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World Humanitarian Day: A Need For Common Actions

Sergio de Mellow had spent his UN career in humanitarian efforts, often with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and at other  times as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. As an NGO representative to the UN in Geneva and active on human rights issues, I knew him during his short 2002-2003 tenure as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of us had high hopes that his dynamism, relative youth (he was 54) and wide experience in conflict resolution efforts would provide new possibilities for human rights efforts. His death along with the death of others who had been Geneva-based was a stark reminder of the risks that exist for all engaged in humanitarian and conflict resolution work.

Mexico: Indigenous Communities Take Over Water-Bottling Plant

For four months, Indigenous and local communities in Mexico have managed to blockade and shut down the Bonafont plant in Cuanala in Puebla state. Bonafont is a bottled water brand owned by Danone, a Paris-based food corporation. With large rocks blocking the main entrance, as well as tents, a cooking station and more, the communities have used their permanent blockade as a space to hold workshops, forums and cultural events. But on Sunday, August 1, they decided it was time to take over the plant and put it to better use. They called a public meeting with state authorities and Bonafont owners for Sunday, August 8. No officials showed up. After putting the government and corporations on trial, with members of each community testifying to the abuse of land and water in their area, the 21 communities then entered the huge water-bottling plant and took it over on Sunday.

South African Dockworkers Refuse to Unload Israeli Ship

Dockworkers in the South African port city of Durban have refused to offload cargo from an Israeli ship in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, and in protest at Tel Aviv’s military aggression against the besieged Gaza Strip.
New York Post Cover (5/8/21)

Jobs Report Coverage Lacked Context, Worker Perspective

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the editorial board of the Financial Times  (4/20/20), perhaps the most important newspaper of capital in the English-speaking world, fretted about how the pandemic could upend labor relations. After the Black Death of the 1300s, the paper noted, the population decline meant surviving peasants had the leverage to demand higher pay. The editors assured their readers that nothing so radical was coming due to Covid-19: “A thankfully much lower mortality rate means such a transformation is unlikely,” the editors said. A year later, things aren’t going as planned. News outlets trumpeted what they often called “disappointing” job growth numbers in the United States (Yahoo! Finance, 5/7/21; CNN, 5/7/21; Reuters, 5/7/21; BBC, 5/7/21; Time, 5/8/21). The New York Post (5/7/21) ran...

Soaring Prices Push US Households To The Edge

Surging prices for necessities like used cars, phones, and housing have caused the biggest jump in “core” consumer prices in nearly four decades, according to new figures released Wednesday by the US Department of Labor (DOL). Rising prices for food, heating oil, gas, and other necessities are eating into workers’ incomes both in the United States and internationally. Workers are finding it increasingly impossible to make ends meet, even if they are employed full-time. The minimum wage in the United States remains at $7.25 per hour, and US President Joe Biden has reneged on his campaign promise to raise it. Workers’ real average hourly earnings have plunged, falling 3.4 percent over the past year, according to the latest jobs report from the DOL, as companies used the pandemic as a pretext to slash wages over the past year.

This Mother’s Day, Recognize Care Work Powers Our Economy

Mother’s Day is, at its core, about care. When we select Hallmark cards and order flower deliveries, we’re honoring the care provided by moms and other maternal figures. This Mother’s Day, though, marks more than a year into a pandemic that threw the disparities in our care system into stark relief. Women left the workforce in staggering numbers to attend to COVID-related caregiving responsibilities at home. This was disruptive for individual families and the economy at large. So this year, while of course we should celebrate our mothers, there’s much more to be done. Honoring our caregivers goes beyond individual gestures; it calls for a sweeping investment in care workers and services. Care isn’t a burden for women and families to shoulder alone. It’s the foundation of our economy, and it deserves to be treated as such.

Opening The Door To A More Democratic UAW

In December the leadership of the United Auto Workers reached a settlement with the Justice Department that opens the door to election of top union officers by referendum vote of the membership. That might well end more than 70 years of one-party control and help democratize a union once known for animated internal debate and competitive leadership contests. The settlement provides for six years of oversight by a court-appointed monitor with extensive powers, including the authority to veto new UAW staff hires and block candidates for office who do not meet an anti-corruption standard. More important, the agreement calls for a vote of all 400,000 members to decide whether they want direct election of...

Young Workers Hit Hard By The COVID-19 Economy

Across the United States, millions of workers of all ages suffered job losses in the coronavirus-driven recession, but the economic impact on young workers has been even more intense. Not only have many young people in this country faced the harsh reality of returning to school without in-person classes at their colleges and high schools, the job prospects for those seeking employment have been particularly bleak. Historically, young people are disproportionately disadvantaged in many ways during economic downturns, but this recession has been particularly acute given the sectors of the economy that were hit the hardest.

A Week Of Mass Layoffs

MGM Resorts is laying off 18,000 people as an unchecked pandemic leaves economic scars across a broad swath of U.S. industries, particularly those that rely on healthy crowds of people. The layoffs at MGM, which amount to about a quarter of its U.S staff of about 70,000, caps a wave of job cuts and buyouts this week across a broad array of industries. Economists warn that sizable layoffs will continue and any recovery is likely to falter as long as the virus rages and Congress doesn’t come up with additional financial aid for the unemployed, as well as desperate state and local governments.

Terms Frequently Used To Describe Capitalism Don’t Hold Up Under Scrutiny

Capitalism is not, as its defenders like to claim, defined by “free” or “private” enterprises. Likewise, “free” or “unregulated” markets do not define capitalism. Politics and ideology drive its defenders to choose those definitions over clearly better, different definitions. The causes and consequences of conflicts over definition are part of today’s mounting battles over capitalism. The task of any definition is to separate its object from others, to expose its uniqueness so all can recognize it and distinguish it from other, similar objects. We define “dog” to differentiate it from other animals, “chair” from other furniture, and “Mary” from other people. We should then define capitalism to differentiate it from other economic systems (the organized production and distribution of goods and services in a community) around qualities unique to it.

SEIU Should Actually Strike For Black Lives

We want to fight. Workers throughout the country have been involved in the movements on the streets for weeks. In our unions, we have marched as contingents from coast to coast and in pretty much every city. There’s been heroism with transit workers refusing to transport political prisoners and even some strikes. And now, there’s a growing movement to drop the cops from our unions, from whole labor federations like in the King County Labor Council, to the Writers Guild, to even the efforts in the SEIU.  We rank and filers have not been sitting on the sidelines. But, for the most part, our union leaderships have. They have published statements of solidarity, when we wanted to mobilize.

Why The Labor Movement Should Support The ‘Beyond Recovery’ Campaign

Even before the pandemic, a large share of Americans cited housing availability and affordability as a major and growing concern. With rising unemployment, housing experts are predicting that 20 percent of all renters will be at risk of eviction by early fall. As with other aspects of the pandemic, Black and Latino people will be hurt the most. As reported in the Washington Post, a recent Census survey found that “about 44 percent and 41 percent of adult Latino and black renters, respectively, said they had no or slight confidence they could pay their rent next month or were likely to defer payment.” Majority Black zip codes already had the highest rates of eviction. The CARES Acts and expanded unemployment benefits have helped some cover their rent or mortgage, but those benefits are scheduled to run out at the end of July. Eviction moratoriums in many cities, meant to provide temporary relief, will eventually expire. Unions and other worker organizations can play a unique role in solving the housing and debt crisis both for union members and for the unorganized.

US Firms Shield CEO Pay As Pandemic Hits Workers, Investors

New York/ Boston - Sonic Automotive Inc (SAH.N), which operates 95 U.S. car dealerships, started laying off and furloughing about a third of its workforce as the coronavirus pandemic crushed its sales. Then it changed its executives’ pay packages - handing them a multimillion-dollar windfall. On April 10, Sonic’s board gave its top executives stock options to replace performance-based share awards, regulatory filings show. The options it gave Chief Executive David Smith, whose family controls the company, are now worth about $5.16 million - more than four times the value of the performance-based stock awards he got last year. Some of Sonic’s terminated employees, meanwhile, face hard times.

Bending PPE Rules Spells Death For Health Care Workers And Families

Chicago - If he could have worn a fresh N95 mask for every procedure as mandated by the Centers for Disease Control, would surgical technologist Juan Martínez be alive today? It was a tough question for a reporter to ask a grieving daughter. “We can’t know, but they bent rules, and that’s not how healthcare should be,” Angela Martínez told People’s World. Angela held aloft a large portrait of her father at a demonstration on the lawn across from the entrance to University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago where he had worked for over 20 years. She was joined by her sister Rebecca, brother Juan, Jr., who had followed in his father’s footsteps as a surgical tech, sister-in-law Yaneth, and her mother Martha who had worked 13 years in the hospital’s nutritional services department.

Once Again, Congress Will Let Wall Street Pillage Main Street

Over the last decade, Congress’s approval ratings have hovered around the mid-teens or low 20s, reflecting the reality that our representatives in Washington, D.C., serve the needs of big donors while throwing an occasional rhetorical bone to the “essential” workers who actually make the country function. Congress’s handling of the current crisis of the pandemic is unlikely to improve its ratings. Working Americans are facing an unprecedented disaster. Before the virus hit, half of them lived paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have $400 saved for an emergency. Now they have been ordered to stay home. Many have no income while their rents, utility bills, student loans, and credit card debts are accruing. The small businesses—restaurants, gyms, and stores—that provide half of the nation’s jobs were ordered to shut down. Their rents are accruing. And with no income coming in, many have little chance of repaying what they owe when the economy reopens.
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