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Tag: "labor"

Sex Work Prohibitionism

[ 440 ] April 3, 2014 |

Melissa Gira Grant’s new book is causing all sorts of discomfort among liberals who are just flat not comfortable with thinking of sex work as labor. Katha Pollitt’s latest piece is an excellent example of this. Unfortunately, while Pollitt is writing in the language of second-wave feminism, she’s also writing in the language of prohibitionism. She tries to stigmatize a reality of the world as immoral, but in fact just reinforces a system by which women are in fact victimized. Even the poor women she accuses Grant of ignoring are not helped by keeping sex work illegal. If you legalize sex work, you are going to make it harder for underground sex operations that treat women terribly to continue because a major reason why they exist is that sex work is illegal and therefore stigmatized. That’s not to say sex work is great–it’s a bad job—but keeping it illegal does not promote the equality that Pollitt wants to see.

…To clarify one point, I realize Pollitt is not really calling for sex work to remain illegal, but by using language that separates it from other kinds of work as inherently and perhaps uniquely awful, it reinforces long-standing arguments used to keep it illegal. Quibble with my characterization if you’d like, but I just wanted to clarify this point a bit.

Structural Inequality and Infant Mortality

[ 114 ] April 2, 2014 |

I can’t recommend this Stephen Bezruchka essay on structural inequality and infant mortality strongly enough. Just a quick excerpt:

Everyone in a society gains when children grow up to be healthy adults. The rest of the world seems to understand this simple fact, and only three countries in the world don’t have a policy, at least on the books, for paid maternal leave—Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and the United States. What does that say about our understanding, or concern, about the health of our youth?

Infant death rates, those occurring in the first year of life, are a particularly sensitive measure of health in a population. According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2013, our infant mortality rate is about 6.1 deaths for every thousand live births. Sweden has an infant mortality rate less than half of ours, 2.1 deaths per thousand births. If we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths, the United States would have around forty-seven fewer infants dying every day in the United States. That is what is achievable: every day forty-seven babies wouldn’t die if we had Sweden’s rate of infant deaths.

Differences in mortality rates are not just a statistical concern— they reflect suffering and pain for very real individuals and families. The higher mortality in the United States is an example of what Paul Farmer, the noted physician and anthropologist, calls structural violence. The forty-seven infant deaths occur every day because of the way society in the United States is structured, resulting in our health status being that of a middle-income country, not a rich country.

There is growing evidence that the factor most responsible for the relatively poor health in the United States is the vast and rising inequality in wealth and income that we not only tolerate, but resist changing. Inequality is the central element, the upstream cause of the social disadvantage described in the IOM report. A political system that fosters inequality limits the attainment of health.

Resist changing? For Republicans, rising inequality is the stated goal, with an underlying racial tone that gets poor whites to buy in against their own economic interests.

The only thing I’d add that Bezruchka leaves out is how the decline of labor unions has played into this problem. He suggests worker-owned businesses as part of the strategy to overcome this structural inequality, but that he mentions this and not unionized workplaces says a lot about just how desperate organized labor’s situation has become. In all of American history, only labor unions have allowed workers to have a real voice on the job and provided a powerful and long-term voice for the American working class. Without that voice and the potential of delivering (or withholding) votes and money, politicians have little reason to care very much about structural inequality.

But otherwise, an outstanding essay.

World Cup Deaths

[ 17 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s not only in Qatar that workers are dying to build World Cup stadiums. It’s also in Brazil, but unlike Qatar, which uses largely very poor migrant laborers, these are workers empowered to take matters into their own hands:

Builders at the Itaquerao Arena in São Paulo downed tools in protest at another death of a construction worker.

Organisers now fear the ground will not be completed in time for the curtain-raiser between the hosts and Croatia.A source said: “The stadium was originally due to be handed over last year. It is extremely worrying that deadlines keep being missed.”

Worker Fabio Hamilton da Cruz, 23, plunged 26ft to his death while installing seating, making him the eighth labourer to die at Brazil 2014 sites. Three deaths have been in São Paulo. Building firm Fast Engenharia, in charge of seating at the Itaquerao, have now vowed to put extra safety measures in place.

The End of the Strike

[ 39 ] April 2, 2014 |

It’s no wonder workers feel they don’t have any power at the workplace in the 21st century. For a variety of reasons, the ability of them to use their collective power in its most power-challenging form has been taken away:

Anti-Unionol

[ 3 ] April 1, 2014 |

AFSCME wins April Fool’s Day with a fake advertisement for a suppository that destroys the middle class. Note: “the drug is not for everyone including pregnant women, people with families, if you have a pre-existing mortgage or if you suffer from student debt”

NAFTA at 20

[ 51 ] March 30, 2014 |

The AFL-CIO has produced a report on the impacts of NAFTA 20 years after passage. Although the impacts are probably familiar to you, it’s worth a read anyway. The summary:

It’s a flawed model that promotes the economic interests of a very few and at the expense of workers, consumers, farmers, communities, the environment and even democracy itself.

While the overall volume of trade within North America due to NAFTA has increased and corporate profits have skyrocketed, wages have remained stagnant in all three countries.

Productivity has increased, but workers’ share of these gains has decreased steadily, along with unionization rates.

NAFTA pushed small Mexican farmers off their lands, increasing the flow of desperate undocumented migrants.

It exacerbated inequality in all three countries.

And the NAFTA labor side agreement has failed to accomplish its most basic mandate: to ensure compliance with fundamental labor rights and enforcement of national labor laws.

The only answer is to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership so this can all just get worse.

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Race and Organizing Southern Auto

[ 29 ] March 30, 2014 |

The UAW is continuing to organize the South after its catastrophic defeat in Chattanooga. It is targeting a Mississippi Nissan plant. Unlike Volkswagen, Nissan is fighting the union. The difference between the two campaigns is that in Mississippi, ministers are on the side of the workers, potentially lending important community support to the campaign lacking in Tennessee. But when I read this article about it that stresses the civil rights angle of the struggle, the main difference I see, and of course I have no ability to know the demographics in the plant, is that the workers and presumably the ministers are black. That hardly surprises me. In the early 21st century, people of color are more likely to support unions than whites. Given the sharp racial divides that determine much of American politics at this time, probably the ability of the UAW to win has as much (or nearly as much) to do with the racial demographics of the Nissan plant as its own organizing strategy. I’m not prematurely letting the union off the hook for another loss, but it’s impossible to ignore the racial issue within southern unionism, an issue that has never been separable from southern organizing campaigns and something that employers have always exploited to divide workers.

In other words, labor rights are indeed civil rights, but if the a lot of the white workers in the plant oppose civil rights, it’s unlikely they will support labor rights.

The Subcontracting Scourge: Fukushima Edition

[ 71 ] March 29, 2014 |

The scourge of companies subcontracting labor in order to maximize profit continues. Tokyo Electric Power Company runs the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor. Rather than employ the cleanup workers itself, it is relying on subcontractors that, not surprisingly, cut corners on such things as keeping workers safe.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation last year found widespread labor abuses, where workers said their pay was skimmed and there was little scrutiny over working conditions inside the plant.

Tepco on Friday would not name the worker’s direct employer, but said he reported up to Toso Fudosan Kanri Company, a first-tier contractor under Tepco. The worker was in his 50s, the utility said.

The company confirmed it had hired the worker through another subcontractor.

Tepco has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup. The operator was plagued by a series of leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site last year and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Of course not using subcontractors would probably be the best idea for improving those working conditions.

I’ll also note that when I write these subcontracting posts, commenters inevitably start talking about the benefits of subcontracting since why should every company have its own IT staff. A couple points here to hopefully reduce this kind of thing. First, during the greatest time of economic growth in American history, subcontracting barely existed. It’s not as if you need subcontracting in order to have a successful business model. Second, there may well be times when you can subcontract and have it make sense, such as IT. However, is there any good reason why we should allow subcontracting where the workers labor for less pay, benefits, and safety precautions than directly employed workers? No. There is not. Third, those who defend subcontracting on principle are sort of missing what’s important here. Or at least, for me keeping workers safe and making living wages is more important than a streamlined business process that concentrates wealth at the top. Maybe that’s not everyone’s priority, I don’t know. Once we get to the point where there’s a bill before Congress to ban subcontracting, we can start worrying about the exceptions that make sense. For now, I’m not going to worry too much about the concerns of business.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

[ 50 ] March 28, 2014 |

Like other presidents in recent decades, regardless of political party, Obama has pushed for fast track authority to slam free trade bills through without taking into account the concerns of American workers or those concerned about environmental issues. Obama’s goal is to create the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation free trade agreement covering nations from Chile to Brunei, would continue allowing American companies to operate without consequences. So far Congressional Democrats have rejected the TPP because it would ship even more American jobs overseas and increase the environmental impact of American manufacturing. Organized labor is pointing out the environmental impact of such a deal. Says the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, “Let’s not exacerbate the pollution problems of the world and perpetuate human exploitation by including nations like Malaysia and Vietnam in a free trade pact, as the TPP would do.”

Like other trade agreements such as NAFTA, the TPP would effectively encourage American corporations to move operations into countries with terrible human rights, labor rights, and environmental records, providing no legal framework to make companies responsible for what happens in outsourced factories. It allows companies to take advantage of Vietnam’s 28 cent an hour minimum wage and buildings that kill workers in fires. It continues the outsourcing of American jobs, the increase in income inequality, and the conditions of the New Gilded Age.

Of course, the TPP could mandate better conditions for labor. The House initially rejected NAFTA’s renewal in 1997, forcing Clinton to compromise and include a labor enforcement mechanism in a trade deal with Cambodia. Proposed by UNITE, a union decimated by the outsourcing of the clothing industry, the U.S. provided Cambodia incentives to allow workers to unionize in return for an increased export quota. They received $50 a month for a

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48-hour week, received a dozen federal holidays, vacation days, sick leave, and maternity leave. The plan worked, at least initially. Overseen by the International Labour Organization, Cambodian clothing exports skyrocketed at the same time that union density grew and apparel makers signed contracts with workers. It was not a perfect system—factory owners tried to avoid the regulations and coached workers on what to say to ILO inspectors. But it still made enormous improvements and showed how government could still intervene in a global marketplace for good. But like most trade agreements, this one came to an end. With the decline of multi fibre quota system in 2004, the U.S.-Cambodian trade pact also ended and its replacement lost this mechanism. Within weeks of the quota ending in 2005, underground sweatshops appeared with terrible working conditions. Now even freer than ever before to concentrate in nations with the worst workplaces standards, Cambodian labor saw its union pacts quickly scuttled and its working conditions and wages plummet to some of the lowest in the industry. Wages fell by 17 percent for Cambodian garment workers between 2001 and 2011.

So the TPP could create safe and reasonably paying work when American companies move overseas but of course it won’t. It could mandate that American companies sign the Bangladesh Accord or a similar agreement, which European companies have signed to mandate improved conditions in outsourced Bangladeshi apparel factories. It provides money to upgrade the sweatshops and at least a minimal legal framework for enforcement. Of course the American manufacturers have refused to sign this, led by Wal-Mart and Gap. There’s no evidence the American government has any desire to pressure them to do so, but regardless, we know that terrible labor conditions have not blocked Obama’s desire for the TPP to pass. It’s a shame because the American government could do a lot to improve the lives of overseas workers producing goods for the American market and it chooses not to.

Academic Freedom, 2014

[ 65 ] March 28, 2014 |

The obvious next step is to strip funding from universities who teach about slavery. They are inciting race hatred after all:

Michigan State University could risk losing $500,000 if it does not stop offering courses that allegedly promote unionization.

A state Senate panel approved a measure Thursday banning courses at public universities that promote or discourage organizing efforts. It’s a reaction to MSU’s recent decision to take over some programs from the National Labor College.

Republicans say those courses violate the proposed rule.

“I believe in academic freedom, and you’re going to have difficult subjects that you’re going to cover at any university,” said state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, who chairs the panel that directs higher education funding in the House.

I believe in academic freedom unless I disagree with the subject matter. That is indeed the true meaning of academic freedom.

“The first link between glass-blowers’ pipes and syphilis I can find is from 1862″

[ 46 ] March 27, 2014 |

This is an amazing overview of working conditions for 19th and early 20th century glassblowers. An excerpt:

The Travelers Insurance agent who wrote “Glass Manufacturing Hazards” for this series agrees that emphysema is not a major problem for glassblowers, despite what one might expect. The men who work with the raw glass ingredients, and the “bottle-breakers” who smash undesirable glass so it can be re-melted, are more at risk for this — as they are for skin irritation, painful abrasions, burns from molten glass, and foot lacerations.

Glass-blowers do sometimes break their teeth when the iron blow-pipe strikes some hard object. They slip on the smooth, worn wooden foot-benches that are often without railings. They drink too much water, causing cramps. They get blisters, which should, but usually aren’t, dealt with by puncturing the blister with a needle threaded with white sewing silk, to provide drainage before the blister bursts. And they get infectious diseases from the shared water cup used to cool down between blows, and more importantly, from the shared mouthpiece on the blow-pipe. This has been the subject of several studies. Studies of syphilis.

* * *

The first link between glass-blowers’ pipes and syphilis I can find is from 1862, when the British Medical Journal relayed a report from France. Apparently in “Giers and Vernasion” (which probably means Rive-de-Gier and Vernaison), transmitting diseases is virtually inevitable because the normal procedure is for three men to collaborate (taking turns in quick succession) on blowing a single piece of glass. Is this the normal method? Anyway, this leads to the men giving each other “the three syphilitic disease of the mouth”.

There’s a lot of gold here.

NLRB Rules in Favor of Northwestern Football Players

[ 160 ] March 26, 2014 |

This is a very big day for college athletes seeking the right to unionize:

The director of the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago district ruled today that Northwestern football players do qualify as employees, and as such are entitled to form a union. This is as big as it sounds, but there is a ways to go before amateurism as we know it is ended.

Led by QB Kain Colter, the College Athletes Players Association won a surprisingly quick decision from the NLRB regional office—they filed less than two months ago, and were vociferously opposed by Northwestern and the NCAA. The group seeks fully guaranteed scholarships, better medical protections for injured players, and a fund that will allow athletes to continue their educations after they stop playing.

In the money quote from the decision, the regional director wrote, “I find that players receiving scholarships from the Employer are ‘employees.’”

You can read the opinion here (PDF). Now, this is far from the end of the road. Northwestern is going to appeal and the NCAA is going to back them up all the way. After all, the free labor they take from athletes is at stake. So who knows what is going to happen. But a couple of quick key takeaways. First is the speed of the decision. Usually, these cases are a long, drawn-out process (often a problem of the NLRB, making it an increasingly ineffective agency for workers operating in real time with house payments and such). This case began only 2 months ago. This means that for the regional director, it was an obvious and easy decision. He declared these athletes workers because they received compensation, even if did not receive a paycheck Second, this continues to chip away at the NCAA. Every time players sue or argue for rights, the NCAA cartel weakens. Every time they win or even gain a partial victory, NCAA power declines even more.

And while I absolutely do not believe this is going to happen, were such a decision lead to the decline of college athletics and the replacement of it in major sports with actual minor league football and basketball, well, good! And I say this as a fan. There’s almost no good argument to be for the current scenario unless you are a booster and donor who doesn’t actually want to give money to the university.

Of course, support for paying the largely non-white college athletic workforce falls largely along race lines, with white people loving to watch unpaid (although compensated) black labor and black people being significantly less comfortable with that. I’m sure there’s no history behind this or anything.

Dave Jamieson with more.

…..Allen West is very sad.

….This is an excellent Q&A at ESPN that answers many questions about the impact of this case. Looks good for the players.

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