Minimum Wage Battle Goes to the Ballot in Sacramento

By Seth Sandronsky
Sacto-Card2

On December 21, 2015, Organize Sacramento and Raise the Wage Sacramento filed documents with the city clerk to gather 21,503 valid voter signatures necessary to place a minimum-wage measure on this year’s November ballot. The measure would boost the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020, peg it to the Consumer Price Index and let workers earn paid sick leave. [Ed: the California Minimum Wage is $10 per hour].

Two months earlier the city council, on a 6-3 vote, had approved a minimum-wage ordinance bump to $12.50 by 2020. For Organize Sacramento and Raise the Wage Sacramento, though, that was too low and slow, spurring the current ballot drive for a $15 minimum wage. The Democratic Party of Sacramento County, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Capital Region Organizing Project and Center for Workers’ Rights also back the measure. Continue reading

U.S. Labor Activist Reports on China Crackdown

Interview with Ellen David Friedman

Ellen Friedman articleEllen David Friedman, a long-time organizer with the National Education Association in Vermont, founding member of the state’s Progressive Party and member of the Labor Notes Policy Committee, has been working for the last decade with labor and union activists in Hong Kong and the mainland. When she was in China recently, she was briefly detained and interrogated by the government. She spoke with Ashley Smith of Socialist Worker about the crackdown, its causes and what activists can do to help the Chinese activists win freedom and justice.

During your recent trip, you were detained amid the crackdown on labor NGOs. Can you tell us what happened?

I’ve been working in China for about 10 years, teaching labor studies and participating in various parts of the labor movement. I’d received many warnings before, but they had always been indirect, and passed along through colleagues. This was the first time that police came to question me directly.

They came to my hotel and interrogated me for about two hours–quite politely–but warned me to stop “meeting people” or risk legal consequences. They said I was violating the terms of my visa.

It’s hard to know if I was detained as part of the crackdown on activists. It happened in the same period of time, but one never knows the reason that things happen in China. Certainly when I was detained, they didn’t give me any explanation for it. So I think at best we can guess.

The context for this is that, since the start of the Xi Jinping administration in China three years ago, the state has taken a very definitive turn away from tolerance of any kind of activism and organizing in civil society. In the previous administration of Hu Jintao, there seemed to be a good deal more space for the development of NGOs and critical discourse and research. All of this under the Xi Jinping government has been very severely curtailed.

Since Xi came to power, the state has harassed labor NGOs, criminalized labor resistance, and detained and charged worker activists. The government has also conducted an “anti-foreign influence” campaign. And so, since I’ve been active in the labor movement in China during this period of time, and since I’m a foreigner, we can only say it’s consistent with their policy.

What’s the scale of the crackdown? Who is being targeted?

The most recent event was a high-profile detention of about 20 activists on December 3, all in Guangzhou, which is one of the largest cities in China. It’s on the southeast coast across from Hong Kong. It’s the capital city of Guangdong province, which was the birthplace of capital and labor markets beginning in the 1980s.

Since then, it’s undergone a vast amount of development. Tens of millions of migrant workers have moved there to get jobs. The area has also experienced an explosion of labor resistance. Around a dozen or so labor NGOs have been operating amid this worker activism.

The government targeted the activists associated with four of these labor NGOs. Some of these NGOs are pretty benign service organizations that do things like assisting injured workers to file worker’s compensation claims. Some of them are more actively involved in helping workers to develop skills for leadership and collective bargaining among those who have taken the lead in strikes and so on.

Most of the people were questioned and released within a day, but seven people are still detained and facing criminal charges. The most prominent person who was caught in the sweep is named Zeng Feiyang. He’s the founder and director of the oldest and best-known labor NGO in China, Panyu Workers’ Center.

The government has accused most of the detainees of disrupting public order, which is the usual allegation made against labor activists. They have charged one person with embezzlement. Solidarity activists have arranged for them to have attorneys–in fact, there is a now a 60-member attorney team that has volunteered to represent them–but so far, they haven’t been able to contact the detained activists. So we still don’t know the specific charges against them.

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A New Year Message from China’s Labor Community

A 2016 New Year’s Message from China’s Labor Community

劳工六人图

Dear fellow workers, compatriots, and friends from around the world: Happy New Year!

Toward the end of 2015, the labor community in China experienced an unprecedented attack. A group of activists who have dedicated years to defending the rights and interests of workers were detained, monitored and interrogated by the police. It could have been a moment for fear and paranoia to set in. But those in the labor community and other walks of life responded quickly by drafting a petition to the Communist Party Central Committee, National People’s Congress, and State Council. The petition described in no uncertain terms the severe and widespread violations of workers’ rights and interests over the last few decades, and the inevitable emergence of independent labor NGOs and worker centers and their valuable contribution to the protection of labor rights and social justice, and demanded the release of the detained activists. In less than two weeks, over 490 people added their names to this petition, and over 60 Chinese lawyers joined a legal aid team. This response was followed by petitions, appeals, and demonstrations by over 200 organizations and thousands of individuals from the international labor and academic community in over 40 countries condemning the crackdown and expressing support for the arrested labor activists.

Their calls, however, fell on the deaf ears of the Chinese authorities. The detained activists have to this day still not been allowed to meet with their lawyers. In addition, the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus—the Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily and China Central Television (CCTV)—launched a smear campaign against these activists, in particular Zeng Feiyang (曾飞洋), essentially sentencing them without a trial in the court of public opinion. Feiyang’s wife and child have been intimidated, and Zhu Xiaomei (朱小梅) has been separated from her baby daughter, whom she was breastfeeding when she was detained. The families of the other detained activists—He Xiaobo (何晓波), Meng Han (孟晗), Peng Jiayong (彭家勇), Deng Xiaoming (邓小明)—are all sick with fear, and the whereabouts of another former worker-turned-collective bargaining specialist, Chen Huihai (陈辉海), is still unclear. Their treatment reflects a cowardly approach to the rule of law, and the criminal proceedings are rife with legal and procedural unfairness.

Fellow workers, compatriots, and friends: If the rights and interests of workers who make up the large majority of China’s population cannot be protected, if workers are increasingly deprived of their economic, political, cultural, and social rights, if the confrontations between officials and citizens, workers and employers, rich and poor, continues to worsen, then what are the prospects for everyone to live in a free, equal, fair, democratic, law-based society where “socialism is the core value”? It is doubtful that even our most basic survival and security can be assured in such a society!

Workers on strike at Lide Shoe Factory in April, 2015, in Guangdong.

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International Human Rights Day: How Celebrated in Hong Kong

by Paul Garver

free chinese labor activists

I am writing this on the evening of 9th December in the USA, but in Hong Kong it is already the morning of 10th December. At this moment labor and human rights activists are converging on the Western Police Station in Hong Kong to demand that the Mainland Chinese authorities in neighboring Guangdong Province release several labor rights activists rounded up over the last few days.

December 10th is International Human Rights Day, intended to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Chinese authorities, panicked by an accelerating wave of actions by workers protesting factory closures and non-payment of wages, are trying to stifle workers’ desperate defensive protests by detaining labor rights activists and closing worker rights centers.

This is no trivial matter. The Pearl River Delta on the mainland opposite Hong Kong represents the largest and densest concentration of industrial workers on the planet. The Chinese Communist Party and local government authorities above all want to maintain a subservient and docile working class. In order to do so, they are willing to crush the worker centers that, in the absence of genuine labor unions in China, offer the few sparks of hope and support for workers struggling for their basic rights and working conditions.

The Hong Kong labor and human rights activists, who recently fought a brave and protracted battle of their own for democratic rights in Hong Kong, are acting out of solidarity with their Mainland China compatriots who lack such fundamental rights of free association.

We in our turn must demonstrate our solidarity with and support for rights activists both in Mainland China and in Hong Kong. If human rights are not universal, they are not secure anywhere.

Stay tuned for the measures that these courageous Chinese activists will be asking their sisters and brothers elsewhere to take in support and solidarity.

Chinese Authorities Detain Labor Rights Activists

by Paul Garver

  • china image

Worker rights activists in Southern China are being rounded up and detained in a wave of arrests. These legitimate activists have been representing lower wage workers in their struggles for better working conditions and higher wages. In the absence of genuine labor unions, workers are unable to assert their rights without recourse to the worker rights centers these activists have maintained.

Hong Kong labor activists are reporting on this crisis daily at https://www.facebook.com/redballoonsolidarity/.

Like this page and follow it for updates and possible solidarity actions.

Why It Would Be a Mistake for SEIU to Endorse Clinton

Français : Logo SEIU

Français : Logo SEIU (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why it would be a tragic mistake for SEIU to endorse HRC at this time.
This letter is being sent to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry and members of the IEB.  This is also being cc’d to members of the Board of Directors of SEIU Local 503 in Oregon, the local to which we belong.
Unhappy with the pro-corporate/pro-Wall St. bias of the Democratic Party establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is a major player; early on we have been among the many labor activists calling for Sen. Elizabeth Warren to step up and run for President.
We have long been appreciative of the stances taken by Senator Bernie Sanders on labor issues, and on broader economic and social justice issues.  However, when Sanders first announced his candidacy, many of us were unsure that he could mount a credible national campaign and candidacy.  What has happened since has surprised almost everyone.  The issues and values that we hold near and dear are today at the center of national discussion and in the Presidential debate.  For this, we largely have Senator Bernie Sanders to thank.
We list a number of reasons below why, 1) Hillary Clinton is not our candidate, at least not in this primary period, and 2) any primary endorsement should be the result of an exhaustive process of union-wide discussion in which our International provides hard facts to our members on the actual positions and voting records of all the candidates on the issues of critical importance to us. Continue reading

Fight for $15 – Labor’s Big Bang or Not?

IMG_3693Will AFL-CIO Jump In?

 By Carl Finamore

There are only two flash points in American history where labor unions became center stage in politics.

I will call these “Big Bang” moments because they propelled the American Federation of Labor (AFL) after 1886 and the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) after 1935, from fledgling organizing committees into mass organizations directly impacting and attracting millions.

In the case of the AFL, it was due to avid support for the eight-hour day and in the case of the CIO, it was due to resolute support for union organizing of millions of previously excluded industrial workers.

There has never again been such mass acceptance and relevancy for labor, mostly because of numerous failures to grasp the historical moment. Continue reading

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