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Holding Corporations Accountable

[ 5 ] April 14, 2015 |

sweatshop

I have a piece up at In These Times that discusses some of the ideas I develop in Out of Sight in how to hold corporations accountable for the ecological and labor exploitation of the world no matter where they move.

The only way workers like the 11-year-old boy in Ghatkopar will see their lives improve is if we demand global standards on production with real legal consequences for companies who violate them. The contracting system that creates layers of separation between multinational corporations and workers serves to increase exploitation and profits. It also makes it much harder for consumers in the U.S. and other countries to demand products are produced ethically, for two principle reasons.

First, unlike the Triangle Fire, where reforms of working conditions happened because Americans saw workers die making their clothes, we cannot see the lives of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans who die making ours. Second, because these corporations lack legal liability for their production, they can claim they know nothing about the working conditions of their suppliers. If Walmart, Target or Gap buy these zippers, do they even know it? When these companies have been busted for using sweatshop labor, they frequently claim that they had no production contracts there. Given the byzantine mazes of contracting these companies do, they may be telling the truth. But a lack of public accounting means we cannot know.

Whether at Bhopal or a zipper sweatshop, multinational corporations need to be held accountable for what happens where they site factories or contract their production. Keeping clear records that show where their clothes are actually produced should be their responsibility.

Specifically, we need to create legal accountability for corporations. Voluntary agreements are basically meaningless—enforcement with consequences is necessary. We need international labor standards that companies must comply with if they want to sell their products in the United States. Workers should have the right to sue in American courts when American companies violate basic standards of labor rights.

If Walmart or Gap wants to contract production to Bangladesh or India, that’s fine. But if their factory collapses or if workers are subjected to slave labor, the American companies using those zippers need to be held legally accountable. Subcontracting cannot be a tool to exploit the world’s poor. We must articulate new ways of holding corporations accountable if we are ever to stop this exploitation.

We are very far from such a system being implemented today. Vicious corporate attacks on organized labor in the United States mean that we are desperately trying to hold on to what labor rights we have left in this country. But those rights have collapsed in part because of the export of union jobs offshore, undermining the best tool American workers have for maintaining a dignified life.

If you want more news like this, follow the Out of Sight Facebook page. Get a book sticker.

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Out of Sight: The Facebook Page

[ 31 ] April 13, 2015 |

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I’m ramping up promotion for Out of Sight. I created a Facebook page for the book. If any of you use it and want more information about both my media appearances and a daily update or two on news stories around outsourcing, unfair trade, and the environmental and labor exploitation of the world by corporations in their global race to the bottom, you should follow the page.

You should also preorder the book.

….Because this book is all cool and the like, The New Press made stickers rather than postcards to promote it. It is willing to send a sticker to the first 50 people who like the Facebook page and are willing to send a private message to the page (administered only by me) with an address. An irresistible offer!

NFL Cheerleader Bill of Rights

[ 46 ] April 13, 2015 |

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It’s about time.

A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to give employee rights and benefits to professional sports cheerleaders passed its first committee in Sacramento this week.

Gonzalez, a former high school and college cheerleader, said her bill “simply demands that any professional sports team — or their chosen contractor — treat the women on the field with the same dignity and respect that we treat the guy selling beer.”

Assembly Bill 202, approved by the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment Wednesday, was drafted by the San Diego Democrat in the wake of lawsuits brought by cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals for what they claim are illegal workplace actions by the NFL teams.

Some teams classify cheerleaders as volunteers and give them minimal compensation, according to critics.

The Charger Girls, who are contracted by a third party and perform at all San Diego Chargers home games, have been paid $75 per game in recent years.

The lawsuits contend that “in addition to sub-minimum wage pay, cheerleaders of professional teams have been forced to spend thousands of dollars in (un)reimbursed costs on travel and personal appearance as well as work unpaid overtime — practices that would be illegal under the law but were found to be commonplace pressures on teams’ cheerleaders despite the tremendous profits being gained by the teams they cheered for,” according to a Gonzalez news release.

There’s been a lot of coverage of the exploitation of cheerleaders in the last year. The NFL is basically the prototypical organization of the New Gilded Age with an exclusive club of billionaires holding cities hostage for publicly funded stadiums while treating their low-level or even high-level employees as disposable garbage that should be glad to have a job with them.

21st Century Policing

[ 40 ] April 13, 2015 |

Maybe it’s only a matter of time before police departments of the New Gilded Age start creating hunting licenses for rich people to shoot humans.

Robert Bates, the reserve Tulsa County deputy who fatally shot a man who was in a physical altercation with another deputy last week, has donated thousands of dollars worth of items to the Sheriff’s Office since becoming a reserve deputy in 2008.

Bates, 73, accidentally shot Eric Harris on Thursday, according to Maj. Shannon Clark, after Harris — the subject of an undercover gun and ammunition buy by the Sheriff’s Office’s Violent Crimes Task Force — fled from arrest and then fought with a deputy who tackled him. Bates, Clark said, thought he was holding a stun gun when he pulled the trigger.

Bates is not an active member of the task force but donates his hours there as a highly regarded member of the Reserve Deputy Program, Clark said.

Harris, 44, an ex-convict with an extensive criminal history, was shot in the right axilla, the area under the joint that connects the arm to the shoulder, according to the state Medical Examiner’s Office. Clark said Harris, who died at a Tulsa hospital after the shooting, told a deputy at the scene that he had taken PCP earlier in the morning.

Bates apparently is not alone as both a donor and reserve deputy. While the Sheriff’s Office has not released its full roster, Clark said other wealthy donors are among the agency’s 130 reserve deputies.

“There are lots of wealthy people in the reserve program,” he said. “Many of them make donations of items. That’s not unusual at all.”

Perhaps Soviet propaganda about the United States was more spot on than we thought.

Demographically Symbolic

[ 51 ] April 13, 2015 |

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I was far too kind to Wayne LaPierre.

A Reasonable Response

[ 53 ] April 12, 2015 |

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It’s hard to see how this goes bad:

Kenya has given the United Nations three months to remove a camp housing more than half a million Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.

Kenya has in the past accused Islamist militants of hiding out in Dadaab camp which it now wants the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to move across the border to inside Somalia.

“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” Deputy President William Ruto said in a statement on Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked on April 2.

Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesman for the UNHCR in Kenya, said they were yet to receive formal communication from the government on the relocation of Dadaab and could not comment.

The complex of camps hosts more than 600,000 Somali refugees, according to Ruto, in a remote, dry corner in northeast Kenya, about an hour’s drive from Garissa town.

A national security state based around making the terrible lives of over a half-million people significantly worse will surely protect Kenyans. There’s no doubt that the response of the U.S. government after 9/11 that included the invasion of two nations, one of which had nothing to do with the attacks, both endeared the United States to the world, preserved the freedom of Americans inside the nation, and protected its citizens abroad. Clearly, what Kenya needs is to call in Paul Wolfowitz for consultation.

Express Lanes

[ 21 ] April 12, 2015 |

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No matter how many lanes of traffic governments build, they will never solve traffic problems because they incentivize more driving and more traffic, effectively subsidizing the problem they are meant to fix. Subsidizing public transportation and both dense and affordable urban living are far more effective ways to combat traffic.

Unionbusting Your Way to National Prominence

[ 38 ] April 12, 2015 |

monopoly

Above: Illinois governor Bruce Rauner

There’s nothing good happening to the American worker in 2016, but it is even more discouraging than usual that Republican governors are trying to outdo each other in unionbusting as a way to gather national prominence and perhaps a presidential nomination. Scott Walker is of course the most prominent example of this, but it is also basically Illinois governor Bruce Rauner’s entire agenda.

Rauner’s efforts in Illinois are getting the closest scrutiny. That state is an unlikely launch pad for a crusade against union power. It has been a solidly blue state in presidential elections since 1992 and had not elected a Republican governor since 1998 until Rauner, a longtime friend of Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor who had also worked in private equity, won office last year. Conservative journalist Stephen Moore called the political newcomer’s campaign “the biggest election of 2014.“ Illinois, he wrote in National Review, “could become a laboratory experiment about whether conservative ideas can work in a state that has been ruled by…unions and a self-serving political machine in Springfield and Chicago.”

Once in office, Rauner issued a “Turnaround Agenda” that begins with this premise: “Government union leaders are funding politicians who negotiate their pay and benefits.” To put an end to that, Rauner issued an executive order challenging collective bargaining agreements with state employees and urged municipalities and counties to create their right-to-work zones.

Rauner frames the issue as one of freedom and local control. The governor says he wants Illinois communities to decide whether “their businesses should be subject to forced unionism or employee choice.” Forced unionism is a familiar phrase among opponents of collective bargaining, but it’s also a misleading one. If a majority of workers vote to form a union, then it’s customary for workers to be compelled to pay dues as a price for being in a union. Those who don’t want to join the union are required to pay something so they aren’t getting a free ride. By giving workers the prerogative not to pay union dues, right-to-work laws undercut the power of unions.

Hoping to spur municipalities to take on public-employee unions, Rauner sent right-to-work resolutions to all of Illinois’s cities and villages. A municipality can just insert its name and vote on it. It’s a smart strategy since the Illinois statehouse is solidly Democratic and won’t pass a right-to-work law. Setting fires in small towns might arouse anti-union sentiment, and it will surely inflame the unions. Last week, unions packed a meeting of the Oswego County board in northern Illinois, where the nonbinding resolution was up for discussion. Scott Roscoe, president of the Fox Valley Building Trades Council in Aurora, told a local journalist, “If we don’t stop anti-worker schemes like right-to-work, more families will fall behind.”

I’d say it’s fairly likely that if Hillary Clinton wins in 2016 than Rauner is setting himself up nicely for the nomination in 2020. Certainly his friends the Koch Brothers are happy with him. “Right to Work a Person a Death” should just become the central agenda on the Republican agenda. And Rauner would probably even have good buddy Rahm Emanuel on his side!

Smith/Taborn/Maneri

[ 6 ] April 11, 2015 |

Last night, I was fortunate enough to see a band headed by the drummer Ches Smith that also included the pianist Craig Taborn and the viola player Mat Maneri at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. They are all such fantastic players and it was just great. They haven’t recorded together yet, but here’s a performance of the band from January 2014.

The End of the Humanities Seminar

[ 89 ] April 11, 2015 |

All-College-Sem-SP12-04

Above: A dying form of higher education

Caught a bit about the new president at Victoria University at the University of Toronto (although I’m not sure quite what this means. Do Canadian universities have college presidents within the larger university?):

As universities grapple with budget cuts, small seminars are needed more than ever, he said.

“What we can do at Vic is to … emphasize the way discussion about ethics and other matters takes place more potently in a face-to-face environment.”

I mean, that’s nice and all, but at least in the U.S., the small humanities seminar is disappearing fast. There are a few basic reasons for this. First, as corporations demand that universities serve as training grounds for them and as politicians defund higher education and as administrators see themselves as CEOs who need to push students into those corporate fields, students are fleeing the humanities majors. English, history, and philosophy are dying as majors. This means that there is less demand for those small seminars, even if many students actually would like to take them. Second, as administrations decide to run themselves like corporations, the focus has become all on numbers at the university. What is your average class enrollment as a department? That’s the key question. Sometimes it’s the only question.

So a department like history is severely hurt by offering a seminar with 10 students. And it might be rewarded by offering an upper division Holocaust or Vietnam War course with an enrollment of 125 students. What are those rewards? The ability to hire new faculty. At my school at least, departments don’t have “lines” anymore. If 5 people in my department retired or left this year, the provost might well theoretically replace 0 of them. Instead, all the money would go into Pharmacy or Supply Chain Management. So the only way to prove worth is to have lots of students in your classes.

That means the incentive is to make a major easier and to offer courses that appeal to large numbers of students. Never mind that a humanities education requires a lot of writing and course discussion. These things are impossible in a course of 125 students. Doesn’t matter anymore. It actually hurts you to do those things. Sometimes corporations say they want the skills students acquire in a liberal arts education. But I don’t think that’s true at all. They want to shift corporate training onto the universities to save themselves money. Their power over legislatures and representation on Boards of Trustees means they can do so. And thus we have the decline of the humanities and the skills small seminars teach.

The Public Lands

[ 31 ] April 11, 2015 |

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It’s worth remembering that central to the Republican agenda is selling off every acre of public land possible (which is everything outside of national parks, national monuments, national preserves, and wilderness areas*) to the highest bidder, which are almost inevitably timber and mining companies, and sometimes grazing interests or perhaps the 1% who want to create baronial estates. A budgetary amendment to move this idea forward, although it really doesn’t have meaningful legal standing, just passed the Senate by a 51-49 vote. A massive firesale of public lands is entirely possible the next time Republicans control the presidency and both houses on Congress. But you know, vote 3rd party in 2016 because drones.

*The linked article says wilderness areas can be sold, but I am pretty sure this is not true given that federally designated wilderness areas have more restrictions on usage than national parks.

Anti-Sweatshop Activism

[ 2 ] April 10, 2015 |

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The anti-sweatshop activism of the late 1990s and early 2000s has been on the upswing lately, partially in response to the outrages of the 1134 workers dying at the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013.

Just yesterday, I ran across stories of students at the University of North Carolina and Virginia Tech both hosting events with survivors of Rana Plaza. There is pressure against European corporations for their role as well. Given the corporate attempts to hide American consumers from the impact of producing the products they buy and the enormous worldwide political, social, economic, and ecological implications of that, exposing Americans to the survivors of these disasters is a great way to fight back. A necessary way in fact. The more students involved in pressuring corporations (or at least their universities) on ethical sourcing of clothing, the better workers’ lives will become.

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