by Jeffrey Ballinger
This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.
—Frederick Douglass, 1857
When U.S. students and Honduran workers scored an impressive win over Nike earlier last year, what they had to overcome in their struggle was nothing less than the debasement of political and human rights reportage, where workers’ struggles are addressed as “corporate responsibility” issues and the fight for a livable wage hardly appears. In the mid-1990s, firms discovered that they could only “manage” their supply chain insofar as perceptions of it could be controlled—that is, what the world sees. There are two other key points about the supply chain: You cannot inject justice into it or extract the exploitation from it.
For workers, the rise of outsourcing in many industries is the biggest foundation-shaking change in capitalism since the Industrial Revolution; assembly-line workers now toil for two groups of shareholders: those of the ultimate bosses—the buyers (the big brands)—and the contractors. Some of these contractors have become quite big themselves. The CEO of shoe-maker Yue Yuen, Tsai Chi Jui, recently joined the ranks of billionaires. In the same year, a mere product endorser, Tiger Woods, became a billionaire.
How did university students achieve a string of victories for Latin American workers? United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has assisted more than 4,000 college-logo garment workers in Honduras and the Dominican Republic by deploying grassroots pressure tactics and carefully crafted appeals to university administrators. Even in the midst of a global economic downturn, diligent research combined with determined activism on the part of the wronged workers forced Russell Athletic to reopen a factory that was closed to thwart unionization. It produced an agreement between Nike and the CGT union of Honduras to pay restitution to 2,100 workers illegally denied severance benefits when two suppliers for the shoe giant closed abruptly last year. In addition, the students’ persistence in seeking ethical alternatives has led the largest brand selling to bookstores, Knights Apparel, to pay more than triple the Dominican Republic’s minimum wage to hundreds of workers. Merchandise from the Alta Gracia factory is already on 140 campuses.
by Jeff Ballinger
From Phnom Penh Post: “…industry representatives have disputed the number of people fired and suspended after the strikes. GMAC Secretary General Ken Loo said yesterday that 38 workers were dismissed and 358 suspended, most of whom had since been allowed to return to work. ‘Most if not all have been reinstated,’ he said.”
Whatever the true number is, the unrest over the summer underscores a huge problem with the “Better Factories” model promoted by the ILO and foreign donors and now being expanded to other countries. In fact, the U.S. Dept. of Labor has underwritten “Better Work” in Nicaragua ($2 mil.) – praised by footwear/apparel industry association.
Nearly 800 Cambodian garment workers fired over strike
PHNOM PENH, Dec 3 (Reuters) – Sixteen Cambodian factories producing clothing for big brands such as Adidas AG and Gap Inc have dismissed nearly 800 employees for taking part in a nationwide strike, a union leader said on Friday.
Unions were preparing to issue demands to the factories to reinstate the 799 sacked workers by Dec. 15 or face legal action and possibly more strikes, which could further disrupt a sector that is a big currency earner for the impoverished country.
“We will take action in accordance with the law and we are trying to avoid a strike,” Kong Athit, deputy president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), told Reuters.
“The government and the courts have already ordered that these workers be reinstated, so these dismissals are illegal,” added Kong Athit, whose union represents 40,000 workers.
The union said the factories that dismissed the workers produced clothing for major Western companies including Marks and Spencer Group PLC , Tesco PLC , H & M Hennes & Mauritz AB , Puma , Next Plc and Inditex , the world’s biggest clothing retailer and owner of Zara.
Those sacked were among the estimated 210,000 garment workers — about two-thirds of the sector’s workforce — from 95 factories who took part in the September strike to demand better working conditions and a wage increase to $93 a month from $56.
The strike was halted after three days when the government agreed to hold more talks to avoid damage to the industry, which is Cambodia’s third-largest foreign currency earner after agriculture and tourism.
Garments also provide a vital source of income for rural families, and the sector is credited with helping to reduce poverty in a country where about a third of the population live on less than $1 a day.
The country’s garment exports rose 12 percent in the first half of 2010 from a year earlier, hitting $1.25 billion, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia, an independent think tank.
Worker disputes this year in China, mostly at foreign-owned factories, have raised questions over whether other low-cost Asian manufacturing centres would also have to pay higher wages as their workers became more assertive. (Editing by Martin Petty) ((email@example.com; +855 23 99 2102; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, e-mail to email@example.com
In a previous message I introduced an article about the agreement between the United Steel Workers and Mondragon Cooperative Corporation to work to together to support the development of worker owned companies and firms. I want to follow that article up with another more detailed article by Carl Davidson of Solidarity Economy which presents his own analysis of the United Steelworkers Union and the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation agreement. The link to the article is
Some may wonder why I am so insistent on the importance of this subject. The answer is both ideological and existential. Economic democracy or cooperative socialism as I prefer to call it, lays at the very heart of socialism. And the Mondragon Corporation is by far the most developed example of economic democracy in the modern world or in human history as a whole for that matter. Socialism without an emphasis on a concrete economic democracy in which workers own and manage their own businesses and ultimately the economy themselves is hardly worthy of the name. A statist Socialism in which a small elite in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat or inspired by a Fabian dream of a planned centralized economy by economic experts or scientists suppossedly for the benefit of a passive working class is anathema. Such dreams will not work as the communist experiment in the Soviet Union proved nor are they worthy of the respect of those who believe in human freedom and autonomy. Enough for now. I suggest that you read the article.
by Jeff Ballinger, Director of Press for Change and SDUSA member
The recent soccer ball report by ILRF made me angry – at myself. Some of us have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with groups of workers resisting corporate-dominated globalization and challenging the neo-lib/free trade orthodoxy; sometimes, it must be admitted, we mess up and a promising opportunity goes off the rails. In cases like the soccer ball controversy in Pakistan, the workers may actually have ended up worse off after a well-intentioned intervention; we were too trusting and the unique circumstances of the case made it appear winnable.
Most rich-country consumers have a myopic view of ethical consumption; part of this mindset is that goods produced with child labor are far and away the chief wrong to be avoided. But this classic form of exploitation has only a few manifestations in the modern, globalized production-for-export field. What consumers must tune in to, rather, is the fact that millions of children are working in poor countries because the adults who are making our shoes, toys, apparel and electronics do not earn enough to pay modest school fees or provide a decent standard of living without the kids’ meager earnings from the informal sector – from hawking newspapers, delivering tea, domestic work and the like. The urgent challenge of our young century is to popularize campaigns such as the new effort led by pro-worker groups for an Asia Floor Wage. The most bitter and intense struggle today is in Bangladesh where a new minimum wage is long overdue and the greedy apparel buyers – big brands from the U.S. and Europe – are refusing to support the workers, even rhetorically (what they were shamed into doing in 2006). Cambodian apparel workers, likewise, are trying to get beyond half-way to a living wage while encountering fierce opposition from industry executives and repressive tactics deployed by the Hun Sen regime.