Posts tagged labor

Posted 3 years ago
Posted 3 years ago

Here’s How to Avoid Roses That Support Violent Labor Abuses This Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day is coming up, and that means a spike in American flower sales. Unfortunately, despite their romantic connotations, a lot of flowers sold in America have ugly, cruel, and, occasionally, violent origins.

In Ecuador and Colombia, for instance, which furnish a large bulk of America’s flowers, many flower farm workers—most of them female—are subjected to sexual harassment, poor wages, and unsafe working conditions. One worker interviewed for Frontline documentary about flower abuses said her employers used to fumigate greenhouses while she and her colleagues were still inside. They also refused to pay her when she became pregnant.

On Kenyan flower farms, workers have reported being forced to work 12-hour days for less than a dollar in wages. Others say they’ve been raped while on their dangerous, dark routes to work at five in the morning.

What makes these abuses particularly upsetting is that they needn’t exist. There are many fair-trade flower producers in business around the world, and they’re creating sustainable flowers while offering workers competitive wages, daycare programs, and safety. The problem is getting major flower distributors to sell them.

Currently, 1-800-Flowers offers not a single fair-trade stem, nor will the company tell activists where its wares originate. And a search of FTD’s website also returns nothing fair-trade certified.

This Valentine’s Day, if you want to make sure your token of affection doesn’t also support violence against women in the third world, try getting roses from one of these companies, which stamp all their flowers with the “fair-trade certified” seal: One World FlowersWorld FlowersInbloom Group

Help spread the love.

photo (cc) via Flickr user Andrea Guerra

Posted 3 years ago

Richard D. Wolff | The Myth of 'American Exceptionalism' Implodes

One aspect of “American exceptionalism” was always economic.  US workers, so the story went, enjoyed a rising level of real wages that afforded their families a rising standard of living.  Ever harder work paid off in rising consumption.  The rich got richer faster than the rest, but almost no one got poorer.  Nearly all citizens felt “middle class.”  A profitable US capitalism kept running ahead of labor supply.  So it kept raising wages to attract waves of immigration and to retain employees across the 19th century until the 1970s.

Then everything changed.  Real wages stopped rising as US capitalists redirected their investments to produce and employ abroad while replacing millions of workers in the US by computers.  Women’s liberation moved millions of adult US women to seek paid employment.  US capitalism no longer faced a shortage of labor.

US employers took advantage of the changed situation: they stopped raising wages.  When basic labor scarcity became labor excess, not only real wages but eventually benefits too stopped rising.  Over the last 30 years, the vast majority of US workers have in fact gotten poorer when you sum up flat real wages, reduced benefits (pensions, medical insurance, etc.), reduced public services, and raised tax burdens.  In economic terms, American “exceptionalism” began to die in the 1970s.

Posted 3 years ago

… as early as its founding convention of 1866 the [National Labor Union] wrestled with the attempt to make black inclusion a reality, and by 1869 it had asked black delegates to form their own all-black organization. The result was the Colored National Labor Union (CNLU), whose 214 delegates gathered in Washing, choosing Isaac Myers as its president; Frederick Douglass headed the organization after 1872. ‘It is not without interest,’ historian Rayford W. Logan notes, ‘that the first large-scale exclusion of Negroes by private organizations in the postbellum period was the handiwork of organized labor.’

… The NLU’s solution of encouraging equality but not integration, urging the formation of separate black trade unions, ‘was a first halting note,’ according to W.E.B. Du Bois. ‘Negroes were welcomed to the labor movement, not because they were laborers but because they might be competitors in the market, and the logical conclusion was either to organize them or guard against their actual competition by other methods. It was to this latter alternative that white American labor almost unanimously turned.’ The recommendation of a specially formed NLU Committee on Negro Labor reveals the hamstrung quality of the members’ deliberations: ‘While we feel the importance of the subject, and realize the danger in the form of competition in mechanical Negro labor,’ the committeemen concluded, ‘yet we find the subject involved in so much mystery, and upon it so wide diversity of opinion amongst our members, we believe that it is inexpedient to take action on the subject.’ Du Bois cites the NLU’s failure to bridge the divide of race as a fatal misstep. Relegating the black worker to a role as a competitor and a prospective under-bidder’ and asking him, ‘when he appeared at conventions…to organize separately; that is, outside the real labor movement,’ was nothing less than ‘a contradiction of all sound labor policy.’

Philip Dray, There Is Power In A Union, pp. 81, 83-84 (via ziatroyano)
Posted 4 years ago
A central component of socialism in its marxist variant is the drive to reduce the burden of compulsory labour on people, using productivity gains to shorten people’s working lives and elongate their living hours. Concretely, in the context of a recession with mass unemployment, we can see how this might translate into a real demand: share the work around more equitably, give us a shorter working week with no loss of pay.
Posted 4 years ago
This fixation on factory labour as the locus of ‘true’ class-consciousness has always been too limited, if not misguided. Those working in the forests and the fields, in the ‘informal sectors’ of casual labour in the backstreet sweatshops, in the domestic services or in the service sector more generally, and the vast army of labourers employed in the production of space and of built environments or in the trenches (often literally) of urbanisation cannot be treated as secondary actors.
David Harvey
Posted 4 years ago

Rigged to Lose: The Casino as Introduction to Marxian Economics

Part I: Theories of Exploitation

Exploitation of Labor Power. The one that gets the most attention in analyses of Marx (and the most contentious) is that of the extraction of surplus value from labor. This is accomplished by capitalists buying labor power on the open market and then using it to produce something, which is then exchanged in the market. The capitalist gets the profit while the producer gets a wage. When this process successfully gains surplus value for the capitalist and contributes to the accumulation of capital, the value of the labor can be said to have been realized.

In the case of the casino, the labor power being exploited is that of the casino’s staff. The maintenance workers, the women serving drinks in skimpy outfits on the floor (here we can see an example of a mutually reinforcing relationship between capitalism and sexism), the security staff, the dealers, etc. The value of this labor, for the capitalists is realized if and only if the casino gains surplus value (e.g. profit) in the long run. How does a casino do that? The answer brings us to…

Primitive Accumulation. This is much more conventional, smash-and-grab stuff. Appropriation of indigenous lands, forcible redistribution of common property, etc. Marx contended that such tactics were necessary for the formation of capitalism as a social and economic system. David Harvey expanded on this idea, demonstrating that it happened not just at the genesis of capitalism, but throughout its history. Colonialism, privatization of state assets, and so on all contribute to the continued accumulation of capital- what he termed “accumulation by dispossession.”

In a casino, this is the only way (conventionally speaking) that the institution can make a profit- by inducing people to give them money through gambling. Various tricks and rules ensure that the majority of patrons lose money, such as the house taking a cut of each hand, or the anthropologist-designed slot machines that convince you you’re just one spin away from victory, everything down to the pattern on the carpet. And of course, the drinks given out by the aforementioned women on the floor. All of this is designed to get people to lose money to the casino. One might argue that what people really want when they go to a casino is the experience of being there rather than money- the casino produces affects instead of commodities. The spectacles performed at some casinos might plausibly be used as an example of this. However the stand-up comedy shows and the like are a peripheral, and not a necessary part of the casino’s activities, and they also let you in for free. The principal source of income remains the zero-sum games on the floor. 

When viewed from an ethical standpoint, the activities of a casino are doubly repellent- the surplus value taken from workers through the exploitation of the wage system can only be realized by regular engagement in accumulation by dispossession.

Posted 4 years ago
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be.
Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness
Posted 4 years ago
For a generation, our intellectual culture has suggested that in the new global age, work is something someone else does. Someone we never met far away in an export processing zone will make our clothes, immigrants with no rights in our political process or workplaces will cook our food and clean our clothes.
Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO
Posted 4 years ago

Greek workers say: ‘Let the rich pay’

A second general strike in two weeks shows that Greek workers are standing up to the bosses’ and bankers’ attempt to force them to pay the costs of a problem the workers had no responsibility for creating: the capitalist economic crisis. This determined resistance is what’s behind the headlines on the financial pages about the euro’s stability and European Union negotiations with the Greek regime.

Two million Greek workers stayed away from their jobs on Feb. 24. Factories, offices, large retail stores, seaports and airports were closed. Workers and youths took to the streets in 70 cities throughout Greece. “Reject the government plan, the rich should pay for the crisis,” read the banner leading the demonstration in Athens.

The militant mood on the street contrasted with the discussions among bank boards of directors, government officials and the capitalist-controlled media throughout the European Union. The EU itself is an instrument of big business, a coalition of capitalists arrayed against the European working class and the nations in the former colonial world. Its ruling-class media try to portray the Greek people in general, especially the workers, as unwilling to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices — to save the capitalist economy.