(Editor’s Note: Robert Reich has been a media pundit, lecturer and writer popular with progressives. From time to time he hits home as with this post on the lack of income predictability for a growing segment of Americans. It is now 40 percent, but soon to be a majority of workers, according to Reich. Here’s a snippet. Click through to read the entire post).
As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.
This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.
On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.
It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.
On Thursday the Los Angeles Times reported a Costco member sued the retailer on allegations that it knowingly sold frozen prawns that were the product of slave labor.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, alleges that Costco was aware that the prawns it purchased from its Southeast Asian producers came from a supply chain dependent on human trafficking and other illegal labor abuses.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, named seafood producers Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. in Thailand and C.P. Food Products Inc. in Maryland as defendants.
Based on claims of unfair competition and fraudulent practices, the lawsuit seeks a court order stopping Costco from selling prawns without a label describing its “tainted” supply chain and from buying, distributing and selling products they know or suspect to be derived from slave labor or human trafficking.
Read the rest of the article here.
If the allegations are true, the Costco halo with regard to labor relations should dim.
More than any other large retailer, Costco is in the good graces of members of the progressive community for its labor practices.
In January 2014, President Obama choose a Costco in Lanham, Maryland to advocate for an increase in the federal minimum wage because the retailer is “acting on its own to pay its workers a fair wage.”
“To help make that case, look no further than Costco,” said Thomas Perez, secretary of labor at the event. “Costco has been proving for years that you can be a profitable company while still paying your employees a fair wage. They’ve rejected the old false choice that you can serve the interests of your shareholders, or your workers, but not both.”
“Labor union officials and backers agree,” according to an article in USA Today, “saying other retailers, such as Walmart, could learn from the way Costco treats its workers and the results.”
Costco’s example is on the left end of the retail spectrum, and is set up to be taken down a notch. Slavery in its supply chain is nothing new as their shelves have long been stocked with canned tuna derived from a Thailand based fishing trade that sources from slave vessels. The Costco halo has protected it… perhaps until now.
When in high school I enjoyed having a tuna melt sandwich at Ross’ Restaurant in Bettendorf after working on the stage crew. The warm tuna salad, with a slice of melted cheese, served on toasted bread was sensually appealing and delicious. We are not in high school any more.
We live in a society where the mere mention of symbols of 19th century slavery creates cacophonous public debate. Just look at the recent news cycles regarding use of the Confederate battle flag in public places. It was a media firestorm with the defining act arguably being removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol grounds. Modern day slavery? Barely a word about it.
Whether Costco’s association with slaves in its supply chain will become an issue among its members is uncertain at best. As a society don’t like to take down the symbols in our hagiography, even if all large-scale retailers, including Costco, are far from saintly. We take comfort in developing patterns and relationships with our retailers, creating a refuge from a world that seems increasingly hostile. “I like this brand,” a consumer might say.
The argument comes down to the face of the farmer. When we discover the farmer is a slave, it requires action on our part. That is, unless we concede the world is so screwed up there is no hope.
I’ve never eaten a prawn, and don’t plan to start. If the lawsuit is successful, I’m not sure it will matter among prawn-eaters or other Costco members. However, progressives should care, and stop referring to Costco as a model for labor relations until it pledges, and lives up to the pledge, to take slavery out of its supply chain.
No one in American labor history has won the mythic status of Mary “Mother” Jones (1837-1930).
This Irish immigrant, who lost her family to disease and her business to the Great Chicago Fire, became the nation’s roving rabble-rouser in the final third of her life.
Traveling from picket line to coal mine to jail cells, this spirited figure rallied many a strike. Today she rests in the Union Miners’ Cemetery in Mt. Olive, Ill., surrounded by the coal miners for whom she fought.
A unique two CD musical compilation brings together songs about her, coal mining and a working class fighting spirit.
The CD benefits the Mother Jones Monument over her grave, recently restored with the fund-raising efforts of the Illinois AFL-CIO.
Most of the 35 songs here are in a country or folk vein, some very traditional, others more contemporary in their sound. There are a few “name” musicians one might recognize here, like Steve Earle with Del McCoury and Billy Bragg. The majority are musicians inspired by a colorful woman, who knew well how music could lift the spirits and how her own appearance, dressed in Victorian garb, was theatrical itself.
A special treat is the original recording from 1930s-40s “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, who had his first hit in 1931, “The Death of Mother Jones.”
Liner notes from Dr. Rosemary Feurer tells the impact this woman’s life had, both the reality of her spirited interventions and the inspiration she was to others.
The CD is available for $24, including shipping, from http://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/catalog.
(Editor’s Note: These photos were published in early 2002 in the 911 issue of Hasta Cuando, a Spanish-English punk political magazine out of Pilsen, Chicago. They are by an extraordinary Chicago artist, teacher and musician, Rebecca Wolfram and reflect her response to the shallow and zealous patriotism after the destruction of the World Trade Center and bombing of the Pentagon.).
I usually loathe flags and symbols in general. Symbolic gestures are a lazy way to avoid substantial meaningful change. Focusing on symbolism is an intellectually dishonest way to ignore substantive argument. Not looking at a thing for what it is, but what it represents oppressively denies subjective experience.
And so, this 4th of July Holiday weekend, I’m sure most of us will have seen the store shelves and picnics festooned with US flag napkins, paper plates, table cloths, bikinis, beach towels, and parades lined in red, white and blue. People die for the flag, kill for the flag. But as Arundhati Roy explained, “Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s minds & then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.”
But it’s been quite an eventful flag waving couple of weeks.
Rainbow Gay Pride Flags flutter in parades and across social media screens around the world after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling.
After the brutal racist murder of members of a prayer group at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the Confederate Flag has now descended from atop flagpoles in front of National Monuments and State Legislatures. Even historic revisionists white folk are losing their ability to deny its violent, racists origins – people have the google to dispel their racist idiotic claims.
Finally, the ISIS flag suffered a brilliant shaming at the Gay Pride Parade in London when artist Paul Coombs marched with his parody of the ISIS flag, substituting the caliphate propaganda with inscriptions of dildos and butt plugs. Coombs explained, “It [the ISIS flag] has become a potent symbol of brutality, fear and sexual oppression. If I wanted to try and stimulate a dialogue about the ridiculousness of this ideology, the flag was key.” Glaringly, Coombs flag was also key to exposing CNN’s shoddy journalism when it spread the panicky story that the flag was actually ISIS in the parade, rather than just a dildo afficianado making a political statement.
These series of events reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s anti-war, anti-nationalist lyric from, Games without Frontiers, “Andre has a red flag, Chiang Ching’s is blue. They all have hills to fly them on except for Lin Tai Yu.” The lyric references extremist leaders prevailing in 20th Century, meanwhile peaceful democratic people remain sans patria…
And though the Gay Pride flag waves magnificently across parades and facebook statuses, it is a bittersweet victory. We can rightfully claim victory in the marriage equality ruling, yet it still remain legal in many states to fire someone for their sexual status. You can marry, but not work. You can marry, but you can’t shop in my store.
The Confederate Flag, long a symbol of white pride, of a hateful sublime oppression that remained to oppress African Americans in spite of and in backlash to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, is being taken down. As I write this, the seventh Black Church has been burned since the Mother Emanuel AME massacre.
We are all subjected to this Treachery of Images. Our work is to unravel the threads of all those flags, and use them to knit together a humanistic meaning and society.
Margie Mason of the Associated Press reported Tuesday that Indonesian police arrested seven suspects in an ongoing case.
“Five Thai boat captains and two Indonesian employees at Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing firms in eastern Indonesia, were taken into custody,” wrote Mason. “The arrests come after the AP reported on slave-caught seafood shipped from Benjina to Thailand, where it can be exported and enter the supply chains of some of America’s biggest food retailers.”
But for the investigative reporting by the Associated Press, these instances of slavery and human trafficking would have gone unnoticed, especially in the Western Hemisphere at the end of the global food supply chain.
American consumers don’t want to hear what goes on at the far end of the food supply chain. Using slave labor to fish is particularly egregious, and most people I meet don’t want to hear any of it. The focus is on the box, can, bag or piece of fruit or vegetable in front of them. Few want to dig very deep into where it comes from. We are the less as a society because of this prevalent American value.
I’m not a person who sees cause for alarm everywhere I look. I’ve been inside enough manufacturing and production operations during the last 40 years to know it requires oftentimes difficult work to make things we use every day. In most cases, there is a human impact with the means of production.
In the slow walk away from union representation since the Reagan era, much of what we learned about worker treatment has been abandoned by companies whose business model is to outsource or use subcontractors. That’s the immediate defense of Pusaka Benjina Resources: their subcontractors were responsible for any human trafficking and slavery. It is really no defense.
One should appreciate that the Associated Press is still willing to invest substantial resources in breaking stories like the slavery on Indonesian fishing vessels. Few others seem willing to do so as news organizations struggle to carve out a viable business niche, and as news and information gets blended into a vast soup of engaging, but largely irrelevant bits and packets transmitted with the speed of breaking news.
What’s a blogger to do? We begin like a fisher, setting sail on the sea of posts, articles, books, emails and letters that exist on electronic media. Waiting for what is relevant, what is news, and importantly, what matters. Not what matters to me, but what matters to all of us on this blue-green sphere.
What comes next is up to each of us.
(Editor’s Note: Read the first in this series about slavery in the seafood business here. Article includes links to brands whose tuna may be harvested by slaves).
Posted on May 4, 2015 by admin note this was written Monday. So good it needed to be posted
Tom Courtney, State Senator, Burlington
It’s a sad day in Iowa when a lobbyist claiming to represent small businesses had these responses[“Small business dodged bad bills this session,” April 28] when modest reforms approved by the Iowa Senate are killed by the Iowa House:
* Dishonest employers are still able to cheat Iowa workers out of $600 million a year in wages? HOORAY!
* 181,000 Iowans were denied a modest increase in their rock bottom wages? YEAH!
* Iowa workers can still be forced to accept high-fee debit cards instead of a full paycheck for their work? YIPPEE!
This celebration of backroom efforts to keep Iowa wages so low that full-time workers need public assistance to survive is premature.
The session is not over and there is still time to reach agreements that will help all Iowans — workers, business owners and other taxpayers — recover from the national recession.
Editor’s note: A couple of my pet peeves: two other issues not addressed here under the labor banner that continue to fester year after year:
1) the plight of the contract worker. These are folks that work in a real limbo between “real” jobs and unemployment. Their work is sporadic, they work for a company in between them and the ultimate employer, most likely they do not qualify for any benefits and they get very low wages.
2) Restaurant workers, especially wait staff. I don’t know about you, but I see no reason why it should be up to me to pay the wait staff. Isn’t that their employers duty? Nor should the staff be subjected to some of the crap that is directed their way just to get a tip.
Given Iowa’s early labor organizing among mineworkers, led by John L. Lewis, who went on to head the United Mine Workers and found the Congress of Industrial Organizations, this book review illustrates the struggles posed by this dangerous profession.
Grand Prairie Union News
The Devil Is Here In These Hills: West Virginia Coal Miners and their Battle for Freedom, by James Green, Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 978-0-8021-2331-2 $28.00
Stereotypes abound about Appalachian people, “hillbillies” and “rednecks,” as rough clothed, rough fighting, straight shooting and inter-marrying tribal Americans, lost in deep eastern valleys.
Stereotypes are never fair and the determined labor battles that West Virginia coal miners fought receive their comprehensive due in James Green’s latest gift to labor history, The Devil Is Here In These Hills.
As the 20th century began, coal mining reached higher levels in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, as deep seams of high quality fuel were exploited on an industrial scale. Not only were native Appalachians recruited to work the mines, so were Italian immigrants and African-Americans. Soon forging common bonds, these workers struggled from the 1900s until the 1930s to win union recognition and security.
Isolated in coal camps where the companies controlled the town, housing and stores, paying the workers often in company-issued currency, the miners soon found themselves in debt, their safety and dignity disregarded.
Again and again these workers rose up, only to face Baldwin-Felts detectives, court injunctions, state militias and federal troops. Blood ran freely and the miners quickly learned to arm themselves and fight back, though the odds were stacked against them.
Famous characters show up to rally the workers – the “Miners’ Angel,” Mary “Mother” Jones, with her characteristic salty language, boldly marched into company towns. Sid Hatfield, scion of the famous feuding families and sheriff of Matewan, West Virginia, became a miners’ hero after he faced off against Baldwin-Felts agents, only to be assassinated on the courthouse steps in Welch, West Virginia.
Green thoroughly details the culminating battles that Hatfield’s death helped trigger, the 1920-21 Mine Wars, including the Battle of Blair Mountain, where thousands of armed miners skirmished for three days with company guards and sheriffs. The U.S. Army Air Force had its first and only foray against American civilians during this episode and Federal troops finally disarmed the miners. To their dismay, the miners soon learned that only they were being disarmed, not the coal companies nor the Baldwin-Felts agents.
The term “redneck” is often linked to these battles, as the miners wore red kerchiefs and the company white, to distinguish their separate sides.
Beat down but never surrendering, when the 1930s Roosevelt Administration legalized union organization, West Virginia miners quickly joined the United Mine Workers and not only won better conditions, but democracy in their own communities, freed from the company store and company house.
Too often working people and their efforts for a voice and dignity get lost; particularly rural workers are stereotyped. Green breaks through this to show a multi-ethnic workers’ community, united in seeking democracy, not only in politics, but also on the job, and bravely willing to shed blood to win it.
While Iowans engaged in the NCAA Basketball Tournament another story was being written by Associated Press reporters Robin McDowell, Margie Mason and Martha Mendoza about food not far from televisions tuned into the games.
Following a year-long investigation, AP broke the story of slave labor being used to fish, sometimes illegally, in Indonesian waters for catch that finds its way to U.S. markets in stores like Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons and Safeway. You’ll find slave-caught seafood at the food service company SYSCO, and in restaurants. It is also used in popular pet foods such as Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams according to AP.
During its investigation, AP interviewed 40 slaves on the Indonesian island of Benjina.
“The men the Associated Press spoke to on Benjina were mostly from Myanmar, also known as Burma, one of the poorest countries in the world,” the March 24 article said. “They were brought to Indonesia through Thailand and forced to fish. Their catch was shipped back to Thailand, and then entered the global commerce stream.”
The slaves interviewed by the AP described 20- to 22-hour shifts and unclean drinking water. Almost all said they were kicked, beaten or whipped with toxic stingray tails if they complained or tried to rest. They were paid little or nothing.
Runaway Hlaing Min said many died at sea, according to the AP.
“If Americans and Europeans are eating this fish, they should remember us. There must be a mountain of bones under the sea,” he said. “The bones of the people could be an island, it’s that many.”
There is plenty to provoke outrage among American consumers. Reactions to this story may include a boycott, begging the question who do we boycott? Better yet would be pressuring companies with our pocketbook by making better choices if we consume seafood. The Environmental Defense Fund provides a seafood selector site here; Greenpeace provides a shopping guide for tuna and there are other rating sites on the web. Slave labor is not the only issue with consuming seafood.
It is important to note this story about slave labor buried in the U.S. food supply chain would have remained hidden if not for the resources of the Associated Press and the work of McDowell, Mason and Mendoza.
Sometimes corporate media does their job, and Associated Press deserves a hat tip on this one.
Read the article “Are Slaves Catching the Fish you Buy” here.
Below is a link to a video version of the same story.
Often overlooked, one of Ireland’s most important contributions to the United States and Canada is the labor movement. Millions of Irish immigrants settled in the growing industrial areas of North America following the great famine in the 1840s.
Predominantly unskilled blue collar workers, the earliest Irish settlers faced dangerous working conditions, low pay and on-the-job discrimination.
As journalist Harold Meyerson wrote in 2009:
When the Irish began arriving en masse in the 1840s, they were met with savage hostility by America’s largely Protestant native-born population and shunted into ghettos … In their occupational ghettos, laying railroad track and working on construction crews, they became America’s first distinct paid ethnic working class.
Some of those immigrant workers starting organizing, helping to form the first labor unions.
For nearly a half-of-a-century one name was nearly synonymous with unions in the public’s mind: Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. Born in Cork, Ireland in 1837, she emigrated to the U.S. at the age of five. Losing her entire family to yellow fever in 1867, she devoted her life to the labor movement, helping to organize coal miners for more than 30 years.
Known for the saying, “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living,” she continued to fight for working people and for the end to child labor up until her death in 1930 at the age of 93. more
“As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this week, let us not forget all the hate, violence and discrimination Irish immigrants faced. The progress we made as an American people and a Labor Movement, we owe to the sacrifices and struggles of all immigrants. So this St. Patrick’s Day, let us toast all those who immigrate to our great country, be mindful of the hate and violence they currently face, and lend them our moral support – so that they too can work hard to achieve their American Dream – just as the Irish did.”
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker makes his first appearance in Iowa after making comments at CPAC comparing union members protesting his policies to ISIS, Iowa workers are speaking up and demanding an apology. Union Members and workers from all over Iowa are planning to hold a press conference in Dubuque to address Walker’s unpatriotic remarks in front of the Hotel Julien, at 6 pm on Saturday March 7.
Bruce Clark, President of the Dubuque Federation of Labor will be the main speaker. Other officials have been invited to speak at this Press Conference.
WHO: Veterans, Nurses, Schoolteachers, Parents, and other Iowa workers
WHAT: Press Conference with Iowa workers demanding an apology from Wisconsin Governor Walker.
WHERE: In front of the Hotel Julien, 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
WHEN: Saturday, March 7, 2015, at 6PM
Organizer – Iowa Federation of Labor
On Saturday, Governor Walker of Wisconsin will be in Dubuque at the Hotel Julien for a fundraiser for newly-elected IA 1st District Congressman Rod Blum. The fundraiser is part of a day-long trip by Walker to Iowa who will speak earlier in the day at the Ag Summit in Des Moines – an event that profiles would-be presidential contenders.
However, when Walker arrives in Dubuque, he will be greeted by Iowans who are deeply offended and shocked by his recent comments at a CPAC conference that compared union members to ISIS terrorists. Saying, “If I can take on 100,000 protestors, I can do the same across the world,” Walker suggested that his experience in 2011 pushing through a bill that gutted public sector bargaining rights, is similar to the skills needed to handle global threats such as ISIS.
This absurd analogy prompted AFL-CIO president Trumka to tweet, “@GovWalker stmt comparing workers & terrorists is revolting. It’s clear his judgment is impaired & he’s not qualified for the Presidency.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren added, tweeting, “If Scott Walker sees 100,000 teachers & firefighters as his enemies, maybe it’s time we take a closer look at his friends.”
Walker was asked by labor groups to apologize for this comment but has since resisted. He did extrapolate on his remarks on FOX News, explaining, “The leadership we provided under extremely difficult circumstances, arguably the most difficult of any governor in the country, maybe in recent times. To me, I apply that to say, if I were to run and if I were to win and be commander-in-chief, I believe that kind of leadership is what’s necessary to take on radical Islamic terrorism.”
Again, Walker’s response is not only woefully inaccurate, but it is very concerning. The reality of dealing with peaceful public protest against anti-worker legislation is a very different reality than dealing with the magnitude of warfare. For Walker to act like his experience with one qualifies him to deal with the other both underrates the very serious contemplation of war, it alternately conflates peaceful protests with armed conflict.
Whenever I hear some dismiss these comments as “stupid” or by an “idiot,” I pause, because this type of thinking, even as it appears stupid, is actually quite dangerous. Analogies grow on people. What is first just a thought, a suggestion, after repetition becomes conventional wisdom. The lines get blurred between what is our just, lawful, right to protest, use civil disobedience (and to do so while standing up for the rights of workers to collectively organize and bargain), and terrorism.
It is also absurd to think about what on earth would Scott Walker do to deter ISIS, based on his behavior as Wisconsin Governor? Will he tell them he’s going to defund secular education? Will Walker threaten ISIS by saying he will reduce access to the polls and voting? That he will go after women’s reproductive rights and limit access to family planning? That he will implement economic policies that result in Wisconsin being below the national average in job and wage growth? I think ISIS might actually agree with him on a lot of those policies.
Join good people of Iowa this Saturday in Dubuque at 6PM to make sure that this story does not die off as the conservative press would like it to do.