Worker's Rights

Social democracy has an inherently limited shelf life because you cannot stably have workers with the right to politically associate, full employment, and continued capitalist relations of production; without the disciplining of the state or of the market they’ll bid up wages until profits are gone, at which point capitalists can (in principle) assent to their obsolescence or (as in all historical cases) seize a horn of the dilemma. It’s sociopathic neoliberalism or psychopathic national/state/authoritarian/whatever capitalism from here on out until one physically annihilates us.

abc13.com
Transgender woman says she was fired hour after winning KFC job in Virginia

A Richmond woman, Georgia Carter, was offered a job at a local KFC, only to have the offer immediately rescinded when the hiring manager saw from her driver’s license (which still lists her as male) that she is transgender. She was told that she couldn’t have the job because the management “didn’t know which bathroom she could use.” The story broke yesterday, February 27th 2016.

In Virginia, there aren’t currently any laws which protect transgender people from discrimination on the job.

I’ll keep an eye on the story as it develops, for ways to support Ms. Carter and to demonstrate to Virginia’s hiring managers that this is unacceptable. If you hear of something, send it on in.

A Message To Meat Eaters:

Why White People Should Stop Using Migrant Workers As An Argument Against Vegetarianism (Masterpost)

Introduction: During my time here on tumblr, I’ve often seen well-meaning Social Justice Warriors point to the (very real and unconscionable) suffering of PoC in the plant-based portion of the agricultural industry as a way to counter vegetarians’ and vegans’ claims of living “cruelty-free.”  The argument is that veg(etari)ans don’t actually have cruelty-free lifestyles, and are just being hypocritical.  The more radical anti-veggies even claim that veg(etari)ans ‘care more about animals than people’, or that by incorporating more plants in their diet (to supplement the lack of meat) ve(getari)ans are exacerbating the suffering of migrant farm workers, and perpetuating racism to a degree that is not present in omnivore lifestyles.

This is dishonest and inaccurate for many reasons. 1) Non-vegetarians also consume products resulting from this exploited labor force, so it’s logically inconsistent to imply that non-vegetarians are in some way morally superior to vegetarians.  2) Not only do non-vegetarians still eat fruits and vegetables, but the food that is given to the animals raised for livestock is also cultivated by agricultural workers, and clearly the amount of food needed to sustain an animal over its lifetime is greater than the amount of food garnered by the meat upon its death.  (The actual ratios can be found here for anyone interested.)  3) Most importantly, and the key lesson of this post, is that the animal production industry - known colloquially as “factory farming” - upon which Americans get the majority of their meat, is also largely dependent on exploited PoC laboring in inhumane conditions. Thus, there is no logical reason at all why you should use the abuse of Latinx laborers specifically as a counterargument to vegans/vegetarians.

Obviously raising awareness of the suffering that low-income PoC in the agricultural industry face IS fundamentally important.  It’s also true that it’s nigh-impossible to live a truly “cruelty-free” lifestyle under a capitalist system.  However, it is worth mentioning that it is incredibly offensive for white people to ignorantly misuse the suffering of agricultural workers of color in order to perpetuate their own political agenda against vegetarians.  Consciously or not, it is both disingenuous and exploitative, and ultimately does nothing to actually alleviate the suffering of these workers.  Furthermore, it completely erases the equally-legitimate suffering of workers of color in the meat industry, who are just as deserving of our advocacy.  *(Here are two posts I’m aware of where you can get PoC perspectives on this, since I’m whiter than Olaf tbh. If you have any other resources, please feel free to message me and I’ll add them in.)

So without further ado, here’s some knowledge.

The American Meat Industry - The Human Cost

  • 72% of farmworkers were born outside of the US, 68% in Mexico. The average education level of these laborers is the 8th grade. (x) If you’re thinking these stats are only for plant-based agricultural workers, you’re mistaken: “The Public Health Service Act provides the definition of migratory and seasonal agricultural workers for health center grantees, and includes those working in aquaculture and animal production. (x) (For that matter, any time you see something about “farmworkers” or “agricultural workers”, it includes the meat industry.  Agriculture includes animal production, as well as food cultivated from plants.) If you’re still skeptical, this 2014 survey from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics also confirms that over half of the people working in “animal slaughtering and processing” are black or Latinx.  (Additional details on demographics can also be found below.)
  • Just like you might expect from their treatment in the horticulture (plant) industry, these poor souls are desperate for work, so often have little choice but to accept mistreatment - especially because slaughterhouse workers are at-will employees (meaning they can be fired at any time, with no job security or protection against wrongful termination).  As a result, very few workplace hazards are reported to supervisors for fear they will lose their jobs or be replaced by somebody else willing to do the grueling and dangerous work. (x) Many workers have even been threatened with deportation. (x)  One study found that the large numbers of undocumented workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America are almost half as likely to report an injury or job-related illness as their white counterparts.  Factory farms depend on these types of employees because they are thankful for the work - and, as a result, are unlikely to unionize, will endure horrible working conditions, tolerate long hours (sometimes 10-hour days or more), and be satisfied with very little pay. (x) and (x) They also aren’t necessarily forewarned of these conditions ahead of time, since most of them speak little or no English. (x)
  • Animal production is a dangerous job: among slaughterhouse workers who have been in the business for five years, 50% have experienced injury. (x)  The risks of workers in the meat industry could range from contracting diseases from handling the animal carcasses, to severe injuries from using the line equipment. During an average workday, employees inhale anything from ammonia to hydrogen sulfide, plus a number of other airborne bacteria. The air quality is so bad in these farms that nearly 70 percent of pig farm workers experience some sort of respiratory issue. (x) There are also long-term injuries to the employees’ hands, arms, shoulders and backs due to the physical and repetitive nature of the work. The health risks can even be deadly. (x) Remember that the overwhelming majority of these folks don’t have any form of health insurance, either.

  • Again, working conditions are terrible. Here are just some of the occupational hazards for those who work in aquaculture specifically (aquaculture = seafood and fishing): extreme temperatures, bacterial pathogens, heavy lifting, repetitive motions, chemical exposures, hazardous machinery, and all-terrain vehicles. Workers in the U.S. aquaculture industry are at an elevated risk of work-related fatalities. The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry sector has the highest rate of work-related fatalities in the U.S. (x)  

  • Here are still more disturbing facts for the morbidly-inclined: The greatest risks for fatalities in aquaculture are inherently painful and violent deaths - namely, drowning, electrocution, head injuries, & gas poisonings. :| Non-fatal injuries and illnesses include work-related musculoskeletal disorders, slips, trips, & falls, hypothermia, heat stress, sprains & strains, respiratory illnesses, skin allergies, bites & cuts, poisonings & envenomation, and work-related stress. Exposure can also lead to the development of allergies. Prolonged exposure to both finfish and shellfish without personal protective equipment may result in itching, eczema, urticaria, and irritation. Workers in processing facilities with poor ventilation have an elevated risk of developing work-related asthma. (x)

  • As with the meat industry in general, immigrant workers often constitute a significant proportion of the worker population on poultry farms and in poultry slaughter and processing facilities - a field classified as predominantly “3D” jobs (dirty, demeaning, and dangerous) . (x)  About half of poultry processing workers are Latino, and a quarter do not possess legal documents to work in the US. (x)

  • These workers face similar challenges - extreme temperatures, stress injuries (one poultry plant in SC had a 42% rate of carpel tunnel syndrome in its employees), exposure to dangerous chemicals, and exposure to infectious bacteria. (x)  Poultry workers at each link of the production chain earn low wages and work long shifts, often 12-14 hours. Chicken catchers earn an average of $92 per day for a 12 hour shift, and even poultry growers live in poverty: 71% of poultry growers have annual incomes below the federal poverty limit. Chicken catchers are particularly vulnerable to wage and hour violations, as they are generally paid for the completion of catching a set number of birds, and will not be paid for overtime. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is often not provided by employers, despite frequent worker exposure to chemicals, blood, feces, mold, endotoxins, and sharp cutting tools. (x)

  • The dairy industry is also horrendous.  There are accounts of Latinx workers being denied overtime, and forced to sign contracts promising to pay a fine of $50/day for any sick days they take. (x) Such conditions are the norm for hundreds of workers in California’s dairy industry. Exploitative dairies pay workers barely enough to eat; force them to work 12 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week; deny workers meal breaks; and withhold overtime pay. Some dairies abuse workers both physically and verbally; many expose employees to safety hazards on the job, and house employees in rundown buildings onsite which have no windows or locking doors, and are infested by vermin.  (A word of caution, if you choose to read the article that talks about this, it contains descriptions of severe abuse, injury, and death to exploited PoC and is quite disturbing, though important.)  Here are some more facts too.

  • It’s just a fucking horrible job - gross and violent and unhygienic. (x) Here is a short (graphic and disgusting) quote from an article from The Guardian describing the work involved in meat packing: “Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads would go sliding along the belt. Workers sliced off the ears, clipped the snouts, chiseled the cheek meat. They scooped out the eyes, carved out the tongues, and scraped the palate meat from the roofs of mouths.” (x)  It’s brutal and dangerous, and multiple reports exist of workers being permanently injured by distressed animals (e.g., cows).  It isn’t just hazardous, it’s fundamentally a deeply unpleasant line of work.

So in short, please stop using the abuse of seasonal farm workers as an excuse to rag on vegetarians.  It’s completely ignorant and you’re throwing thousands of vulnerable PoC under the bus.  By all means, speak out against the mistreatment of the PoC working in the fields.  It’s a desperately important issue.  But if you’re only doing it when you have the opportunity to chastise vegetarians you don’t like, you’re using their suffering as a prop, and doing absolutely nothing to end that abuse.

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Fast food workers struggling for a wage of $15 an hour and the right to unionize participated in a nonviolent civil disobedience action last week. 

This is Emily Nguyen (ponytail) and Kalia Vang (visor). Emily is 20 years-old and a sophomore at Sacramento City College. She’s worked in fast food for a year and a half and makes California minimum wage ($9 an hour). She says, “I’m just working to breathe, to stay alive. I’m not really living life. We won’t stop till we meet our destination, till our wages go up.“

 Watch the emotional video of their arrest here, and be sure to support them on Facebook here!

-JS

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Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations
December 26, 2014

There’s red on the ceiling and red on the floor, red dripping from the window sills and red globules splattered across the walls. It looks like the artist Anish Kapoor has been let loose with his wax cannon again. But this, in fact, is what the making of Christmas looks like; this is the very heart of the real Santa’s workshop – thousands of miles from the North Pole, in the Chinese city of Yiwu.

Our yuletide myth-making might like to imagine that Christmas is made by rosy-cheeked elves hammering away in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Arctic Circle. But it’s not. The likelihood is that most of those baubles, tinsel and flashing LED lights you’ve draped liberally around your house came from Yiwu, 300km south of Shanghai – where there’s not a (real) pine tree nor (natural) snowflake in sight.

Christened “China’s Christmas village”, Yiwu is home to 600 factories that collectively churn out over 60% of all the world’s Christmas decorations and accessories, from glowing fibre-optic trees to felt Santa hats. The “elves” that staff these factories are mainly migrant labourers, working 12 hours a day for a maximum of £200 to £300 a month – and it turns out they’re not entirely sure what Christmas is.

“Maybe it’s like [Chinese] New Year for foreigners,” says 19-year-old Wei, a worker who came to Yiwu from rural Guizhou province this year, speaking to Chinese news agency Sina. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day.

In the process, the two of them end up dusted from head to toe in fine crimson powder. His dad wears a Santa hat (not for the festive spirit, he says, but to stop his hair from turning red) and they both get through at least 10 face masks a day, trying not to breathe in the dust. It’s a tiring job and they probably won’t do it again next year: once they’ve earned enough money for Wei to get married, they plan on returning home to Guizhou and hopefully never seeing a vat of red powder again.

Packaged up in plastic bags, their gleaming red snowflakes hang alongside a wealth of other festive paraphernalia across town in the Yiwu International Trade Market, aka China Commodity City, a 4m sq m wonder-world of plastic tat. It is a pound shop paradise, a sprawling trade show of everything in the world that you don’t need and yet may, at some irrational moment, feel compelled to buy. There are whole streets in the labyrinthine complex devoted to artificial flowers and inflatable toys, then come umbrellas and anoraks, plastic buckets and clocks. It is a heaving multistorey monument to global consumption, as if the contents of all the world’s landfill sites had been dug-up, re-formed and meticulously catalogued back into 62,000 booths.

The complex was declared by the UN to be the “largest small commodity wholesale market in the world” and the scale of the operation necessitates a kind of urban plan, with this festival of commerce organised into five different districts. District Two is where Christmas can be found.

There are corridors lined with nothing but tinsel, streets throbbing with competing LED light shows, stockings of every size, plastic Christmas trees in blue and yellow and fluorescent pink, plastic pine cones in gold and silver. Some of it seems lost in translation: there are sheep in Santa hats and tartan-embroidered reindeer, and of course lots of that inexplicable Chinese staple, Father Christmas playing the saxophone.

It might look like a wondrous bounty, but the market’s glory days seem to have passed: it’s now losing out to internet giants like Alibaba and Made In China. On Alibaba alone, you can order 1.4m different Christmas decorations to be delivered to your door at the touch of a button. Yiwu market, by comparison, stocks a mere 400,000 products.

Aiming at the lower end of the market, Yiwu’s sales thrived during the recession, as the world shopped for cut-price festive fun, but international sales are down this year. Still, according to Cai Qingliang, vice chairman of the Yiwu Christmas Products Industry Association, domestic appetite is on the rise, as China embraces the annual festival of Mammon. Santa Claus, says the Economist, is now better known to most Chinese people than Jesus.

The beaming sales reps of Yiwu market couldn’t sound happier with their life sentence of eternal Christmastime. According to Cheng Yaping, co-founder of the Boyang Craft Factory, who runs a stall decked out like a miniature winter wonderland: “Sitting here every day, being able to look at all these beautiful decorations, is really great for your mood.”

It’s somehow unlikely that those on the other end of the production line, consigned to dipping snowflakes in red-swamped workshops for us to pick up at the checkout for 99p, feel quite the same way.

Source

FIFA, the international soccer organization, has long been seen as corrupt—and now U.S. and Swiss authorities are doing something about it. Nine FIFA officials were indicted Wednesday on charges of corruption in a $150 million bribery scandal, and more charges are likely coming. Part of the scandal includes the controversial decision to let Qatar host the World Cup in 2022. Construction of stadiums in Qatar has led to more than 1,000 worker deaths because of harsh labor conditions. At the current rate, at least 62 workers will have died for every World Cup game played.

WikiLeaks: Obama Administration Pressured Haiti’s President To Lower Minimum Wage

A Wikileaks post published on The Nation shows that the Obama Administration fought to keep Haitian wages at 31 cents an hour.

Contractors for Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked in close concert with the US Embassy when they aggressively moved to block a minimum wage increase for Haitian assembly zone workers, the lowest-paid in the hemisphere, according to secret State Department cables.

It started when Haiti passed a law two years ago raising its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour. According to an embassy cable:

This infuriated American corporations like Hanes and Levi Strauss that pay Haitians slave wages to sew their clothes. They said they would only fork over a seven-cent-an-hour increase, and they got the State Department involved. The U.S. ambassador put pressure on Haiti’s president, who duly carved out a $3 a day minimum wage for textile companies (the U.S. minimum wage, which itself is very low, works out to $58 a day).

Haiti has about 25,000 garment workers. If you paid each of them $2 a day more, it would cost their employers $50,000 per working day, or about $12.5 million a year … As of last year Hanes had 3,200 Haitians making t-shirts for it. Paying each of them two bucks a day more would cost it about $1.6 million a year. Hanesbrands Incorporated made $211 million on $4.3 billion in sales last year.

Thanks to U.S. intervention, the minimum was raised only to 31 cents.

The revelation of US support for low wages in Haiti’s assembly zones was in a trove of 1,918 cables made available to the Haitian weekly newspaper Haïti Liberté by the transparency group WikiLeaks. As part of a collaboration with Haïti Liberté, The Nation is publishing English-language articles based on those cables.

California farm workers fired for leaving fields during wildfire
May 8, 2013

More than a dozen farm workers in Southern California were out of a job after walking out of the fields last week, forced indoors because of heavy smoke from a massive wildfire burning nearby.

“Oh, yeah, the smoke was very bad. That’s no doubt about that,” said Lauro Barrajas, of the United Farm Workers.

As the blaze, dubbed the Springs Fire, continued to grow in Camarillo May 2, farm workers 11 miles south in Oxnard said they started to feel the effects of the smoke in the strawberry fields.

The ashes were falling on top of us, one of them explained, adding “it was hard to breathe.”

Air quality in the region was at dangerously poor levels and 15 workers at Crisalida Farms decided they could not handle it any longer. They left, even though their foreman warned them they would not have a job when they returned.

When they went back to the fields May 3, the farm fired them.

Barrajas, who is a representative of the UFW, said the workers contacted him for help, even though they were not members of the union.

Union representatives met with the farm’s upper management and applied a union rule.

“No worker shall work under conditions where they feel his life or health is in danger,” Barrajas said.

In a statement to Telemundo, the farm representative said the workers left without permission while orders still needed to be filled. The company offered to pay them for the hours they’d worked.

Later, the company settled with the union and offered to rehire all 15 workers. But only one worker returned.

The others took jobs on other farms.

One worker said while it hurts to lose work, one’s health is more important.

Source
Photo

vimeo

The city of Kanpur lies on the banks of the Ganges River in northern India. It has become one of the most important cities in India as its leather industry has grown.

First established in the mid-19th century, Kanpur is now the country’s biggest producer of leather products. Its leather is exported across the world, with 95 percent of its output destined for Western markets including those in the US, UK and Germany.

The success comes at great environmental and social cost. Pollution from the tanneries is destroying the ecology of the local Ganges River and scarring residents in the form of life-threatening illnesses.

The city is now notorious for having some of the country’s worst water pollution problems yet the tannery industry continues to discharge waste water laced with toxic chemicals, such as chromium, freely into local waterways.

This water is channeled onto local farmland, poisoning the soil, entering the food chain and accumulating in local ecosystems. At greatest risk are the people who work in the tanneries and farmers who work daily with the toxic and highly acidic water.

Local residents suffer an array of health troubles, a result of the bioaccumulation of dangerous toxins over decades. Health problems include cancers, mental illness, child development issues and skin diseases.

View more of Pulitzer Center grantee Sean Gallagher’s work through his project: “Toxic Development: The Cost of Pollution in India

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A steady rain falls on velvet green terraces, releasing a powerful scent of newly harvested tea. A ripple of voices tumbles down the hillside as a man barks orders.

The tea pickers, all women, many in bare feet, expertly navigate the leech-infested slopes. Balancing hampers on their backs loaded with freshly plucked tea leaves, they descend for their morning tea break.

It could be a scene out of the 19th century, when the estates of the southern Indian state of Kerala were first cultivated on the mist-shrouded highlands of Munnar. Today, the manicured tea terraces sprawl across the landscape.

The verdant bushes grow year round, spilling down the hills to meet the curving roads. The beauty of these gardens belies the hardships of workers, who produce nearly 50 million pounds of tea a year here at the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company.

For all the timelessness of the place, there’s a very modern twist — the tea pickers have defied the male hierarchy of trade unions who represent tea workers and stood up for their rights.

Indeed, life on tea estates reflects the economic and social challenges facing women across India.

Female Tea Workers In One Indian State Fight For Their Rights

Photos: Julie McCarthy/NPR

thinkprogress.org
The Drivers Behind Amazon’s New One-Hour Delivery Service Say They’re Getting Screwed
Amazon Prime Now will bring your stuff to your door within two hours, but the person who delivers it has little hope of making a decent living.

Amazon’s one-hour delivery option launched in the Bay Area this week, but the workers behind the scenes of the “Prime Now” service say they’re paying a steep price to make the super-fast turnaround a reality.

Prime Now drivers are suing Amazon over pay that amounts to less than the California minimum wage. Drivers in the Los Angeles market make $11 an hour, but buy their own gas, insurance, and auto maintenance service. Drivers who cover 120 miles in a day without being reimbursed at the standard per-mile rate “make $88 in pay for eight hours with $69 in expenses, and are left with $19,” attorney Beth Ross, who is representing the Prime Now drivers, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Happy Labor Day! Lets celebrate this holiday by thinking and talking about all of the important work done in the labor movement and standing in solidarity with those still fighting for these basic human rights!

Image Source

cartoonbrew.com
On This Day 75 Years Ago, Disney Animation Changed Forever

“On May 29, 1941, 334 employees of the Disney animation studio walked out on strike (303 employees remained on the inside). The events that led up to the strike are too numerous to recount here, but suffice to say, tensions had been building at the studio since the runaway success of the studio’s first film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, and employees of the studio had a litany of grievances from low wages and salary cuts to arbitrary layoffs, arcane bonus distribution systems, and oppressively long hours (including mandatory work on Saturdays).

The strikers vowed to stay on the picket lines until Walt Disney recognized their union. With neither side willing to give in, the event lasted into the fall, turning uglier and lasting longer than either side had ever imagined. In the end, the workers won, and neither the Disney company nor the animation industry would ever be the same again.

The union is not a panacea for all of the animation industry’s labor ills. It is also not the strongest union in Hollywood, not by a long shot. But to this day, it remains the best option for artists who want to earn pensions and medical insurance, and ensure that they have basic workers’ rights. Union shops in Los Angeles understand that they can’t take advantage of their employees, which is why some of them like Titmouse try to skirt the system by launching satellite studios in other parts of the United States where they can pay employees less than a living wage.

The current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull, is staunchly anti-union, and has fought tooth-and-nail to keep the company he co-founded, Pixar, a union-free shop. As a result, even though Pixar is now owned by Disney, and even though Pixar has been the most financially successful animation studio in America for the last twenty years, the average starting wage for animators at the studio remains below unionized feature animation workers.

Seventy-five years after the start of the Disney strike, as we honor the sacrifices of the brave women and men who improved workplace conditions for themselves and tens of thousands of artists who followed them, we must recognize that there is still plenty of work to do and that improving the industry’s welfare is a shared responsibility passed from one generation to the next. As for Disney, let’s just say the strike worked out pretty well for them, too: the company today is worth $163 billion, making it the most valuable entertainment conglomerate currently in the world.”