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A Hive of Hillary???

[ 281 ] June 21, 2016 |

Since MaxSpeak thinks we are a “hive of Hillary-mania,” even though I don’t know of a single LGM frontpager who voted for Hillary Clinton (although I don’t know who everyone voted for), let’s take a voluntary poll. Did you commenters vote for Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton? Let’s get some self-reporting numbers here and finally get a little evidence behind this. If you want, let us know who you voted for in the primary. I will count and update tonight.

I guess “Hillary-mania” means “not supporting Bernie Sanders in the right way, which must include full-throated loathing of Hillary Clinton,” which sums up for me what has been so irritating about the 2016 Democratic primary.

I voted for Bernie, so that’s 1.

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Bernie’s Staff Going to Clinton’s Campaign

[ 42 ] June 20, 2016 |

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To what extent Bernie Sanders’ success among young people was due to especially skilled campaign staffers, I cannot really say, but I suppose it’s an encouraging sign that Sanders’ director of student organizing, Kunoor Ohja, has taken a job with the Clinton campaign as her national campus and student organizing director.

Bernie and Labor

[ 119 ] June 20, 2016 |

Sanders picketline_1

One more postmortem of the 2016 primary. Joe Burns writes in Jacobin that what labor needs to learn from the Sanders campaign is to reintegrate radicalism into its thinking. A lot of it is just revisiting the anti-communist purges of the CIO and decrying the lack of radicalism in the labor movement, underpinned with anger that the unions backed Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders.

Reintroducing class struggle into trade unionism also necessitates having a serious discussion about the state of labor’s reform-minded wing. Supportive of diffuse activism, this broad coalition includes true reformers and those who, in the past, would have been considered collaborationist hacks.

Many in labor embrace what could be called “labor pragmatism” — initiatives that try to fight smart within the existing system, like the inside strategy, the corporate campaign, and the one-day strike.

All of these are sensible strategies for workers forced to struggle within an unjust framework of labor control. But because they do not challenge the underlying paradigm, they cannot revive the labor movement.

Many in labor’s progressive wing favor the phrase “social movement unionism” to describe a form of unionism that emphasizes community ties and rejects narrow unionism. This is particularly true in public-sector unions, which live or die based on public support.

Social movement unionism is a broad concept that can encompass a wide range of activities, from the class-struggle approach of the Chicago Teachers Union to staff-driven models more akin to business unionism.

It’s time to move beyond these concepts and toward a more Sanders-inspired vision of labor organizing, which puts our fight in the context of the struggle between the 1 percent and the rest of the population.

Class-struggle unionism incorporates the broad demands of social movement unionism into a workplace-centered struggle against management.

So what would a “Sanders-inspired vision of labor organizing” really look like?

Reestablishing effective trade unionism requires a number of concrete actions. We must develop forms of solidarity that move beyond just fighting a single employer and instead confront capital as a class. We must constrain capital’s mobility and cultivate solidarity across borders.

We must disregard the “property rights” of employers and be willing to flout labor law itself. We must resist the constant pressure to collaborate rather than fight. Fundamentally, we must put workers and struggle back at the center of trade unionism.

None of this is possible in a labor movement that spurns socialist ideas.

Here is the basic problem: over the last eighty years, an aggressive capitalist order has reshaped trade unionism. Collective bargaining is now confined to individual corporations, so the union is captive to each employer’s business decisions.

The profits extracted from workplaces flow largely to capitalists, and workers have no say over the distribution of the wealth they create.

While a web of rules created by the NLRB and the courts have granted this status quo legal legitimacy, today’s labor policies are merely capital’s worldview imposed on the labor movement.

Without a socialist analysis, economic shifts look like forces of nature rather than human creations. Issues like capital flight, subcontracting, or corporate globalization are taken as givens, impossible for any labor movement to resist.

A socialist trade unionism, on the other hand, would demand that capital be bent to labor’s needs.

Past moments in the labor movement — like the AFL’s closed-shop era, when unions controlled hiring decisions and worker education, or the CIO’s solidarity unionism, which brought hundreds of enterprises under the same master agreements and used industry-wide strikes to halt production — remind us that this is possible.

And so has Sanders’s run. In a refreshing challenge to the neoliberal views of Hillary Clinton (and much of the labor establishment that backs her), Sanders has promised to direct societal resources away from the banks to rebuild inner cities, create jobs, and provide free college education.

Applying his vision to trade unionism means rejecting the idea that capital has an inherent right to do what it wishes to our jobs and our communities.

OK, I guess. But this feels a lot more like sloganeering than really analyzing the critical issues with the labor movement. It also papers over a lot of history–the AFL unions that controlled hiring halls used them to exclude black workers, for instance. Flouting labor law is fine, but sometimes can lead to the president crushing your entire union and setting the entire labor movement back. I obviously agree that constraining capital mobility is absolutely central for the ability of the working class to survive. I wrote a book about that very topic. And a socialist analysis does provide some ways forward on these topics. On the other hand, so does our current legal system, which is very much not socialist and not used to socialist ends, but could be used to accomplish some of these policy goals. A labor movement committed to socialism might be useful, but then the labor movement is already committed to a lot of socialist policies if they could be enacted, although there’s no question that unions will often make short-term decisions that undermine the long-term interests of the working class, such as working for minimum wage carve-outs for its own members.

Moreover, I just don’t really see what Bernie Sanders had to do with an entirely new radical approach. Is he calling for the illegal occupation of corporate property? I just feel that there’s a whole lot of projection on the left to Sanders, who see in him what they want to see instead of what he actually is–a good left-liberal on most policy issues with a talent for a certain kind of rhetoric that appeals to 60s radicals and their descendants. And that’s fine I guess, but I’m still struggling to see how Bernie Sanders is that far to the left of Hillary Clinton on most policy issues. He’s a bit to the left on many and the proposal for free college tuition is a good goal, even if the details really need to be spelled out. But she’s not a monster and he’s not a savior.

Finally, I need to know how this actually works on the ground if unions start occupying buildings, ignoring labor law, defy the NLRB, etc. I also need to know how to explain the very real risks involved to rank and file workers.

I guess all this means is that I’m a bad leftist for wanting policy analysis and complexity in my social movements instead of sloganeering. If we just had more solidarity, everything would be better! But those Big Labor bureaucrats sold out the working class once again by supporting Hillary over a man who has similar beliefs on many issues, just a different way of talking about them. And that’s of course a lot of what this whole article is about–the endless battle within the labor movement between pragmatism and radicalism that radicals almost never win because they struggle to bring the rank and file of the unions around to these vague ideas of action and solidarity.

Textbooks and the Civil Rights Movement

[ 22 ] June 20, 2016 |
Rev. Ben Chavis, right, raises his fist as fellow protesters are taken to jail at the Warren County PCB landfill near Afton, North Carolina on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1982. Chavis is one of the members of the Wilmington 10. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

Rev. Ben Chavis, right, raises his fist as fellow protesters are taken to jail at the Warren County PCB landfill near Afton, North Carolina on Thursday, Sept. 16, 1982. Chavis is one of the members of the Wilmington 10. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)

As I discussed in the Black Power post from a couple of days ago, the civil rights movement has no real start or end. It’s an ongoing series of struggles. The Civil Rights Movement we think of as having primarily existed between 1954 and 1965 is really just a moment where the black freedom struggle coincided with a peak of white liberalism that opened political space to change some of the laws oppressing African-Americans. It’s unfortunate that we so often think of the movement in this way because doing so erases the long-term systemic racism that oppressed black people before, during, and after this period. It’s also unfortunate that this periodization dominates American history textbooks, where other than mentions of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s, the civil rights struggle after 1965 is scarcely mentioned, if at all. Adam Sanchez calls for the teaching of the “long civil rights movement,” focusing on the post-1965 struggles, as well as the 1954-65 period.

Far from being the end of the Civil Rights Movement, 1965 marked a legislative milestone and provided activists with another tool. But the new legislation was not a solution to the problems people had been organizing against for many years. In the North and the South, activists continued to confront poverty, unemployment, lack of health care, poor housing, inadequate education, and police and sheriff brutality.

U.S. history textbooks fail to look deeply at the urban rebellions, Martin Luther King’s campaigns against war and poverty, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, and the rise of the Black Panther Party. And there are countless other post-1965 events that should be brought into the classroom: the Memphis Sanitation workers’ strike and the subsequent workers’ struggles of the 1970s, the Orangeburg Massacre, the fight for Ethnic Studies programs, the national campaign for welfare rights, the Attica Prison Uprising, the battle over segregated schools in Boston and community control in New York, the fight in the South to ensure the Voting Rights Act was put into practice, and many more.

The shallow understanding of the Civil Rights Movement that my students brought to class goes beyond not knowing post-1965 events. As historian Jeanne Theoharis has noted, before the Watts Rebellion there was more than two decades of nonviolent activism against legalized segregation in Los Angeles. And in 1963, after what is widely taught as a successful nonviolent struggle to desegregate downtown Birmingham, Alabama, 2,000 African Americans, fed up after segregationists bombed hotels that housed movement leaders, turned to violence. They threw rocks and bricks, looted stores, and set fire to a nearby grocery. Despite the fact that this precipitated Kennedy’s endorsement of the Civil Rights Act, this violence is often left out of the story of Birmingham, just as nonviolent activism is left out of the story of Watts.

What this example reveals and what a growing work of scholarship argues, is that we have been sold a narrative of the movement that ignores enormous parts of Civil Rights history. By mythologizing a successful, exclusively nonviolent struggle against racial segregation in the South that becomes a polarizing call for Black Power as it moves North after 1965, we leave out struggles across the country that don’t fit this stereotype.

We should replace this limited narrative, these scholars argue, with one of “The Long Civil Rights Movement,” a national Black freedom struggle rooted in struggles of the 1930s and extended through the 1970s, that used self-defense and nonviolent direct action, that dealt with issues of race and class, that developed international solidarity, and participated in countless local struggles in the North and South.

In classrooms across the country, guided by the official textbooks and curricula, students learn a version of the Civil Rights Movement that leaves its lessons in the past. School districts across the country should provide time for teachers to produce a people’s curriculum of the movement in order to teach the local histories that are left out of the official narrative. This way our students who we hope will join and shape today’s social movements can do so with knowledge and insight about what came before.

That last paragraph is really important because not only did the legal victories of civil rights start disappearing in the racist white backlash that began manifesting itself by 1965, but stopping our teaching of civil rights in that increasingly distant past is an overt political decision to downplay racism today. This is the sort of thing that allows conservatives to claim Martin Luther King as their own because of a couple of lines in one speech completely disconnected from context. Even King’s turn to democratic socialism, his opposition to Vietnam, his Chicago housing campaign, and his move to organizing a poor people’s movement is significantly downplayed in our historical narrative, and King’s the most celebrated figure in American civil rights. Dealing with racism today requires understanding racism of the past. Understanding Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 today requires placing these movements in context of the black freedom struggles not only of 60 and 50 years ago but of 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

Pleistocene Extinctions

[ 23 ] June 20, 2016 |

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New research suggesting the decline of the American megafauna was a combination of both climate change and human hunting happening at the same time. For a long time, there’s been a debate over whether the rapid extinction of so many large American mammals was because of the warming climates after the last Ice Age that turned a lot of grasslands into forests or whether it was because the first human residents of the Americas marching rapidly south through the Americas after being stuck in the Arctic for several thousands years wiped them out through hunting. The most sensible answer was always that it was a combination of the two factors and now it’s pretty clearly the case.

Luckily, there’s no connection between a rapidly warming climate and human interventions decimating wildlife today so we have nothing to worry about.

A Deal with the Devil

[ 18 ] June 19, 2016 |

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I want to give my kudos to Cleveland, making a deal with Satan to win this NBA title in exchange for hosting the Republican National Convention. Satan probably wins this deal, but I would have made it too.

Visions of Early America

[ 8 ] June 19, 2016 |

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It’s Sunday night and I’m watching the first good game of the NBA Finals. Of course, I am also paying attention to the American past and want to alert you to this series of interesting literature from the early American period. There is an account of a Revolutionary War soldier taken prisoner after a 1777 battle in Vermont who escaped and survived the true horror after–the scary, evil forests–,a weird religious text from 1812, and a Shaker petition to the state of New York from 1816.

Pretty cool stuff.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 36

[ 14 ] June 19, 2016 |

This is the grave of William Marcy.

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An early doughface, or northern politician who served southern masters, Marcy was a big wig in the New York Democratic Party during the antebellum era. Born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1786, he graduated from Brown in 1806 and went into the law, moving to Troy, New York. He was a leader in the Albany Regency, which was a group of Democrats who controlled New York politics in the 1820s and 1830s. He was elected to the Senate in 1831 as a major supporter of Andrew Jackson’s policies. He resigned that position in 1833 to serve as governor of New York. He soon came under attack from Whigs for his doughface policies, which were not necessarily unpopular in New York because New York City was a major center of southern support in the North, thanks to its many business connections with the region. But in 1838, he was defeated for reelection by William Seward and the Regency was finished.

Marcy then went to the national stage, serving in the Cabinet for various presidents who wanted his expertise to expand the United States in order to acquire more land for slavery. James K. Polk named him Secretary of War, placing him effectively in charge of a war that stole half of Mexico for the interests of the slave power. He really wanted the 1852 presidential nomination and was a leading candidate, but because of the labyrinthine infighting of party politics of that era, instead it went to a nobody alcoholic named Franklin Pierce. Marcy then served as Secretary of State under Pierce. There, he worked closely with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to force Mexico to sell more land to the United States in order that a transcontinental railroad could be built connecting the South to San Diego and thus strengthen American slavery even more. He also came up with the idea the Ostend Manifesto, which was a document basically demanding that Spain cede Cuba to the United States. Again, the rationale for this was the expansion of slavery, the cause to which Marcy dedicated his public service. He died in 1857, three months after leaving the Cabinet.

William Marcy is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

Women and the Draft

[ 130 ] June 19, 2016 |

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The Senate passed a bill requiring women to register for the draft.

In the latest and perhaps decisive battle over the role of women in the military, Congress is embroiled in an increasingly intense debate over whether they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved an expansive military policy bill that would for the first time require young women to register for the draft. The shift, while fiercely opposed by some conservative lawmakers and interest groups, had surprisingly broad support among Republican leaders and women in both parties.

The United States has not used the draft since 1973 during the Vietnam War. But the impact of such a shift, reflecting the evolving role of women in the armed services, would likely be profound.

Under the Senate bill passed on Tuesday, women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would be forced to register for Selective Service, as men must do now. Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.

“The fact is,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, “every single leader in this country, both men and women, members of the military leadership, believe that it’s fair since we opened up all aspects of the military to women that they would also be registering for Selective Services.”

Although I’d prefer to get rid of the draft entirely, it seems that what this should be connected to is the revival of the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s still amazing to me that a revived ERA is nowhere to be found in progressive policy goals. On the other hand, I’ve done a lot of reading in the last few months on issues around women’s work and protective legislation and it’s eye-opening to learn what a horrible right wing organization Alice Paul created with the National Women’s Party to push for the ERA after 1920. As Nancy Woloch lays out in her recent book, A Class By Herself: Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s, Paul and the NWP openly worked with the Chamber of Commerce to oppose all protective labor legislation. At first, the opposition was for any protective laws for women, since ensuring that women work only 8 hours a day was seen as the kind of discrimination that would actually hurt women. Paul was wrong about that because protective labor legislation women did far more to open the door for broader labor legislation than hurt women’s ability to make a living, although it did in some industries. But then Paul and the NWP went ahead and also opposed all labor legislation during the New Deal. Frances Perkins hated the NWP and Eleanor Roosevelt would have nothing to do with the ERA. Even after World War II, when protective labor legislation had passed and those battles were no longer so salient, Roosevelt still would not endorse the Equal Rights Amendment. It was really only in the 1970s that the ERA became a relatively progressive movement and even then largely ignored concerns of poor women or women of color in favor of an abstract constitutional amendment.

One of the arguments against something like the ERA was that women could in fact be drafted (others included, for instance, the potential loss of alimony and child support). Of course, women have reached greater equality in the military, so the draft exemption no longer makes sense. Perhaps now is the time for the ERA to be revived.

Maximum Family Grant Dead in California

[ 20 ] June 19, 2016 |

President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system. Visible, from left, are former welfare recipients Lillie Harden, of Little Rock, Ark., and Janet Ferrel, of West Virginia, Vice President Gore, West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton, Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and former welfare recipient Penelope Howard, of Delaware. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The welfare reform movement of the 1990s really was the political peak of the white backlash that began having political success in the mid-1960s, when the civil rights movement came to the north and west, outraging whites in those regions with demands for the end of de facto segregation, the end of police violence against African-Americans, equal pay for equal work. Politically, this went far to drive the rise of the conservative movement that elected Reagan in 1980 and the Republican Congress of 1994. By that time, reading the political tea leaves, many Democrats, most importantly Bill Clinton, came to support some of their political goals, primarily the terrible welfare reform bill that makes so many on the left so angry at Hillary Clinton today. Of course the times have changed, the conservative movement is throwing itself on the rocks of unhinged violence, and radicalism, and horrific governance in the states it controls. But nationally and in blue states, there is increased space to roll back some of the terrible parts of the welfare reform bills.

This takes us to California, which just eliminated a truly terrible law as part of its recent budget bill.

The “maximum family grant” was a key feature in the welfare reforms adopted by California and other states in the mid-1990s. The idea was that welfare recipients should not be given an incentive to give birth while on the dole, so the amount of aid they received would be tied to the size their family was when they started receiving benefits. If another baby came along, well, too bad. Unless mom was raped, a victim of incest or could prove that the birth control didn’t work, there would be no benefit increase.

It was a repugnant policy and, furthermore, it didn’t seem to work. Studies have found little evidence of a link between caps in benefits and reproduction. What we do know, however, is that the maximum family grant rule punished poor kids for the choices of their parents.

Good riddance to this bad policy. It should have been repealed it long ago. Like, the minute it was adopted. The cap on benefits was based on the apocryphal story of the “welfare queen” — a term popularized by Ronald Reagan as he was campaigning for president — describing women who gamed the welfare system by popping out babies and amassing a fortune at the expense of gullible taxpayers.

There were no doubt cases of welfare fraud; you can’t have a government assistance program without someone breaking the rules. But it would take a criminal mastermind to figure out how to get rich from CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program. The average grant for a family of three is about $700 a month, with a lifetime limit on benefits of four years. Most beneficiaries also have to work or develop job skills.

These arguments never made the first bit of sense. Who would get pregnant just to have a slight increase in their welfare check? The cost of a baby is so much more than that covered. But middle-class Americans ate that up, believing there were cadres of black people in the cities who were overpopulating the world with their spawn so they could drive in their Cadillac to fancy restaurants and order a huge t-bone steak, paid for with the dollars of hard-working white people.

Good on California for getting rid of one law that oppressed the poor. There are so many more from that era in California and nationally, and of course new ones appearing everyday in such lovely and well-run conservative states as Louisiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

Mergers and Microbrews

[ 123 ] June 18, 2016 |

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The likely merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller to create what should be called Omnibrewery is making some worried that the macros will effectively drive the small microbreweries out of the market by controlling shelf space for the microbreweries like Elysian and Goose Island they buy up.

The problem is that, along with being the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev is also the biggest beer distributor in the United States. And in several states, the law allows the company to distribute its own beer — and most markets have only one or two distributors. The company has also recently increased its control over the beer-distribution industry by purchasing five independent distributors (acquisitions that prompted a Department of Justice inquiry last fall). That means that Anheuser-Busch InBev can focus on building its own brands while effectively, and legally, shutting out competing craft brands.

The company, which already controls 45 percent of the domestic beer market, also encourages independent distributors to focus on selling its brands over craft brands. The company recently introduced its Voluntary Anheuser-Busch Incentive for Performance program, which pays distributors on a sliding scale based on the share of its beers they sell — which means that if they sell craft beers, they lose money (the Department of Justice is examining this program as well).

Distribution isn’t the only front in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s war on the small brewers represented by my organization. Since its merger with SABMiller was announced, the company has bought several well-regarded craft brewers around the country, including California’s Golden Road, Arizona’s Four Peaks, Colorado’s Breckenridge and Virginia’s Devil’s Backbone. These takeovers were preceded by the acquisition of Chicago’s Goose Island, Oregon’s Ten Barrel, Washington’s Elysian and Michigan’s Virtue Cider.

A merger between the world’s two largest brewers would give the new global corporation, with an estimated $64 billion in annual revenue and control over an astounding 29 percent of the global beer market, an even greater ability to hobble its competitors, at both the production and distribution levels. The enlarged Anheuser-Busch InBev will have more influence over which brands distributors carry, making it harder for smaller companies to get their products onto store shelves. It will have even more power to strong-arm independent distributors not to carry rival brands and exert pressure on retailers to cut back on, or even refuse to carry, competitive brands. And it will have more resources to buy up smaller breweries as they start to feel squeezed out of the marketplace.

I have conflicted feelings here but in the end I’m not freaking out about this. Ultimately, the goal is to have good beer available to consumers. To some extent, the microbrewery purchases will help that happen. I like Elysian and 10 Barrel and I would like it available to me here in Rhode Island. Elysian is just entering the market. Given that Rhode Island breweries are uniformly mediocre to awful except for tiny Proclamation, this improves my life. On the other, local experimentation and production is a great thing and we want to encourage this, right? Part of the microbrew culture is about trying new things and as much as they macros want to monopolize the market, they can’t kill this spirit. It’s true they could easily convince the average beer buyer who has just started getting interested in microbreweries to try some Goose Island 312 instead of something local, but that person is likely to move on from the 312 if they really enjoy microbreweries and if they don’t, they probably wouldn’t have experimented that much anyway. Don’t get me wrong. Monopoly is a bad thing. But beer is just about the nation’s only industry where thousands of local products have threatened to upend a previously nearly iron-clad monopoly. It’s hardly surprising that a new round of consolidation would happen to try and retake control. I just don’t think it will work, at least not that effectively. The Kroger and Safeway might not have local products, but the local liquor store sure will.

In related beer news, New Belgium is finally coming to Rhode Island this week. Mostly that improves my life. On the other hand, every bar will now have Fat Tire on tap and everyone will claim it’s the greatest beer in the world for the next five years until everyone realizes it is terrible.

Unfree Labor in American Seafood

[ 17 ] June 18, 2016 |

peeling-smaller

Usually when I talk about unfree labor, it’s overseas in supply chains producing products for western markets. But the U.S. has several of its own systemic versions of unfree labor–widespread use of prison labor, sweatshops in Los Angeles, etc. Another is in the seafood industry where suppliers use guestworkers to provide your frozen shrimp. But this is not free labor, not with the guestworkers having no recourse.

But labor abuse in the seafood sector isn’t a problem confined to Asia. A report published Wednesday by the labor group the National Guestworker Alliance suggests that some US seafood workers also experience abusive conditions. The report focuses on the experiences of undocumented and H2-B visa guestworkers shucking, peeling, and boiling shrimp and crawfish at seafood processing plants in New Bedford, Mass. and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Around 69 percent of shrimp produced in the US comes from the Gulf Coast.

“Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”

According to the NGA report, the US seafood industry has relied heavily on H2-B guestworkers and undocumented immigrants to drive down labor costs to stay price competitive with international producers. A 2009 survey in New Bedford found that nearly 75 percent of the workers in its seafood processing industry were undocumented immigrants. The US Department of Labor certified over 5,700 H2-B visas for seafood related positions in 2014, a marked 15 percent increase over 2013. Because employers grant H2-B visas, those on the receiving end are particularly vulnerable. Due to threats of retaliation by employers—including firing, which can result in deportation—guestworkers are often hesitant to report mistreatment. “Hours were long, wages were bad, housing was terrible—but we were all afraid that if we spoke up, we would lose our jobs, our housing, and our ability to ever come back to the US to work,” longtime H-2B guestworker Olivia Guzman Garfias told the NGA.

Here are some more striking details from the NGA’s report:

In housing provided by processing companies in both the Louisiana Gulf and New Bedford, Mass., workers reported living with up to 20 people per trailer, without access to proper sanitation and sometimes with strict curfews.

Of the 126 seafood workers surveyed in New Bedford, 25 percent reported having been injured on the job. The majority of workers reported having to purchase their own safety equipment.

44 percent reported not being paid for overtime work.

At times, piece rates for pounds of shrimp prorated to levels well below minimum wage, as low as $2 per hour, and employers sometimes failed to pay promised rates. According to NGA Organizing Director Jacob Horwitz: “Stealing wages is standard business practice. The financial incentive to underpay guestworkers is far greater than the risk of getting caught.”

Female workers experienced sexual harassment and verbal abuse in the workplace as well as in company-provided housing. Some women spoke of unwanted sexual advances by company brass, and of being fired for rebuffing such advances.

Once again, if you are eating frozen seafood, you are eating a product made by unfree labor. Unfortunately, while we can pressure Walmart and other stores from using these suppliers, they lack the legal obligation to take responsibility for their supply chains. Until we can go after the corporate buyers of this seafood, this sort of exploitation will continue. And this is yet more evidence that guestworker programs simply do not work, at least in low-wage jobs, and there should be no place for them in whatever immigration reform bill eventually passes Congress.

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