal immigrants. Among American-born workers, African-Americans had a violation rate nearly triple that for whites. “These practices are not just morally reprehensible, but they’re bad for the economy,” says Annette Bernhardt, an author of the study and policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project. ...
"Young workers: A lost decade"
Tula Connell Campaign for America's Future USA September 2, 2009
Something bad happened in the past 10 years to young workers in this country: Since 1999, more of them now have lower-paying jobs, if they can get a job at all; health care is a rare luxury and retirement security is something for their parents, not them. In fact, many—younger than 35—still live at home with their parents because they can’t afford to be on their own. These are the findings of a new report, Young Workers: A Lost Decade. Conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and our community affiliate Working America, the nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999. The deterioration of young workers’ economic situation in those 10 years is alarming. ...
Saving New Orleans' Charity Hospital
Carl Ginsburg CounterPunch USA September 4 - 6, 2009
Nowhere is Barack Obama’s continuation of Bush-era policies and practices being felt more keenly and with more injury than in New Orleans, where a diminished population still struggles, four years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city, and an historic public hospital – Charity Hospital - remains shuttered, closed to all, especially out of bounds to thousands of indigent patients who relied upon it for access to medical care. Our country’s response to New Orleans was and continues to be a national disgrace, a clear sign that the pyramid scheme that operates on Wall Street to soak the working family and reward the irresponsible rich has its parallel in urban policy, where privileged communities receive attention without delay, as other neighborhoods struggle for essential services.
Charity Hospital opened its doors on May 10, 1736, providing medical care to the poor. It has been part of the unique state-wide “Charity hospital system”, initiated by former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, for the past 70 years. “Big Charity”, as it is called, was the only Level 1 Trauma Center in metro New Orleans, providing both primary and specialty care, a facility that received emergency patients from throughout the city, without regard to insurance. Big Charity was THE safety net facility, providing the bulk of free medical services in admissions, births and ER visits (with one of the busiest ER rooms in the U.S.) for New Orleans. Before Katrina, more than one in five Louisiana residents were without health coverage, a result of high poverty rates and limits on Medicaid enrollment. There was no facility of more importance to New Orleans, especially for poor, minority residents. When Katrina hit on August 29, 2005, Big Charity’s basement was flooded, there was roof damage and windows broken. Understanding its essential importance, a team sprang into action – doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, residents, volunteers, the 82nd Airborne, Seabees, and other military groups pitched in to restore the facility. “The building’s twenty floors were cleared of perishable refuse,” reported the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative. “Floodwaters… were drained. Electrical switches, although ruined by the flooding, were restored. As a result, Charity Hospital’s first three floors, housing its world-class Level 1 Trauma Center, scores of outpatient clinics and its 97-bed psychiatric Crisis Intervention Unit, were prepared to reopen within a month of Hurricane Katrina.” Within a month. But Big Charity never reopened. Imagine the let down.
It seems that in this land where one man’s demise is another’s opportunity, where the most vulnerable pay the most interest, where owner confidence trumps consumer confidence… the loss of Big Charity presented a golden opportunity for some developers, builders and real estate speculators. Louisiana State University (LSU), with the support of the state’s governor, the mayor, city council, and banking on FEMA funding, announced plans to build a new hospital, across the street from a proposed new VA hospital, the two together costing approximately $2 billion and due to open in 2013. Experts say the opening would be closer to 2016. That’s a long time from now, which translates into a lot of money to be had. It is a bonanza for a few, an enduring disaster for many others. Never mind the huge price tag, or the years of delay. Never mind the on-going loss of health care services to New Orleans residents. Never mind the years lost for jobs and economic development. Never mind that 70 acres of an historic 19th Century neighborhood, Lower Mid-City, is to be demolished for the new construction—much of it to be in the form of surface parking lots. Never mind that homeowners and small businesses returned to Lower Mid-City to rebuild and resettle and will be swept out. Says Mary Howell, civil rights lawyer and longtime New Orleans resident, “To deliberately tear down thriving, useful, productive, livable homes, businesses and cultural icons, many of which have historic and aesthetic value, leaving behind blocks of surface parking lots, is unforgivable.” ... Never mind the secrecy. Well, not so fast. To Howell and others, what is hardest to swallow is the deviousness that surrounds these events. America seems to be addicted to secrecy....
Who shredded our safety net?
James Ridgeway Mother Jones USA May 2009
Like most people whose quality of life depends upon the fluctuations of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other acronym-soup retirement account, I was born long before such things existed. It's easy to forget, now that more than half of us have been made shareholders, that until well past the middle of the 20th century, most people had nothing to do with the stock market: Wall Street was for the wealthy and the reckless. It was a world most Americans didn't understand and, after 1929, didn't trust. Some lucky people had pensions, but few had the privilege of even thinking about retirement. They were too busy trying to survive the present—which in my childhood meant the Great Depression and then World War II. I spent the war years in Washington, DC, where my father had a minor position in the Roosevelt administration. After school, my brother and I spent most of our time running around the streets, trying to get the air-raid wardens to give us a scrap of nylon parachute, or maybe even one of their cast-off World War I helmets, before the blackout drill began. One evening, my mother called us into the dining room and solemnly presented each of us with a $25 war bond. That was my first contact with the world of investment. Compared to a piece of parachute, it was a real downer.
Sixty-five years later it's a downer still, as I contemplate my future at a time of deep recession with no pension and a depleted 401(k). And it occurs to me that the very notion of a comfortable, paid retirement may turn out to have been a temporary phenomenon, with a life span almost precisely the same as my own. ... In any case, with banks hanging by a thread, Wall Street hemorrhaging bailout funds, a growing mass of unemployed workers, and a continuing decline of economic activity, retirement concerns will likely end up last in line. What will older folks do? I can only speak for myself. After getting myself out of the stock market and doing my best to cut expenses (and lower my standard of living), I'm working on accepting the fact that the idea of retirement is over. And I have to wonder if someday the tale of a foolish generation of Americans, who imagined that a lifetime of work would be rewarded with a comfortable and secure old age, will become just another footnote in the annals of the market.
David Cay Johnston Mother Jones USA May 2009
John Snow won't have to worry about his retirement. When he left the csx railroad to become George W. Bush's second treasury secretary, he took with him a $2.5 million annual pension. The figure was based on 44 years of employment at csx, never mind that Snow had been there for only 25 (during which, incidentally, he brutally cut safety and maintenance, to the point where a jury awarded a widow $50 million in punitive damages after a derailment—money paid by the taxpayers because of a little-known law that insulated Snow and his company from the costs of his egregious judgment). That kind of boost is unheard of for the rank and file, but not at all uncommon for corporate executives and owners.
Snow's case is typical of the way corporate executives have, for the past 35 years, managed to gild their retirement benefits even as they hollowed out workers' pensions. It started with the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the law ostensibly designed to ensure that workers could collect the retirement benefits they'd earned. erisa brought some important reforms—including establishing the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (pbgc) to help workers whose pensions went bust—but it also was riddled with favors to business. And in the decades since, legions of lobbyists have helped create numerous new loopholes, exemptions, and special deals. The result is two separate and unequal pension systems: Executives get the equivalent of antebellum mansions, while workers get leaky shacks liable to collapse at the first harsh economic wind. Here are 10 of the key ways in which it happened. (Be warned: This stuff gets a bit technical. Washington is full of people who are very well paid to figure out insanely complex ways to take money from you and me.) ...
Friday, May 1, 2009
International Labour Day: Unhappy celebrations
Left: Red-breasted Sapsucker. Photo: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Right: Great Blue Heron. Its 6-foot wingspan makes the Great Blue Heron a beautiful sight to watch flying with its slow wingbeats. Photo: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Jim comment: I sent this email message to a friend at 0835 hours this morning.
The flowers are blooming, as are the maples and the oaks. The mason bees are busy. And I can watch them on the maple right at my desk. The air is filled with bird-song. A red-breasted sapsucker comes to visit me everyday. The bird scurries around the same maple tree as the mason bees, hunting and pecking. Before it leaves it perches on a branch and, through the open window (while I'm working on the computer), stares at me for a moment or two before it leaves. The little critter comes between 9 and 10 every morning. I've noticed the hummingbirds are now following the sapsucker to the maple. Must be scrounging on the sapsucker's feeding holes. There is a red-tailed hawk nest on the border with Andy and Becky's farm. And somewhere close by a heron rookery judging by the behavior of those big birds. Haven't had one of those (a nest) around here before. I used to love watching them on Sunset Drive. I'm happy they are here this year. I love the herons. They are the blue-collar birds, the lunch-bucket brigade. So hardworking and so seeming proud of what they do. I am pleased to be in the union with them. The stellar's jays who were here for several months seem to have moved on but the hummingbirds, downy woodpeckers, the robins, other scratching birds, nuthatches, chickadees and a plethora of songbirds are all about. Life is good.
Morris dance has been an expression of the English working peasantry since the 15th century. Photo: Bristol Morris Men (UK).
Yes, life here on this little island is good. But, on this International Workers' Day, I can't help but think of the Harper government's implicit support of the targeted assassinations of Colombian labor leaders as the CPC pursues a free trade agreement with that nasty South American government. I can't help but think of the labor-hating, people-destroying Campbell coalition government that has held power in British Columbia far too long. I sit in disbelief when I observe a North American citizenry so propagandized as to be unknowing of what is going on. We used to be an 'educated' polity. Generally speaking: No more. But then perhaps these are just the musings of a silly, nature-loving old man (an escapist from artificiality) whose time has past. I hope not. I know what I need to get out of this funk. I'll head down to the park and watch the fertile & nubile young island girls dance around the Maypole. And then go share a pint or two with our island Morris Men at The Local pub.
Items: Today in civil rights history: May Day and the Haymarket Riot
Clarissa Peterson CivilRights.org USA May 1, 2009
May Day, also called International Workers' Day, is a day to celebration the history and achievements of the labor movement, and to commemorate the Haymarket riot of 1886. On May 1, 1886, more than 350,000 workers across the United States joined a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. Two days later, during a confrontation between workers and strikebreakers outside the McCormick Reaper Works factory in Chicago, police fired at the striking workers, killing at least two. The following day, people gathered at Chicago's Haymarket Square to protest the shooting. When police attempted to disperse the rally, a bomb exploded, killing a police officer and injuring dozens. Police responded by firing into the crowd. Four workers and eight police officers were killed. Although it was never determined who actually threw the bomb, the incident was used to attack and discredit the labor movement. Eight men were arrested, tried, and found guilty of conspiracy despite a lack of evidence. Seven of the men were sentenced to death; two had their sentences reduced to life in prison, one committed suicide in his jail cell, and the other four were executed on November 11, 1887. Their trial has been called one of the worst miscarriages of justice in United States history. In 1893, Illinois Governor John Peter Atgeld pardoned the remaining three men after determining that they did not receive a fair trial, and that all eight were likely innocent. In 1889, delegates at an international labor conference declared May 1 a day of labor solidarity, and since then May Day protests have been held annually worldwide.
May Day fails its promise to workers
Bama Arethrya Huffington Post USA May 1, 2009
Virtually no one in the US celebrates May Day, International Workers' Day - and yet it all started here, and we continue to export the violence faced by the workers it commemorates. Workers who sew our clothes, grow our flowers, mine the metals used in our cars and cellphones are still facing the same problems faced by US workers a century ago. ... Once, organizing in support of decent labor laws was a life-threatening proposition here. It still is, in places like Colombia, the Philippines, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Where civilian governments fail to exercise effective control over military and paramilitary, it's the law of the jungle for workers - but just business as usual for investors.
On April 19, while President Obama was shaking hands with Colombia's President Uribe, mine workers for a US coal company in Colombia were being violently assaulted by Colombia's National Guard. The workers were engaged in a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with a worker who was killed on the job on March 23, and to demand enforcement of better safety and health protections in the workplace. National Guardsmen surrounded the meeting with tanks, injured several workers, and detained the union leaders. In the meanwhile, during the same weekend and halfway around the world in the Philippines, courageous Filipino workers in the country's export processing zones held a sympathy strike in support of 33 garment factory union leaders. These organizers have been in hiding since a March 17 warrant was issued for their arrest, posting criminal charges against these mainly women workers for defending themselves from a violent assault by police on their picket line. Masked men wearing military uniforms and wielding guns and other lethal weapons violently dispersed the striking workers and threatened to kill them; yet it is the workers who face criminal charges by the Philippine government. Our trade agreements with these countries could help, but they don't. Agreements like the proposed US-Colombia free trade deal fail to tackle the political realities in countries where violence is the norm. It's time for some preconditions to labor conditionality, to make sure that the Haymarket Square riots cannot keep being repeated around the world. ... We should think about commemorating May Day this year by standing in solidarity with the workers of Colombia and the Philippines, and anywhere where organizing is a life-threatening proposition.
Fury over Europe's economic crisis sees May Day protests turn violent
Margaret Neighbour The Scotsman Scotland Dateline May 2, 2009
May Day protesters clashed with riot police in Germany, Turkey and Greece yesterday, while thousands of people angry at their governments' responses to the global financial crisis took to the streets in France and Spain. Rising unemployment has added intensity to May Day marches as last year's market crash and banking meltdown roll into the wider economy. In Berlin and Hamburg, scattered violence erupted in the early hours, leaving more than 50 riot police injured. Some 200 demonstrators chanting anti-capitalism slogans threw bottles and stones at riot police in Berlin, and set fire to five cars. Police also clashed with the leftists ahead of a far-right rally. ... Protests in Istanbul turned violent as Turkish riot police used water cannon and tear-gas, firing shots and pepper spray to disperse masked protesters. Young men hurled stones and Molotov cocktails, smashing the windows of banks and shops. ... In Greece, police said they fired tear-gas in a clash with 300 people at Athens Polytechnic. Elsewhere in Athens, nearly 6,000 protesters, mostly members of a communist trade union, gathered, watched by 4,000 police. Many were angry at bank bailouts. "We won't pay for their crisis," read banners from the country's main trade union, GSEE. French unions, frustrated at soaring unemployment, scandals over executive pay and plant closures that have led to a wave of "bossnappings", organised nearly 300 marches targeting president Nicolas Sarkozy's social policies and crisis management, with the opposition Socialists calling on members to join the protests for the first time since 2002. ... Spanish unions held 70 demonstrations and threatened strikes if the Socialist government acted on demands from business groups to reform labour laws. There have also been marches in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Japan, as well as Russia and France. Major demonstrations were also planned in Cuba and Italy.
French unions lead May Day protests, Europe marches
Heather Smith Bloomberg News USA May 1, 2009
France’s eight labor unions joined for the first time for May Day demonstrations across the country to protest government measures on the economic crisis as insufficient and corporate leaders as out of touch. Protests also took place today in Berlin, Athens and Istanbul. In Russia, tens of thousands of demonstrators for and against the government marched against a backdrop of rising unemployment and economic gloom, the Associated Press said. “Labor is changing; for the first time in perhaps decades, we are in agreement at the core,” said Francois Chereque, secretary general of France’s biggest union, Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail, in an RTL radio interview today. “There is a strong unity among the unions.” ...
Nigerian unions call for anti-government protests
Agence France-Presse France May 1, 2009
Workers raise their caps to salute Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola during a rally to mark May day in Lagos. Photo: AFP
ABUJA (AFP) — Nigerian unions said Friday called a series of anti-government rallies to protest against key policies including privatisation of refineries. "Together with our civil society ally, we will commence the national rallies from Lagos on Wednesday May 13," Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Abdulwaheed Omar, said during a May Day rally in Abuja, attended by about 20,000 workers. "We shall begin a series of national rallies, protests to put pressure on government to reverse its plan to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry and privatise our refineries," Omar said. ... The protests, to be staged in several cities, are also aimed at putting pressure on the authorities to implement recent recommendations of a presidential panel on electoral reforms and raise workers' national minimum wage. The monthly national minimum wage for public workers stands at 5,500 naira (37 dollars) while annual inflation stood at 14.4 percent as at March. Workers at the rally carried placards reading: "Mr President, where is our living wage?" or "Stop paying lip service to corruption, kill it today." ...
Labourers, workers, working women, trade unions rally at GPO Chowk
The Times Pakistan May 2, 2009
Pakistan street scene. Photo: Saad Sarfraz Sheikh
LAHORE: Around 3 million labourers in Pakistan face the threat of being laid off and end up joining the ranks of the unemployed, due to rising inflation as well as the closure of factories and industrial units in the wake of electricity load shedding and the rising wave of terrorism. According to figures available with various organisations working for the rights of labourers, around 180,000 labourers are caught in the web of bonded labour. These organisations claim that no proper legislation has been made to provide these labourers some measure of relief. To mark May Day on Friday, various labour unions and organisations held rallies in the city, and paid tribute to the Chicago Martyrs’ protest of 1886, in which 80,000 workers campaigned for an eight-hour working day. The subsequent protests left many workers dead. ...
Most of the protesters were carrying red flags and banners, and raised slogans against the surge in the prices of petrol, flour, cooking oil and other essentials. They demanded that ‘national economic reliance’ should be adopted to benefit the labour force. PWC General Secretary Khurshid Ahmad said the government should enforce labour laws in the private sector. APTUF General Secretary Gulzar Ahmed said the government should pay heed to the labourers’ demands instead of giving privileges only to ministers. The APTUF general secretary demanded that labour laws should be implemented for peasants and daily wagers. He claimed that some 3 million labourers had already been rendered unemployed due to the recent crises. Working women: Women Workers Help Line (WWHL) also held a rally on Labour Day, and joined the main procession. WWHL General Secretary Bushra Khaliq said labour laws should be amended to protect working women against various kinds of discrimination and harassment at the workplace, and they should be recognised as a part of the labour force. Working Women Organisation (WWO) President Robina Jameel said around 70 percent women in Pakistan were part of the labour force, but their representation was not acknowledged anywhere. She said day care centres should be established in industrial areas. She said the government should take steps to implement the ILO Convention 177. Trade unions: The National Trade Union Federation Pakistan (NTUFP) rally also joined the main PWC procession. The trade union representatives demanded that the minimum wage for labourers, announced as Rs 6,000 per person, should be implemented. They demanded lifting the ban on the labour inspection of factories.
Related: Cry, the unforgiven country: Obama's 'continuity' in Haiti
Chris Floyd Empire Burlesque Netherlands April 28, 2009
Haiti has been a cursed nation throughout its existence. As I noted in a piece in 2004:
Exactly two hundred years ago, Haitian slaves overthrew their French masters -- the first successful national slave revolt in history. What Spartacus dreamed of doing, the Haitian slaves actually accomplished. It was a tremendous achievement -- and the white West has never forgiven them for it. In order to win international recognition for their new country, Haiti was forced to pay "reparations" to the slaveowners - a crushing burden of debt they were still paying off at the end of the 19th century. The United States, which refused to recognize the country for more than 60 years, invaded Haiti in 1915, primarily to open it up to "foreign ownership of local concerns." After 19 years of occupation, the Americans backed a series of bloodthirsty dictatorships to protect these "foreign owners." And still it goes on.
It certainly does -- even under the "enlightened" foreign policy of Barack Obama. As John Caruso reports (in separate pieces in A Distant Ocean and A Tiny Revolution), Obama and his "superstar" secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are loudly championing the latest egregious, brutal farce that Washington and the West have foisted upon the uppity natives of Haiti.
Senatorial elections held this month by the government imposed on Haiti after the U.S.-backed coup of 2004 (more on this below) produced a turnout of less than 10 percent of eligible voters: a result that mocks any notion of a popular, legitimate democracy. But this is not because the Haitians are so lazy and disinterested that they couldn't be bothered to vote. Nor that they are so satisfied with the benevolent, paternal care of their American-appointed masters that they saw no need to let silly electoral contests trouble their bucolic life. No, the 90 percent refusal rate was in fact a massive protest action, driven chiefly by the fact that the American-backed government would not allow the most popular party -- the party of the government ousted by the 2004 coup -- to run a slate of candidates in the election. By clerkly hook and bureaucratic crook, Haiti's election overseers banned the Fanmi Lavalas slate back in February. At that moment, the April elections became a dead letter, a meaningless farce -- yet another cruel joke played on the people of Haiti. ...
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Obama's next gauntlet: Reviving the middle class
Obama's next gauntlet: Reviving the middle classPosted at: Wednesday, March 04, 2009 - 03:20 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Robert L. Borosage Huffington Post USA March 3, 2009
It ain't easy. No use jokin'. Everything's broken."
We can't go back to the old economy. That economy -- marked by booms and busts, Gilded Age inequality, declining wages, growing household debts, and unsustainable trade deficits -- didn't work very well for most Americans. President Obama is faced with the difficult task of creating the structure for the new economy even as he works to lift us out of the collapse of the old. That's why his stunning budget calls for health care reform, ending our addiction to oil and investing in education as both a way out of the mess and a down payment on the future. His pace is as unrelenting as the crisis. Next up: reviving America's middle class, insuring that once growth returns, its blessings are widely shared. And the centerpiece of that is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). EFCA helps revive the right of workers to organize in this country. Over the last decades, that basic right has been shredded, as companies waged open warfare on union organizing, and administrations often failed to enforce the laws protecting that right. The tactics were bare knuckle: fire the organizers; hold closed door meetings to threaten the workers. And if workers did vote for a union, one-third of employers simply refused to negotiate a contract with them. The campaigns have been brutally successful. Today, over a majority of workers say that they would join a union if given a choice, but only about 7.5% of the private workforce is organized. EFCA gives workers the right to choose a union, either in a closed election or with a majority signing pledge cards. It forces employers to negotiate in good faith, requiring arbitration if no agreement is reached. It stiffens penalties on employers for violating workers' rights.
But EFCA isn't just about worker rights. It's about whether we can return to an economy with a broad middle class. When unions represented 30% of the private economy, they won family wages, health care, pensions, paid vacations -- the basics of middle class existence. Rising union wages and benefits helped lift the wages of non-union workers as well. America has never done much redistribution through taxes. We built a middle class because workers were able to win a decent share of the profits and productivity that they helped to generate. Unions were central to that. Naturally, as the unions have lost ground, so has America's middle class. ... The campaign on EFCA will be fierce. Gaining 60 votes won't be easy. The business community will go all out, claiming that strong unions will ruin America, trample workers' freedoms, drive jobs abroad. But we've tried an economy with weak unions -- and that didn't work out so well. Obama is right to tee this up early even as he struggles to get the economy moving, to get the financial system reorganized, to move on health care and new energy. This is a fight that citizens across the country should join. It will be a critical building block of the new economy that we must construct from the ashes of the old.
Related: Can Obama make this work? Will the passage of EFCA provide enough hope for workers so as to keep a lid on things? Otherwise, the contingency plans are in place.
Army deploys combat unit in US for possible civil unrest
Bill Van Auken World Socialist Web Site USA September 25, 2008
For the first time ever, the US military is deploying an active duty regular Army combat unit for full-time use inside the United States to deal with emergencies, including potential civil unrest. Beginning on October 1, the First Brigade Combat Team of the Third Division will be placed under the command of US Army North, the Army’s component of the Pentagon’s Northern Command (NorthCom), which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with the stated mission of defending the US “homeland” and aiding federal, state and local authorities. The unit—known as the “Raiders”—is among the Army’s most “blooded.” It has spent nearly three out of the last five years deployed in Iraq, leading the assault on Baghdad in 2003 and carrying out house-to-house combat in the suppression of resistance in the city of Ramadi. It was the first brigade combat team to be sent to Iraq three times. While active-duty units previously have been used in temporary assignments, such as the combat-equipped troops deployed in New Orleans, which was effectively placed under martial law in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this marks the first time that an Army combat unit has been given a dedicated assignment in which US soil constitutes its “battle zone.” ...
However, the mission assigned to the nearly 4,000 troops of the First Brigade Combat Team does not consist merely of rescuing victims of terrorist attacks. An article that appeared earlier this month in the Army Times (“Brigade homeland tours start Oct. 1”), a publication that is widely read within the military, paints a different and far more ominous picture. “They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control,” the paper reports. It quotes the unit’s commander, Col. Robert Cloutier, as saying that the 1st BCT’s soldiers are being trained in the use of “the first ever nonlethal package the Army has fielded.” The weapons, the paper reported, are “designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.” The equipment includes beanbag bullets, shields and batons and equipment for erecting roadblocks. ...
U.S. Army's Civilian Inmate Labor Camp a.k.a. Revised REX 84 FEMA internment camps for civil unrest
Windows Live™ USA March 2004
... Existence of a master military contingency plan, "Garden Plot" and a similar earlier exercise, "Lantern Spike" were originally revealed by journalist Ron Ridenhour, who summarized his findings in "Garden Plot and the New Action Army." ...
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Faced with concession demands, unions search for ways to resist
For years, the labor movement has been reeling from an employers' offensive. We now have real lower wages, less job security, and smaller, weaker unions than the previous generation. Employers are turning what used to be good, steady jobs into poorly paid drudgery, often dangerous and stressful. Some of us work more overtime than we want; others must make due with part-time or temporary jobs.Posted at: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 - 02:09 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Faced with concession demands, unions search for ways to resist
Mischa Gaus and Mark Brenner Labor Notes USA January 2, 2009
As companies scramble to shore up profits, many are turning to a well-rehearsed script: ask union workers for concessions. The supposed payoff ? You’ll get to keep your job. In late November, the Teamsters announced a deal with Yellow-Roadway Corporation to crack open their contract and cut wages 10 percent. The company claims it is the latest victim of the credit crunch, unable to secure financing for its large debts. Union officials warn that the company could fall into bankruptcy if concessions aren’t granted. If approved by the members, the wage cuts will stay in effect through 2013, when the contract expires. In exchange for concessions, the company has offered the union about 15 percent of the company’s stock. “We’re being bamboozled,” said Mike Schaffer, a Roadway driver and member of Local 769 in Miami. “Even if they come back to profitability, we don’t get any relief. The union agreed to this lock, stock, and barrel.”
But even profitable companies use turbulent times as an excuse to get the upper hand. In Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Essar Steel Algoma pressed Steelworkers (USW) Local 2251 for concessions in October, despite a record-setting third quarter where net income topped $146 million. The sheet-steel maker, whose products are sold to the construction and auto industries, insisted that workers agree to gut their contract. If not, the company threatened to lay off nearly a third of the workforce—1,000 workers—and build a new pipe plant elsewhere. Essar’s laundry list of givebacks would have clipped workers’ overtime and unemployment pay and steamrolled hard-won rights over job assignments and scheduling, as well as layoff and recall rights.
Management first developed the concessions formula during the downturn of 1980-1983. Since then, companies have stretched the argument for concessions to fit almost every situation. Whatever the problem, from global competition to rising health care costs, the solution is always making workers do more with less. ...
Related: If bailouts fail to save jobs, unions may crank up militant tactics. Sid Shniad, a researcher for the Telecommunications Workers Union in Canada says: "They just want workers to play by their rules -- rules designed to kick the shit out of us. But if we are good little boys and girls, we lose. Workers have to break out of the straight jackets of the last few decades." [cited by Tom Sandborn]
Factory grabs by workers coming?
Tom Sandborn TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada December 31, 2008
Earlier this month, in a scene reminiscent of militant labour struggles of the 1930s, Chicago members of the United Electrical Workers Local 1110 sat down in their worksite at Republic Windows and Doors and occupied it for five days. By the time factory occupation had ended, the workers had won major concessions from their employer and from management's key financial backer, the Bank of America. "We have achieved victory," Local 1110 president Armando Robles told his membership. "We said we would not go back until we got justice, and we got it."
Some observers are asking whether the current economic crisis will generate more factory occupations here in Canada. At least one prominent union organizer here in B.C. says he predicts more occupations if hard times stretch on and deepen. "Ultimately, if the system doesn't produce results," John Weir, director of organizing for the B.C. Federation of Labour told The Tyee, "we may see more occupations -- not in the short term, but certainly if this goes on for years like the Great Depression." Angela Schirra, the federation's secretary-treasurer, agrees. She said she expected to see more use of the factory occupation tactic as workers reached a "breaking point." For a template for action, labour in Canada need not look back all the way to the Great Depression era. Within the past several decades, on a number of occasions, union members have taken over facilities where they worked in order to wrest a better deal, or the very survival of their jobs, from employers. ...
Friday, December 19, 2008
Pension funds collapse: The end of retirement?
Pension funds collapse: The end of retirement?Posted at: Friday, December 19, 2008 - 01:15 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Shamus Cooke Information Clearing House/AlterNet USA December 19, 2008
Unless things change fast, human history will show that the phenomenon of "retirement" was limited to one generation. After World War II, when European and Japanese economies stood in tatters, American capitalism could fulfill "the American dream," since there was little foreign competition to speak of. For the first time ever, workers were promised that -- after working thirty or so years -- they would be able to securely retire. That was largely the case ... for one generation. The second generation is having a devastating reality check. ...
The experts are calling this the "perfect storm" for retirement. Everything that could go wrong is in fact going wrong. This storm, however, was not created by supernatural forces, but the coordinated effort of big-business and their puppet politicians. ... This process is being accelerated by the newest trick of big business: declaring bankruptcy to destroy "pension obligations". These obligations apply with equal weight to workers already retired, many of whom are seeing their pensions slashed in half, forcing them out of retirement. ... This phenomenon is at the center of the GM debate. The corporate politicians in congress cannot decide whether to appoint a "Car Tsar" to oversee the destruction of the autoworkers pensions, or use the proven method of bankruptcy. Not a day goes by that the corporate media doesn't join hands to assail the pension and health care benefits of the "spoiled" GM workers. The hypocrisy is sickening. ...
Related: Looks like the politicians and their corporate masters have decided on the bankruptcy option. Today's announced TARP loans will buy time for the automakers to prepare an 'orderly' bankruptcy. Or so we think.
Bush: Carmakers will get $17.4 billion in loans
Don Gonyea and Steve Inskeep National Public Radio USA December 19, 2008
President Bush announced a rescue package for U.S. automakers Friday morning at the White House. ... But the loans would come with strict conditions. The money could be called back if the automakers cannot prove they are viable by March 31. Executive compensation and other perks would be limited. "The time to make the hard decisions to become viable is now, or the only option will be bankruptcy," Bush said. "The automakers and unions must understand what is at stake and make hard decisions necessary to reform." President-elect Obama called the White House plan a "necessary step" to restoring the health of the sector. ...
PM, McGuinty to announce Canadian bailout
Joanna Smith and Tonda Macharles Toronto Star Canada December 19, 2008
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will announce an aid package for the Canadian auto industry tomorrow after the U.S. government announced a $17.4-billion (U.S.) bailout package for its own auto industry today. No details of the Canadian aid package have been issued but it is expected to be worth several billion dollars, since both the federal and Ontario governments have said they would provide a package proportional to the size of the industry in Canada. That would be about 20 per cent of production capacity in North America. Kory Teneycke, communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said that McGuinty and Harper "will address the Canadian response tomorrow." Asked if the Canadian bailout will include the kinds of concessions and controls the United States is insisting on, he said: "You'll see similar things in a Canadian package," that will give governments a larger say in how the companies restructure. ...
Noted, Friday December 20: In need of cash, more companies cut 401(k) match
Mary Williams walsh and Tara Siegel Bernard New York Times USA December 20, 2008
Companies eager to conserve cash are trimming their contributions to their workers’ 401(k) retirement plans, putting a new strain on America’s tattered safety net at the very moment when many workers are watching their accounts plummet along with the stock market. When the FedEx Corporation slimmed down its pension plan last year, it softened the blow by offering workers enriched 401(k) contributions to make up for the pension benefits some would lose. But last week, with Americans sending fewer parcels and FedEx’s revenue growth at a standstill, the company said it would suspend all of its contributions for at least a year. “We will have to work more years and retire with less money,” said Lee Higham, a 44-year-old senior aircraft mechanic at FedEx, who has worked there for 20 years. “That’s what we are up against now.”
FedEx is not the only one. Eastman Kodak, Motorola, General Motors and Resorts International are among the companies that have cut matching contributions to their plans since September, when the credit markets froze and companies began looking urgently for cash. More companies are expected to suspend their matching contributions in 2009, according to Watson Wyatt, a benefits consulting firm. For workers, the loss of a matching contribution heightens the pain of a retirement account balance shriveling away because of the plunging stocks markets. ...