Friday, November 30, 2012

Unions: Safety and Discrimination Protection

The two tragic fires that have killed workers in Bangladesh remind us of labor’s history in the early years of the twentieth century when the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire killed 146 garment workers most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant women.

Capitalism actively condones the murder of dispensable commodities like people who provide unskilled or semi-skilled labor. Now even the sweatshops of China are moving to even cheaper, less-regulated Bangladesh. American companies like Wal-Mart and Apple have increasingly relied on cheap third-world labor to produce their products as wages plummet and safety regulations evaporate in the United States, our country will once again look like a more desirable sweatshop location for vulture capitalists of all stripes.

With the active collusion of some large city mayors like Rahm Emanuel (Chicago) and Cory Booker (Newark) both labor union power and membership are diminishing. Unions have become an endangered species and will soon go the way of the dodo.

Yes, labor unions fight for the safety concerns of workers. These are paramount. Without your life, a job isn't worth much. But they also fight for job security and retention. The “employment at will” doctrine that is applied in the United States means any worker can be terminated for any reason whatsoever, whether or not it is job related.

If I had been unable to seek out union jobs, I could easily have been a street person instead of a retired homeowner. As a political activist and openly lesbian worker, I have been fired from employment in at least three instances where I was dismissed with the comment, “Your work is fine, you just don’t fit in.” Eating and having shelter are very important factors for a decent quality of life. They are necessary for both those who fit in as well as those who do not. It makes me angry and sad to think that LGBT young people today, who are lacking family emotional and financial support, cannot keep themselves out of poverty.

We desperately need international guidelines concerning workers’ safety. We also need non-discrimination laws to protect the livelihoods of non-traditional employees. Our lives and our jobs should not be too much to ask. We must resuscitate the unions before it is too late. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Tis the Season to be Wary...

Whose Salvation?
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving came early this year forcing us all to endure an extra week of the season to be jolly. I'm not a grinch or a scrooge, just a naturally critical California Buddhist, Jew, atheist with a strong vein of analytical doubt running through my belief system. Lights are pretty, trees are nice, crafts fairs can be fun, creches a bit much but the overtone of rampant materialism is more than a bit nauseating.

It is important to note as well that many organizations that are part and parcel of this holiday season are not what they seem. The Salvation Army with its bell-ringing and donation kettles is a blatantly homophobic organization. Here is an article from Huffington Post where a Salvation Army spokesman sounds off in favor of the death penalty for LGBT folks because that is "in scripture." It is imperative to consider how your money will be used if and when you make the decision to donate it.

Traditionally, the Xmas season is one that non-Christians recognize as the most difficult of the year. It is a time when the predominant culture runs roughshod over all non or different believers in the name of peace on earth and goodwill towards men. Here it is only late November and I have already been wished a Merry Christmas by a good-hearted but somewhat limited soul.

In short, I do wish I could put myself in a state of suspended animation until December 26th but instead I will brace myself for this seasonal onslaught of pseudo-merriment and try to keep in mind that the balance of power in this country has shifted and the straight, white, male, upper-crust Christians are not necessarily winning!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Is Cruelty to Workers Behind Workplace Violence?

Another workplace shooting took place in Fresno on November 5th at a chicken processing plant. Three workers were killed and two were injured by a fellow employee with a handgun. According to filmmaker Emil Chiaberi, this pattern of workplace violence has roots in the way employees are treated in this country.

Chiaberi's 2010 film, “Murder by Proxy: How America went Postal,” sheds both light and heat on the phenomena of workplace murders. Beginning with the Royal Oak Post Office massacre of 1991, which caused the expression “going postal” to become a part of American slang, through other workplace attacks, Chiaberi chronicles a history of employee abuse that drives some beyond the limits of sanity to commit appalling and desperate acts.

There is no excuse for these crimes and Chiaberi does not try to present one. But there are reasons and, through interviews, he explains the history of cruelty to workers that is characteristic of the US Postal Service as well as many other working-class jobs.

Since the mid-eighties no workplace protections have been instituted for workers. The climate we now inhabit is overtly hostile to those that make the machine of service or manufacturing run. The post office is a hotbed of extreme stress and discontent for many reasons. Workers are required to keep up with sorting machines, the pace of which are inhuman. Those who deliver mail have speed and safety issues combined. The job requires little skill or training but has good benefits and pays well. In other words, there’s more where you came from is a prevailing mantra.

Workplace scapegoating seems to be a particularly prevalent problem in the postal service and other low-skill level jobs. This is not explained in the film, I assume, because it is not completely understood. But scapegoating, when it works, tends to do two things. One, frighten other workers because the same thing could happen to them. And two, unify folks against a common enemy, the workplace scapegoat.

But many of the workers interviewed see through this ruse and understand the common enemy is their systematic and continual dehumanization. One shooter skipped shooting a boss who simply asked him how his recent eye surgery went.

The fact that workers are people has escaped those who advocate for the business owners and managers. With anti-union politicians like Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker leading the charge, worker protection is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Films like “Murder by Proxy,” may not change that but at least they can serve as a warning of what may be in store for our increasingly income-skewed society where production and service workers are belittled and their fundamental humanity ignored.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Breathe Easier and Fight Harder!

 Keep on Keepin' On
Today I have been pleasantly surprised by the American people. Not only has the Romney threat been eviscerated but many other positive things transpired. California's Measure 32, the big-buisness attempt to thwart union power has been defeated. Maine and Maryland have voted FOR same-sex marriage rights, this popular vote marking a first in the string of 33 state defeats. And Minnesotans have voted down an amendment to preserve marriage bigotry.

The pro-rape philosophers Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock each lost their races: Todd Akin to Claire McCaskill and Richard Mourdock to Joe Donelly. Ah yes, the lord works in mysterious ways!

Elizabeth Warren defeated incumbent Scott Brown in Massasschussets and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin won to become the first openly gay member of the Senate. Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado and even Virginia all stood up against Romney's war on the 47 percent.

Marijuana has been legalized in Colorado and Washington.

I understand that these results mean that we progressives have our work cut out for us. But now at least we can breathe a bit easier as we push into high gear with our committment to build a more democratic and egalitarian society!