Monday, September 05, 2016

Late Labor Day links

In Jacobin, New Jersey City University professor of education Lois Weiner argues that it's time for the labor movement to move beyond hoping only for "a seat at the table" with an increasingly neoliberal Democratic Party. 
Yes, we must protect what the working class and unions have earned through generations of struggle and sacrifice — gains, it should be noted, that have been seriously compromised by the Democrats’ acquiescence to the corporate “common sense” of a social order that benefits the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. But if we want to safeguard remaining protections — to say nothing of winning improvements — we’re undercutting ourselves by backing Clinton, a candidate who has sold out “on welfare, crime, race, labor, trade, drugs, and media.”

At the very least, if labor is going to try to rally votes for Clinton, it needs to do so with a program aimed at creating a progressive movement that will fight Clinton on her agenda. Put the choice as Adolph Reed has: defeating Trump is essential and that means voting for a candidate who is a “lying neoliberal war-monger.” Yet organized labor’s strategy with endorsing Clinton has been the exact opposite.
From Deasdspin, here is  Jack Moore on a recent NLRB ruling against an effort by Northwestern football players to organize. 
Here we are in 2015, and the NLRB has failed to recognize the labor rights of a group of football players, largely black men and men of color, who have dared to suggest the time and effort they put in should be considered work. By suggesting that the stability of college athletic labor relations is more important than the rights of players to organize, the NLRB has implicitly endorsed the current state of affairs, one where players are not only restricted from the billions of profits their work creates, but where some of these players go to bed hungry. All because their work doesn’t count as real labor.
From Slate, this is an investigation by Maria Hengeveld of the contrast between Nike's sweatshop operations in Southeast Asia and its hypocritical PR campaign claiming that the company is really all about "women's empowerment." The Nike ad campaign is called "Girl Effect" and is based on a notion popular among international development charities and related NGOs that investment in developing economies has a greater multiplier effect when directed primarily at women. The theory itself is compelling but, in Nike's hands, it becomes immediately and obviously problematic.
Over four weeks in January, I interviewed 18 women, 23 to 55 years old, who currently or recently produced, labeled, and packaged Nike shoes and apparel at five different factories within 30 miles of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. These plants are listed on Nike’s site as employing more than 61,000 female line workers, and Nike sends inspectors to the sites to monitor working conditions and compliance with the company’s Code of Conduct. Nike wouldn’t put me in touch with employees of its contract factories, so I contacted an underground workers’ rights organization and an independent researcher who specializes in women’s issues. The women they introduced me to live in squalid conditions near the factories, where they mostly share single rooms with two to five family members. Joined by translators, I visited their homes, met some of their daughters and families, listened to their stories, and collected documents including company policies and pay slips.

Although they may be unfamiliar with Nike’s global campaign, the goal of the women I spoke with sounds a lot like the Girl Effect—to raise themselves and their families out of poverty. Each of the 18 women, however, reported pay so low they could not even meet the basic needs of their families, let alone save money or contribute to their communities. (Four had been laid off less than three months before we met, after their factory building burnt down; they spoke only about their wages and child care, cautious of giving critiques that might jeopardize their chances of getting hired back.) They told me that they would need to earn between three to four times their current salaries to offer their families a basic level of economic security. The average monthly wage for manufacturing in Vietnam was $200 in 2015. Their stories highlighted something the Girl Effect campaign is silent about: the importance of a living wage.

I also found evidence that Nike’s contract factories breach basic Girl Effect tenets of freedom from exploitation and harassment, security, safety, and Nike’s own Code of Conduct, put in place to prohibit, among other things, harassment, abuse, and nonconsensual overtime. Women who worked in different factories told remarkably similar stories of being subjected to arbitrary punishments—such as financial penalties and threats of dismissal for making manufacturing mistakes, not working quickly enough, or coming in late, along with intimidation and ongoing humiliation by managers.

Finally, although the Girl Effect champions the importance of women protecting and empowering their own children, the women in Vietnam explained to me why their low wages make it impossible for them to ensure their children’s safety. The 10 mothers with young children whom I spoke with either send their children to unlicensed child care services they consider underqualified or dangerous or they leave them with family in home villages they are able to visit only once or twice a year.
This is no longer an argument for raising women out of poverty but a ready-made "woke" sounding excuse for exploiting their labor.  And Nike isn't alone in deploying the language of gender empowerment for cynical purposes. Consider also the Clinton Global Initiative's promotion of "microfinance" described in this Harper's piece by Thomas Frank.
These ideas made up the core of the Hillary Doctrine. Melanne Verveer, her ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, declared in 2011 that “financial inclusion is a top priority for the U.S. government” and announced her terrible chagrin that “three billion people in the world remain unbanked; the majority of them are women.” Hillary’s under­secretary for democracy and global affairs, Maria Otero, came to State from one of the biggest American micro­lending institutions, ACCION International. Now, in her official government capacity, she expressed her joy at how microfinance had evolved “from subsidized microloans to a focus on self-sufficiency, to an emphasis on savings, to a full suite of financial products delivered by commercial regulated banks”—and how all this had “affirmed the capacity of the poor to become economic actors in their own right.” Hillary herself proudly recalls in her memoirs how the State Department rebuilt Afghanistan by handing out “more than 100,000 small personal loans” to the women of that country.

These are fine, sterling sentiments. They suffer, however, from one big problem: microlending doesn’t work. As strategies for ending poverty go, micro­lending appears to be among the worst that has ever been tried, just one step up from doing nothing at all to help the poor. In a carefully researched 2010 book called Why Doesn’t Micro­finance Work? the development consultant Milford Bateman debunks virtually every aspect of the microloan gospel. Microlending doesn’t empower women, Bateman writes—instead, it makes them into debtors. It encourages people to take up small, futile enterprises that have no chance of growing or employing others. Sometimes micro­borrowers don’t even start businesses at all; they just spend the loan on whatever. Even worse: the expert studies that originally sparked the micro­lending boom turn out, upon reexamination, to have been badly flawed.

Nearly every country where microlending has been an important development strategy for the past few decades, Bateman writes, is now a disaster zone of indebtedness and economic backwardness. When he tells us that “the increasing dominance of the microfinance model in developing countries is causally associated with their progressive deindustrialization and infantilization,” he is being polite. The terrible implication of the facts he has uncovered is that microlending achieves the opposite of development. Even Soviet-style Communism, with its frequently mocked Five Year Plans, worked better than this strategy does, as Bateman shows in a tragic look at microloan-saturated Bosnia.

No matter. The liberal class is unlikely to abandon its romance with micro­finance, for yet another reason: it is profitable. Lending to the poor, as every subprime-mortgage originator knows, can be a lucrative business. Mixed with international feminist self-righteousness, it is also a bulletproof business, immune to criticism. Naturally the international goodness community discovered that empowering poor women by lending to them at usurious interest rates was a fine thing all around.
Last week when Hillary wing Democrats screamed their heads off in indignation that anyone would impugn the Clinton Global Initiative and all the good it does for poor people around the world, this is what they were talking about. 

Finally, I very much enjoyed this article from NOLA.com on the history of people selling and eating sandwiches in New Orleans. But I couldn't help but see it as maybe a bit of an attempt on the part of the T-P editors to diminish the connection between the  "Po-Boy" and the labor movement.  

History has it that the po-boy was invented by the Martin brothers, Benny and Clovis, to feed striking streetcar drivers in New Orleans in 1929.
According to an account on the website of the Oak Street Po-Boy Festival, Benny Martin once said: "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended. Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'"

It is true that the Martin brothers wrote a letter, addressed to the striking drivers and printed in at least one local newspaper, in which they promised to feed the men. "Our meal is free to any members of Division I94," they wrote, omitting any description of what that meal might be.

But history is often not neat. The explanation for how things came to be can change over time. What is accepted as gospel in one generation may bear little resemblance to what was previously believed. Sometimes what sticks is the best story. This is how legends are made.
The article goes on to describe the shocking fact that meats and seafoods were placed between slices of French bread and consumed prior to 1929.  But there's nothing in it that leads us to the definite conclusion that the appellation "poor boy" was a common name for this type of sandwich prior the Martins' famous act of solidarity with the striking transit workers. Nice touch finding the ad for the "Comus Soda Fountain" though. 

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