Rough Waters: European Trade Unions In A Time Of Crises

by Paul Garver

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This book analyses the development of trade unions in eleven countries (Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the UK) since the early 2000s. The individual chapters focus on unions’ structural, organisational, institutional and discursive power resources. One feature in particular emerges from the turbulent European trade union landscape, namely the challenge of becoming politically more autonomous while long-standing institutional power resources are at increasing risk of being dismanteled or of losing their effectiveness. The book also includes a chapter on the changes and challenges of European trade union federations in times of crisis.

One of the co-editors of this anthology, Thorsten Schulten, occasionally collaborated with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF) when I worked for that global labor union in Europe.  He is a reliable scholar of the European labor movement. In the ten years since I retired and returned to the USA,  As Rough Waters elaborates in well-documented and exhaustive detail, European labor unions have not fared much better than U.S. unions during that decade.

Unless you are a graduate student in international labor, you probably will not want to read this book cover to cover.  But it is well worth dipping into if you are interested in specific national union organizations in Europe.  And the introductory and concluding chapters by the co-editors are judicious and useful.

And the price is right.  The European Trade Union Institute encourages free downloads of the research studies it commissions.   Go to https://www.etui.org/Publications2/Books/Rough-waters-European-trade-unions-in-a-time-of-crises

Exploitation of Workers Making Ivanka Trump Shoes in China

by Paul Garver

ivanka trump shoes

These Ivanka Trump shoes retail for about $80 in the USA.

Many of them are manufactured at giant Huajian factories in Dongguan and Jiangxi, China.  There hundreds of shoe workers are paid about $1 an hour for work days often extending to 15 hours, with one or two days off per month.  No overtime is paid.  Wage slips are routinely altered by management to indicate higher pay than actually received.  Wages are docked and fines imposed on any worker taking a leave day.

Huajian produces shoes for other USA brands as well, but the Ivanka Trump label stands out because her dad has attacked China for stealing American jobs.

The China Labor Watch, a highly respected NGO that monitors labor conditions in China and whose reports are widely used to investigate violations in global supply chains, routinely assigns undercover investigators to work in Chinese factories and report back.  For 17 years Chinese authorities did not intervene.  Now three young Chinese investigators (Su Heng, Li Zhao and Hua Haifeng) are being prosecuted by the Chinese authorities for working in the Huajian factory in Jiangxi and reporting on labor conditions there.   They are currently out on bail, but have suffered from abusive conditions in prison and been forbidden to leave the country.

China Labor Watch has asked the brand retailers, including Ivanka Trump, to respond to and attempt to correct, the abusive labor conditions at their Huajian supplier factories.  None has responded at all (This is rare in the 17 year experience of China Labor Watch).

Ivanka Trump could at least ask the Chinese authorities to give the three China Labor Watch investigators a fair trial.

Keith Bradsher covered this story in an excellent article for the New York Times Business section on 11th July.  For further developments, consult the informative and reliable website of China Labor Watch at http://www.chinalaborwatch.org

 

 

 

A New Farm Worker Union is Born

LuchamosIndigenous Oaxacan farm workers win themselves a union in the Pacific Northwest.

David Bacon

Bob’s Burgers and Brew, a hamburger joint at the Cook Road freeway exit on Interstate 5, about two hours north of Seattle, doesn’t look like a place where Pacific Northwest farm workers can change their lives, much less make some history. But on June 16, a half-dozen men in work clothes pulled tables together in Bob’s outdoor seating area. Danny Weeden, general manager of Sakuma Brothers Farms, then joined them.

After exchanging polite greetings, Weeden opened four folders and handed around copies of a labor contract that had taken 16 sessions of negotiations to hammer out. As the signature pages were passed down the tables, each person signed. Weeden collected his copy and drove off; the workers remained long enough to cheer and take pictures with their fists in the air. Then they too left.

It was a quiet end to four years of strikes and boycotts, in which these workers had organized the first new farm-worker union in the United States in a quarter-century—Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ).

The union itself will not be like most others. At the ratification meeting held the previous night, many of the people packed into the hall of Mt. Vernon’s Unitarian Church spoke with each other in Mixteco. Members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia come originally from towns in Oaxaca and southern Mexico where people speak indigenous languages that were centuries old when the Spanish colonized the Americas.

“We are part of a movement of indigenous people,” says Felimon Pineda, FUJ vice president. An immigrant from Jicaral Cocoyan de las Flores in Oaxaca, he says organizing the union is part of a fight against the discrimination indigenous people face in both Mexico and the United States: “Sometimes people see us as being very low. They think we have no rights. They’re wrong. The right to be human is the same.” Continue reading

ICE Helps Unscrupulous Employer Shaft Injured Worker

by Paul Garver

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Rosa Benitez with her 2 year old son missing her partner and his father Jose Flores

/After working three decades as a union organizer in the USA and assisting unions to organize in other countries, I thought that nothing ruthless and callous employers in collusion with corrupt governments could shock me anymore.

I was wrong.   This story makes my stomach churn and my blood boil.   It appeared on WBUR, the PBS news outlet in Boston, and shared with me by the Metrowest Worker Center in Framingham, MA.   Thanks to WBUR for its extensive and ongoing news coverage on issues relating to immigration, I quote its report in full here:

“Thirty-seven-year-old Jose Flores and his longtime partner, Rosa Benitez, have been living in Massachusetts for almost seven years. The Honduran nationals both entered the United States by illegally crossing the Southern border.

Benitez, 40 and with tired eyes, says she and Flores had to leave Honduras because of the violence.

‘I Came Here To Fight For My Family’

“Like all of the immigrants arriving from other countries,” she said in Spanish, “I came here to fight for my family. That’s why I’m here. Honduras is terrorized by gangs. I can’t live there. My dad was killed by the gangs. They threatened him and told him to pay a fee, but he didn’t pay it.”

The couple has five children together, three of whom are U.S.-born citizens. The oldest is 17 and the youngest is 2 years old. Benitez says since Flores was arrested by federal immigration agents last week, all of the children are scared and asking when their dad is coming home.

The family has had no income for two months. Flores, the sole provider, hasn’t been able to work since the end of March when he fell off a ladder at a job site, breaking his femur bone in his leg and undergoing several subsequent surgeries. After consulting with attorneys, and even though he’s living here illegally, Flores sought compensation from the Boston-based construction company he was working for.

Stacie Sobosik is a workers’ compensation attorney who’s advising Flores, and she says he’s within his rights. “Under case law in Massachusetts, undocumented workers are eligible for the same benefits as any other worker injured in the state,” she said.

Sobosik says she works with plenty of clients who are in the country without documentation and often they’re hesitant to report workplace accidents. The fear is that doing so will result in retaliation from employers in the form of a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“And we’ve always been able to tell clients,” Sobosik said, “ICE has better things to do, bigger fish to fry, than to come after an injured worker because their boss has reported them.”

But that’s exactly what Sobosik believes happened to Flores.

Fears Bosses Could Retaliate Against Some Immigrant Workers

Sobosik says she could not have expected what would take place when Flores’ boss offered some cash to help the family and arranged a meeting.

“The employer told this worker where to be, at exactly what time, and immigration was waiting,” Sobosik explained.

Lawyers for Flores say it’s still unclear whether the employer — who, it turns out, had no workers’ comp coverage on the day of Flores’ accident — arranged the arrest that day.

The company, Tara Construction, has declined to comment.

“… Now we have this added fear that, could an employer … use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

Christina Corbaci, an immigration lawyer

Because Flores has orders to be deported back to Honduras, ICE agents had the authority to take him into custody. But the concern for Flores’ immigration attorney, Christina Corbaci, is that this could signal another new enforcement approach by ICE under President Trump.

“Before, I wouldn’t have really had a concern telling someone, ‘Yes, you should go ahead to report something like this and assert your rights,’ ” Corbaci said. “But now we have this added fear that, could an employer in this kind of case just, you know, use someone’s immigration situation against them?”

In an emailed statement, an ICE spokesman said he wouldn’t comment on specific work methods for security reasons. He did say, however, that ICE receives investigative leads and tips from a variety of sources, and through many means and methods.

Flores remains in custody at the Suffolk County House of Corrections. As for the workers’ comp claim, Sobosik, the attorney, says the case is active.

“He’s clearly going to be disabled for quite awhile into the future, his doctors have said at least six months,” she said. “If he stays in the States that long, he should still be eligible, but what happens if he’s deported? That’s a big question mark. We don’t know.”

And his partner doesn’t know what to expect either.

Sitting at the kitchen table with her 2-year-old son playing in the background, Benitez says despite the hardships, she has no regrets about coming to the U.S.

That’s because, she said in Spanish, “This is a country of opportunity … where the voice of one person can be heard.”

The Metrowest Worker Center is an advocate for Jose Fores and for many hundreds of undocumented workers in the Boston area who are routinely cheated of their wages, subjected to dangerous working conditions, and threatened by the criminally negligent employers and sub-contractors who hire them.  With limited resources, this Worker Center, like unions and worker centers around the globe, do what they humanly can. It is raising funds to support Jose Flores, Rosa Benitez and their children at

http://www.mwc-casa.org/home-and-news/injured-worker-detained-by-ice-in-retaliation

UPDATE   5/23 from Diego Low of the Metrowest Worker Center:

The injured worker detained by ICE at the instigation of his employer, Tara Construction, is back with his family.    He was released around noon today under a temporary stay of deportation while investigations proceed regarding his employers retaliation for reporting the injury and pursuing workers comp.  We will continue to pursue sanctions against the employer and to stabilize the status of the worker and his family.  The worker is likely to need at least six months to heal from the workplace injury.   We hope to get the crowd funding site updated so as to raise funds for the substantial legal fees the family is facing.

North American IUF Affiliates rally at Mondelez shareholder meeting

IUF Global Mondelez Union Network

mondelez

On May 17, members from North American IUF affiliates BCTGM and UFCW rallied in advance of the Mondelez shareholder meeting in Lincolnshire, Illinois to show their commitment to defending quality employment at the company they have helped to build. Over 18 labour organizations were present to express their support; Letters of solidarity from IUF affiliates were also read out to rally participants.

A smaller group of IUF affiliates who attended the shareholder meeting spoke out against the destructive direction in which management has taken the company, urging a more long-term and sustainable strategy for the future. This group supported the shareholder resolution submitted by the national trade union center AFL-CIO calling for measures to mitigate the impact of any future plant closures, an experience all too familiar to Mondelez workers in the US and around the world.

Mondelez recently moved over 500 production jobs from the Nabisco factory in Chicago to Salinas,Mexico.
See more photos of the event here.

Immigration Blame Game

We at Talking Union received the post below by Buzz Malone titled Immigration Blame Game.  It was originally posted on his blog. He is a union activist in Iowa.

We encourage dialogue among union activists on critical issues.  We do not fear open discussion of difficult issues.

A response to Immigration Blame Game was posted on Working In These Times by labor organizer, writer, and photographer David Bacon. Bacon corrects some important points in labor history and argues against the position urged by Buzz Malone.

Malone’s piece.

Immigration Blame Game, by Buzz Malone.

“All of us assign blame in our own best interest — blame is relative. So one of the most important functions in society is controlling the blame pattern. Why is it that [the working class] assign blame downward to some welfare chiselers down at the bottom, “Tryin’ to get a little somethin’ for nothin'” — and they never assign blame upward to a handful of big-time chiselers who get a whole lot of something for doing nothing at all?”       -Utah Phillips-

 

Illegal immigration. It’s apparently one of the key issues that moved the working class electorate to vote for Trump, so I feel compelled to offer my two cents on the subject based on my own thoughts and experiences.

It’s not a terribly well kept secret to anyone who has ever travelled across Iowa and passed the heavy noxious air of a hog confinement along the interstate, that Iowa has more hogs than people. It’s always been that way. The Midwest I call home has long been a bastion of all things agricultural; of corn and beans and hogs and cattle, and all of the industries that spawn from them. Continue reading

Labor, Socialists and Immigration

Evans_Signage_HumanoIlegal.pngDr. Duane E. Campbell, April 19, 2017

In spite of the economic boon for the wealthy, working people in the U.S. have yet to receive a significant improvement in their standard of living for over 30 years. At the same time, democratic forces are once again confronted with anti immigrant campaigns- this time fostered and promoted by a President of the U.S.

As socialists, we stand with and among the US working class in opposition to the rule of the transnational corporations and their exploitation of the economy and their despoliation of our lives, our society and our environment.

We are currently experiencing a major restructuring of the global economy directed by the transnational corporations to produce profits for their corporate owners. The impoverishment of the vast majority of people in pursuit of profits for a small minority has pushed millions to migrant in search of food, jobs, and security. Global capitalism produces global migration. Along with wars NAFTA and other “Free Trade” deals each produce a new waves of migration.

Socialists support the rights of working people to organize, to form unions, and to protect their rights and to advance their interests. Unions have always been an important part of how socialists seek to make our economic justice principles come alive. Working people- gathered together and exploited in the capitalist workplace-are well positioned to fight their common exploitation. Continue reading