Glad to see workers in China fighting back against their conditions of work at Foxconn. Of course, I’m sure that the computer industry will move the factory to Vietnam or Cambodia. After all, given the lack of profits made by Apple and Foxconn, there’s no way they companies can afford to pay these workers enough to eat.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
What’s more important, Kiowa sacred spaces or the whims of a mining capitalist who wants to tear up a sacred Kiowa mountain in order to mine limestone? I think we know which. The state could get involved, but it is in Oklahoma, so there’s little hope.
The Philadelphia school system has decided to use a classic union-busting tactic: destroy seniority provisions:
There’s something about seniority that really rubs a lot of people the wrong way. It challenges our national mythology about meritocracy, a myth that ignores the race, gender, and class privileges that underlie a system where I as a white dude just happen to succeed where others don’t. Unions defend seniority not because it is perfect. No system is perfect. They defend it because it is the only system that is fair to workers.* Otherwise, how do we decide who has job preference? Like the Philadelphia schools, it is employers who want to decide. Employers are going to favor those they like, those who don’t support the union, those that are toadies. It is also an illegal labor action and let’s hope this pernicious union-busting gets fought off.
*Obviously the one exception to this was with affirmative action. That’s a complex story. The exception is noted before someone brings it up.
Shipbuilding corporation Signal International has some very special labor practices, policies that more corporations would emulate if they could get away it:
The lawsuits allege that Signal and its agents defrauded guest workers out of millions of dollars in exorbitant “recruitment fees” and falsely promised help in applying for and obtaining permanent US residence.
The guest workers sold family property and heirlooms, and incurred crippling debt, to each pay as much as $25,000 to Signal, they charged.
Once these workers were lured to Signal’s shipyards in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Orange, Texas, they were forced to live in overcrowded, unsanitary and racially segregated labour camps, the news release alleged.
Signal, used the US government’s H-2B visa guest worker programme to import these employees from India to work as welders and pipefitters after Hurricane Katrina scattered its workforce, SPLC said.
Usually capital mobility moves to other nations in order to exploit labor. But sometimes it draws workers from afar to its manufacturing sites, keeps them in social isolation so they can’t complain, and treats them as if they actually had moved to Vietnam or India or Honduras.
“I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin”
A little more than a decade ago I was going through a divorce. It was pretty ugly, and emotionally, it left me distracted and out of sorts. The Ex had decided on a course of action with another fellow, and I really could not stand by for that. Allegiances and oaths and vows sort of mean a lot to somebody like me, and this being the second time, that was the end of things. Somehow, however, it was I who ended up moving out of our nice home.
What followed was stereotypical for a divorce of this sort. I spent a lot of time after work going to local bars. All of them within walking distance from my apartment on a hillside known as Marye’s Heights, in the town where I lived. This was 2002.
Being disinclined to sociability at the time, when prompted by a fellow barfly into a conversation I did not feel like having, I would assess my interrogator. If he fit the profile (and so many did), I would counter-present a statement as a way of starting a “conversation.” That “profile” had nothing to do with socio-economic status, but it did have a hell of a lot to do with race, and the bugaboo of “heritage.” At least “heritage” as it is interpreted in rural Virginia anyway. Regardless of the topic he was trying to engage me on, I would parry. Then I would start a new conversation. My entree was, “I think that Robert E. Lee, as a traitor and betrayer of his solemn oath before God and the Constitution, was a much greater terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin… after all, Lee killed many more Americans than Bin Ladin, and almost destroyed the United States. What do you think?”
Yeah, I flunked “Subtle 101” in High School. Oh well. Like I said, I was not in a good place.
But the fact is that there was nothing that any of these men, and they were all men, could say in honest denial to my assertion. They sputtered and growled, spouted and shouted, but not once did it end well for them on any level. You see, if they were “unreconstructed rebels,” well then I was something almost none of them had ever experienced, an “unreconstructed Yankee.” What is more, at the intellectual level I was not playing fair.
Not only did I have the historical facts on my side, but I was also deliberately playing upon two southern biases which are nearly independent of politics: Reverence for military service, and reverence of the concept of “honor” and “oaths.” I am a military officer, Airborne and Ranger qualified. I swore an oath, almost exactly the same as the one Robert E. Lee had, to the United States. Most of those I confronted over barstools and tables in Fredericksburg eventually just asked to be let out of the argument, because I would not let go. I was alone, and angry, and historically versed, and my own G-G-G-Grandfather had actually fought there, not 300 yards from where my crappy apartment was, in 1862. And they were stunned, at the outset, that I was saying something that defied their understanding.
Deep bitterness and outrage at treason in defense of slavery. This is my kind of person.
I’m not much of a fan of the “crowdsourced discussion” model that Wonkblog uses here, but on the topic of whether fracking’s proponents are not taking potential water contamination seriously enough, the answer is obviously yes. And by fracking proponents, I mean not only the energy industry but state and federal governments. I’m certainly not underestimating the importance of cheap energy, not only to our standard of living but to the political fortunes of politicians. But as is typical in our nation that combines technological fetishism with an almost mythological emphasis on capitalist entrepreneurs, we have jumped into fracking with both feet. A far smarter policy would have been to run a lot more tests, holding back on the technology until we have some really good sense of what the long-term effects on water will be. If we do contaminate large swathes of our water supplies through this in exchange for short-term gains, the future will not look kindly. After all, it’s not as if the U.S. has a lot of water to spare at this point. Water is at least as important to national security and standard of living as energy and sacrificing one for the other is a terrible idea that could really hurt the nation down the road.
Less than three months after Rahm Emanuel closed 50 Chicago public schools to
bust the teachers union move resources around efficiently, the august mayor has issued a call for new charter schools in the very neighborhoods where the public schools were shuttered. It just so happens that these are non-union jobs led by people who will probably not hire the laid off teachers. I’m sure it’s all a coincidence.
The inevitable bad choice of the New Jersey Democratic electorate happened last night with the victory of Empty Suit Booker in the state’s Senate primary. Soon to make us long for the days of Joe Lieberman, Booker will combine all of my favorite virtues in a senator: an insatiable ego, a love for television, grand presidential ambitions, Rheeism, an openly pro-corporate agenda, few core beliefs and certainly no core beliefs that would help working class people, and the fawning adoration of the Beltway media. The Washington Post is already giddy. Meanwhile, Alex Pareene’s desperate plea to New Jersey Democrats to elect Holt or Pallone fell on deaf ears, but we can still remember his article as a no doubt accurate prediction of Booker annoying us in coming years.
I endorse all of Robert Kuttner’s essay on the need for enforceable standards in the garment industry as the only way disasters like the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh can be prevented. Kuttner rightly points out that there are precedents for creating these standards:
NAFTA was approved by Congress in 1993, over the fierce objection of the unions and with about two-thirds of House Democrats voting no. Clinton got it through mainly with the support of Republicans. When Clinton came back for new authority in 1997 to negotiate more trade deals, the House rejected his request. So the administration began discussions with the unions to see what kind of labor provisions might win their support. The administration was particularly eager to make a trade agreement with Cambodia, which was just emerging from the Killing Fields years under the Khmer Rouge and desperately needed access to U.S. consumer markets. In those years, textile and apparel imports were allocated according to a national quota system, known as the Multi-Fiber Arrangement. In yearlong discussions with Clinton officials, leaders of the apparel and textile union UNITE proposed a novel approach. As part of the trade deal, the Cambodian government would enforce workers’ rights to organize and join unions. If Cambodia kept its word, it would benefit from a significant increase in its import quotas. “The administration didn’t exactly take our version,” recalls Mark Levinson, one of the union’s architects of the plan. “We proposed more power for unions and workers in Cambodia. They accepted the broad idea of trading a quota increase for labor rights but brought in the ILO to oversee it.”
Thus did the U.S.–Cambodia free-trade deal come to include the world’s only enforceable labor rights as part of a trade agreement. Under the U.S.–Cambodia Bilateral Textile Agreement, signed in January 1999, Cambodia received a bonus export quota to the U.S. if its labor practices were found to be in compliance. Thanks to the agreement, Cambodia’s clothing exports increased from $26 million in 1995 to $1.9 billion in 2004, representing 80 percent of its industrial exports. Wages increased, and unions not only gained a foothold in the apparel industry but also were able to negotiate contracts with major hotels such as Raffles. But under another trade pact, the entire multi-fiber quota system was gradually phased out over a ten-year period ending in 2004, and fashion brands were now able to look for the cheapest producer worldwide. Freed from quota constraints, China quickly became the world’s largest exporter of clothing, other nations cut costs to match China’s price, and the United States gave up its leverage to reward Cambodia for respecting labor rights.
By 2004, Cambodia’s factory owners were repressing trade unions, hauling union leaders into court and holding them financially responsible for losses due to strikes. Government, fearing a loss of Cambodia’s global market share and no longer having any reward for enforcing workers’ rights, was siding with the industry. The popular leader of Cambodia’s largest union, Chea Vichea, was assassinated. Between 2001 and 2011, wages in Cambodia’s garment industry fell 17 percent. The ILO’s monitoring program continues, but cooperation with it has evaporated. Factories have shifted more workers to short-term employment contracts. Trade union members are routinely fired. Illegal overtime has increased, as has child labor. This deterioration has intensified even though the purchasers of garments made in Cambodia are international brands such as Nike, Disney, and H&M, all of which have corporate codes of conduct.
This is not the only example of the American government getting involved successfully to prevent a race to the bottom. So frequently, defenders of capitalism say that there’s nothing governments can do short of old-school protectionism to prevent the exploitation of workers overseas, but this is patently untrue. The Cambodia example is one. Early 20th century laws that improved the lives of sailors around the world is another. A third is banning products made by slave labor (or from endangered species for that matter, which is also applicable here). In fact, the U.S. government can do a great deal. It just chooses not to.