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Tag: "labor"

The U.S. is Truly a Greater Nation than France

[ 124 ] April 10, 2014 |

We American proles are busily doing whatever our bosses ask us to do whenever they want it, even if we are at home, because we support the noblest thing in the world–creating wealth for the 1%. What are those savage French doing? I’ll bet their workers think they have the right to a life outside of work!

Just in case you weren’t jealous enough of the French already, what with their effortless style, lovely accents and collective will to calorie control, they have now just made it illegal to work after 6pm.

Well, sort of. Après noticing that the ability of bosses to invade their employees’ home lives via smartphone at any heure of the day or night was enabling real work hours to extend further and further beyond the 35-hour week the country famously introduced in 1999, workers’ unions have been fighting back. Now employers’ federations and unions have signed a new, legally binding labour agreement that will require staff to switch off their phones after 6pm.

Under the deal, which affects a million employees in the technology and consultancy sectors (including the French arms of Google, Facebook, Deloitte and PwC), employees will also have to resist the temptation to look at work-related material on their computers or smartphones – or any other kind of malevolent intrusion into the time they have been nationally mandated to spend on whatever the French call la dolce vita. And companies must ensure that their employees come under no pressure to do so. Thus the spirit of the law – and of France – as well as the letter shall be observed.

My god! If that kind of craziness happened here, bosses might actually have to hire enough employees to get work done by 6:00. All those takers would have jobs. That’s simply not acceptable. Can’t we just automate more work to free us from the oppression of employment and food? Certainly that’d be better than the hellscape of France.

Wal-Mart Organics

[ 52 ] April 10, 2014 |

Wal-Mart is introducing a line of organic food at low prices:

Walmart plans to announce on Thursday that it is putting its muscle behind Wild Oats organic products, offering the label at prices that will undercut brand-name organic competitors by at least 25 percent.

The move by Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and grocer, is likely to send shock waves through the organic market, in which an increasing number of food companies and retailers are seeking a toehold.

“We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries,” said Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.’s grocery division. The Wild Oats organic products will be priced the same as similar nonorganic brand-name goods.

So good, right? Well, yes and no. One of the legitimate criticisms of organic food is that it is too pricey, making it something for the nation’s elite. This would help reduce that. But what is the real cost of cheaper organics? Who makes up the difference? It certainly isn’t Wal-Mart. Rather, we can expect Wal-Mart to do what it does on apparel and foreign-made consumer products–put the screws on producers to lower production costs. That means labor, especially in a food production system without the same kind of chemical inputs as conventional food. How will the workers producing this food be treated? The article is silent on this, as are most similar articles that focus on this issue from the perspective of consumers and to a lesser extent from the corporate view. The voices and views of labor are completely erased from the conversation. And if we know one thing from Wal-Mart, it’s that people at work will suffer to produce this food.

As Mark Bittman has argued, food costs need to be higher and wages need to go up in order to allow the poor to eat it. This of course means in part taking the world back from the retail corporate domination of the Wal-Marts, Targets, and Gaps. A tall order, but just offering cheaper organic food under an exploitative labor system is not much of an answer to our ailing food system.

$10.10

[ 71 ] April 8, 2014 |

Glad to see Maryland following Connecticut in creating a $10.10 minimum wage. That’s still too low but it’s a nice jump. It also continues to build a real red state-blue state divide in wages and I wonder how big that gap will become.

Equal Pay Day

[ 46 ] April 8, 2014 |

Today is Equal Pay Day. Pay equality has still never been achieved in this country. Some facts, thanks to the National Women’s Law Center:

On average, women are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.For women of color, the gap is even wider: African-American women are paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. The wage gap has only budged by 18 cents since it was signed into law in 1963, when women were typically paid 59 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts.

The wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among non-union workers.


Women represent nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers
.22% percent of minimum wage workers are women of color.More than three-quarters of women earning the minimum wage are 20 or older, and do not have a spouse’s income to rely on.70% of restaurant servers (the largest group of tipped minimum wage worker) are women – and their poverty rate is nearly 3 times higher than the rate for the workforce as a whole.

Women represent 76% of the low-wage workforce, defined as the ten largest low-paying occupations. Women of color are 37% of the low-wage workforce.

4.8 million working mothers would get a raise if the minimum wage was increased. Increasing the minimum wage would boost annual earnings by $5,700 – enough to pull a family of three out of poverty.

Wellness Programs as Tools of the Boss

[ 82 ] April 8, 2014 |

Not at all surprising that employee wellness program shifts responsibility for unhealthy workplaces off of the employer and onto the employee:

“Many of the individual behaviors you are focusing on in your health and wellness programs [such as] stop smoking, eat better, exercise more, are in fact the consequences of the environments in which they [employees] are working,” Pfeffer says. “If you work people to death, of course they are going to smoke more, drink more and eat worse.”

Pfeffer outlined his concept of “social sustainability,” where companies invest more in making their human capital sustainable.

“Work organizations ought to be measuring the health of their workforce,” he said in his keynote speech. “Just as many places today measure carbon, renewables and environmental impacts, we ought to measure human sustainability just as much as we measure environmental sustainability.”

When determining well-being and longevity of workforces, Pfeffer said that most company wellness programs – which conventionally promote individual health and wellness, biometric screenings and smoking and drinking cessation programs – do fall short of really instituting change. Indicators such as work-family conflict, lack of job control, perceived fairness at work, as well as layoffs and economic insecurity, all play a huge role in workforce health, he added.

“The higher you are [in the organizational structure of your company] the more control you have; the lower you are, [the] more flows down hill,” Pfeffer said, while noting that low control over one’s work increases a person’s likelihood of having a cardiovascular event.

That this Stanford researcher told this to a conference of employers means I’m surprised he wasn’t howled down on the spot. If companies can charge workers higher premiums if they don’t live up to their standards of health, even more money stolen from workers!

Capital Mobility and the Death of Steady Work

[ 103 ] April 7, 2014 |

Once again, capital mobility is the biggest threat to modern labor.* Companies already outsourced much work from the United States, contributing to the decline of unions, the split between labor and environmentalists, the end of steady work, the corporate domination over American politics, Gilded Age levels of income inequality, and the rapid decline of working-class voices in American debates.

Well, it’s no better for Indian workers since companies will dump those workers to in order to fight ever cheaper labor, making the conditions necessary for a permanent middle class nigh well impossible.

NEW DELHI: Struggling to diversify the delivery footprint to take advantage of low-cost centres, India’s BPO industry is currently losing 70 per cent of all incremental voice and call centre business to competitors like Philippines and countries in Eastern Europe, says a report.

“It is estimated that in the ongoing decade India might lose $ 30 billion in terms of foreign exchange earnings to Philippines, which has become the top destination for Indian investors,” Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said. Thus there is a need to reduce costs and make operations leaner across the BPO industry,” he added.

BPO companies could reduce the total operating costs by 20-30 per cent by moving to a low-cost city within India, with a cost differential of around 10-15 per cent for non-voice processes and upwards of 20 per cent for voice processes, the report pointed out.

Several Indian firms have set up substantial operations in Philippines which has a large pool of well-educated, English-speaking, talented and employable graduates. Almost 30 per cent graduates in Philippines are employable unlike 10 per cent in India where the training consumes considerable amount of time, according to the report.

David Atkins on the importance of this.

The labor arbitrage game continues worldwide as corporations shift from country to country looking for highly trained workers to sell their labor for next to nothing on the global marketplace. These corporations are like parasites, putting jobs in one country for a decade or two, only to destabilize them and move the jobs elsewhere the moment something cheaper and better trained comes along.

Combined with increased capital mobility, labor arbitrage is giving corporations the upper hand in the battle with governments worldwide. The fate of the world’s economy–and, given the realities of climate change perhaps even the human race itself–will depend largely on whether the governments of the world can cooperate to neutralize the parasitic, plutocratic threat of global corporations.

I agree entirely. Fighting capital mobility needs to be at the very highest level of the progressive agenda. It is not today.

*One can make an argument for automation here as well.

UPS Labor Intimidation

[ 46 ] April 3, 2014 |

In February, 250 UPS workers staged a 90-minute strike in response to the firing of a union activist.

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UPS has now fired all of them, despite their Teamsters membership. Because this is in Queens, the City Council is powerful enough to push back against UPS. We’ll see if it makes a difference. At the very least, it sends a message to the non-New York part of the nation to not challenge management.

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

[ 16 ] 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”

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