September 2012 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

September 2012

#Sidney's Picks: Public Employees' Strikes,"Super-Predators," Public Lands, and Aging Lifers


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Ralph Reed's Dodgy "Voter Guide" Hitting 13 Million Cell Phones

Adele Stan, one of our favorite right-wing watchers, has a new story about Ralph Reed’s latest piece of agitprop, coming soon to a conservative relative’s cell phone:

Intent on making good on his post-2008 election promise to “never get out-hustled on the ground again,” Ralph Reed, who leads the right-wing Faith and Freedom Coalition, this week unveiled the organization’s ostensibly “non-partisan” presidential election voter guide, which will be inserted into church bulletins throughout the nine battleground states in which the November election will be won or lost.

In his Christian education, though, apparently Reed never learned that it’s a sin to tell a lie. His voter guide contains three big ones, in its characterizations of President Barack Obama’s positions on Medicare, environmental regulation and abortion. [AlterNet]

Reed’s voter guide claims that Obama favors Medicare cuts, a non-existent “cap-and-tax” policy, and government-funded abortions. It’s never too early to start rehearsing your talking points for Thanksgiving dinner, so get over there and check out the goods on Ralph’s voter guide

Deadly Fire Sparks Worker's Rights Movement in Pakistan

A deadly fire in a Pakistani factory has galvanized a new worker’s rights movement. On September 22, over 70 trade union federations, union locals, leftist parties, youth groups, human rights organizations, and concerned citizens resolved to demand justice for the victims and work together to improve safety in the workplace.

Nasir Mansoor, the Deputy Director of the National Trade Union Federation of Pakistan is a founding member of the new group. He writes:

The representatives decided to form the “Workers Right Movement (WRM)” to launch a movement for the implementation of labor laws, compensation to the families of the deceased workers, compensation for the injured and for other workers who lost their livelihoods due to the fire, closure of the factory, and the arrest of factory owners and confiscation of their assets and bank accounts.

To press for these demands, plans for a large worker rights rally at Regal Chawk at 4pm on Saturday, September 29, were announced. [LINAC]

We’ll keep you posted on the new movement’s progress.

[Image credit: nasirjumani2008, Creative Commons.]

Foxconn Riot: Mainstream Media and Tech Press Tell Different Stories

The electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn said that it had closed its plant in the Chinese city of Taiyuan on Monday after a riot. The compoany claimed that a fight broke out in an employee dormitory on Sunday. State-run media say that 5,000 riot police were called in to restore order.

Tech reporter Liau Yun Qing of ZDNet summarizes a Chinese language report on the riot:

Local news site Sohu Finance said the riot involved Foxconn employees and security guards. While the actual reason for the riot was unknown, rumors suggest it started because a security guard had beat up an employee which caused the dissatisfaction of other employees, the news site said.

The Taiyuan factory makes the iPhone 5. Earlier this month, a journalist from the Shanghai Evening Post infiltrated the factory to see how the world’s hottest gadget gets made. You can read an English translation of his expose at MIC Gadget.

Foxconn claims that the fracas was confinded to the dormitory and that no production equipment was damaged. So far, the mainstream English-language media are only telling Foxconn’s side of the story. This imbalance might reflect pro-corporate bias. But it’s also difficult for the mainstream press to get the workers’ perspective on short notice. The workers are on lockdown. 

None of the mainstream accounts I’ve read have commented on this information asymmetry. So far, I’ve seen no evidence that the reporters are demanding access to workers, which they should be doing. 

The alternative gadget press, which claims to have sources inside the plant, is telling a very different story. MIC Gadget’s exclusive report, supplemented by cell phone pictures from the scene, contradicts the official story. There are no pictures of damage to the production line, but MIC Gadget’s sources on the scene say that iPhone production equipment was damaged during riot. The site also reports that local gangsters showed up to join the melee after being contacted by workers inside. 

Foxconn’s stock fell 3% on Monday, which suggests the markets aren’t buying the company’s assurances that the riot won’t delay production of the iPhone 5.

Foxconn has become synonymous with harsh working conditions for electronics workers. At least 14 Foxconn workers committed suicide in 2010. The company has since raised wages and installed nets to catch jumpers. In 2012, workers threatened mass suicide to protest working conditions. 

Shortly after the mass suicide threat, the chairman of Foxconn’s parent company, Hon Hai, invited a zoo director to instruct his general managers on animal control techniques, which he hoped they would apply to the workforce:

Hon Hai has a workforce of over one million worldwide and as human beings are also animals, to manage one million animals gives me a headache,” Hon Hai chairman Terry Gou said.

The Taiyuan plant has already seen smaller labor disturbances this year. Many workers have complained bitterly about harsh treatment by company security guards. Apple is already scrambling to get the iPhone 5 to consumers. If this unrest causes further delays, it may send a message that a dissatisfied workforce is a false economy. 

[Photo credit: Methodshop, Creative Commons.]


#Sidney's Picks: Romney's Contempt for Workers; Income Inequality in New York; Bizarro Sex Ed

  • Paul Krugman on Mitt Romney’s contempt for workers: “Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.”
  • With poverty at a 10-year high, income disparities in New York now rival those seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • An industry-funded monitoring group, Social Accountability International, certified that a Karachi factory was safe before a blaze swept through the plant, killing hundreds of workers.  
  • An Iranian woman beat the crap out of a meddlesome cleric who told her to cover up better.  “You, cover your eyes,” she shot back, ignoring his warnings. One thing led to another and the cleric soon found himself on the ground, being kicked.
  • Rick Ayers of the Huffington Post raves for Frank Bardacke’s Hillman Prize-winning biography of Cesar Chavez, Trampling Out the Vintage. 
  • New York State’s sex ed curricula are riddled with inaccurate and prejudiced information about sex, gender, and health, RH Reality Check reports. Not only that some of the illustrations of the reproductive system appear to have been drawn by Todd Akin with a pen in his mouth: 

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Study: Wage Theft is Routine for Car Wash Workers

Chicago wash owners are casually stealing millions from their workers, according to a new study:

CHICAGO (CBS) – Chicago car wash workers are trying to organize a union and are the subject of new research that finds their employers routinely steal from them.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports new research by a University of Illinois at Chicago professor suggests car washes in Chicago are ripping off their mostly immigrant workers to the tune of $2.5 million a year.

These violations are the norm. These are not bad apples,” said UIC professor Robert Bruno.

A third of Chicago’s car wash workers have been robbed this way. It’s the de facto industry standard. Wage theft happens at 70% of Chicago car washes.

Owners regularly hold back tips and overtime pay. Most of the city’s car wash workers live in poverty despite working much more than full time. 

Car wash workers in New York report similar abuses. 

[Photo credit: Daviddag, Creative Commons.]

Chicago Teachers Strike Ends

Chicago Teachers Strike Ends; Photo credit: Peoplesworld, Creative Commons.

The 800 union delegates representing Chicago’s public school teachers voted overwhelmingly last night to end their strike:

The terms, which appeared to provide some victories for both sides, would give annual raises to teachers, lengthen the school day and allow teachers to be evaluated, in part, with student test scores. The school system would also aim to guide laid-off teachers with strong ratings into at least half of any new job openings in the schools. 

While a halt to the teachers’ strike, this city’s first in a quarter century, may end the immediate, local contract fight over pay, working conditions and job security, the episode brought to the forefront larger questions, still unanswered, about the philosophical direction of public schools here, a national agenda for educational change and the potency of unions. [NYT]

The two sides reached a tentative three-year contract with an option for a fourth year, but the document has not yet been made public. The union did not get the raise it initially sought, but it held off a proposed merit pay scheme, defused the most stringent aspects of the teacher evaluation proposal, and secured a recall procedure for high performing teachers laid off due to school closings. 

The contract must still be ratified by the rank-and-file. 


Who's Really Hurting Chicago's Kids

Empty Classroom (EVmaiden <> , Creative Commons.

Even people who generally consider themselves pro-labor often balk at supporting teachers strikes because, they argue, “teachers strikes hurt kids.” In Dissent, Joanne Barkan casts a critical eye on that simplistic formulation. Chicago’s students are being victimized, she argues, but not by teachers striking for air conditioned classrooms and payment for the extra hours they’ll be asked to work when the schoold day is extended:

Yes, schoolchildren in Chicago are victims, but not of their teachers. They are victims of a nationwide education “reform” movement geared to undermine teachers’ unions and shift public resources into private hands; they are victims of wave after wave of ill-conceived and failing policy “innovations”; they are victims of George Bush’s No Child Left Behind law, which turned inner-city public schools into boot camps for standardized test prep; they are victims of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program, which paid states to use student test scores—a highly unreliable tool—for teacher evaluations and to lift caps on the number of privately managed charter schools, thus draining resources from public schools. Chicago’s children are victims of “mayoral control,” which allows Rahm Emanuel to run the school system, bully parents and teachers, and appoint a Board of Education dominated by corporate executives and political donors.


What If Labor Dies?

In a new article in the American Prospect, Hillman judge Harold Meyerson asks what will happen to America if organized labor continues its long slide into oblivion:

Where are unions in the new economy? Can a union do anything for a temp? A part-timer? A software writer? A barista? Will anyone under 30—will anyone over 30—even notice if unions cease to be?

Perhaps not. But everyone will notice the consequences. Absent a substantial union movement, the American middle class will shrink. Absent a substantial union movement, the concentration of wealth will increase. Absent a substantial union movement, the corporate domination of government will grow.

If labor dies, Americans can look forward to falling wages, rising inequality, and permanent Republican majorities. The only way to stave off this dire outcome, Meyerson argues, is for the rest of the liberal movement to rally behind organized labor in its hour of need.

[Photo credit: Peoplesworld, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Anti-Union Liberals; Bangladeshi Murder Mystery; and the Wal-March

  • Sarah Jaffe of AlterNet calls out five supposedly liberal pundits for bashing the striking Chicago teachers.
  • Bangladeshi labor organizer Aminul Islam disappeared on April 4, after an extended campaign of police harassment. His tortured body was found a few days later. Many believe Islam was murdered for trying to organize workers at local Tommy Hilfiger and American Eagle factories. Four months later a lead surfaced: On the day he disappeared, a man with suspected intelligence ties showed up and asked Islam to officiate his wedding. Islam left with him in a rickshaw and was never seen again.
  • President Asif Ali Zardari has ordered an investigation into a fire that killed 258 garment workers in the Pakistani capital of Karachi, Businessweek reports. Labor activists have been pushing for an investigation and compensation for the families of the victims.
  • About 100 warehouse workers from the Inland Empire set out on a 50-mile “Wal-March” to protest wages and working conditions at Wal-Mart warehouses, Thursday.

[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]