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Because those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it…

… a reminder of what happened 81 years ago in Germany:

Politifact:
On May 2, 1933, unions were dissolved, their assets were confiscated, their offices were occupied and their leaders were arrested. Hitler then outlawed strikes, abolished collective bargaining and established the German Labor Front, a corrupt party organization.

The United Kingdom’s National Union of Teachers:
The German trade union movement was one of the largest and most powerful in the world… but independent trade unions had no place in Hitler’s vision for Germany.  Attempts to destroy the unions were assisted by the attitudes of some German business leaders and conservative politicians, many of whom shared the Nazi fear of a socialist revolution. More generally, many of these people felt that the unions had become too powerful in the 1920s and looked for restrictions on or even complete abolition of union rights.

On 2nd May 1933, stormtroopers violently occupied offices of the Free Trade Unions across Germany.

In the city of Duisburg, four officials were beaten to death by Nazi thugs in the cellar of the trade union headquarters. Many more union leaders were arrested and held in prison or concentration camps…

May_2_1933

NH State Reps Make Strong Case For Raising The NH Minimum Wage

By Rep. Jan Schmidt, Rep. Rebecca Emerson-Brown, and Rep. Sally Kelly

The House Labor Committee held a hearing this week on HB 1403, a bill that would increase the minimum wage in New Hampshire from the current rate of $7.25 per hour to $8.25 next January and $9 per hour in January 2016, with modest increases indexed to inflation in the future.

If we pass this bill, it would mean a raise for one in every eight workers whose wages haven’t kept pace with cost of living for more than 30 years and allow them to join the economic mainstream. Since 1979, one hour of work at New Hampshire’s minimum wage could purchase the equivalent of $9.47 in today’s dollars. In other words, inflation has eaten away more than $2 per hour in purchasing power in the last 35 years and has impacted 76,000 of our friends, family and neighbors.

When they hear others talk about raising the minimum wage, many people think back to their first jobs, working in a convenience store or fast food place after school or on weekends. Everybody brings their own experiences to debates in the Legislature, but in this case, anecdotes from one’s own life can be deceiving. The average minimum-wage worker is no longer a teen beginning their working life. They’re adults – with adult responsibilities and adult expenses like utilities, housing, food for their families and transportation costs.

Some basic facts about Americans currently working at minimum wage jobs are in order here.

• The majority – 72 percent – are not teens. They’re 20 years old and above, and 36 percent are older than 30.

• Fifty-nine percent are women.

• Fourteen percent are parents.

• Roughly 21,000 children in New Hampshire have a mother or father who would experience a pay raise if the minimum wage were raised.

With a higher minimum wage, these workers will have more money to spend which, in turn, gives virtually every New Hampshire business more customers – helping them hire more workers and kick-starting a cycle of prosperity. This cycle, driven by $64 million in additional wages paid out over the next two years to low-income households – households that, by necessity, spend every dollar they earn – would put our economy on a steady basis as we move out of the Great Recession.

When opponents claim that a minimum wage hike leads to fewer jobs, what they’re missing is that most jobs are created by middle class consumers buying what businesses large and small are selling; growth comes from the middle out, not the top down. By putting more money in the pockets of hardworking families in New Hampshire, we are building a more durable economy going forward.

This isn’t a partisan issue. Recent polling finds that 76 percent of Granite Staters – including a majority of Republicans, Democrats and undeclared voters – support increasing the minimum wage to $9 per hour. People across the ideological spectrum realize that raising the minimum wage would help lift thousands of Granite State workers out of poverty, stimulate the economy and help families across the state leave behind dependence on food stamps, heating oil assistance and Medicaid.

The time has come to realize that our neighbors currently working for minimum wage deserve a raise, and that our economy will be improved by bringing these workers back into the economic mainstream.

Rep. Jan Schmidt is from Nashua, Rep. Rebecca Emerson-Brown is from Portsmouth, and Rep. Sally Kelly is from Chichester. All three are Democrats.

Labor Rights Are Human Rights (Blog Action Day 2013)

Today is ‘Blog Action Day’.  Once a year thousands of bloggers around the world come together to bring awareness to one common theme in their own special way.  This year the Blog Action Day is focused on ‘human rights’.   Below is my post for this year’s event.

 

Labor Rights Are Human Rights

Everyone should have the right to work in a safe place. Safety in the workplace is one of the biggest issues facing workers around the world.  There are too many examples of workers being hurt or killed on the job.  Unsafe working conditions are just one of the reasons workers have always turned to unions.

In the early days of the industrial revolution corporations were only focused on one thing, profits.  Many of these jobs were in the factories and mills, producing textiles.  They would pack hundreds people in rooms with little to no space to move.  These workers, mostly women and children, would be forced to work for 16 hours a day.

The perfect example of this was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. March 25th of 1911 started like any other day for hundreds of women at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.  Over 500 workers piled in to work early in the morning and began their 16-hour day.

Around 4pm a fire broke out on the sixth floor of the Asch building. The seventh floor was the main manufacturing floor where the majority of the workers were located.  The sixth floor was used to store rolls of fabric.  It did not take long for the entire sixth floor to be engulfed in flames.

Triangle FireTo protect themselves from theft the mill owners decided to lock all the exits on the manufacturing floor.  This prevented the workers from being able to escape the rapidly growing fire.  To escape the fire, workers jumped from seventh floor windows.  Many of them knew they would probably not survive the fall, but they knew they would never survive the fire.

When the fire was finally put out, 146 people lost their lives in this devastating fire. 

Workers Protest after Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Workers Protest after Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

After the fire, workers in other textile mills joined together with union organizers to fight for better safety regulations.  These regulations mandated maximum room occupancy, fire extinguishers, and escape plans.

Many people know the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.  In the United States it became a driving force for labor rights and workplace safety for decades.  Unfortunately the United States cannot regulate other companies.

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

Hasan Raza/Associated Press

In November of 2012 over 100 workers lost their lives in a textile factory in Bangladesh. The fire was eerily similar to the Triangle fire.  Workers were trapped inside with no way to escape.   Fire inspectors actually found that none of the emergency exits opened to the outside.

Once again we see that corporations are more interested in profits than worker’s safety.  It begs the question, what is a human’s life worth?

This is where labor and human rights merge.  Labor has always put workers safety above all else.   Thanks to labor we now have regulations and an entire government agency (OSHA) devoted to protecting workers.

We have much more to do.  Organizations like Global Labor and Human Rights Organization are focused protecting human rights through strong labor rights.

“As workers across the developing world fight for their right to work in dignity, in healthy and safe workplaces, to earn a living wage and to organize independent unions, the Institute will provide solidarity and international visibility to support their efforts, and we will continue to demand that corporations be held legally accountable to respect core internationally recognized worker rights standards.”
From the Global Labor and Human Rights

Workers rights are human rights. Stronger organized labor will lead to higher regard for human rights in the workplace.

 

For more information about Blog Action Day click here

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

womentopperbwEXPANDED

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.)

20130428-105947.jpg

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.

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