Labor Movement’s May Day Promise

LOS ANGELES, CA - 1MAY06 -  Copyright David Bacon

LOS ANGELES, CA – 1MAY06 –
Copyright David Bacon

Erica Smiley May 1, 2016
The American Prospect

Some cast the labor movement as dying or even dead, but even amid attacks on collective bargaining workers are finding innovative ways to organize.

General view of the great crowds of organized and unorganized workers who took part in the May Day demonstration in Union Square, New York, May 1, 1929. , AP,

On May 1, 1886, hundreds of thousands of railroad, mine, and factory workers in the United States put their livelihoods on the line and participated in a national strike to demand an eight-hour workday. They were attacked by strikebreakers and police, but their uprising led to the creation of a holiday to honor workers—May Day—now known as International Workers Memorial Day in many countries around the world. Continue reading

University of Colorado Should Give Nike a Swift Kick

by Dave Anderson

Buffs Nike.jpg

USAS Activists at UC Boulder

A university should be a critic and conscience of society, according
to an old-fashioned view. There are lofty goals on campus plaques and
universities should certainly provide a unique space for dissident
views.

Nevertheless, if you scratch the surface, you realize that
universities are increasingly knowledge factories subordinate to
corporate America.

Progressive student activists challenge universities to live up to
their ideals. United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is a
nationwide, grassroots group organizing solidarity with workers who
face grievous conditions locally and abroad.

They have focused their activism on the reckless business practices of
university-branded sports apparel brands. As students attending
colleges and universities with multimillion-dollar apparel programs,
USAS has conducted campaigns to force apparel brands like Nike to
respect workers rights. University of Colorado has a huge contract
with Nike.

On April 5, the CU Boulder chapter of USAS hosted a talk by Noi
Supalai, former union president and Nike factory worker from Thailand.
She described her struggles while working for a sub-contracting
company in Thailand called Eagle Speed, which produced clothing for
brands such as Nike, Northface, Columbia and Puma.

Accompanied by a volunteer translator, Supalai explained that after
the 2008 world economic meltdown, these brands began to order less
clothing from Eagle Speed.

Supalai said that, “it was at that point that Nike took advantage of
the situation and made a deal with the factory trying to order in
higher quantity, and they pressured for greatest quality, and we had
to produce it within a shorter time frame and in lower costs.”

Supalai said that Nike threatened to terminate Eagle Speed’s contract
if they didn’t agree to the new conditions. The 2,000 Eagle Speed
workers were unable to keep up with the high demand. As a result, Nike
placed a fine on the factory and refused to pay for any of the
clothing produced.

The workday was elongated from 8 a.m. to midnight or 1 a.m. Management
placed devices on their bodies to track their working pace to ensure
consistency. The workers didn’t get paid for two months and couldn’t
even go home.

In desperation, the workers went on strike. When Supalai and 24 of her
fellow co-workers attempted to meet with Eagle Speed management, they
were directed to a room where they were immediately locked up.

She said Eagle Speed’s response when questioned about the detention
was, “You are too radical, stirring up workers.”

The Eagle Speed workers contacted the Thai government’s Department of
Labor Protection who refused to help them. The workers directly
contacted Nike and got the run-around.

Finally, they reached out to the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), an
independent labor rights monitoring organization.

Within one week, the WRC was able to reach an arrangement with Eagle
Speed that successfully allowed former workers to go back to work with
a promise that they wouldn’t be discriminated against and that those
who wished to resign would be granted full compensation.

The WRC attempts to combat sweatshops around the globe and protect the
rights of workers who make apparel and other products. It was founded
in 2000 by university administrators, labor rights experts and student
activists. The group’s primary focus is the labor practices of
factories that make university-related apparel.

The WRC conducts independent, in-depth investigations; issues public
reports on factories producing for major brands; and aids workers at
these factories in their efforts to end labor abuses and defend their
workplace rights.

Nearly 200 schools are WRC affiliates. CU is one of them. For many
years, WRC and Nike have had a reasonably cooperative relationship.
However, the situation changed recently. Late last year, workers at a
Nike supplier’s factory in Vietnam held a pair of strikes over working
conditions. The WRC wanted to inspect the factory but Nike stopped
them.

WRC director Scott Nova was “surprised and concerned” by this change.
He said, “What it boils down to is Nike prefers not to be accountable
to an independent investigative body. They want to police the working
conditions themselves. The reason there are mandatory standards is
it’s not prudent to allow companies to police themselves.”

Nike has a lengthy history dealing with labor watchdogs and student
activists. In the 1990s, the company was embarrassed over a number of
sweatshop scandals. Since then, Nike has polished its pubic image and
has changed its behavior.

The USAS is leading a national campaign to force Nike to go back to
allowing WRC to inspect factories producing Nike shoes, clothes and
athletic equipment. The company is violating codes of conduct in
contracts with many schools.

Recently, hundreds of college faculty members around the country
signed onto a letter criticizing Nike for not assisting the WRC in
investigating the situation at the Vietnamese factory.

The president of Rutgers University, Robert Barchi, said that if Nike
didn’t help the WRC access the Vietnamese factory, the company would
be taking “a step backward” on its labor rights record. “Rutgers feels
that it is essential that all companies producing Rutgers-branded
products not only adhere to all applicable labor codes of conduct but
also be perceived as maintaining the highest standards of labor
rights,” Barchi wrote.

Parker Haile, an undergraduate in economics and chemical engineering,
says the CU Boulder chapter of USAS is asking the CU administration to
be as assertive as Rutgers. The student activists need our help. Check
out their Facebook page: http://tinyurl.com/hbywglr.

This opinion piece originally appeared in the April 21 edition of Boulder Weekly.

IUF and Danone Sign Global Agreement to Promote Formal Employment

IUF Press Release

Geneva, March 15, 2016
The IUF and the French-based food products transnational Danone today signed a ground-breaking Agreement on Sustainable Employment and Access to Rights built around a joint commitment to promote “permanent, direct employment as an essential foundation for a sustainable business anchored in respect for human rights.”

With this Agreement, Danone and the IUF establish a framework to bring about continuous progress in limiting or reducing precarious forms of employment through a process of monitoring and negotiation.

The Agreement affirms the essential contribution of permanent direct employment to successful business performance and a positive social footprint in Danone workplaces and beyond, grounded in respect for human rights. It details the specific ways in which “fixed-term contracts and outsourced employment relationships may have the effect of depriving workers of the protections and the rights they are due”, and aims to ensure that employment on fixed-term contracts is limited to where it can be clearly identified as temporary and non-recurring. Local management and trade unions, according to the agreement, are to jointly identify the circumstances where fixed-term employment and/or the outsourcing of services may be introduced by mutual agreement, and will regularly review developments in order to limit these forms of employment.

Danone will promote the application of the Agreement at operations in which the company has minority ownership and at Danone Group suppliers. Danone and the IUF will actively encourage local unions and management to engage in the implementation process and will monitor progress through a regular review process at global level.

“Workers and their trade unions have become increasingly concerned by the multiple barriers to the effective exercise of rights posed by fixed-term and outsourced employment relationships,” says IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. “With this agreement, the IUF and Danone have succeeded in establishing a framework and a practical basis for negotiating concrete solutions which will facilitate workers’ full access to the rights set out in international Conventions and standards. We now look forward to the implementation process.”

 [Ed. note -Paul Garver:  Over nearly three decades, the IUF [during which period I worked for the IUF for 15 years] and Danone have agreed to a series of global framework agreements, of which this is the latest and perhaps the most ambitious.    Workers in almost all  countries have demanded employment security protection with benefits guaranteed by a union contract. However direct permanent employment has been steadily eroded by the growth of outsourced, temporary, fixed-term or other forms of “precarious” employment.  As in the case of all global labor-management framework agreements, actual implementation of workers’ rights at the local factory and office levels and effective extension of these rights to those who work at company suppliers and those companies in which Danone has only minority ownership may require more decades].

Buy Oreos Made in the USA

by Paul Garver

The Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco and Grain Millers Union (BCTGM) produced this video to promote its campaign to save the jobs of 600 workers at the Nabisco plant in Chicago.

The global food conglomerate Mondelez International, which now operates five Nabisco factories in the USA. has a history of relocating production of its bakery products from the USA and Europe to lower-wage countries.

Mondelez is opposed by a global coalition of unions cooperating through the International Union of Food Workers (IUF), which includes the BCTGM.   Last year the international union network issued a consensus statement demanding that Mondelez stop outsourcing production as part of a Screamdelez campaign demanding justice for Mondelez workers.

Mondelez

Normally international union coalitions have difficulty in supporting appeals to Buy American, which might pit workers in one country against those in another. But there are special circumstances in this case.  Production from the two Nabisco Mexican factories in Salinas and Monterey  is dedicated entirely to the North American market. The Mexican Nabisco plants have no autonomous union to represent the workers. Moreover Mondelez has used blackmail tactics against the BCTGM Chicago local demanding concessions that would amount to  60% pay cut as the condition of not shifting several production lines from Chicago to Salinas.  .

The BCTGM’s campaign is being supported by prominent Mexican-American Chicago politician Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, and by a rally addressed by former CWA president Larry Cohen, now a leader of Labor for Bernie. However only vocal and continued consumer support for the campaign might put enough pressure on Mondelez to save several hundred crucial industrial jobs in Chicago.

 

 

 

The End of China’s Labor Regime?

by Kevin Lin

Workers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine on a 2013 strike for higher pay.

Ed. note:  The New York Times Business Day section (10 March 2016) included a feature article entitled “Not the Chinese Dream” by Owen Guo, that highlighted the inability or unwillingness of China’s 257 million [internal] migrant workers to occupy the thousands of vacant urban apartments that are weighing down the Chinese economy.  Kevin Lin’s article poses the structural causes that underlie this socio-economic crisis.

A key ingredient of China’s Post-Mao economic “miracle” is a labour regime entrenched in the export-oriented consumer manufacturing sector and premised on despotic exploitation, institutional discrimination and political exclusion of labour. It is built on the back of massive rural-to-urban migration in the context of a stagnant agricultural sector and rising disparity in rural-urban incomes from the 1990s. The rural migrants are not only placed under exploitative labour relations under the Party-state’s market liberalisation, but also institutionally discriminated against by the urban household registration system that denies them of permanent urban residency and entrenches the transient nature of their labour migration, and politically excludes  them from organising autonomous labour unions and asserting as an organised social force. This combination, by no means unique in the history of capitalist development, produces an abundant and seemingly endless supply of not only cheap and disposable but disciplined, fragmented and atomised labour. However, having help propel China into a global economic power, the reproduction of this labour regime is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

Continue reading

How Hillary Lost My Vote in Honduras

by Alexandra Early

immigration honduras

I am one of the many young women who to the consternation of so many pundits is just not Ready for Hillary in 2016. And it’s not because I am a bad feminist, it’s because I am judging Hillary Clinton, just as she has asked to be judged, on her record and her foreign policy credentials. I spent nearly five years in Central America working as a cross-border solidarity activist and I now work with immigrants in Massachusetts who have fled the violence in that region. So, I might have been moved by Clinton’s recent pledge to “campaign for human rights” and take on immigration reform. But I have seen first-hand how Clinton failed on that front when top military commanders in Honduras (all men, of course) overthrew its democratically elected president Manual Zelaya in 2009.

Since that military takeover, nearly all sectors of Honduran society—union organizers, farmers and teachers, women and young people, gays, journalists, political activists, anyone who resisted the coup—have faced systematic repression. Honduras has become one the most violent countries in the world not formally engaged in a civil war, and it’s now a leading source of forced migration to the U.S.

President Obama initially criticized Zelaya’s ouster and forced exile as a threat to democracy throughout the region. But the Obama administration, led by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, refused to formally recognize that a military coup had taken place and never cut U.S. military aid to Honduras.  Clinton’s State Department even lobbied the Organization of American States, which strongly condemned the coup, to readmit Honduras after its suspension from the OAS. In November 2009, the Administration recognized the election of Porfirio Lobo, even though most opposition parties and major international observers boycotted the election. Since the coup, the U.S. has built two new military bases in Honduras and increased its support and funding for the Honduran military and police.

While living in El Salvador, I participated in four human rights delegations to Honduras and witnessed how the country’s democratic institutions were destroyed by the military takeover and its aftermath. During each visit, we interviewed multiple victims of physical threats, beatings, kidnappings, and imprisonment and heard stories about growing government corruption.

In November of 2013, I was part of a group of 40 international observers from El Salvador and the U.S. who traveled to Honduras together to observe the presidential elections.  In this national election, Xiomara Castro, the wife of Manuel Zelaya, ran with wide public support. However, as Rights Action reported, more than 30 candidates of her new left-wing party, Libre, were murdered or suffered violent attacks in the run up to the election. The common refrain we heard among poor Hondurans before the day of the big vote was, ‘Xiomara will win, if they let her’.“They” did no such thing, of course. Instead, the right wing candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner, even though numerous international groups observing the election found evidence of vote buying, intimidation and other irregularities.

Here in Chelsea, MA, where I work with Latino immigrants, you can see the legacy of Clinton’s stance on Honduras. Like many cities throughout the U.S. with large Central American populations, Chelsea has received a huge wave of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children since 2014. Many are escaping the poverty and gang violence that has become so much worse in Honduras since the 2009 coup.

When asked about this “border crisis” in 2014, Hillary Clinton told CNN that these children and families “should be sent back”. She also recommended beefing up border security within Mexico, which the Obama administration has indeed funded. The result?  The journey through Mexico is even more perilous and hundreds more mothers and children are being caught in Mexico, held for weeks in local jails, and sent right back to the violence they are trying to escape.

Clinton has yet to acknowledge the consequences of the 2009 coup.  In her debate with Sanders on Feb. 11 in Wisconsin, she again acted tough about unaccompanied minors, saying they should be deported to “send a message” to their families back home, as if this continuing exodus was simply the product of bad parenting. Sanders rightly chided her, arguing that children fleeing Central American violence should be welcomed and assisted instead.

I would love to have a female foreign policy expert and human rights crusader as the next president of the United States, but Clinton’s chance to prove herself as such and send a strong message to our neighbors to the south was back in 2009. If Hillary Clinton had stood up for democracy in Central America then, maybe we wouldn’t have so many Central American immigrants today trying desperately to enter and stay in the U.S., because more of them would be able to survive in their home countries. 

This essay is reposted from Counterpunch with permission of the author.

  Alexandra Early was a Latin-American Studies major at Wesleyan University before she became a coordinator of U.S.- El Salvador Sister Cities from 2010 to 2014.  She now works at a community organization in Chelsea, Mass.

2016-wr-honduras

Photos from Human Rights Watch – Honduras

Mondelez Girds for War against U.S. Bakery Workers

by Paul Garver

mondelezshareholder  2013, BCTGM Members in Chicago Demonstrate Solidarity with Mondelez workers facing oppression in Egypt, Pakistan and Tunisia

You may have never heard of a global snack food conglomerate called Mondelez.   You will be hearing more about it over the next few months.

Through a series of global mergers,  Mondelez became the parent corporation of Nabisco (Oreos, Chip Ahoys, Ritz Crackers, etc.).  Nabisco used to operate dozens of factories in the USA, but has closed all but five of them to improve corporate profit margins. Two  factories in Monterrey and Salinas, Mexico, also produce for the U.S. market. I used to live across the street from a Nabisco factory  producing crackers and appetizing smells in Pittsburgh. This factory closed down despite a long union and community struggle to keep its doors open through new ownership.

The remaining Nabisco industrial bakeries in the USA are located in Atlanta (GA), Richmond (VA), Fairlawn (NJ), Portland (OR), with its largest one located on the southwest side of  Chicago (IL).

The huge multi-story Nabisco factory in Chicago has employed generations of workers.  Currently it employs some 1200 workers, the large majority of whom are African-American or Hispanic, over forty years old, and with many decades of service to Nabisco.

Nabisco workers are members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM), which for several decades had been able to negotiate decent collective bargaining agreements with previous owners of Nabisco.

Mondelez recently sent out pink slips laying off 277 union workers at the Chicago plant, first installment of the announced 600 layoffs.  In advance of the national collective bargaining round that began this month (February 2016), the company demanded $46 million in annual concessions in perpetuity as the price of not moving four major production lines from Chicago to Salinas.  The union calculated that would mean a 60% reduction in union wages and benefits in Chicago, and refused.  Mondelez is now heavily investing at Salinas and the transfer of production to Salinas is now underway.

The BCTGM is trying to organize community and political support in Chicago to protect its members and their community.  However the odds of success appear stacked against them.   Job security has become the key issue in the national negotiations between Nabisco and the BCTGM, in which the company is also trying to eliminate the multi-employer BCTGM pension plan for all plants.

Leading the union negotiating team is former Chicago Nabisco worker Jethro Head, now an International Vice-President for the BCTGM.  He points out that that the company introduced its bargaining position by blaming the workers and their union of hindering the global competitiveness of Mondelez, and thereby standing in the way of the necessary investments in efficiency.

Ominously Mondelez seems to be preparing for a long confrontation with the union.

According to a report in the US union-supported Northwest Labor Press (click here [1] to read), Mondelez has recruited strikebreakers in preparation for national bargaining with the IUF-affiliated BCTGM covering 5 Nabisco biscuit plants and three distribution centers.

Weeks before bargaining formally got underway on February 16, a company called Huffmaster Crisis Response, which provides replacement workers and security and describes itself as “the leading management of strike management solutions”, began posting online advertisements for experienced temporary workers “for a possible labor dispute that may occur on or about February 29, 2016.” That is the date on which the union agreements expire at the Nabisco sites. The advertisements do not mention Mondelez or Nabisco by name but seek to recruit workers in each of the five cities where the production plants are located.

According to the report, union representatives at the Nabisco bakery in Portland Oregon say that strike replacement workers have already been brought into the bakery to observe union members performing their jobs.

Through my previous work with the International Union of Foodworkers (IUF), I got to know the dedication and skill of Jethro Head and of BCTGM General President David Durkee.   They will do whatever they can to effectively represent their union members in Chicago and the other Nabisco sites, even if this brings them into a collision course with the giant global snackfood corporation Mondelez.  The BCTGM has always demonstrated solidarity with workers in other countries when called upon.  The IUF has helped create a Mondelez International Union Solidarity Network that affirms the solidarity of its affiliates to provide mutual support for the BCTGM in this struggle.   But solidarity and support to be effective will require strong labor and community support for the BCTGM Nabisco workers in Chicago, Portland, Atlanta, Richmond and Fairlawn.

We will cover this emerging story over the next weeks and months.

 

 

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