News & Commentary

October 12, 2014

On Friday, the Nobel committee awarded Indian child labor activist Kailash Satyarthi the Nobel Peace Prize along with Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban after advocating for girl’s education. According to the BBC, the 60 year old Satyarthi founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), or the Save the Childhood Movement, which campaigns to end child labor. The Nation reports that through his advocacy with Indian trade unions, the International Labour Organization, and the International Labor Rights Forum, Satyarthi has targeted child labor both in small-scale, locally run stores and larger scale industries that implicate multinational corporations and global supply chains. Highlighting the government’s willingness to turn a blind eye in these latter sectors, he has explained, “When a child is bonded to a street restaurant, the employer is usually an ordinary person of some remote village or town, but when children are employed in carpet weaving, or the glass industry or the brassware industry, the employers are ‘big’ people. They generate a lot of foreign exchange through exports and are always considered favorably by the government.” According to the Daily Beast, since the 1980s, the BBA has rescued approximately 80,000 children from construction sites, homes, and factories, where they are used as cheap labor.

At speech given last Friday, Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President, declared that mass incarceration is a labor issue and that the labor movement has a pressing role in advocating for prison reform. According to Huffington Post, Trumka stated that, “It’s a labor issue because mass incarceration means literally millions of people work jobs in prisons for pennies an hour — a hidden world of coerced labor here in the United States. It’s a labor issue because those same people who work for pennies in prison, once they have served their time, find themselves locked out of the job market by employers who screen applicants for felony convictions.” Trumka’s remarks came in advance of votes on California’s ballot measure, Proposition 47, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Proposition 47, which has received the support from advocates across the political spectrum, including George Soros and Newt Gingrich, would reduce penalties for some of the most common crimes in California: drug possession, petty theft, possession of stolen goods, shoplifting, forgery and writing bad checks.

According to USA Today, the United Auto Workers (UAW) are attempting to organize Nissan workers for union representation at a Canton, Mississippi plant. Last Friday, union leaders from seven different countries representing the IndustriALL Global Union visited the plant in support of the UAW, one of their affiliates. IndustriALL represents more than 50 million workers in 140 countries. According to the Clarion-Ledger, Jyriki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, stated that, “In the globalized world, we can’t allow Nissan to treat the workers in Mississippi as second-class global citizens. We want these people to have a voice. They deserve to be treated like other Nissan employees around the world, and that’s why we’re here today.” This push to unionize the Nissan Canton plant is part of a larger UAW campaign to organize car manufacturers in the Southeast. Earlier this week, the UAW announced the creation of UAW Local 112 at the MBUSI Mercedes Benz plant is Tuscaloosa, AL without any union election having taken place. Tuscaloosa News reports that MBUSI is the only non-unionized Mercedes Benz plant in the world and that the UWA, along with their German counterpart IG Metall is seeking a fast-track recognition route that would raise the profile of the UAW in advance of either an election or card check recognition.

Approximately 3,000 protestors, including a sizable contingent from labor unions and alt-labor groups, gathered in St. Louis, MO this weekend to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO two months ago. According to the New York Times, Mike Louis, the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, stated that, “This is the perfect opportunity for organized labor to get out the message of equality in the workplace. We’re here for economic justice.” Also in attendance was Alicia Garza, Special Projects Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, a social media campaign to combat anti-black racism. In These Times features an interview with Ms. Garza, who sees labor and racial justice as a common cause. Garza stated that she sees her work supporting “domestic workers—who are largely women of color and immigrant women, who are poor and low-income—[as] really similar to [her] work with Black Lives Matter, which is lifting up the humanity and centrality of black lives in this country as a vision and a portal for the future.”

In immigration news, Reuters reports that the Obama Administration continues to operate and open new family detention centers in response to this summer’s increase in Central American refugees crossing the US’s southern border. Immigration officials detain children along with their parents in advance of immigration proceedings rather than releasing them on parole. Between the establishment of family detention centers in Artesia, NM and Karnes, TX and the anticipated opening of a new facility in Texas, there will have been an increase from 90 beds to 3,700 in family detention centers by the end of this year.

In the opinion pages, the Los Angeles Times features an on-going dialogue between Daniel Flaming, president of the nonprofit Economic Roundtable, and Edward Leamer, a professor of management, economics and statistics at UCLA, over Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposed minimum wage increase to $13.25 an hour by 2017.

In further commentary, Jay Monaco at Jacobin recounts the story of this summer’s Market Basket labor upheaval and the lessons it can teach both unions and the Left. He specifically focuses on CEO Arthur T. Demoulas’s success in rallying workers to force the super market chain’s board to restore him through having developed strong relationships with Market Basket employees.

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