Look Around, Workers Are Pissed
A survery shows that workers across the globe are standing up for better treatment and dignity
It doesn't take much digging.
Across the world and within the United States, workers—both in the public and private sectors—are demanding living wages, better working conditions, and above all, dignity. Here's just a sample.
In Bangladesh, garment factory workers have been striking for nearly a week over the poor working conditions in their country, facing down rubber bullets, tear gas, and violent reprisals as they called for meaningful reforms of their industry. On Thursday, the government ordered paramilitary troops into the industrial areas to wrest control from workers and provide security to factories. As Bloomberg reports:
Bangladesh’s government deployed paramilitary troops in the industrial belt of Gazipur to deter further protests as garment factories reopened after five days of violent demonstrations.
“The situation is now relatively calm,” Mostafijur Rahman, additional superintendent of police for Gazipur district, said in a phone interview. Television footage showed the troops patrolling streets where workers attacked factories and blocked traffic earlier this week to demand wage increases.
The government is acting after factory owners met Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir yesterday to urge tighter security. Thousands of garment workers clashed with police this week in the industrial belt on the outskirts of Dhaka, forcing about 400 factories that supply companies such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to close.
“Unrest in the garment sector will be firmly dealt with,” the minister told reporters, after the meeting.
In Greece, protests by public sector workers and anti-austerity campaigners have been running for years and nationwide strikes across multiple sectors that began last week continued into this as teachers, medical staff, and other civil servants again refused to back down after new cuts were announced by the government. As Reuters reports:
The workers say the government is firing them indiscriminately at a time when Greece is enduring its worst peace-time crisis and record unemployment.
“No to human sacrifices”, thousands of workers marched past parliament. “Out with the bailouts and the bosses!” they chanted.
Blowing whistles and carrying banners reading, “No to human sacrifices”, thousands of workers marched past parliament. “Out with the bailouts and the bosses!” they chanted.
“The government must realise they can’t fire people just like that,” said Yiota Papadopoulou, 51, a state high school teacher who worries about losing her job. “We were hired on merit, we have degrees, we weren’t hired on favours.”
In the U.S., the fast food workers strikes that have caught fire in city after city this summer have become the best example of low-wage workers fed up with poverty-level incomes, zero benefits, and poor conditions in an industry they say can easily afford to pay them more and treat them better.
From local channel King 5 News in Seattle, comes this report:
Seattle fast food workers were picketing Subway restaurants Tuesday in protest after a local franchise fired an employee. They claim the firing was in retaliation after the employee led fast food strikes over the summer.
Employees and supporters of Carlos Hernandez claim Subway found an excuse to fire Hernandez when he gave a 66-cent cookie to a 3-year-old.
The group has filed unfair practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The board will review the case to decide if the charge is valid.
Supporters of the protest include Seattle City Council members Nick Licata and Richard Conlin.
The summer food strikes, which happened across the nation, were a call for restaurants to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
In Cincinnati this week, local NBC affiliate WLWT TV reports:
Walmart workers protested at a store in Cincinnati Wednesday afternoon after an employee was fired, they say, unfairly.
Lillio Lacomme, an employee of the Evendale location, was let go after talking to a reporter about the working conditions at the store, according to a news release.
In protest, a group of Walmart employees and community supporters collected carts full of letters detailing hard working conditions and low pay.
Many of the letters also supported Lacomme, who says, “All we ask is that they look through this and see that we’re not trying to create any problems. But, we would just like to feel better.”
Chicago city workers were out on the line this week, too, voicing their anger at Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his continued pritvatization of city services and cuts to pensions and public employee benefits. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
Scores of union workers protested outside city buildings during lunch Tuesday, taking aim at Mayor Rahm Emanuel for what they contend is an attempt to retroactively freeze their wages after privatizing hundreds of jobs in the past couple of years.
"We gotta beat back the Rahm attack," chanted more than 60 workers outside a city building at 30 N. LaSalle St. "What do we want? Fair contract. When do we want it? Now."
The protesters are members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which represents about 3,000 workers in six city departments. Their contract expired at the end of June 2012.
"We're not stupid. We know that the economy is a little shaky right now," said Nicole Herron, an executive board member of Local 2912 who works as a city payment services representative. "But it wouldn't be as bad if there wasn't such a terrible misappropriation of funds. We're being punished for things that politicians did with our money that have absolutely nothing to do with us, and it's not fair. It's not fair for us, and it's not fair for anyone in private industry either."
And at the federal level, U.S. government employees in Washington, DC, according to Demos' Amy Traub, executed their fifth strike in as many months this week, delivering a petition with 250,000 signatures calling on the President Obama to take action and raise their paltry wages. According to Traub:
Fifteen U.S. Senators submitted their own letter, urging President Obama to use his executive authority to “require federal agencies to give major preference in awarding contracts to companies that… pay their workers decent wages and benefits.”
And how to we account for all this outrage and protest among workers.
According to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the unrest ultimately rests on the cumulative effect of nearly forty years of policy decisions that have frustrated wages, disempowered workers, and given nearly all the gains of economic growth and technological advancements to the corporate and ruling classes. In an op-ed this week, Weisbrot argued:
The broken link between productivity and wages is due to the fact that most workers have lost bargaining power. And that is a result of deliberate “reforms,” including the weakening of labor unions through changes in (and non-enforcement of) labor law; international “trade” agreements that put most workers but not higher-paid professionals into more serious competition with lower-wage labor abroad; and other policy changes that redistribute income upward.
The result of these structural changes is an economy that has depended increasingly on consumer indebtedness and bubble-driven growth (especially the huge stock market bubble of the late 90s and the real estate bubble that followed after 2002). The collapse of the real estate bubble, which caused the Great Recession and the weak recovery since mid-2009, has further undermined workers’ bargaining power.
The organization and collective action of fast-food workers, like that of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, is another indication that the right-wing (neoliberal) economic experiment of nearly 40 years has run its course. This kind of mass organizing around domestic economic issues has not been seen for a long time, perhaps since the Great Depression.
As noted, the examples listed above are just a sample. And they weren't hard to find. The question remains: When and where will workers win?
And in a new Guilded Age of corporate globalization and spiking inequality, when will the tide turn?