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Even more workers die behind locked doors

A blaze at a locked poultry slaughterhouse in northeast China has killed at least 119 workers.  Read the Reuters story here.

Photo from US Fire Administration Report

Aftermath of the 1991 Imperial Foods chicken processing plant fire.

Does this sound just a little too familiar?

Two decades ago, 25 workers were killed in a fire at a poultry processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina.  Several exit doors were locked, trapping workers inside.  “Reports have surfaced that workers inside the Hamlet Plant were afraid to say anything about safety conditions due to fear of being fired.”  Read the FEMA Report on that fire here.

How many times is history going to repeat itself?

  • November 2012: 112 workers died behind locked doors in a garment factory fire outside Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • September 2012: 258 workers died behind locked doors in a garment factory fire in Karachi, Pakistan
  • December 2010: 25 workers died behind locked doors in a garment factory fire outside Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • March 2010: 21 workers died behind locked doors in a garment factory fire outside Dhaka, Bangladesh
  • April 2008: 55 workers died behind locked doors in a mattress factory fire in Casablanca, Morocco
  • September 2002: 45 workers died behind locked doors at a plastics factory fire in Lagos, Nigeria

(How many other workers’ deaths didn’t make the headlines?)

Corporations look after their profits, not their workers.

Read “How Unions Make Workplaces Safer” here.

A Woman’s Right To Vote Gives Women A Voice In Their Workplace Too

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Guest Author, Rep Jan Schmidt

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913 that marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. It had been organized by a small group of women who were tired of waiting patiently for the government to codify into law what many states already recognized; that women were full citizens of the US and therefore had the right to vote in every state and federal election.

The parade included ten bands, five mounted brigades, 26 floats, and around 8000 marchers, and was met with violence by many in the over 500,000 strong crowd and a police force that did little or nothing to stop the assault.

One of the organizers was a woman by the name of Alice Paul, and one of her quotes will remain in my mind as a warning for the US for both today and tomorrow.

Speaking with immigrant factory workers who toiled in horrendous conditions she was searching for some way to explain why voting rights were important to them personally. She said… “A vote is a fire escape.”

Think what that meant to women who were forced to endure unsafe factories, long hours on dangerous machines, and not only had no voice in the company – but also had no voice in government who could change the laws protecting workers.

When you have the right to vote, you have a voice and the power to shape the future.

A vote is fair wages, a safe environment, control of your own health decisions, its a good education for every child, and help when you need it most.

Your voice has no meaning until it turns into a vote. Help us remember what those women did for us, and remember not to squander their gift.

facebooktopperOn Sunday June 9th from 11:00 to 3:00 on the State House Lawn in Concord, please join us for the Second Annual NH Women United Rally.  There will be music, laughter, new and old friendships and information on organizations that support and enlighten us. We’ll even have a woman owned and operated lunch truck there – Puppy Love Hot Dogs. Bring a blanket or a chair, bring the kids, but mostly come and celebrate how far we’ve come.

Website http://NHWomenUnited.org, Facebook Page, Rally Event Page.

 

“Race to the Bottom”: This is what the Bottom looks like.

Blue Nike US N98 Men's Soccer Track Jacket rear.  Photo by BrokenSphere (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsFrom the Guardian (a British newspaper):

At least 23 workers were hurt in Cambodia on Monday when police using stun batons moved in to end a protest over pay at a factory that makes clothing for Nike, a trade union representative said.

Police with riot gear were deployed to move about 3,000 mostly female workers who had blocked a road outside their factory… They want the US sportswear firm, which employs more than 5,000 people at the plant, to give them $14 a month to help pay for transport, rent and healthcare costs on top of their $74 minimum wage. (Read the full story here.)

Read that again. These are “minimum wage” workers, earning $74 a month. They are looking for a $14 a month raise.

But in America these days, those types of facts don’t really matter. It’s all about spin – and Nike’s been spinning this story since the beginning of the month.

  • Read the Business Insider’s “How Nike Solved its Sweatshop Problem” here.
  • Read the Portland Business Journal’s “For Nike, 25 years from sweatshops to reform” here.

Sure, they’ve got their “sweatshop problem” fixed. If not by their corporate PR department, then by the worldwide decline in industry standards.

Can’t help but notice:

  • The Sports Authority is selling Nike’s Hyper Elite Platinum Jerseys for $120.00 each.
  • PacSun is selling Nike’s Ruskin Pants for $119.99 each (that’s on markdown: they’re usually $160 each).
  • The NFL shop is selling Nike’s licensed team jackets for $139.99 each (yep, that’s almost two months’ wages, in Cambodia).

So it’s really no surprise: Nike’s profits are up – a whopping $866 million in their latest fiscal quarter. Read the Wall Street Journal’s “Nike’s Profit Leaps 55%” here. Pay particular attention to this line: “Nike’s gross margin expanded to 44.2%.”

That’s how the math works, in this “Race to the Bottom”.

The corporation’s investors make a 44% profit… while workers are beaten for seeking a $14 a month raise.

Profit margins from cheap clothing? Or worker safety? Where are our priorities?

Yesterday, there was yet another fire in yet another garment factory near Dhaka, Bangladesh.

This time eight people died, including the factory’s managing director and a top police official.

“The blaze comes just two weeks after the collapse of the eight-story Rana Plaza building, home to five garment factories, killed at least 948 people and became the worst tragedy in the history of the global garment manufacturing industry. The disaster has raised alarm about the often deadly working conditions in Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry, which provides clothing for major retailers around the globe.”  Read more here.

“Now, after this latest deadly fire, garment workers have again been gathering in the streets, wondering if safety at their factories will ever be made a real priority.”

Those of us in the union movement know that workers face essentially the same issues, no matter what country we are working in.  (Here in the America, 150 workers die every day from occupational injuries or diseases.)

We know that heartbreak sounds the same, no matter what language the family is crying in.

And we know that profit-seeking and political collusion are the real cause of these disasters.

“The Bangladesh garment industry, a national golden goose, is politically well-connected…with dozens of lawmakers closely linked to factory owners.

“And though many Western apparel companies adopt codes of conduct, they’re keen to drive production costs down and maximize profit…  The average wage for garment workers in Bangladesh is 10 to 30 cents an hour, labor activists say.”  Read more here.

What’s happening in Bangladesh is eerily similar to what happened in New York City’s garment industry, 100 years ago.

How long are we going to let history repeat itself?

Workers Memorial Day: Bangladesh reminds us why we mark the day



Yes, they’re still pulling people from the rubble of the garment factory that collapsed last week in Bangladesh.

At least 362 people are confirmed to have died in the collapse of the 8-story building on Wednesday. Three of its floors were built illegally.

The death toll is expected to rise but it is already the deadliest tragedy to hit Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is worth $20 billion annually and a mainstay of the economy. The collapse and previous disasters in garment factories have focused attention on the poor working conditions of workers who toil for as little as $38 a month to produce clothing for top international brands.

At least this time, they’re arresting the factory owners.

Just months ago, more than 100 workers died in a fire in a garment factory in the same region of Bangladesh. That disaster was eerily similar to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York, which happened almost exactly 100 years ago. (Read “The Cost of Cheap Clothing” here.) Earlier this month, a meeting to arrange compensation for fire victims was held in Geneva; but Wal-Mart and other US brands failed to attend. (Read “Walmart refuses to compensate Tazreen fire victims” here.)

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Today, here in the US, is designated “Workers Memorial Day” – a day to “remember those who have suffered and died on the job and to renew our efforts for safe workplaces.”

Hearing the news out of Bangladesh, it’s obvious: our campaign for safe workplaces needs to go worldwide.

Today We Remember The Man and The Labor Leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them.” Dr Martin Luther King Jr

In our current time of great struggle we should look back at history to see how far we have come as humans, as Americans, and as labor unions.  This weekend we will celebrate the birth of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a man who moved a nation.

While most people remember Dr King as the great human and civil right advocate, many also remember the impact he made on the labor movement.  The two may seem very different, they are in fact the same. Dr King realized that both labor unions and civil rights advocates were fighting for the same thing.  Fair and livable wages for all.  So together Dr King, and unions like AFSCME, came together to help each other.  This was evident in the Sanitization Workers Strike in Memphis in 1968.  The strike took on more than just labor issues, it became a symbol of the civil rights movement.  Dr. King lead over 20,000 people through the streets of Memphis in solidarity of the AFSCME Strikers.


You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.  AFSCME Memphis Sanitation Strike, April 3, 1968

The next day, April 4th 1968, Dr King was assassinated in on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

On 8 April, an estimated 42,000 people led by Coretta Scott King,  SCLC, and union leaders silently marched through Memphis in honor of King, demanding that Loeb give in to the union’s requests. In front of the City Hall, AFSCME pledged to support the workers until “we have justice” (Honey, 480). Negotiators finally reached a deal on 16 April, allowing the City Council to recognize the union and guaranteeing a better wage. While the deal brought the strike to an end, the union had to threaten another strike several months later to press the city to follow through with its commitment. (1)

The demands of the AFSCME Workers in 1968 were not that different that what we ask for today.  We want a fair and livable wage, security and safety in our jobs, and the right to negotiate with our employers.  Today we remember the Man, the Labor Leader, the Civil Rights Advocate….  Dr. Martin Luther King JR.

King’s Legacy: Workers Rights, Leader Fought Anti-Union Efforts, From Arnie Alpert

This is an Op/Ed from Arnie Alpert. The Op/Ed first ran in the Concord Monitor on January  16, 2012

 

Dr Martin Luther KingKing’s legacy: workers’ rights

Leader fought anti-union efforts

By Arnie Alpert

At a time when workers are struggling to find decent jobs and local legislators are debating whether to strip public sector workers of their rights to form unions, we would do well to consider that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life standing up for better jobs and workers’ rights. As was entirely consistent with his stand for peace and justice, he roundly condemned “right-to-work” laws like those now being pushed in New Hampshire.

Now branded a “civil rights leader,” King always tied the black freedom agenda to economics. At the 1963 March on Washington, formally known as the “March for Jobs and Freedom,” King explained that 100 years after slavery had been abolished, “the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

Throughout his 13-year public career, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Poor Peoples Campaign and the Memphis sanitation workers strike, King “consistently aligned himself with ordinary working people, supporting their demands for workplace rights and economic justice,” writes historian Michael Honey in the introduction to a new collection of King speeches.

For a timely example, King spoke out consistently against “right-to-work” laws like the one adopted in last year’s legislative session and vetoed by Gov. John Lynch. “Right-to-work “provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works,’ King said. “Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining.”

Last week, the New Hampshire House approved HB 383, a version of “right to work” limited to state employees, by a vote of 212-128. A similar bill is up for a hearing this week.

King said of such proposals in 1961, “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights. It is supported by Southern segregationists who are trying to keep us from achieving our civil rights and our right of equal job opportunity. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone. Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights.”

“Segregationist” may be a label that no longer applies to anti-union lawmakers, but the connection between race and the impact of unions is not just a matter of history.
“The lingering effects of discrimination, the educational attainment gap, and economic segregation are among the causes of the stubborn racial divide in employment,” reports United for a Fair Economy in its annual “State of the Dream” report, released Friday.
“The erosion of manufacturing jobs in recent decades, coupled with the anti-government attack on public sector workers and labor unions, have exacerbated racial inequalities in employment,” the report says.

With blacks 30 percent more likely than the overall work force to work for the government, the attack on public sector workers reinforces dynamics that keep black poverty rates twice that of whites and keep the net worth of black families one-fifth that of white ones.

It was arithmetic like that that brought King to Memphis in 1968.

Working in dismal conditions at poverty level wages, more than 1,000 sanitation and sewage system workers had walked off the job on Feb. 12 that year. As they held daily meetings and marches over the next eight weeks, the fundamental issues in their struggle were the right to negotiate a union contract and the right to have union dues deducted from paychecks. The very same issues are at stake here.

This week the New Hampshire House Labor Committee is considering HB 1163, which “prohibits employers from withholding union dues from employees’ wages” and HB 1206, which does the same thing, but limits the restriction to public state workers.
More serious, perhaps, is HB 1645, “prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining.” Teachers, firefighters, police officers, the people who plow our roads and make sure our drinking water is safe, and the entire state workforce would lose the protection of their union contracts should this radical proposal become law.

After King’s assassination, the Memphis workers finally won an agreement with the city.
“In its wake,” writes Michael Honey, “public employees became the leading force for union expansion in America.”

New Hampshire’s public employees did not secure the right to unionize until 1975, which means they owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. King and the Memphis workers.

King was acutely aware of history, and often quoted Theodore Parker’s statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

But as a scholar who understood the role played by organized labor in ending sweatshops and creating the American middle class, he knew someone had to do some active bending for justice to result.

“Social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals,” he said in a 1961 speech to the United Auto Workers union.

If we want to be on the side of King’s dream of economic justice, we’ve got some work to do.

VIDEO: I Have A Dream, Aug 28, 1963

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King day, I thought it would be appropriate to show one of the greatest speeches of all time.

Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream speech’

Full text to the “I Have A Dream” speech:

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

In One Chart: What Happened to the Middle Class

Andrew Smithers Chart

This chart, by British economist Andrew Smithers, shows how the nation’s income has been distributed since 1929.  “All output is for somebody’s benefit, either those who work for the firm (the labor share) or those who provide the capital (the profit share). Labor’s share has never been lower or the profit share higher.”

Smithers attributes this to changes in the way corporate executives are paid. “The current incentives discourage investment and encourage high profit margins. This is dangerous for companies’ long-term prospects… It is [also] very damaging for the economy… Senior management positions change frequently, so if management wish to get rich, they have to get rich quickly.”

Read the full PBS NewsHour interview here.

 

 

Labor History 12-17: The Fight For Equal Pay

The Willmar Eight

December 17, 1977

Thirty-five years ago, the nation’s first bank strike began in Willmar, Minnesota. The wind-chill was 70 degrees below zero when eight female employees walked out of Citizens’ National Bank, protesting discriminatory pay scales.

At the time of the strike, the starting salary for women was 75% less than for men.  The Bank President told the women that it was only fair that men were better paid. After all, he said, they had to pay to take women on dates.  “We’re not all equal, you know.”

The women’s lawyer was County Chairman of the Republican Party.  The strike lasted almost two years.

December 17, 2012

Women are still fighting for equal pay – particularly here in New Hampshire, where the state GOP is leading the charge against pay equity.

Last year, it became a campaign issue when gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne refused to embrace the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.  State Republican Party spokesman Tory Mazolla called the bill a “handout to trial lawyers because it expands the areas that people can sue their employers unnecessarily.”

Maybe GOP politicians aren’t bothered by wage disparities between men and women – it’s still a real problem.  Here in the Granite State, on average, women earn only 65 cents for every dollar that men earn.  (In Rockingham County, it’s 59 cents on the dollar; in Coos, it’s 62 cents.)

The wage gap is evident even when comparing equivalent jobs: in New Hampshire, women are paid 77 cents for every dollar than men earn doing the same type of job.

Thirty-five years after “The Willmar 8” strike, the National Partnership for Women and Families is asking Congress to pass the “Paycheck Fairness Act”, which would: prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who discuss salaries with colleagues;  put gender-based discrimination on equal footing with other forms of wage discrimination; and increase the ability of the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce pay discrimination laws.

Isn’t it about time?

 

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