by Lindsay Beyerstein
How our blog got its name
Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”
Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.
It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.
Clear It With Sidney
A Chinese watchdog group that monitors working conditions at the electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn says that the company hid underage workers after being tipped off about an upcoming inspection by the Fair Labor Association. Josh Ong of Apple Insider reports:
Workers at Apple partner Foxconn have alleged that their employer transferred underage employees to other departments or did not schedule them to work overtime in order to avoid discovery during recent inspections by the Fair Labor Association, according to one non-governmental organization.
Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) project officer Debby Sze Wan Chan relayed the claims in a recent interview with AppleInsider. SACOM is a Hong Kong-based NGO that was formed in 2005 and has been researching labor rights violations in the electronics industry since 2007.
Chan said she had heard from two Foxconn workers in Zhenghou last week that the manufacturer was "prepared for the inspection" by the Fair Labor Association that had been commissioned by Apple and began last week.
Last month, Apple became the first technology company to join the Fair Labor Association, an NGO that says it bring companies, NGOs, and other stakeholders together to improve working conditions in factories.
FLA president Auret van Heerden told Nightline that Apple paid $250,000 to join and that the group was footing the bill for the audits at Foxconn.
[Photo credit: Laughing Squid, Creative Commons.]
Protests are on the rise in China. Between 2006 and 2010 the number of reported protests, aka "mass incidents" has doubled. The Atlantic's In Focus blog explains:
The uprisings are responses to myriad issues, primarily official corruption, government land grabs, Tibetan autonomy, and environmental problems. Late last year, the residents of Wukan -- angered by a land grab by corrupt officials -- rose up and briefly seized control of their village. After several days, the government gave in, admitting to mistakes and vowing to crack down on corruption. Villagers were also allowed to hold their first-ever secret ballot elections, apparently free from Communist Party interference. On February 11, 2012, Wukan residents elected their own governing committee, with a voter turnout of 85 percent.
The post includes a gallery of 41 striking images of dissent in China.
Ronald Fraser, one of the preeminent historians of the Spanish Civil War, has died at the age of 81:
Ronald Fraser, an English oral historian known for his deftness at collecting and presenting ordinary people’s experiences during momentous events like the Spanish Civil War, died on Feb. 10 in Valencia, Spain. He was 81.
Tariq Ali, a friend and colleague, announced the death. He gave no cause.
Mr. Fraser used transcriptions of interviews, the oral historian’s principal tool, to write books chronicling working-class life, the ways of a Spanish village, the 1968 student uprisings in the United States and Europe, and even his own life.
His most influential book was “Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War,” a 628-page work published in 1979 that Paul Preston, a historian of the Spanish Civil War, said in The New York Times Book Review would “take its place among the dozen or so truly important books about the Spanish conflict.”
Time magazine said, “No other volume on the Spanish Civil War can surpass the power and detail of this one.” [NYT]
Fraser's friend Tariq Ali remembers him in The Guardian.
- You know what's way more offensive than camel toes on Facebook? The fact that Facebook pays overseas workers a pittance to slog through posts flagged as inappropriate, Adrien Chen of Gawker reports: "Amine Derkaoui, a 21-year-old Moroccan man, is pissed at Facebook. Last year he spent a few weeks training to screen illicit Facebook content through an outsourcing firm, for which he was paid a measly $1 an hour. He's still fuming over it. "It's humiliating. They are just exploiting the third world," Derkaoui complained [...] Chen also has a follow-up post on Facebook's new obsenity guidelines.
- A man who says his house was illegally foreclosed upon was arrested protesting outside Freddie Mac in LA the day the New York Times revealed that most recent California foreclosures are illegal or irregular.
- Sarah Posner reports on Rep. Darryl Issa's all-male Congressional panel on birth control and religious freedom.
- Video of Sidney Hillman's panel discussion of Slavery By Another Name, PBS's new documentary about the re-enslavement of black Americans under the guise of convict lease programs, a system that persisted from the end of Reconstruction until the Second World War.
An audit of recent home foreclosures in California found that almost all the reposessions were illegal or suspicious, Gretchen Morgenson reports in the New York Times. An astonishing 84% of foreclosure files contained what appeared to investigators to be clear violations of the law:
An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday.
Anecdotal evidence indicating foreclosure abuse has been plentiful since the mortgage boom turned to bust in 2008. But the detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation.
The improprieties range from the basic — a failure to warn borrowers that they were in default on their loans as required by law — to the arcane. For example, transfers of many loans in the foreclosure files were made by entities that had no right to assign them and institutions took back properties in auctions even though they had not proved ownership.
Commissioned by Phil Ting, the San Francisco assessor-recorder, the report examined files of properties subject to foreclosure sales in the county from January 2009 to November 2011. About 84 percent of the files contained what appear to be clear violations of law, it said, and fully two-thirds had at least four violations or irregularities.
These findings will be grist for the Occupy movement, which has devoted considerable energy to defending homes against foreclosures in recent months.
[Photo credit: o_corgan, Creative Commons.]
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Sarah Albertson delivers a righteous rebuttal to Liz Trotta of Fox News who claimed that women in the armed forces should "expect" to be raped their male colleagues:
From 2003-2008, I was a United States Marine. Trained as a Russian Linguist, I worked as a Security, Governance, and Economics Analyst. "Property of male Marines" was never in my job description, and therefore I should never have had to "expect" to be raped. Nowhere in my enlistment contract, not even in the fine print, did I agree to sexual assault as a part of the job. Fox News pundit Liz Trotta's comments suggesting that servicewomen should "expect" to be raped because they're in "close contact" with their male colleagues are beyond ignorant; they fall into the category of hate speech.
Not only does Ms. Trotta's twisted stance set women's rights back several decades, once again telling us that despite our abilities and qualifications, we should not be allowed to work in our chosen profession so as to avoid "tempting" violent criminals whom she desires to see continue their employment, but she goes even further to suggest that any male in our armed forces is completely capable of raping his colleagues.
In doing so, she has successfully degraded the entirety of the US military and painted the image of a lawless Old West in an organization that is run on order and discipline. Ms. Trotta has expressed a belief that those in uniform should not be protected by basic laws which govern and protect all other Americans, nor should we be held accountable to these laws. In expressing these beliefs, she demonstrates how very little she actually understands our military, and how extremely unqualified she is to speak on our behalf.
Read the rest at Change.org.
[Photo credit: U.S. Marine Corps Official Page, Creative Commons.]
Slavery by Another Name, the true story of how black Americans were re-enslaved after Reconstruction under the guise of prison labor, premiered Monday on PBS.
On Feb 2, the Sidney Hillman Foundation sponsored a preview of SBAN followed by a lively panel discussion with director/producer Sam Pollard, source book author Douglas A. Blackmon, and SEIU executive vice president Gerry Hudson. The full video of the event is available on the Sidney Hillman YouTube Channel, broken down into clips for your watching and sharing convenience. In this clip, producer/director Sam Pollard explains how he got involved in the SBAN project:
Susan Greene is the winner of the February Sidney Award for The Gray Box: An Investigative Look at Solitary Confinement, a story and documentary video about the agony of solitary confinement in American prisons, published in the Dart Society Reports.
Some 80,000 prisoners are housed in isolation on any given day in U.S. prisons, typically in cells no bigger than a pair of queen-sized mattresses.
Solitary confinement was invented by Quaker prison reformers in the 1800s. They hoped that keeping prisoners in strict isolation would encourage them to reflect and repent. However, it rapidly became clear that instead of spurring reform, solitary confinement was literally driving inmates insane. “[Solitary confinement] devours the victims incessantly and unmercifully,” Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of a New York prison in the 1820s. “It does not reform, it kills.”The practice was banned as inhumane by the late 1880s, only to reappear in 1983 as a response to prison violence.
Over the course of years of reporting, Greene was able to piece together the lives of some of the most isolated people in the world. She corresponded with prisoners in solitary and interviewed others after they were released. She found that survivors of solitary confinement are ill-equipped to rejoin society after prolonged isolation.
Read my interview with Susan Greene at The Backstory.
The Sidney Award is given once a month in recognition of an outstanding work of socially conscious journalism.
American workers are being robbed of millions of dollars in hard-earned wages each year, Kathy Mullady reports for Equal Voice News:
Workers nationwide are losing millions of dollars each week to wage theft as their employers, some unscrupulous, others scrambling to keep their businesses afloat, fail to pay the mandated minimum wage or overtime wages, or, in some cases, don't pay their employees at all.
Wage theft is far more common than was known just a few years ago, according to a new report from the Research Institute on Social and Economic Policy at Florida International University.
"Employers are under a tight squeeze and looking for different ways to save money. Some are using wage theft as a business model to cut costs," said Cynthia Hernandez, co-author of the report.
The research institute's study comes just as Florida is debating how to handle wage theft allegations. The state hasn't had a labor department since former Gov. Jeb Bush dismantled the department a decade ago.
The U.S. Department of Labor has recovered an astonishing $28 million in stolen wages in Florida alone over the past two-and-a-half years, but that's surely just a fraction of the total amount stolen in Florida alone. DOL can only enforce violations of federal law, and Florida has no state enforcement for wage theft. A recent study by the the National Employment Law Project estimated that workers in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are robbed of $56 million per week.
Read the rest at Facing South.
[Photo credit: Nisha A, Creative Commons.]
- Workers at New York City's biggest hotels will get panic buttons, along with raises and fully paid health coverage, as part of their new long term contract, Patrick McGeehan reports for the New York Times.
- TWU Local 100 mourns Dr. Stephen Levin (1942-2012), a champion of workers' health and safety: "Dr. Levin devoted his life to worker health and safety and to the prevention of work-related illnesses, injuries and deaths. Dr. Levin may have known more about the health status of transit workers than anyone else. He was our “primary care doctor” for work-related health problems for decades. When we met with Steve it was like meeting with another worker, but a worker who not only knew our problems, but also knew the difficulty of getting our employer, New York City Transit/MTA, to take our work-related health problems seriously."
- The highly profitable Caterpillar corporation is closing its 62-year-old locomotive plant in Ontario, Canada and relocating to newly right-to-work state of Indiana, throwing nearly 500 members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) out of work, Mike Elk reports for Working In These Times. The auto workers are considering occupying the plant.
[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]