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Labor Notes

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A lot of interesting labor stories out there right now:

1. Sarah Jaffe has an excellent piece on unemployment at Alternet. Unlike all too many (almost all) reports on the unemployed, she actually focuses on people who are unemployed, gathering their stories with a particular interest in those organizing unemployed workers. Another Coxey’s Army is in order.

2. Also at Alternet, which has had some great labor reporting of late, Rania Khalek has a must-read article on corporations using prison labor. Given the demographics of the prison system, this is a real civil rights as well as a labor rights issue. And isn’t prison labor just the need stage in the free market capitalist race to the bottom? We’ve already moved all the jobs out of the U.S. But those Chinese/Vietnamese/Hondurans, they all want to get paid more money. What’s up with that? I can buy that ivory backscratcher if we start using prison labor! Disgusting. I mean, why even pay them at all? A tidbit from the piece:

Private companies have long understood that prison labor can be as profitable as sweatshop workers in third-world countries with the added benefit of staying closer to home. Take Escod Industries, which in the 1990s abandoned plans to open operations in Mexico and instead moved to South Carolina, because the wages of American prisoners undercut those of de-unionized Mexican sweatshop workers. The move was fueled by the state, which gave a $250,000 “equipment subsidy” to Escod along with industrial space at below-market rent. Other examples include Ohio’s Honda supplier, which pays its prison workers $2 an hour for the same work for which the UAW has fought for decades to be paid $20 to $30 an hour; Konica, which has hired prisoners to repair its copiers for less than 50 cents an hour; and Oregon, where private companies can “lease” prisoners at a bargain price of $3 a day.

What hope do we have to build a middle-class with the expansion of prison labor as the new workforce?

3. The big labor story of the last 24 hours was Hyatt Hotels turning heat lamps on strikers in Chicago conducting a 1 day walkout to protest the terrible conditions its housekeepers have to work under. It was only 83 at 7 am yesterday morning when the lights were used, on the way to 101 yesterday in Chicago. Hyatt is owned by the Pritzker family, which for those of you who follow these things, includes Penny Pritzker, close Obama adviser and his original choice for Secretary of Commerce before she took herself out of the running. With friends like these in the Democratic Party, who needs enemies?

Hyatt has since apologized. But to hell with their apology. A real apology would be sitting down with the union and agreeing to better conditions for the housekeepers.

4. Interesting bit at Democracy Now about the NLRB ordering a new election after SEIU conspired with Kaiser Permanente to beat out an upstart health care union, the National Union of Health Workers. Pretty bad deal by SEIU. I’m going to look into this more for a longer piece on the need for grassroots unions unaffiliated with the big organizations.

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