European Journalists Support Organizing American Media Workers

by Paul Garver

MikeElk-800x400

[ed. note] Mike Elk is leaving Politico, where he was part of a team hired to write for Morning Shift. Mike will focus on organizing media workers.

Mike is pictured here with his father Gene Elk, director of organization for the United Electric Workers (UE)

Mike Elk is a first rate labor reporter with a strong union background and a fierce commitment to the workers’ movement. He is one of the few U.S. labor journalists to understand the importance of global worker solidarity. Too bad that Politico did not publish more of the articles I know he was working on. I wish him the best in continuing to organize media workers.

In a statement yesterday, Politico pledged to remain neutral on its workers organizing a union.

Following is an article on Mike Elk by the European Federation of Journalists, together with its protest letter to Politico, which has being trying to establish a European bureau.

Update (20.08.2015) The European Federation of Journalists sent today a letter to Politico CEO Jim VandeHei expressing its concern about news reports suggesting that Mike Elk, Labor reporter at Politico and co-author of the Louisville Statement, has been fired. Politico confirmed, on Thursday, Mike Elk’s departure, saying it has “nothing to do with his union activities”. (…)

Over 12,000 jobs have disappeared from the US media industry, over the last decade. But according to Pew Research Center’s count, 5,000 full-time edit jobs have been created in 2014 across US digital publishing companies. As a consequence, unions are cropping up in digital newsrooms. And a new group, Media Workers Unite, calls for rights for US online journalists.

Earlier this year, the employees of Gawker Media, Vice and Salon voted to unionize: they want to share in the growing prosperity of digital media industry and be able to establish decent working conditions for online journalists.

Pay in digital publishing companies is consistently lower than traditional media, where union collective bargaining has led to better agreements on salary, retirement security and working conditions. Following the most recent US survey, the median annual salary for Journalism and Mass Communication B.A. graduates was $40,500 for union members and $32,000 for non-union members.

Underpaid and exploited, US online journalists are now seeking to unionize. Some of them founded a new group, Media Workers Unite, announcing the release of the “Louisville Statement of Media Workers’ Rights”, on October 8th, at The Carl Braden Memorial Center in Louisville. Among the 12 rights they call for: overtime protections (hours worked above the limit of 40 hours a week must be paid), less restrictive social media policies when journalists are off the clock, protections against age discrimination, freelancers rights, racial and ethnic diversity…

“When you are in the labor movement, no matter how scary this world can get, you never walk alone,” says Politico reporter Mike Elk, co-author of the Louisville Statement with several journalists and trade unionists, including members of the Newspaper Guild, an US affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). “As a workplace safety reporter, I see overtime as hazard that science tells us leads to mental health collapses like that I experienced that has been widely ridiculed by many. Despite the naysayers, we must put a stop to forced overtime in the media industry as it is literally killing media workers (…) and causing serious mental health issues for so many others. (…) The days of McCarthyism are over in the newsroom – everyone deserves a voice!”

The authors of the Statement call on media workers to join them this October 8th – 11th in Louisville in developing a Nationwide Center for Media Workers.

efj on elk

Why Joining a Union is Good For Your Well-Being

Why Joining a Union is Good For Your Well-Being.

Global Petition: Urging Uniqlo to Resolve the Labour Dispute in the Artigas Factory in China

by Paul Garver

artigas 2

Numerous worker and labor solidarity groups based in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Asian countries are supporting demands of clothing workers in Shenzhen, China, whose factory has been closed without consultation or compensation. They have created a global petition in Chinese and English languages to urge the giant apparel corporation that buys the products of the factory to intervene.

The English language text of the petition follows.

To view the list of signers and to sign the petition, go to

13 July 2015
Uniqlo is one of the fastest-growing fashion brands of the last decade. The brand has 1,621 stores around the globe. In China alone, it has experienced explosive growth, opening nearly 400 stores in just a few years. Uniqlo products are well-known for low prices, trendy looks and high functionality. However, 70% of them are made by Chinese garment workers who work long hours every day under dismal working conditions. Regrettably, Uniqlo, as the biggest Asian garment brand with plenty of resources and knowledge, refuses to fulfil its corporate social responsibility, repeatedly turning a blind eye to the malpractices of its supplier Hong Kong-owned Lever Style Inc. These malpractices include allowing Shenzhen Artigas Clothing and Leather (hereinafter Artigas), the factory managed by Lever Style Inc., to shut down its factory by secretly removing equipment and machines while denying severance payments and the payment of social insurance in arrears to affected workers. We as labour rights concern groups have been keeping close watch on this case and are very disappointed and angry at how Uniqlo is handling the issue.
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Sanders: Austerity Imposed on Greek People is Unacceptable

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) attacked the International Monetary Fund and European authorities on Wednesday (July 1)  for imposing what he called excessive austerity measures on Greece in negotiations over the country’s debt payments.

“It is unacceptable that the International Monetary Fund and European policymakers have refused to work with the Greek government on a sensible plan to improve its economy and pay back its debt,” Sanders said in an exclusive statement to The Huffington Post. “At a time of grotesque wealth inequality, the pensions of the people in Greece should not be cut even further to pay back some of the largest banks and wealthiest financiers in the world.” Continue reading

Desperate Chinese are turning to mass suicide to get their government’s attention

by Robert Foyle Hunwick

BEIJING, China — The location was chosen for maximum impact: a downtown boulevard, famous for Beijing’s swankiest shops and its plushest hotels. Studded with these symbols of Western capitalist chic, Wangfujing Shopping Street could hardly be further from the more desperate concerns of rural China.

It was here that a group of about 30 men gathered on a warm spring morning and, in front of hundreds of shoppers, swallowed a quantity of pesticide. They fell to the ground en masse and, according to several eyewitnesses, foamed at the mouth.

As the men were rushed to hospital, startled crowds spread the news on social media, while the scene quickly returned to normal. Police issued a statement later that day that none had died; local reports explained they were taxi drivers from the northeast, who’d traveled to the capital to stage the protest. And there the official narrative ended.

But the fate of the men, and the extreme means of airing their grievance, reflects a tactic of last resort that’s far from uncommon. For some in China, suicide is the ultimate form of protest.

In Tibet, a cycle of clampdowns and radicalization, which began with a widespread uprising that embarrassed the government in 2008, has led to nearly 140 self-immolations in the last six years. These acts are prompted by fury at the repressive tactics of Chinese officials, according to Tibetan exile groups. The government says such acts are examples of “the Dalai Lama clique” exploiting vulnerable youths, blaming “forces abroad” that are “all aimed at separating Tibet from China.” Among the most recent was Yeshi Khando, a nun in her 40s, who set herself ablaze near a monastery in Sichuan province in early April. She is reported to have died. The fate of those who survive such protests is thought to be equally grim.

On the surface, Tibetan monks and disgruntled cabbies may not have much in common. Yet both groups were driven to abandon rational means, inflicting agonizing acts of self-harm to bring attention to their cause. The anthropologist Margery Wolf once observed of suicidal women in Mao’s era that, “In the West, we ask of suicide, ‘Why?’ In China, the question is more commonly ‘Who?’”

Tibetans-in-exile take part in a candlelight vigil following the self-immolation attempt by a monk to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet on Feb. 13, 2013.
Getty Images

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New Zealand Fast Food Workers Win Minimum Hours Guarantee

by Mike Treen, National Director, Unite

indonesia fast food nz

[Ed. note: Fast food industry workers in New Zealand have been organized by the Unite union for over a decade. Their relative strength has enabled their union to play an active role in the international campaigns to organize the fast food industry, both giving support to the Fight for $15 in the USA and receiving support from fast food workers in other countries through the IUF for their own campaigns. The photo shows a support demonstration from workers in Indonesia.-pg]

Workers in the fast food industry in New Zealand scored a spectacular victory over what has been dubbed “zero hour contracts” during a collective agreement bargaining round over the course of March and April this year.

The campaign played out over the national media as well as on picket lines. The victory was seen by many observers as the product of a determined fight by a valiant group of workers and their union, Unite. It was a morale boost for all working people after what has seemed like a period of retreat for working class struggle in recent years.

Workers in the fast food industry have long identified “zero hour contracts” as the central problem they face. These are contracts that don’t guarantee any hours per week, meanwhile workers are expected to work any shifts rostered within the workers “availability”. Managers have power to use and abuse the rostering system to reward and punish, without any real means of holding them to account.

This year, all the collective agreements with the major fast food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Restaurant Brands) expired on March 31. We were already in dispute with Wendy’s, as their agreement remains unresolved from last year. Unite Union was determined to end the system of zero hours and get guaranteed hours included in the new collective agreements. We had no illusions that this was going to be easy. We knew this would be a tough battle and we needed to prepare for that reality if we were to have a chance of success. At organising meetings I would sometimes use a phrase that appealed: “If you want peace, prepare for war”. I was told later it is taken from a Latin adage: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. Whoever coined the phrase, it is a wise strategy.

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Nike supports TPP. Here is why

Leo Gerard

America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.

Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.

The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”

This is trade abuse.

United Steelworkers of America.

At the Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., the chief executive officer of Air Jordans told the chief executive passenger of Air Force One that Americans should believe in the TPP because it’ll be like Santa Claus stuffing jobs down chimneys across America.

CEO Mark Parker promised that the TPP would miraculously prompt Nike, the brand that is the icon for shipping production overseas, to create 10,000 U.S. manufacturing and engineering jobs – over a decade, that is.  Not only that, Parker pronounced, the TPP will generate thousands of construction jobs and as many as 40,000 indirect positions with suppliers and service companies – again, over a decade.

Now those are some great-sounding promises! Nike employs 26,000 American workers now, a few of whom make soles in Oregon and Missouri. But presto, Parker says, the TPP will increase that number by nearly 40 percent!

The thing is, Nike could easily create 10,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the United States right now. No TPP required. It employs 1 million overseas, the vast majority in low-wage, high-worker-abuse countries like Vietnam, China and Indonesia. To bring 1 percent of those jobs – 10,000 – to the United States doesn’t seem like such a Herculean, TPP-requiring task, especially considering Nike’s massive profit margin.

The average cost to make a pair of Nike shoes is $30. The American sneaker consumer, who may pay $130 to swoosh, is certainly not getting the benefit of low prices from Nike’s cheap overseas production.

Instead of manufacturing in America, Nike chooses to “just do it” in countries where it knows workers are abused. In the 1990s, the media slammed the corporation for sweatshop conditions in its foreign factories. Like a typical abuser, Nike promised to reform its ways. It said in a news release last week, “Our past lessons have fundamentally changed the way we do business.”

Well, not really. The company admitted in 2011 that two Indonesian factories making its shoes subjected workers to “serious and egregious” physical and verbal abuse. Nike told the San Francisco Chronicle then that there was “little it could do to stop” the cruelty.

And it accomplished exactly that – little. Just last month, a three-part series in the Modesto Bee described sickening conditions in Indonesian factories producing Nike shoes: Workers paid $212 a month for six-day, 55-hour work weeks. Workers denied the country’s minimum wage and overtime pay. Workers paid so little they couldn’t afford to care for their children. Workers fired for trying to improve conditions.

 

 

Nike Sweatshops

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Last week, the world’s largest athletic gear maker said, “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions (in the TPP) because we believe that will drive higher industry standards and create economic growth that benefits everyone.”

Promises, promises. Why doesn’t Nike simply insist on higher standards at its factories? What exactly is there in a trade deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations that is essential to Nike establishing higher standards and stopping the abuse of workers in factories making its shoes?

Oh, yeah, the American middle class, which has suffered most from past trade deals, is not allowed to know that.  The TPP is secret. Well, except to the privileged corporate CEOs who helped write the thing.

In pushing for “Fast Track” authority to shove the deal through a Congress that has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to oversee foreign trade, President Obama admitted “past deals did not always live up to the hype.”

That’s not quite right. It’s actually way worse than that. Past deals killed U.S. factories and jobs. Since NAFTA, they’ve cost Americans 57,000 factories and 5 million good, family-supporting jobs.

Just three years ago, trade fanatics promised that the Korean deal, called KORUS, would definitely provide more exports and more jobs. Instead, U.S. goods exports to Korea dropped 6 percent, while imports from Korea surged 19 percent. So the U.S. goods trade deficit with Korea swelled 104 percent. That means the loss of 93,000 America jobs in just the first three years of KORUS.

It’s the same story with the other trade deals that followed NAFTA, including the agreements that enabled China to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commerce Department announced just last week the largest monthly expansion in the trade deficit in 19 years. The deficit with China for March was the biggest ever.

What this means is that instead of exporting goods, America is exporting jobs. Foreign workers get the jobs making the stuff Americans buy. And they’re often employed by factories producing products for so-called American corporations like Nike. They’re employed by factories that collapse and kill hundreds. Factories that catch on fire and immolate workers trapped inside. Factories where workers are ill-paid, overworked and slapped when they can’t meet unrealistic production quotas. Factories that pollute grievously.

American workers no longer are willing to engage in this abusive relationship with trade fanatics. They no longer believe the promises of change. They don’t want the federal money TPP fanatics promise them to pay for retraining as underpaid burger flippers after their middle class-supporting factory jobs are shipped overseas. They’re over trade pacts that benefit only multi-national corporations like Nike.

To Fast Track and the TPP, they say, “Just Don’t Do It!”

Leo Gerard. President . United Steelworkers of America.

Follow Leo W. Gerard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uswblogger

 

 

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