A recent Reddit thread discussed experiences people had while experiencing poverty, with a particular focus on those things that people are forced to buy or do that people who aren’t poor never have to think about, much less worry about. In thousands of comments, people recounted hundreds upon hundreds of stories of trying to find ways to maintain a minimal lifestyle in the face of extreme poverty.  One of the things that labor unions were created to do, and a key focus of the AFL-CIO’s Raising Wages campaign, was to prevent workers from having to suffer through these hardships and in states where union density is higher, wages for both union and nonunion workers are higher, meaning fewer people have to live through such experiences.

Here are 23 examples of things that people in the discussion described having to worry about that wealthier Americans never even have to think about. These are some of the key things that working families and labor unions are fighting to reduce.

1. Staying in an extended stay housing, a motel, or a hotel (and paying the higher rate) because you can’t qualify to get an apartment because you don’t have proof of income.

2. Digging through the trash to find uneaten food.

3. Scavenging the ground for change to buy a meal.

4. Searching everywhere for coupons to make necessities affordable.

5. Stealing products like toilet paper from public restrooms so you can actually have them at home.

6. Selling plasma in order to afford groceries or pay rent.

7. Buying clothes on layaway.

8. Driving on tires so bald they could cause an accident at any moment.

9. Pulling your own tooth rather than pay for a dental visit.

10. Doing laundry in the sink with dish soap.

11. Buying antibiotics and other medicines meant for animals because you couldn’t afford the pharmacy.

12. Learning when things like meat, fish and bread get marked down in price because they are going to spoil soon, so they are reduced for quicker sale.

13. Living in pain because you can’t afford prescriptions.

14. Paying hundreds of extra dollars to obtain furniture through rent-to-own stores.

15. Buying cheap plastic toys at the dollar store so your children have birthday presents.

16. Stretching peanut butter or other staples by diluting them.

17. Washing and re-using plastic spoons, forks, knives and storage bags.

18. Visiting a store or public building to get a few minutes of air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter.

19. Enduring the seemingly never-ending cycle of payday loans with exhorbitant interest rates that are hard to repay.

20. Dropping out of school to help your family pay the bills.

21. Using candles to keep electricity bills low.

22. Splitting two-ply toilet paper to make two rolls.

23. Buying lottery tickets to have some hope of a better future.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Today in labor history, January 25, 1937: In response to management’s firing of two of boiler room engineers for union activity, Transport Workers Union members – supported by their non-union coworkers – at the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation’s Kent Avenue power plant in Brooklyn lock themselves inside and announce that if the men are not reinstated, they will shut down the city’s subway lines. The two men were quickly reinstated unconditionally.

Ten former workers at McDonald’s store locations in South Boston and Clarkesville, Virginia are bringing a discrimination lawsuit against the company, after seventeen Black and Latino workers were fired in May 2013 after being explicitly told by supervisors that the franchises wanted white workers instead. Management said “there are too many Black people in the store,” that the store was “too dark,” and that they needed to “get the ghetto out of the store.” 

In documents related to the suit, the workers describe an entrenched culture of racism and sexual aggression from supervisors. Some salient points: 

- After a new franchise owner, Mike Simon, came on board in 2013 and began to implement a plan to hire more white employees, a supervisor responded to the plan by proclaiming “Now we can get rid of the n*****s and the Mexicans.” 

- One of the stores, staffed primarily by Black workers, was referred to as supervisors as “the ghetto store.” 

- Black employees were routinely referred to by management as “ratchet,” “ghetto,” and by racial slurs. Latino workers were referred to as “Dirty Mexicans” and by racial slurs. Women were called “bitches”. 

- One manager touched female employees on the legs and buttocks without permission, and offered them better working conditions in exchange for sexual favors. 

- One manager offered a gay employee a promotion to shift manager “if he could tone his gayness down.” 

Raise Up for 15, a union effort to fight for a wage of $15 for fast food workers in the South, is on the case, as is the local NAACP.

The Fight for 15 has implemented a hotline (855-729-2869) for fast-food workers to report workplace abuse and harassment. They will provide referrals, counseling or other assistance to workers who call. 

I’ll be keeping up with the case, and will let you know ways to support the workers when I find them. 

Taking hold of freedom with both hands

Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All by David Roediger (Verso, $26.95).

David Roediger, a history professor at Kansas University, is an expert on American labor history and the persistence of racism. His latest, Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All, is the second major historical work this year to address the agency exhibited by enslaved people as they struggled to free themselves.

“Self-emancipation”—also covered in David Williams’ I Freed Myself: African American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era—goes a long way toward de-bunking the myth that African Americans waited patiently in chains for white people to decide they should be free.

This offers us a very different view of what it meant to be black in America in the post-Civil War years; Roediger goes farther, to examine how other groups—women seeking suffrage, laborers seeking better working conditions—also worked for their own benefit during this period. 

It was an age of self-advocacy. Apparently, no one expected wealthy white men to hand them anything, which is a good thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was an easy road, and Roediger also analyzes the institutional barriers to attaining liberty in a capitalist society that takes advantage of racism and sexism to further the aims of the ultra-wealthy.

Manus Island right now

- 700 asylum seekers (outta 1035) are on a hunger strike.
- 14 have sewn their lips together.
- 2 swallowed razor blades.
- 4 drank detergent.
- 200 are getting medical treatment.
- 4 thrown into solitary confinement (beatings/tied up alleged last time)
- 2 compounds have been barricaded and staff can’t get in.
- There is not enough medical care to deal with this.
- If they die, they want to donate their organs to Aussies.
- It’s a full blown riot/resistance/protest.

If you honestly think it is:
a) suprising it’s come to this
b) they’re just ‘trouble makers’
c) all things considered, offshore detention is still the best option
your privilege is blinding you.

There are other (cheaper and humane) options. Any human being would do this if pushed this bad so don’t blame detainees. Labor and Libs built this and blame rests with them.


Reality Show Puts Fashion Bloggers To Work In A Sweatshop

Sweatshop Deadly Fashion is just about as ominous as it sounds. The premise includes a group of fashion bloggers — Frida, Ludvig, and Anniken — who are placed far outside their comfort zones, and challenged to live and work in a sweatshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a month. Right off the bat they’re exposed to some of the harsh realities that keep workers caught in a vicious cycle of poverty: low, low wages; insane working hours; and insufficient living conditions. That’s all within the first couple episodes.

As expected, some of the Sweatshop scenes are difficult to watch. This type of first-hand experience puts faces and names to the factory horrors we usually only read about, and gives us a look inside the homes and personal experiences we’re not typically privy to.

All the episodes are available online on Aftenposten with English subtitles. Watch the trailer above and click over for the full season.

Some good learnin’ right there. There are barely any factories in the US or developed countries, so there are generations of young people who cannot imagine doing manual labor along side their parents and neighbors.

I worked in two sweatshops when I was a teenager - Hasbro and Slater Dye Works, big factories located in Pawtucket Rhode Island. At Hasbro, 12 of us would stand on a long assembly line/conveyor belt and build thousands of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, G.I. Joes, baby toys, etc. The factory was loud, hot, and full of illegal immigrant women. Factory managers would inspect our lunch boxes and bags for stolen toys. Not fun, but I needed to work at the time. Slater Dye was also a large, dirty, brick factory in RI. I was a ‘wide-tube operator’ and inspected huge rolls of fabric. The rolls were about 15 feet wide, held thousands of square feet of printed fabric, and were moved around the factory by special forklifts. The rolls were hooked up to a machine that would unroll the roll over a wall where I could inspect for burns, holes, and misaligned screen prints. The fabric would be shipped to secondary factories (like Ralph Lauren) where the material was cut and sewed into curtains, sheets, clothes, and other items. Anyway, factories are intense.

Today in labor history, January 9, 1973: Workers making a minimum wage considerably lower than the poverty line at the Coronation Brick and Tile factory outside Durban, South Africa, begin what will be a successful strike. Workers in other sectors in the city and beyond followed suit, and by early February, 30,000 South African workers were on strike demanding increased wages and better working conditions.

A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.

Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.

Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.

1.  The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”

2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.

3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.

4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”

5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”

EPI has also provided nine charts that lay out the picture of U.S. wage stagnation very clearly.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW