Bangladesh: elements of a successful global worker solidarity campaign

kathmanduIndustriALL

A behind the scenes look at a successful campaign. Bringing about social change is difficult, and clicktivism – signing an online petition – is not enough. So how do you campaign and win?

The issue

Textile and garment workers in Bangladesh are joining unions and fighting for better conditions. In December 2016, thousands went on strike for a higher minimum wage. 1,600 workers were fired, 35 trade unionists were arrested, others went into hiding, and trade union offices were closed.

IndustriALL and our sister global union UNI launched a campaign to end the crackdown. Yesterday, we had confirmation that we had been successful: the last trade unionist was released from prison, and our union affiliates in Bangladesh have been recognized as negotiating partners by the government and the employers’ association, the BGMEA.

How did we do it?

1. We had a backstory

We spent years raising awareness of conditions in Bangladesh, and building relationships with people working to improve things. We could quickly launch the campaign with a simple message.

2. Mobilized our base

We contacted our affiliated unions across the world and asked them to send letters of protest to the Bangladeshi government. We coordinated a day of action that saw union-organized protests outside Bangladeshi embassies in Berlin, Geneva, London, Brussels, The Hague, Washington D.C., New York, Ottawa, Kathmandu, and Seoul.

3. LabourStart campaign

We launched a campaign on LabourStart, the online petition site for the labour movement. More than 10,000 trade unionists around the world sent messages of protest to the Bangladeshi government.

4. Activated our network

We have built strong relationships with partner NGOs. We contacted organizations like the Clean Clothes Campaign and Fashion Revolution, who supported our campaign and shared it with their networks.

5. Gave people something to do

We engaged people by using social media to tell the story of the workers who make our clothes. We used easily shareable content with lots of images.

We produced a simple poster demanding the release of the trade unionists, and made it available to download. We asked people to take selfies of themselves holding the poster, and share it on social media with our campaign hashtag #EveryDayCounts. Hundreds of people posted images, which helped spread the message further.

6. Used positive alternatives

Our opponents characterized trade union protests as criminal and violent. We countered this with a positive alternative: two of our affiliates signed collective agreements with Bangladeshi garment employers during the period of the crackdown, showing that positive industrial relations are possible.

7. Used global framework agreements

We have spent years building relationships with major fashion brands that source from Bangladesh. We have signed global framework agreements with H&M, Inditex (ZARA), Tschibo and Mizuno. These agreements contain strong language that requires brands to take responsibility for their supply chain, and include a commitment to support collective bargaining.

Consumer activism means more and more people now care how their clothes were made: to stay competitive, brands need to show they care too. Major brands could not afford to be associated with a labour crackdown in Bangladesh. As a result, they announced they would not attend the crucial industry trade fair, the Dhaka Apparel Summit.

This was the last straw for the factory owners.

8. Established ourselves as partners

Unions make deals. We will need to work with the government and the employers’ federation in future to create a successful garment industry that provides quality jobs.

We created a situation where it would be costly for the government and employers to continue the crackdown, and made it clear we were in a position to escalate the campaign. Then we gave them a way out.

Union representatives on the ground, the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, negotiated an agreement that saw the arrested trade unionists released. Commitments were made to offer dismissed workers their jobs back, and we established the precedent of the IBC being recognized as a partner for negotiations.

Conclusion

The two most important factor in our success were:

Spending time to build relationships and trust beforehand, so that a lot of people could be mobilized quickly.

Tackling the problem from different angles. With the Bangladeshi government receiving emails, letters and embassy protests, and brands refusing to attend the apparel summit, they felt pressure from all sides.

The campaign relied on relationships and networks. We played to our strengths (our networks), and targeted the employers’ weak points (reputational damage and the threat of lost business).

What Does the Election of Thomas Perez as DNC Chairman Mean?

by Eric Robertson

dnc-handley

I took a bit longer to process my thoughts on Tom Perez’s victory over Keith Ellison. Here’s what I got:

Losing is losing.

BUT there is a strong tendency to over exaggerate the political implications of Tom Perez beating Keith Ellison. Ellison’s vote total once again demonstrated the strength of the “Berniecrat” Left of the Democratic Party. Ellison received 200 (46%) votes to Perez’s 235 in the second round of voting, the threshold was 214. This is a strong performance by the left of the Dems by any measure. A congressman who is a Muslim with social democratic politics came within 14 votes of capturing a major chunk of the Dems national apparatus. This is further evidence of our new political reality.

Perez’s support of the TPP and his loyalty to the Dem machinery are real and justified making the case that Ellison represented the consistently progressive and populist values that are on the ascendancy. Nevertheless Perez, with the exception of TPP, was a true ally and partisan of working people during his time as Labor Secretary. The candidacy of Tom Perez in itself represented a political concession to the left.

The stakes of winning were not that high to begin with. Keith taking over the DNC would have moved the dial of American politics further to the left and opened up more space for the anti-corporate, left wing of the party, but it would definitely have had limits imposed by the party machinery. It is is worth pointing out that, with a few exceptions, the majority of people claiming that Perez’s victory means the final straw signifying the need to break completely from the Dems were also the same people who claimed Keith Ellison’s campaign for chair meant nothing and would not change a thing. Neither is correct and a flexible “inside/outside” strategy remains as the most viable strategy going forward. The fact is Keith Ellison’s campaign is just one more demonstration of the left’s increasing strength in American politics as a whole.

All this being said, what is happening at the town halls, in the streets, in our workplaces, and in the thousands of grassroots meetings happening across America is infinitely more important than what happened this weekend at the DNC.

Eric Robertson lives in Fairburn, Georgia. He is political director and a “man of many hats” for Teamsters Local 728.

“We, The Workers”: Documentary Shows Tide Turn Against Chinese Labor Activism

China Digital Times

The conviction last September of three prominent labor activists for “gathering crowds to disturb social order” may have marked the final end of an era of “pragmatic authoritarianism” toward labor organization. The shift towards a harder line was captured by director Wen Hai in his new documentary “We, The Workers,” which appeared earlier this month at the International Festival Rotterdam. James Griffiths highlighted the film at CNN last week:

While much has been written about and , Wen’s film offers rare insight into how such collective action is planned and organized, and how hard NGO employees try to stay within the moving goalposts of what activism is permissible in China.

[…] According to Manfred Elfstrom, an expert on China movements at Cornell University, for a long time such groups were tolerated by the government and even occasionally encouraged by local authorities. This all changed in 2015, he said, when “the crackdowns have gotten increasingly severe.”

The sudden shift in attitude caught even Wen off guard. “During the early process, I didn’t realize that it would be a danger and risk for me … to make such a film,” he said.

[… E]ven though the activists work within the law, they often aren’t protected by it. During filming, organizer Peng Jiayong was abducted and savagely beaten, ending up in hospital. Since 2015, dozens of other activists and lawyers have been detained, arrested and harassed.

[…] Wen is optimistic. “Even though now the situation and crackdown is very depressing, in the long term, ’ agency, their ability to defend their rights, and the awakening of their human consciousness is improving,” he said. [Source]

The activists imprisoned last September were accused, in a video shared on Sina Weibo by the Communist Youth League and Global Times, of cooperating with foreign plans to tip China into instability and revolution. In the CNN report, Wen offers a sharply different perspective based on his past work in the Middle East and North Africa, arguing that independent organizations and other civil society groups could offer a vital bulwark against chaos and catalyst for positive social change. “(Peng) Jiayong and the other NGO workers,” he says, “are a very constructive power in rebuilding our society.”

On Twitter, Griffiths described “We, The Workers” as “one of the most inspiring films I’ve seen in years, testament to [the] power of solidarity and resistance.” The trailer:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ndY1294mVDk?rel=0

South China Morning Post’s Clarence Tsui recently described Wen’s various brushes with the Chinese security apparatus, his eventual exile in Hong Kong, and his recent collaborations with activist and “We, The Workers” producer and with artist Ai Weiwei.

Continue reading

Immigrants Strike by the Thousands

by Dan DiMaggio and Sonia Singh

Tens of thousands of immigrant workers struck across the country during “Day without Immigrants” actions, including 30,000 in Milwaukee. Photo: Susan Ruggles 

Arkansas poultry workers, Brooklyn warehouse workers and house cleaners, Twin Cities roofers, and thousands of students in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Charlotte, North Carolina. They were all among the tens of thousands who stayed home from work or school across the country during Thursday, February 16’s “Day without Immigrants.”

The action, largely spread over social media and informal networks in working-class immigrant communities, was a response to President Donald Trump’s promise to dramatically expand immigration enforcement and the wave of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement the prior week.

YOUR RIGHT TO STRIKE

In a Facebook post, Minnesota worker center CTUL suggested sample language for workers who planned to strike:

“My co-workers and I are going on strike to show that immigrant workers are a crucial part of the economy. We want our employers to declare that they will not discriminate against workers based on national origin or religion. We also want our employer to call the White House to oppose Donald Trump’s immigration policies. We are on a one-day strike on February 16, 2017 and we will come back to work the next day, on February 17, 2017.”

“Submit this message by letter, text, or email to your boss,” wrote CTUL. “Keep a copy and document any response you get from your boss. If you are a member of a union, contact your union rep first.”

Workers thinking about participating in similar strikes may also want to consult the NLRB’s Guideline Memorandum Concerning Unfair Labor Practice Charges Involving Political Advocacy, issued in the wake of the mass strike by immigrant workers on May 1, 2006.

For more on organizing collective actions even in non-union workplaces, see “How to Beat Retaliation, Even without a Union” from the January 2016 issue of Labor Notes.

“They’re calling us criminals and rapists,” said Jose Flemate, a member of Roofers Local 96 in St. Paul, Minnesota, who struck with his co-workers. “We’re not like that—we came to America looking for a better life, and we worked hard and built America.

“We want to make sure that people understand that this city would stop functioning if we weren’t there to build, or cook, or clean,” said Ligia Guallpa, an organizer with the Worker’s Justice Project in Brooklyn.

WORD SPREADS LIKE WILDFIRE

In most areas, strikes weren’t coordinated by any organization—and even veteran organizers were taken aback by the scope. “This is a definitely a time when the movement is ahead of organizing,” said Susan Kikuchi, an organizer with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) in the Twin Cities.

“It’s incredibly surprising to get a call saying, ‘We’re 120 workers and we’ve already told the employer we’re not going in on Thursday,’” said Jorge Mujica, an organizer with Chicago-area worker center ARISE.

After getting a number of similar calls from workers who said they’d already asked their boss for the day off and wanted to know where to meet, ARISE decided to coordinate an action. With less than two days’ notice, over 3,000 people showed up at Chicago’s Union Park.

Restaurant worker Jose (who preferred to not give his last name), a member of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, first heard about the Day without Immigrants on the news. Friends promoted the strike through social media. “People were saying, ‘Don’t go to work, don’t buy anything, don’t go to school.’”

Many of his friends and family members did not go to work. “Everybody was like, ‘We’ve had enough. We don’t really care if they fire us.’” It was the first time he had ever participated in a march or protest.

Flemate also decided to strike after seeing an announcement on social media.

“I said, ‘Look what happened with the Muslim community. They organized in a few hours [after the travel ban],’” he says. “That community got united and showed to the world and the media that they were defending their rights. So why don’t we get united and defend our rights too?”

He was able to convince three co-workers at his roofing company. “The guys said, ‘Yeah, we have bills to pay and we have families, but this is something very important to participate in.’”

Flemate met up with other workers and students in front of the Mexican consulate, then marched to downtown St. Paul, picking up more and more people along the way. He estimated there were 3,000-4,000 people at the state Capitol by 1 p.m.—even though no rally had been called.

In Portland, Oregon, local Latino radio stations announced the strike and encouraged listeners to participate. No one organization took the lead, but their were multiple rallies and many businesses closed down, said Romeo Sosa of the VOZ Workers Education Project, a Portland day laborer organization.

His organization is witnessing widespread fear and panic over rumors of immigration raids, which helped drive participation in the strike. VOZ has set up a raid hotline and is mobilizing rapid response teams.

Fernando Garcia of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center said that most of the organizing in his area was by word of mouth or took place online, mainly through Facebook. He estimated fifty Latino and immigrant businesses across the region, the poultry capital of the world, closed in support.

The center opened its doors for any striking workers to meet and strategize with other strikers. Around 11 a.m., folks started trickling in. Strikers talked about how to get more co-workers involved next time.

“Not everyone went on strike,” said Maria Araujo, who works in one of the local poultry plants. “So we need get more folks involved. As a mother, it’s very important to me to show my children who I choose not to send to school today the importance of standing up for ourselves.”

RIGHT TO ORGANIZE

Organizers scrambled to make sure workers knew their rights. “Having organized strikes in the past, we knew employers would retaliate,” said Kikuchi.

CTUL posted a Facebook image outlining steps workers could take to boost their protection against retaliation. These included communicating to their boss the reason for striking—via letter, text, or e-mail, placing a demand on management, and making clear that workers would return to work the day after the strike.

The Brooklyn-based Worker’s Justice Project phone-banked members who organizers knew planned to strike, sharing similar information. “We had a lot of conversations with members about what ‘protected concerted activity’ was, and also that they needed to connect their strike to the conditions in their workplace,” said Guallpa. Under U.S. labor law, workers have the right to organize collectively to address workplace issues, including the right to strike without being fired.

“Tell your boss you’re striking not just because of political beliefs, but because of the conditions on your job,” said Guallpa. “Tell them your action is an action to improve wages, and to improve health and safety.”

The center even suggested that workers post on Facebook their intentions to strike over working conditions—so that if the employer retaliated, they would have proof.

MILWAUKEE SHUTS DOWN

A massive Day without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees on Monday, February 13 in Milwaukee, coordinated by the immigrant rights group Voces de La Frontera, was an inspiration for many around the country. Voces estimates 30,000 people marched downtown, with buses bringing in supporters from 25 cities across the state.

The strike was called in response to the fear that Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a major Trump supporter, would begin deputizing county police to arrest undocumented immigrants.

After November’s election, Voces immediately started taking the temperature of the community via mass meetings. “We were asking people, ‘Would you be willing to organize more sustained actions for multiple days or multiple times?,’” says Christine Neumann-Ortiz, the organization’s executive director. “The response we got was overwhelmingly yes, and that people were even willing to go further than one day.”

The strike was the sixth organized by Voces since 2006. Its success owes in part to the network of churches and supportive small businesses that grew out of another Day without Latinos last year to protest a state bill outlawing sanctuary cities.

Voces is now calling for escalating actions leading up to a national Day without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees on Monday, May 1 to demand Trump rescind all of his executive orders on immigration. In the meantime, the organization is building its rapid response network, recruiting churches to provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, holding know your rights trainings, and engaging local law enforcement to limit cooperation with ICE. For more info, visit vdlf.org.

Still, over 100 workers around the country were fired for participating in the strike. These include 30 bricklayers in Commerce City, Colorado, 21 workers at a boat building company in Lexington, South Carolina, and 12 line cooks at a restaurant in Catoosa, Oklahoma.

In many instances, however, worker centers and immigrant organizations have been able to bring enough community pressure to get employers to back off retaliation.

That was the case at Chicago grocery chain Pete’s Market. On February 15, a worker posted a picture of a letter workers had received from management there, threatening that anyone who didn’t show up to work the next day would be suspended for a week.

ARISE responded right away with a letter advising Pete’s Market that the workers’ action was protected under labor law. Meanwhile the original post circulated quickly on social media, along with a call for a boycott. Two and half hours later, the company put out a statement that it would be closing six stores for the day, so that workers could participate in the day of action.

Overall, it seems the amount of retaliation around the country was low. Kikuchi said the retaliation was less than what she expected.

CTUL backed workers facing reprisal in eight workplaces, following its usual playbook. After determining how many workers are affected, organizers help workers make a plan, which usually involves calling the boss right away. “A lot of employers haven’t dealt with strikes,” said Kikuchi. “We tell them this strike is legal and protected and the community is watching.”

Often, that causes employers to back down. If not, CTUL organizes a group of allies to accompany workers back to work on their first shift after a strike. CTUL has helped workers resolve five of the eight cases this way so far. Three are still pending.

Although CTUL and other worker centers do everything they can to make sure workers will have legal recourse, ultimately, “it’s community support that’s protecting workers and letting them go back to work, not the law,” said Kikuchi.

It’s important to let workers know that organizations have their backs if they do suffer retaliation, said Neumann-Ortiz of Voces, even if they are unable to get their jobs back. “We’ve worked with people to find new work, or to pay medical bills, or to make rent payments. Workers feel like it’s important to tell that story.” Still, she says, the amount of retaliation has been relatively small in the six Day without Immigrants actions the organization has pulled off since 2006.

AWAKENING A GIANT

As the day unfolded, businesses around the country shut their doors and classrooms stood half-empty. In Grand Rapids, Michigan—hometown of new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—so many students stayed home that the school day will not count.

Isabel Castillo, a Worker’s Justice Center member and housecleaner, kept her son home from school. When she brought him back the next day, “people were very emotional. We felt like human beings,” she said. “We lost a day of work, but we took a big step forward.”

Several organizations have issued a call for a national Day without Immigrants on May 1. These include Voces in Milwaukee, SEIU-United Service Workers West and the Women’s March in California, the national Cosecha network and Democratic Socialists of America.

“We believe strongly that the strategy of a communitywide general strike must be an important tool,” said Neumann-Ortiz. “I think immigrant workers have an inherent understanding of their power in the workplace. They know the economic value they produce.”

“The giant is waking up again,” said Mujica. “It feels like 2006. The community is ready to do something, the community is ready to act.”

[Some quotes in this article have been translated from Spanish.]

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #456, March 2017.  It is reposted on Talking Union with the permission of the authors.

How Immigrants Built Labor and the U.S. Left

How Immigrants Built the American Left—And Can Build It Again
Nelson Lichtenstein ▪ February 22, 2017
day_without_immigrants_dc2_16_17666
At a “Day Without Immigrants” rally in Washington, D.C., February 16 (Lorie Shaull / Flickr)
Last Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” work stoppages, which closed hundreds of restaurants, grocery stores, garages, retail shops, and other businesses, offered a taste of the capacity for militant action wielded by immigrant America. Led in many cities by Latino activists calling for a “huelga general,” the February 16 coast-to-coast walkouts augur well for an even larger set of strikes and demonstrations, including a March 8 “Day Without a Woman” and quite possibly a May Day general strike, already endorsed by one of the Service Employees International Union’s biggest and most active California locals. This year’s May Day mobilization looks to replicate or even exceed the stupendous success of the original May 1, 2006 “Day without Immigrants,” which shut down agribusiness fields, poultry processing plants, warehouses, and the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Newark.

Read the entire piece at Dissent.

Labor, Civil Rights Groups,Condemn New Trump Deportations

Trumka_Center_for_American_Progress_TPP_TTIP_Global_New_DealRichard Trumpka: 20/15/2017- AFL-CIO Now

Working people deserve to go to work every day without fear for their safety or being harassed. They deserve to go out the door and make a living without worrying about their lives being upended.

These are sacred tenets people and their unions value.

Hotel workers, farm workers, teachers, taxi drivers, airport, construction and retail workers have been making their voices heard in Los Angeles; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; New York City; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and many points in between over the past week. Why?  We are defending our neighbors, co-workers and friends who are being swept up in a series of immigration raids. Working people understand in our bones that when the government terrorizes people who are simple living their lives and going to work each day, we all lose. When we allow ourselves to be divided, we are weak, when we are weak, standards erode for all of us.

The early weeks of the Trump administration have sent alarming signals that its law enforcement priorities will target and punish working people, rather than those who steal their wages, harass them on the job and expose them to dangerous working conditions. Such strategies make people afraid to go to work and take their children to school, let alone take action to demand better working conditions or speak up when they encounter abuse. Moreover, they drive down the pay and protections for all working people—immigrant and non-immigrant alike.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sometimes in collaboration with local law enforcement, has arrested hundreds of immigrants, regardless of how long they have lived in the United States or how strong their ties to the community. These highly visible enforcement actions make working people far less likely to exercise their rights at work or to cooperate with law enforcement in their communities. Worse, we hear accounts that racial profiling tactics are leading to collateral arrests and that detainees are being denied due process and access to counsel—further chilling the exercise of fundamental rights.

The labor movement calls on the administration to rein in the tactics that terrorize immigrant workers and fail to make our communities safer or our jobs better. Cities and states around the country have shown a better way forward by committing to ensure basic rights and protections to all members of their communities. The labor movement will stand proudly and firmly with all local leaders who support workers’ rights and prevent exploitation. We know these communities are defending our right to organize to lift standards and cracking down on abusive employers who retaliate against working people. These are core values of the labor movement. Continue reading

Unions Resist Trump

It’s been just one month since President Trump was sworn in, and already we have seen attacks on working people, women, Muslims, the press, immigrants… and the list goes on and on.

But Americans are standing up to fight back in a way I’ve never seen. The day after the inauguration, we marched with millions of women and men in Washington, D.C., and around the world to stand up against Trump’s agenda—and we’ve stood again and again to oppose Trump’s outrageous policies.

People are standing up—and resisting and persisting is working. But with the GOP leadership bent on giving the wealthy steep tax cuts while cutting funding from vital programs like public education and stripping Americans of their rights and their healthcare, the pressure on Congress is absolutely imperative if we hope to stop the worst of Trump’s plans. Continue reading