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This Day in Labor History: February 2, 1848

[ 14 ] February 2, 2015 |

On February 2, 1848, the United States and Mexico signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war the U.S. launched against Mexico to steal land and extend slavery. Mexico was forced to cede the northern half of the nation to the United States. That would have enormous implications of the lives and the work cultures of the Spanish-speaking people who lived there. This post considers that issue with the farmers of northern New Mexico.

The Spanish (and then the Mexicans after independence in 1821) settled the far northern lands of New Spain/Mexico through creating land grants. Some of these were given to an individual, others to a group of families to start a village. It took a good long while to get most of these going because the northern edge of New Mexico was also the land of the Comanches, who in the 18th century were the stronger nation. Those settling on these land grants were taking a big risk with their lives, and warfare, capture, slavery, and death was common until after 1779, when the defeat of Cuerno Verde mostly moved the Comanche out of the Rockies and onto the Plains.

On these land grants, the Spanish settlers created their own work culture. Living in centralized small villages, the settlers engaged in a pastoral economy. They grazed sheep and goats, raised cows, sold timber, did a bit of mining, fished, and hunted. They build acequias to irrigate their crops. Some of the land was privately owned but the vast majority of these grants were ejidos, or common lands. They were somewhat connected to larger markets through Santa Fe, but this was largely a self-sufficient life. They were certainly not getting rich off this work. This was hard labor for very little money. Periodic droughts and high elevations made life pretty precarious. But it was their work culture and their land.

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo guaranteed the land grants. This was very important to the Mexican government. Article VIII stated:

Property of every kind, now belonging to Mexicans now established there shall be inviolably respected. The present owners, the heirs of these, and all Mexicans who may hereafter acquire said properties by contract, shall enjoy with respect to its guarantees equally ample as if the same belonged to citizens of the United States.

But of course once the treaty was signed, it was only the United States enforcing the agreement. And these lands were among the best in New Mexico Territory. Anglo lawyers, often working for wealthy land owners and eastern investors, began to discover ways to break the land grants. The grants had to be reviewed and confirmed by American courts through a surveying process and a then a patent filing. Of the around 1000 grants, only 48 were confirmed before 1891 and only 22 of those patented. American courts didn’t understand (and didn’t try to understand) the communal property of the grants and made little effort to do so. Every territorial appointee until 1897 was an Anglo; the land grant residents had no access to the a political system they didn’t understand, which was infused with white racism against them in any case. The Hispano farmers were poor and colonized. Legal proceedings were conducted in English and often without translators. Conditions were ripe for whites to rip them off and acquire the common lands.

Leading this charge was Thomas Catron, a wealthy lawyer who acquired (either in whole or in part) 34 New Mexico land grants and at one time owned three million acres of land, making him the largest private landowner in American history. Eighty percent of the land grants were lost to residents in the late nineteenth century. Catron and others would approach individual grantees and offer to buy their claims for a pittance; economically desperate and without knowledge of the American legal system, some began to sell for as a low as a quarter an acre. Soon entire grants were being purchased for almost nothing, often without the consent of all the people who had a stake in it. The speculators and lawyers would get farmers to sign a power of attorney agreement for the land in a language they could not understand and without being told what it meant–which was the loss of the right to use the common lands. Some lawyers even told people to sign a document they said was of no real importance, but was in fact selling their land. This land was then usually sold to mining or timber companies, used for huge grazing operations as railroads were built connecting New Mexico to east coast markets or sometimes to wealthy east coast barons for private hunting reserves.

The farmers were still there, but they lost most of the ability to survive even in the meager way their pastoral work and barter economy had allowed before. They were forced into greater dependency at the same time their land was being stripped. They tried appealing to American courts but the same white supremacist Supreme Court that had just issued Plessy routinely denied them their rights for common land. The Cañon de Chama Grant was reduced from 472,737 acres to 1,422 acres when the Court denied the grantees rights to the commons. Wage labor was the result, often for almost nothing working on the same lands they used to own. Others left to work in the fields of Colorado, picking sugar beets and other crops. The pastoral economy collapsed and so did the sustainable lives of the farmers. They became part of the rural proletariat of the American West.

The dispossession of Hispanos from their land and their work had long term implications. It just deepened the poverty of the people, forcing them into whatever wage labor they could find. Many ignored the government restrictions on the use of land and sometimes violent confrontations with forestry or grazing officials was not uncommon. During the 1960s, the desire to regain that lost land (if not necessarily the precise lost work culture) led to the Chicano movement in New Mexico being centered around the recapture of the land grants for the descendants of the owners. Many of the land grants became what are today the national forests of New Mexico, so this organizing was also against a government that had facilitated the theft of the land and now owned it outright. The 1965 raid of Reies Lopez Tijerina and the Alianza Federal de Mercedes on the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico briefly brought this issue to national attention, but it soon faded, as did the Alianza. Today, the impact of the land grant thefts on employment and culture remains strong. The former land grant communities have some of the highest heroin death rates in the country. Today, there are a few land grants still in New Mexico. Their owners are forbidden to sell their property.

For this post, I borrowed from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico and William DeBuys, Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range.

This is the 131st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

No, Company Towns Did Not Represent the Beneficence of Coal Companies to Their Workers

[ 59 ] February 1, 2015 |

Alex Tabarrok wrote a very strange article earlier this week. He decided a defense of the early twentieth century company town was necessary. Arguing that company towns and company stores were necessary extensions of capital investment in isolated places and that the isolation meant that the companies were doing workers a favor by not forcing them to tie themselves down to a place that would isolate them from a national labor market, Tabarrok ultimately wants to rehabilitate the company town as a piece of corporate beneficence that saved workers from the impact of monopoly power over their lives. Tabarrok claims our entire view of company towns and exploitation is backward.

Before going into the many problems here, let’s note where Tabarrok is closest to right. It is certainly true that most, although not all (Pullman for instance) company towns were in isolated places, especially the mountains of Appalachia, but also mining regions elsewhere, logging towns, etc. There wasn’t a lot of preexisting economic opportunity in these areas and building a town might make sense for a company in order to get out the resources more quickly than if relying on local labor or private concerns to build housing. That investment meant a quicker overall profit. And no, there certainly wasn’t going to be a variety of stores for workers to choose from that could create low costs through competition. These were usually small places that didn’t have enough people to support a lot of stores. And given that, it is certainly possible that a private store might have charged prices equally high or maybe even higher than a company store. Company towns were not monolithic. Some treated workers well, others poorly. People made community in these towns as they did everywhere. Ultimately, the cost and trouble of running these towns eventually convinced most companies to shed them by World War II, especially since most people had automobiles by this point and could drive to work and since labor law had undermined corporate control over workers in the previous decade so that the advantages of the towns had disappeared.

But that is far from the full story of company towns, as much as Tabarrok would like to make that story strictly quantitative. What Tabarrok doesn’t seem to understand (or perhaps he approves of this) is that a very important advantage for employers in company towns is that they increased their control over the workforce. That meant everything from implementing aesthetic preferences in housing to threatening to kicking workers out of housing during labor disputes. In a documentary on the company town of Valsetz, Oregon, one man remembered that the company store only sold one kind of beer because it was the owner’s favorite beer. Tabarrok doesn’t even mention company scrip in his defense of these towns. Whether the prices at these company stores were higher than other stores or not becomes irrelevant when you can’t buy at those stores because you are not paid in cash money. The entire purpose of scrip is to control workers’ spending, whether you charge unreasonable rates or not. Again, not every company town used scrip, but some did and that has to be discussed in any defense of company towns. And from having read internal industry debates on logging camps in the 1910s (essentially temporary company towns), I can tell you that at least in that industry, the majority of the employers openly wanted to make profit off the camp cookhouses, in part because they wanted to take back some of the wages they paid to workers and in part because they believed that without the profit motive there was no way to create an efficient cooking operation. These employers were not doing workers any favors through the company towns. They were doing themselves favors that perhaps sometimes also benefited workers.

And what about company housing? Notice how Tabarrok glides by the issue that companies could kick workers out of housing if they went on strike.

On the one hand, this did mean that during a lengthy strike the firm could evict the workers from their housing. On the other hand, would you want to buy a house in an isolated town dependent on a single industry?

First, most of these workers weren’t buying houses in the type of housing market that exists today or had the money to anyway, but let’s just leave that. You can’t just say “oh one the one hand sure the company could toss you on the street at their own whim while…” That’s a big deal! Yeah, you could be kicked out of your homes. Like at Ludlow, when Colorado Fuel & Iron tossed the miners out of their homes when they struck, forcing them onto a tent town just off the mountains during a Colorado winter (imagine the wind!) and then burning the tent town and killing a bunch of people. And if the Ludlow Massacre was not necessarily a common event, the eviction was common. If you didn’t live in company housing, at least you could try to do something to make ends meet if you lost your job or went on strike. Thus company housing provided companies an enormous amount of control over their workers’ lives because they could threaten them with eviction. Given the poverty of coal miners and the isolation of the miners, it’s not like most had good options to just go find another job. The same isolation that Tabarrok says made companies do the right thing by workers through these towns also vastly increased employer power over the workforce.

Tabarrok also compares these company towns to oil rigs today, writing

Oil rigs are similarly isolated today and once on board the workers have nowhere to go but the company restaurant, the company theater and the company gym but that hardly means that the workers are exploited.

Do we know that? What are the prices charged in these stores? How does it compare to workers’ wages? And in fact, workers are exploited on the oil rigs, which I guess serves as something close to a company town. That is an extraordinarily dangerous job and workers have few rights on the rigs. Guestworkers from India working on the rigs after Hurricane Katrina were openly exploited. The job pays fairly well for blue collar labor in the 21st century, but conditions are very dangerous. As the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, with noted Wobbly organizer and former Florida senator Bob Graham as co-chair, reported to President Obama, the conditions of work on these offshore oil rigs need a massive overhaul to prevent the deaths of these workers.

Finally, Tabarrok trivializes the popular memory of these towns as irrelevant and wrong, which exposes problems with his entire way of viewing the world. Tabarrok of course doesn’t much care about things like memory as he wants the quantitative data he believes answers all major questions. But for as much as he might dismiss “Sixteen Tons” with its classic line “I owe my soul to the company store,” the song became a hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford (written by Merle Travis and recorded on his groundbreaking 1947 album Folk Songs of the Hills), it is how the people who listened to country music in the mid-20th century, many of whom had personal memories of company towns or even still lived in one, remembered these towns. I argue that the lyrics of country music, even the bad country music of Nashville today, does in fact provide an honest window into the popular thought of the audience for this music, whether the people of the mountains in the 1930s, southern migrants living in Detroit in the 1950s, the white working class angry over Vietnam protests in 1970, or the suburban women who make up the core of the music’s fans in the present. You can’t just dismiss how popular culture talks about these issues. There is a reason that many workers hated these company towns and that there is so much Appalachian popular culture, including country music lyrics, that remembers this situation so unfavorably. That can’t be ignored or dismissed. Rather, it’s a sign that workers (who Tabarrok claims aren’t stupid but who he doesn’t show much respect for) hated the exploitation they faced in these towns and flocked to the United Mine Workers of America as soon as they could.

Book Review: Eric Thomas Chester, The Wobblies in Their Heyday: The Rise and Destruction of the Industrial Workers of the World during the World War I Era

[ 12 ] February 1, 2015 |

Eric Thomas Chester’s new book on the rise and fall of the Industrial Workers of the World before and during World War I provides several key new insights about this union that plays such a large role in the American radical imagination. In particular, Chester makes four key points I think deserve further delineation–that the IWW’s overly masculine rhetoric hurt them significantly, that the IWW vacillating on World War I was a terrible decision that did nothing to protect it from repression, that the IWW was on the verge of transforming the American working class at the point the war began, and that the response to IWW effectiveness is what led to its complete crushing by the combined forces of business, the states, and the federal government during and after the war. Three of these I agree with, one I find problematic.

The IWW started in 1905 and struggled to hold together for several years. The strikes in Lawrence in 1912 and Paterson in 1913 brought the organization to national attention, but the IWW could not gain a significant foothold in eastern states. In the West, however, the IWW had more success, organizing miners, farmworkers, and loggers. These industries had largely male workforces and between the masculine cultural the union developed and the ideological attraction of violent resistance to a lot of desperate men, the use of sabotage became an important principle for the IWW. Wobblies held that industrial sabotage was key to worker power and to punishing corporations for their actions. They talked about it in their publications all the time.

But the IWW rarely if ever actually used sabotage. There were probably isolated incidents—but I say probably because it’s almost impossible to prove, even though industries and government wanted to. The far greater problem was that the violent rhetoric opened the door for criticism and attack of the IWW writ large, which would come back to bite them during World War I.

IWW involvement in the Bisbee copper strike in 1917 plays a pivotal role in Chester’s story because when the Bisbee Deportation happened, it showed that a) business was ready for violent responses to the IWW when the government didn’t step in and when they were threatened by IWW organizing and b) that those businesses would use it an excuse to crush all organizing, including the AFL. This was not palatable to Wilson, who wanted the AFL as a wartime partner. In Butte, when Frank Little arrived from Bisbee, he found a left-leaning miners’ movement united but fractious. Little did not help soothe over those factions. Little’s militancy and his focus on class war prisoners, attempting to tie the Butte strike with the Bisbee Deportation and keep all workers out until the Bisbee workers were freed certainly did not make all factions in the diverse left of Butte comfortable and added to internal divisiveness. But Little was a powerful organizer and his presence frightened the copper magnates and local leaders, who responded by lynching Little in one of the most famous acts of labor violence in American history. Eventually, the Butte and Bisbee strikes both failed but more importantly to the story of the IWW, the violence used against the IWW by employers would demonstrate to the federal government both the threat of the IWW and the threat of employers taking violence into their own hands.

Although Wilson’s record on organized labor was stronger than any previous president, that certainly did not extend to the Wobblies, who Wilson, along with the AFL, held in contempt. Wilson had to walk a fine line here. He wanted the support of Samuel Gompers and other mainstream labor leaders, so despite the desire of many corporate leaders to use the war to crush all labor, Wilson decided to clearly demarcate between the respectable organized labor he valued as a partner and the traitorous organized labor that struck instead of working to defeat Germany. It was easy enough for Gompers to go along. Gompers always held that the AFL was the only true representative of American workers and saw all competitors as enemies to be crushed, even if those unions organized workers the AFL did not bother with. And since the Bisbee Deportation rounded up AFL workers too, Gompers wanted a clear separation between his membership and the IWW so this did not happen again. So with Gompers’ support, Wilson decided to crush the IWW. And crush it he did, with a multifaceted attack that included new laws, rigged courts, and the military. It was brutal and it was effective.

Probably there was nothing the IWW could have done to resist this onslaught. But Chester is right that the Wobblies waffling on the war did not help. The die was already cast with its long history of statements opposing war and supporting sabotage. His claim that it was the IWW’s effectiveness in Bisbee and Butte that caused such a harsh government crackdown is interesting and may be overstated, but the IWW proved enough of a threat in western industries to provoke that response. Had Haywood openly opposed the war instead of realizing, quite correctly, that opposition would be an excuse to repress the IWW, maybe it would have created a broader resistance that would have pushed back against repression. Probably not. But in any case, even without the absurd statements about the IWW being an arm of the Kaiser, the IWW had provided plenty of ammunition against itself with its statements over sabotage to convince enough of the public that it was a real threat that needed violent suppression.

In some ways, the greatest tragedy was the collapse of the IWW over the prison release issue in 1924. With the fanaticism of the war behind the nation, freeing the period’s political prisoners became a popular cause. While Warren Harding maintained a case by case basis for release, Calvin Coolidge wanted the issue behind him entirely. Chester sees this issue as the final government victory for having divided the IWW beyond repair. I am a bit less convinced here. I wonder what would have happened if Big Bill Haywood had remained in the country rather than fleeing to the Soviet Union to avoid prison time. Early in the Wobblies’ existence, there was a great deal of resistance to centralized leadership, but by 1913, Haywood was the clear leader of the union. His departure both demoralized fellow Wobblies and radicals and created a leadership vacuum at a time of crisis. No one could really fill this, especially with major leaders in prison.

My major critique of Chester’s book that is he occasionally projects a radical past he thinks was on the verge of coming into existence. He calls World War I “intensely unpopular in the western states” but that’s far from clear. Moreover, he claims that millions of Americans were looking for IWW leadership on the war and that the union failed them. I’m really unconvinced of that claim. Chester states that workers joined the union fully aware that it demanded revolutionary changes. That is no doubt sometimes true, but there were lots of reasons people joined the IWW, reasons that could be as non-revolutionary as that the IWW controlled some trains that people needed to ride to get a job. Its membership was in constant flux and was never very large. So I don’t buy his claims for a huge section of the American working class ready for forceful resistance against the state and that IWW leadership against the war might have sparked it. You never know, but it feels more like wish than reality.

Still, the major points of this book are spot on. The discussion of the violent rhetoric and its disadvantages is particularly useful in a world where the same kind of sabotage the IWW fantasized about is looked upon as an outright positive by certain, albeit small, sections of the left. Knowing more about the overwhelming state repression of the IWW also reminds us of how the state can be mobilized to crush resistance. Overall, this is a really good book that I strongly recommend.

Marshawn Lynch and Work to Rule

[ 176 ] January 28, 2015 |

Is Marshawn Lynch actually engaging in a labor action by his refusal to talk to the press? Sarah Jaffe makes a compelling case that Lynch’s continued defiance of the NFL and his refusal is actually a work-to-rule action:

Lynch may be alone in his actions at the moment, but it seems fairly clear that in following the letter of the NFL’s law — showing up to the press conference, and verbalizing an answer to a question — he’s demonstrating that he, not Roger Goodell or anyone else, controls the conditions of his labor.

Jaffe also connects Lynch’s actions to a topic she writes a lot about: emotional labor.

There is no doubt that Lynch gives the game everything he’s got and more — we should always remember when we watch football or any other physical, contact sport that we are watching people literally putting their safety and lives on the line for our entertainment. So why, on top of all that, does the NFL demand that its players show up at press conferences and answer the same inane questions with a ready smile?

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild defines “emotional labor” as the work we do to manage our emotions so as to produce a desired emotional state in others. We expect pro athletes to paste on a smile and explain why they won, how they lost, what it felt like to fumble the ball or throw that interception that put the other team ahead, minutes after they’ve been pounded within an inch of their lives.

The NFL doesn’t only demand emotional regulation at press conferences, though. It wants its players to behave a certain way on the field as well. Remember last season, when Lynch’s teammate Richard Sherman was fined for taunting San Francisco 49ers players and excoriated by the (mostly white) press for an emotional interview in which, among other things, he crowed to reporter Erin Andrews, “I’m the best corner in the game!”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

It’d be nice to see the NFL Players Association step in here and at least say something about the league’s constant harassment of Lynch. Except that the NFLPA is absolutely worthless, with far less power than any of the other professional sports unions. Thus this devastating article at Deadspin today calling for the NFL players to unionize and acting like the NFLPA doesn’t even exist. Because that’s not far off. This might be the single best put-down of a bad union I have ever read.

Could the Fast Food Industry Pay $15 an Hour?

[ 130 ] January 25, 2015 |

Of course it could pay $15 an hour. It just prefers its workers living in poverty. At least it provides helpful advice on how to live on the minimum wage. From the report:

This paper considers the extent to which U.S. fast-food businesses could adjust to an increase in the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 per hour to $15 an hour without having to resort to reducing their workforces. We consider this issue through a set of simple illustrative exercises, whereby the U.S. raises the federal minimum wage in two steps over four years, first to $10.50 within one year, then to $15 after three more years. We conclude that the fast-food industry could absorb the increase in its overall wage bill without resorting to cuts in their employment levels at any point over this four-year adjustment period. Rather, we find that the fast-food industry could fully absorb these wage bill increases through a combination of turnover reductions; trend increases in sales growth; and modest annual price increases over the four-year period. Working from the relevant existing literature, our results are based on a set of reasonable assumptions on fast-food turnover rates; the price elasticity of demand within the fast -food industry; and the underlying trend for sales growth in the industry. We also show that fast-food firms would not need to lower their average profit rate during this adjustment period. Nor would the fast-food firms need to reallocate funds generated by revenues away from any other area of their overall operations, such as marketing.

I also found this amazing:

This is true, despite the fact that, after correcting for inflation, today’s $7.25 federal minimum is about 33 percent lower than the $10.85 figure as of 1968—46 years ago. This long-term deterioration in the real value of the minimum wage is even more dramatic after we recognize that average labor productivity has risen by roughly 135 percent since 1968. This means that, if the federal minimum wage had risen in step with both inflation and average labor productivity since 1968, the federal minimum today would be $25.50 an hour.

This Day in Labor History: January 25, 1984

[ 8 ] January 25, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Paul Adler, lecturer at the Harvard History and Literature program. He received his PhD in history from Georgetown University in 2014. Paul’s dissertation, Planetary Citizens: U.S. NGOs and the Politics of International Development in the Late Twentieth Century examines efforts by U.S. groups like INFACT and the Sierra Club to influence international institutions like Nestle and the World Bank during the 1970s and 1980s. Previous to graduate school, Paul worked for several years on global justice issues at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

On January 25, 1984, William Thompson, a leader with the International Nestle Boycott Committee (INBC) met with Nestlé executive Carl Angst in New York City. There, the two men announced a surprise: after seven years of a global boycott of Nestlé, U.S. organizers were suspending this effort in light of new Nestlé initiatives intended to address activists’ critiques. Ending ten months later, the Nestlé boycott set important precedents for liberal and left-wing activists in challenging multinational corporate power. However, the memory of the campaign as a great success does not stand well against close scrutiny.

The controversy that prompted the campaign concerned the marketing practices employed by multinational companies selling breast milk substitutes throughout the Global South. Given living conditions often characterized by lack of access to clean water, the use of products such as infant formula heightened the possibility of newborns contracting any number of dire, even deadly diseases.

Multinational companies advertised breast milk substitutes as embodying a “modern” lifestyle. To spread this message, they used an array of aggressive marketing practices. Among other techniques, companies produced booklets on infant feeding that accentuated the difficulties of breastfeeding and hired nurses to serve as salespeople in newborn wards.

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Example of Nestlé advertising, Malaysia, 1978

During the 1960s and early 1970s public health experts labored to publicize the dangers associated with breast milk substitutes. They met with little success however, causing one doctor to muse in 1974 that some “group may have to take a more aggressive, Nader-like stance.” Fortunately for him, that same year, activists in the United Kingdom released a pamphlet on the crisis called The Baby Killer followed soon after by activists in Switzerland becoming embroiled in a lengthy lawsuit with Nestlé.

In the United States, the key figure who transformed the breast feeding controversy into an activist campaign was Leah Margulies. The daughter of a staffer at the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (her parents met through the Young People’s Socialist League), Margulies was, by the early 1970s, a veteran of the civil rights and radical feminist movements. In 1974, working as an organizer for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Margulies began devising ways to make the breast milk substitutes scandal into a campaign.

To Margulies, this controversy appeared a perfect issue to use in energizing activists to engage with questions of economic inequality and multinational corporate power. As she explained to Mother Jones in 1977, “it is very difficult to make graphic that the world is starving, not because of drought or floods, but because of economic dependency.” From 1974 to 1977, Margulies worked with church groups to spread awareness, launch several shareholder resolutions, and mount a lawsuit against Bristol-Myers. However, these efforts produced few tangible results. Looking to escalate her efforts, Margulies reached out to fellow anti-poverty activists with the intention of starting a boycott of Nestlé. The Swiss multinational offered a promising target: not only was it the world’s largest purveyor of breast milk substitutes, but it also sold household products (such as coffee) around which a consumer boycott could easily be organized.

Teaming with activists in Minneapolis, in early 1977 Margulies helped to found the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT). On July 4, 1977, INFACT commenced a nationwide boycott of Nestlé. Organizing through a broad array of organizations (from public health associations to churches to left-wing solidarity groups), INFACT rapidly assembled local boycotts in towns and cities across the country.

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A Nestlé Boycott Picket Line

One constituency the boycott’s organizers sought out was organized labor. Activists tried to enlist labor in part by portraying the boycott as an experiment in corporate campaigning. Writing to a number of union presidents in 1982, Americans for Democratic Action president Robert Drinan illuminated this point, describing the boycott as “an act of international solidarity with working people in the Third World” and arguing that “organized labor has long recognized the need to develop an international capability to deal with the problems presented by multinational corporations. The leaders of the infant formula campaign have shown that it is not only necessary, but possible.”

Even as they built the boycott coalition, the leaders at INFACT searched for other avenues to influence. After months of organizing focused on the U.S. Senate, on May 23, 1978 activists descended on Washington, D.C. to participate in a hearing chaired by Ted Kennedy. While activists effectively presented their case, the representative sent from Nestlé delivered a calamitous performance. He accused church groups of being part of a “world-wide church organization” conspiring to “undermin[e] the free enterprise system,” while also arguing that Nestlé bore no responsibility for ensuring that consumers safely used its products.

Excerpt from the Kennedy hearing

Feeling humiliated after the hearing, Nestlé and the other multinationals searched for a way to end the boycott. Negotiating among the activists and the companies, Kennedy helped to steer both sides towards finding a solution under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). In October 1979, a meeting cosponsored by the WHO and UNICEF in Geneva ended with the WHO agreeing to draft a global code of conduct for the marketing and promotion of breast milk substitutes. For the next year and a half, lobbyists from activist groups and multinationals each tried to influence the code’s language, while activists also intensified and internationalized the boycott.

In the end, companies (backed by the U.S. government) succeeded in ensuring that the code would take form as a voluntary “recommendation,” as opposed to a legally-binding regulation. However, the code’s strictures significantly constricted corporate advertising, causing the companies to condemn the code (while activists offered critical support). When the code was voted on at the WHO in May 1981, the only nation to oppose it was the United States, acting at the behest of the Reagan administration. Following the May 1981 vote at the WHO to create the code, activists and Nestlé spent the next two and a half years battling over the company’s implementation of the code, leading to the January suspension and then the October announcement by Nestlé that it would fully abide by the WHO code.

The Nestlé boycott was an early example of a coordinated, international effort targeting a multinational industry. During the early 1980s INFACT coordinated closely with boycott efforts in Western Europe, as well as in Australia. Even more significantly, NGO activists from the Global North and Global South came together to work under the auspices of a single organization, International Baby Food Action Network. The connections forged in this era continued through the 1990s anti-WTO fights and remain significant to the present. While the boycott did terminate with a seemingly monumental victory in October 1984, subsequent events have been more dispiriting. Four years after this triumph, activists relaunched the Nestlé boycott, accusing the company of not abiding by its commitments to the code. The boycott, while mostly dormant in the U.S., is active abroad to this day, in part reflecting the difficulty of monitoring the code (given the ease with which improper advertising can occur) and in part the vast power of multinationals like Nestlé.

This is the 130th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Haywood

[ 37 ] January 21, 2015 |

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Who wants a feel bad story about a hero of the American left?

As you may know, Big Bill Haywood jumped bail in 1921 to avoid a return to prison for violation of the Espionage Act. He fled to the Soviet Union, where he died a miserable, lonely drunk in 1928. It’s a sad story.

But sadder still was the cost of Haywood’s decision to leave. Not only did it break any unity the IWW still had after the World War I repression and show that the most famous radical of the era would not do what hundreds of his followers did and go to prison for their beliefs, but it had real effects on the people who had put up the money for his bail. Two people had split the cost. The first was a wealthy man by the name of William Bross Lloyd. The loss of his money didn’t matter all that much. But the second was the radical journalist Mary Marcy. She put up her house for his bail. When he jumped bail, she lost her house. She then killed herself in 1922.

Consumer Activism and Global Pressure

[ 8 ] January 21, 2015 |

…Sorry, I meant to write something about this instead of just have a link but was so excited last night about not watching the State of the Union address that I forgot…

The Harry Potter Alliance is the type of activism we could all do to improve conditions of work around the world. By creating consumer activism over production around a product that has a huge fan base, like with college students and apparel licensing agreements, it provides a entryway into fighting for change and forcing companies to listen to you. As I argue in Out of Sight, this is the type of thing we need far, far more of and it is a sign that people can make a difference. Ultimately, we need legal codes and regulatory enforcement to really ensure that goods are made in a dignified manner that does not exploit people, but it will take these sorts of social movements to make it happen.

Another Way the Airlines Hate Their Customers: Fire Unionized Employees and Replace Them with Contractors

[ 91 ] January 10, 2015 |

United ended its baggage handling contract at Denver International Airport with SkyWest, which has a unionized workforce, replacing it with a contractor that pays many workers the minimum wage. What happened next is predictable:

United Airlines’ baggage-handling issues at Denver International Airport have gotten so out of hand that airport CEO Kim Day has personally reached out to the airline to offer assistance.

“She asked if there was anything the airport can do,” airport spokesman Heath Montgomery said. “The offer has been extended. We are confident United is doing everything they can.”

United’s troubles with lost luggage, delayed flights and a chaotic baggage-claim area, with bags tossed everywhere, have gone on for weeks and are extending beyond the airline to color travelers’ perceptions of the airport as a whole.

Several passengers say they will try never to travel through Denver again, including tourist Jonathan Huckabay, whose luggage went missing when he connected through DIA on Saturday.

He was returning home to Edmonton, Alberta, from a vacation in Mexico when his flight was delayed for more than an hour because of issues getting luggage loaded onto the plane in Denver.

“I will definitely avoid going through Denver if I can help it,” he said. “I was looking forward to seeing the airport and perhaps visiting the city as I hadn’t passed through that hub before, but the experience has soured me on this particular city’s airport.”

Huckabay still did not have his bag Tuesday.

More here.

It’s hardly worth blaming the employees themselves, either. They are, almost to a person, new hires and woefully underpaid. United has recently made the mind-boggling decision to cut ties with its veteran airport staff (through the unionized company SkyWest) and instead hire the lowest bidding contractor they could find. SkyWest’s workers are paid an average of $12 to $24 an hour. Instead of paying employees those wages, United contracted a company ironically called, “Simplicity,” which advertises wages of just $8 an hour — the lowest legal wage a company can give in the city of Denver.

I’m sure that if people complain too much, United can always move to another city that will appreciate the company as the deity that it sees itself as being.

This Day in Labor History: January 5, 1914

[ 92 ] January 5, 2015 |

On January 5, 1914, Henry Ford announced his famous $5 a day wage to his workers. Ford is often lauded for his efforts here and he was surely forward-thinking in creating this salary. But this post will also challenge his reputation as a good employer, for Ford expected plenty in return from those employees, far more than any employee should have to accept.

Turnover was a massive problem for employers through the early 20th century. The horrors of industrialization combined with callousness of employers to lead to workers constantly seeking a job that was just a little bit less terrible than the last. The growth of assembly line work made this worse because it was so boring. Treating a worker like a machine, as Henry Ford did, deskilled and depressed workers who had once partially defined themselves through their physical labor. This labor was just as physical and exhausting, but required no thinking and provided no satisfaction. Thus the Ford Motor Company had the same turnover problems as other industries. In 1913, the turnover rate for the company was 370 percent. Ford decided he needed to do something about this turnover. So he began to think about what would become known as welfare capitalism. He thought that if he paid his workers a bit more and helped them take care of their basic needs, they would live with the fact that the work was so mindless.

So on January 5, 1914, he announced a reorganization of his company. Workers could be part of a profit-sharing system that would raise their salary to $5 a day. While this has been remembered as Ford wanting to pay his workers enough that they could buy the cars they made, that really wasn’t what this was about. Reducing labor turnover was the reason, which is fair enough. Ford also took power away from the foreman and centralized hiring decisions. Like many industrial worksites, foremen had almost complete authority over workers, including the power to hire and fire, as well as the setting of pay rates to some extent. Ford did not want these little dictators making these decisions and instead created a personnel department that the foreman had to check with before firing. If the personnel department disagreed, the worker would merely be transferred. The introduction of standardized wages (the number of wage rates were reduced from 69 to 8) also took power away from foremen.

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The Ford assembly line

Ford had a requirement for acquiring those wages. Workers had to live up to his moral standards. Ford romanticized rural life and what he saw as traditional values. He wanted to inculcate this in his workers and seeing himself as a father figure, he believed he had the right to interfere in their personal lives. Thus if they wanted to work, they had to subject themselves to inspections from his Sociological Department. The department inspected workers’ habits and lives, discharging those seen as unfit. It gave advice, expected to be followed, on money management and family relations. Ford’s foreign employees had to undergo Americanization programs if they wanted their wages. Fore required English on the shop floor in a society and industrial workforce that was very heavily dominated by immigrants. Ford, a staunch prohibitionist, banned his workers from drinking alcohol. The SD would visit the homes of employees to inspect their lives. They would do so without warning so they could see what the inside of your home really like and whether you had liquor in the house. To say the least, no Jews were hired. Some workers were upset about this intrusion, but it seems that most accepted it, even if they complained about the violation of their personal liberties, because they needed the money.

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House purchased by Ford worker after Sociological Department assistance

Not all workers could earn those wages. Only men over the age of 22 shown to be taking care of their families, single men who were seen as thrifty, and men younger than 22 who were the sole breadwinner for their family. Female workers could also qualify after 1916 after women’s movement leaders protested their exclusion. The Sociological Department would make the judgment as to which workers qualified. Ford hated quitters, thinking them slackers and undeserving. So he also worked to reduce turnover by making the process to get hired onerous, with full inspections from the SD each time a worker quit. What this really led to was a certain amount of bribery of Sociological Department inspectors. Eventually over 200 SD inspectors pried into every corner of workers’ lives to see if they fit Henry Ford’s personal standards of how they should live. If workers didn’t follow the line, their pay was reduced back to $2.34 and if they didn’t improve in six months, they were fired.

And Ford would work these employees to the bone. Agreeing to work at Ford not only meant agreeing to the moral standards. It meant a lifetime of hard drudgery that gave you little real pride in the work you did. Said one of Ford’s production managers, “Ford was one of the worse shops in town for driving the men. I have been an S.O.B. with everybody in town.” But with wages so bad in 1914, the impact of Ford’s announcement was overwhelming. A crowd of 15,000 people descended on Ford to ask for jobs. They were dispatched with fire hoses.

Ford-Headline

Workers themselves certainly took the $5 day as a good deal at the time. But Ford became increasingly ossified in his ideas of labor relations and refused to raise the pay. What was a good wage in 1914 became less so year by year. In the 1920s, the Sociological Department’s influence declined and conditions worsened in the factories. By 1927, Ford was driving his men with a bunch of ex-boxers and thugs led by Harry Bennett, who violently put down any protest. By the 1930s, workers were furious with Ford’s labor relations and the plants became centers of labor resistance to employer domination of their lives and home to some of the great battles of the 1930s struggle for unionization.

In other words, we can certainly say that Ford was forward-looking in the sense that he advanced the corporate control over the workforce by giving them a small amount in return for the control over their lives. And the money was real enough, at least for awhile. But to point to the $5 wage as a good thing without placing it in context is problematic and should be avoided by people on the left.

I used Sanford Jacoby’s Employing Bureaucracy: Managers, Unions, and the Transformation of Work in American Industry, 1900-1945, Joan Shaw Peterson’s American Automobile Workers, 1900-1933, and Greg Grandin’s Fordlandia, in the writing of this post.

This is the 129th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Book Review: Victoria Vantoch, The Jet Sex: Airline Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon

[ 42 ] January 4, 2015 |

Victoria Vanoch’s history of flight attendants and beauty is a highly readable and enjoyable history of one of the most unique sets of workers in the twentieth century United States. The Jet Sex follows how airline stewardesses became symbols of beauty, modernity, and Americanness in the mid-twentieth century, how those images became part of the Cold War ideological battlefield, and how women challenged the limitations of these standards, eventually transforming the industry.

In a nation where women had few well-paid or prestigious career options, the creation of the stewardess with the first commercial airlines in the 1930s provided opportunities. Soon this became a desirable profession that offered glamor and an opportunity to travel that was all too rare for Americans during these years. Women, including Vanoch’s own mother, greatly enjoyed the job. But the airlines quickly placed restrictions upon these employees that they hoped would ensure both a pliant labor force and the standard of beauty it was developing. Not surprisingly, this work became defined by women’s work as part of the airlines’ attempt to keep their planes union-free. Women were seen as more pliant and craft unions did not accept women, so giving these jobs to women would forestall unionization, or so the airlines hoped. Airlines also ensured frequent turnover by banning married stewardesses from the job. Defining the job as a step between school and marriage, this rule prevented long-term workers and created frequent turnover, both reinforcing the control over this labor force.

Early stewardesses had to be trained nurses but with the rise of international jet travel (which went far to reduce the air sickness and turbulence of the low-flying, non-pressurized cabin), beauty and glamor replaced first aid as the defining characteristic of the job. Part of this was airlines advertising itself to men as a space where men were men and women were women. Men could be served and women would quietly serve while looking great. So the airlines placed severe height and weight restrictions upon attendants, constantly evaluated them for their flaws, and trained them on serving men. In 1960, Pan Am gave stewardesses 27 hours of training on personal grooming and 20 on first aid. Vantoch points out that airlines streamlined the commodity of the woman’s body as much as they did the airplanes themselves. The vast majority of Pan Am hies were between 5’4″ and 5’7″. Weight was constantly monitored. Bosses made sure women were wearing girdles. The supervisor handbook for American Airlines stated, “The first fundamental is appearance. A stewardess must be attractive. We can sometimes pretend a person is attractive, if we admire them for some other reason. This should be avoided.” (112).

The airlines’ standard of beauty was meant to reinforce mainstream notions of beauty. As slim women became fashionable after World War II, the airlines began to desire this as well. Before World War II, 34 percent of Pan Am stewardesses had a BMI over 21. By 1958, that number was 3.4 percent. Slim, naturally colored hair (until Marilyn Monroe and others made this acceptable within mainstream America), and wholesome was the desired image. By the 1960s, this began to change as the increasingly open sexuality of the period forced the airlines to abandon the wholesome girl image and turn to the portraying stewardesses as sex kittens. It was during these years that the idea of the stewardess as a sexually promiscuous woman began to develop and Vantoch points to several pornographic films of the period that reinforced this. TWA even forced its stewardesses to wear paper uniforms that were easily torn.

As the Cold War developed, these standards of beauty took on additional importance. The Soviets defined the ideal woman as an economically productive member of society. This became a joke in a 50s America that defined the ideal woman as an attractive homemaker. Even growing up in the 80s, I remember commercials of Soviet women being portrayed as masculine. Stewardesses became a sign of the superiority of American gender roles, American beauty, and American consumerism. Vantoch got a bit of access to Russian archives, finding Soviet training manuals for its flight attendants. In the USSR, professional dress, efficient service and political appropriateness ruled (especially given the USSR’s travel restrictions), but as Aeroflot began flying internationally more often, American standards of beauty eventually began to transform those workers as well. Like for American airlines, Aeroflot stewardesses began to sell the experience of flying, as opposed to providing expert service.

Women soon challenged these standards of beauty, marriage, and race. African-American women were among the first, as the airlines’ kept the skies segregated. By the mid-1950s, black women were demanding equal access to the airlines. Like everything else in the civil rights movement, this would be a long, slow struggle. The airlines didn’t explicitly segregate. They just said that kinky hair (or hooked noses) meant women couldn’t work for them. Thus, no blacks or Jews. Lawsuits eventually forced the doors open in the 1960s, but even then, stewardesses had to stay in segregated hotels in southern cities, faced hostility from fellow workers, and still faced very long odds to being hired.

Even before feminism became a political force, white women were already challenging the standards of 50s gender norms because they were career oriented as well as being glamorous and feminine, which is one of Vantoch’s central points. When second-wave feminism rose in the 60s, stewardesses had a complex relationship with it. Because flight attendant organizations embraced rather than challenged the beauty of their members, there was a lot of discomfort with the more radical aspects of the feminist movement. On the other hand, Gloria Steinem, who received no small amount of criticism herself from some for her own conventional beauty, was someone many of these women could relate to. Despite the industry’s desire to keep the skies union-free, the rise of the first flight attendant unions after World War II eventually successfully challenged the beauty standards, as well conducted a long fight to end the marriage restriction. This was a good job and the evidence suggests less sexual harassment from pilots and airline management than you’d might think, with passengers being evicted from planes for bad behavior toward stewardesses. But without worker power on the job, they still faced all sorts of discrimination. The unions couldn’t really do much about that however until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, opened up gender discrimination to federal lawsuits, finally forcing the airlines to cave on any number of issues and creating the more gender, age, weight, and height diverse flight attendant labor force of today.

If I have to criticize anything, I guess I’d like to see the last 30 years receive a chapter of its own. Certainly the opening of the job to men, to older women, to women with a greater variety of heights and weights, etc., would have interesting insights on gender and beauty as well. It would also be interesting to know more about the Jewish side of the story. The hooked nose restriction is mentioned, but then dropped. When did Jews start becoming stewardesses? These are minor critiques however.

The Jet Sex is not only a fun and well-researched history, but is also excellent for the classroom. I would have no reservation in assigning it to courses in gender or labor history.

Can We Create an International Trade System that Protects Labor Standards?

[ 50 ] December 30, 2014 |

In yesterday’s Trans-Pacific Partnership thread, Brian asks:

I understand the issue with “shipping jobs overseas” and how major corporations get near slave labor when they do that. And obviously, there is extensive corruption of the ruling class in the exploited labor’s home countries.

But what I am wondering, what kind of policies (not protests) could the United States realistically implement to better the working conditions of the labor forces in other countries?

And hypothetically, if the working conditions were all up to a general standard considered humane, would free trade agreements still be considered bad? And if so, why?

These are good questions. Let me answer them with some specific examples from the American past and some ideas for the future.

The United States has attempted in the past, on relatively rare occasions, to create and enforce conditions on trade overseas. It can happen and it must happen.

In the 1910s, conditions for seaman were terrible around the globe. When the U.S. improved standards, it undercut its shippers’ ability to compete with its foreign competitors in an industry that was perhaps the first in the world to be truly global. As Leon Fink shows in Sweatshops at Sea, the response of the International Seaman’s Union and the Wilson Administration was to pass the Seamen’s Act of 1915. To quote from Out of Sight:

The ISU publicized the horrors of what happened on the ships, far out of sight from American consumers. It used the Triangle Fire to make its case: “No one will claim it is safe to crowd people into a theater or a shirtwaist factory and then to lock the doors.” Furuseth furiously lobbied President Woodrow Wilson to sign what became known as the LaFollette Seaman’s Act, which he did in 1915. The law banned corporal punishment on ships, gave seamen the right to break their contracts in exchange for half their wages earned to that point on a voyage, and most importantly, made the law applicable to any vessel sailing to an American port. As Fink states, this law created a “race to the top,” as the U.S. government used its power to force foreign nations to agree to American working standards if they wanted to trade in American ports. Conditions for seamen improved around the world as they had the option to walk away any time their ship landed in the trading behemoth that was the United States.

It didn’t work all that well because soon after the U.S. also banned most immigration, which meant that most of these workers couldn’t actually immigrate to the U.S. Moreover, the Harding and Coolidge administrations, not to mention the Department of Commerce, had no interest in actually enforcing this law. The Supreme Court ended up declaring some of the provisions unconstitutional in the 1950s.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 also banned goods made by slave labor, with the 1997 Treasury-Postal Appropriations Bill adding goods from forced labor or indentured child labor to this list. Similarity, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) was enacted in 1975. Today, 176 nations have signed the accord. There’s no question these laws are regularly violated. The Chinese used prison labor all the time to make goods for export to the U.S. Just having the laws on the books is far from enough for them to work and there’s not a lot of incentive for the U.S. government to enforce these laws against the Chinese. That’s because we don’t pressure the government to do so. But without the laws, there is no chance of them helping. Right now, we have tools at our disposal that can work if we choose to use them. In the case of CITES, where there is some will to enforce the law, there’s no question it has been a positive force to reduce illegal wildlife trafficking.

We can also borrow from the EU. Again, to quote Out of Sight:

In 2013, the European Union created a new logging code on sourcing timber from tropical nations. Throughout the tropics rainforests are declining in the face of cattle ranches, mining operations, and illegal logging. The EU code places hard penalties upon those trafficking in illegal timber. Timber suppliers must provide documentation of where and how the timber was harvested, keeping detailed paperwork for five years about the timber traders selling the wood. This forces timber companies to take responsibility for the actions of their suppliers. For us, it provides legal precedent for national and regional governance over corporate behavior in a contracting regime. This far outpaces any U.S. law on the timber trade and provides an excellent example of how government can force companies into compliance on standards of sourcing products. There is no reason the U.S. cannot do the same thing with apparel and electronics, as well as timber.

Perhaps the most useful and relevant historical example is not that old. In 1994, organized labor was angry at Bill Clinton for signing NAFTA. When the House initially rejected Clinton’s request to negotiate new trade deals in 1997, it forced him to bargain. One sop he threw labor was its proposal to include in a new trade deal with Cambodia a clause to incentivize the Cambodian government giving more rights to workers. The 1974 Multi-Fibre Agreement placed textile import quotas on the developing world in order to discourage a race to the bottom in the apparel industry. This Cambodian deal increased their quotas in exchange for more workers’ rights, including unionization. And it worked. Workers received $50 a month for a 48-hour week, received a dozen federal holidays, vacation days, sick leave, and maternity leave. This became the only free trade agreement with an enforceable labor provision. Overseen by the International Labour Organization, the deal included inspections and real incentives for apparel factory owners to comply. It wasn’t perfect of course, but it was the best agreement for workers yet made in a trade deal.

But at the end of 2004, both the Cambodian agreement and the Multi-Fibre Agreement expired. With the latter, the modern race to the bottom in apparel production began. And the Cambodian workers’ protections immediately collapsed. Once again from Out of Sight:

Cambodia now had to compete with the rest of the world without inspections or union contracts. 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. This story starkly demonstrates the differences between a global labor system with and without regulation.

There are more examples as well. In short, the U.S. government can do a lot in these trade deals and in the global economy to ensure basic rights are respected and enforced. But it does not. It rarely has incentive to do so. The elites of most all of the nations involved have little incentive to care about these issues. The U.S. wants good relations with the leaders of Bangladesh and Cambodia and Vietnam, which have little accountability on these issues with their own people. Bangladesh is largely run by the apparel contractors, who hold several seats in Parliament. So of course the Bangladeshi government isn’t going to do anything about the problems of their apparel factories except kill some union organizers. U.S. labor isn’t strong enough anymore to force the American government to enact the kind of international trade standards that would actually protect workers overseas and undermine some of the incentive for American companies to ship production abroad. Meanwhile, the American corporations who can openly buy politicians in a post-Citizens United world very much want the current system to continue, which is part of the reason for Obama’s push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But none of this means we shouldn’t or can’t make global production standards that give workers rights. We have a few useful historical precedents that should inspire us to know that we can do this. But for the most part, we need to envision what global production standards should be, how we would empower workers to be able to take the lead in enforcing them, what the inspection system would be, and what the enforcement mechanism would look like. These are not easy questions to answer. They are conversations we need to have. I think the U.S. should pass a set of basic standards around labor and environmental regulations and force companies to comply with them by giving workers the right to sue companies in American courts for their enforcement. I’d also like a pony. But if we don’t talk about the world we want to see, that world will never come to pass. I know this isn’t happening as a result of the 2016 elections, no matter who we vote in. But we must fight to make these issues central in the American political system, if for no other reason that the fleeing of American jobs overseas undermines the American working and middle classes.

And it’s important to note that the mere threat of enforcement can make a difference. Again from Out of Sight:

In 1992, Iowa Senator Tom Harkin introduced the Child Labor Deterrence Act that would have prohibited importing goods made with child labor to the U.S. that called for both civil and criminal penalties for violators. Indian carpet makers, reliant upon child labor, began moving toward an independent monitoring system working with German unions, although when it became clear that Harkin’s bill would not pass, the Indian carpet industry resisted meaningful monitoring and therefore the system was weakened and easily avoided by the carpet makers. Unfortunately, Congress has never passed the Child Labor Deterrence Act, but the case of the Indian carpet makers suggest suppliers and importers are watching American labor law and will react positively to mandates.

For the last question on the potential of supporting a trade regime that actually protected people and the environment, the answer is that it depends. Were we to see real, enforceable standards on these trade agreements that held corporations and their CEOs specifically accountable for the actions of the companies, we could then debate whether trade agreements were worth it. But it’s pretty clear that, first, fewer American jobs would go abroad if this was the case and, second, that those jobs that are moved abroad would have less reason to again move if workers organized or a government decided to protect its citizens. So the immoral aspect of the global economy would decline and the rate of jobs leaving our borders would too. That’s a win-win. Ultimately, what we need is not all the jobs in the United States and none in poor nations. We need workers to have safe jobs with living wages and the right to organize without worry that the factory will move somewhere else. We need rivers running clean and kids not unable to study because the chemicals from apparel factories in the air and water give them headaches. If this happened, my objections to so-called free trade agreements would probably disappear, but then they wouldn’t be anything like current free trade agreements.

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