As more than 8,500 union members and other civil society activists gather at the United Nations in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women meeting, new research shows women have made some gains in the two decades since the landmark global meeting on women in Beijing but continue to suffer from economic insecurity and widespread discrimination and inequality in the workplace.
Fewer women are in the workforce today, according to a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO). In 1995, 52% of women and 80% of men were in the workforce, the ILO report finds. Today the participation rate for women is 50%, compared to 77% for men, reflecting in part the effects of the global recession.
Further, ILO research shows that women continue to be overrepresented in low-wage jobs that offer little security and few, if any, benefits. Women are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes—a rate that means women will not achieve pay equity with men before 2086. Women also work many hours without pay, a point made by an interactive, online report produced by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation and Economist Intelligence Unit.
Unions are sponsoring several workshops and events during the CSW meetings, including a March 11 panel discussion, “Women’s Economic Empowerment and Labor Rights: Beijing +20 and Beyond.” Sponsored in part by the Solidarity Center, the panel will discuss how working women are fighting for fair wages and working conditions, equal job opportunities, and freedom from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. Panelists include AFL-CIO International Department Director Cathy Feingold, Bangladesh garment worker activist Kalpona Akter and Elizabeth Tang, general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
This year’s CSW meeting marks 20 years since the fourth women’s world conference in Beijing, when 189 governments identified and signed an agreement to improve 12 areas key to empowering women, including “the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women.” During the next two weeks, CSW participants will review progress made in implementing the Beijing recommendations. Some 164 countries conducted national reviews of the status of women, and the CSW will review these reports, along with contributions from civil society.
“Governments acknowledge that women’s labor sustains families and nations,” says Lisa McGowan, Solidarity Center senior specialist for gender equality. “It is time that governments step up and devote the full political commitment and resources needed to sustain women, and ensure their labor and human rights.”
Established in 1946, the CSW is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
On Monday, the UN approved a political declaration on the status of women and girls. Union activists and women’s and human rights groups say that the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Political Declaration at UNCSW59 were held in advance, and consultation with civil society was kept to a minimum. As a result, the content of the declaration is not as strong and forward-looking as it could have been.
The change in process has been denounced by nearly 1,000 organizations, including Public Services International (PSI), Education International (EI), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Canadian Labour Congress. Historically, the CSW has adopted declarations or “agreed conclusions” after a two-week session that includes robust civil society participation.
Other trade union events during the CSW include a discussion on organizing migrant women and decent work for domestic workers, and an event titled “Women and Sustainable Economy from a Human Rights Perspective.” More events here.
Three times each month, dozens of women gather in dusty courtyards in rural towns in Manikganj, Dinazpur or other districts across Bangladesh to learn all they can about the only means by which they can support their families: migrating to another country for work.
In leading these information sessions, the Bangladesh Migrant Women’s Organization (BOMSA) seeks to assist women in understanding their rights—from what they should demand of those who facilitate their migration, to the wage and working conditions at the homes in Gulf and Asian countries where they will be employed as domestic workers.
“What I want for these women is that they are safe, they get their wages,” says Sheikh Rumana, BOMSA general secretary. Rumana founded the organization in 1998 with other women who worked with her for years in Malaysian garment factories. Before she migrated for work in Malaysia, Rumana was promised a good salary at an electronics plant. But when she arrived, she was put to work at a plant making jackets and paid pennies for each piece she sewed.
The gap between the promise and reality of migrating for work overseas is the focus of migrant worker activists across Asia. This month, Rumana and seven other migrant worker activists from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives are traveling across the United States as part of a Solidarity Center exchange program supported by the U.S. State Department. The group is meeting with U.S. activists working on labor rights, migrant rights and anti-human trafficking issues in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles to discuss best practices to promote safe migration and share ideas for raising awareness about the risks of migrating for work.
Like BOMSA, the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants Development Foundation (WARBE-DF) assists those seeking to migrate, provides support for workers overseas and assists them upon their return. The organization also has successfully pushed the Bangladeshi government to ratify the United Nations (UN) convention on the protection of migrant workers and is campaigning for passage of the International Labor Organization convention covering decent work for domestic workers, says Jasiya Khatoon, WARBE-DF program coordinator and AFL-CIO Solidarity Center exchange participant.
Many workers migrating from Bangladesh and elsewhere are first trafficked through another country—where a lack of proper documentation may result in their arrest. In Mumbai, India, a transit point for many migrants, human rights lawyer Gayatri Jitendra Singh works both to assist imprisoned migrant workers and to change the country’s laws so that, rather than penalizing migrant workers, the laws recognize the culpability of traffickers and corrupt labor brokers.
Singh, a former union organizer, and other migrant advocates, point to the actions of labor brokers as the biggest underlying problem in the migration process. Many labor brokers charge such exorbitant fees for securing work that migrant workers cannot repay them even after years on the job, essentially rendering them indentured workers. They remain trapped, often forced to remain in dangerous working conditions because their debt is too great. Unscrupulous brokers also lie about the wages and working conditions workers should expect in a destination country, the migrant advocates say.
Singh and the other migrant advocates came to the United States filled with fresh stories about the suffering of migrant workers and their families: a Bangladeshi domestic worker in Jordan and another in Lebanon who had just returned to Bangladesh, still suffering the effects of nightly sexual abuse by their employers; the family of an Indian construction worker who died in Qatar and is unable to pay for the return of his body; the 12-year-old Bangladeshi girl whose passport cites her age as 25 so she can migrate overseas to support her family because her father is ill.
Bangladeshis “wouldn’t go if there were jobs in their country,” says Rumana. But faced with grinding poverty and no chance for decent work in Bangladesh, they uproot their lives to make a living. But as long as they do, Rumana says, they “shouldn’t have to be tortured to have work.”
Women at every level are “moving the labor movement in new directions” and “inventing new kinds of worker organizations and new ways of being a trade unionist,” says labor historian Dorothy Sue Cobble.
Gender equality is the “unfinished business of the labor movement,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau in the conference’s keynote speech. “The strategic exploitation of women workers for the economic gain of business is one of the key global dynamics driving down wages and working conditions and keeping working people from their rights across the globe.Cobble, distinguished professor of history and labor studies at Rutgers University, was among several speakers opening a two-day Solidarity Center conference this morning, “Women’s Empowerment, Gender Equality and Labor Rights: Transforming the Terrain.” Nearly 100 labor and community activists from 20 countries are gathered here in São Paulo, Brazil, to share strategies for achieving gender equality and worker rights in their unions and their workplaces.
“If we want to stem the unrelenting race to the bottom, we must fight for workers at the bottom of the supply chain, starting with the women,” she said.
Three Brazilian trade union leaders described their efforts to make gender equality and women’s issues central to their unions and part of legislative priorities.
“We have fought very hard, we Brazilian women, to take up the spaces of power,” said Maria Auxiliadora dos Santos, women’s secretary at Força Sindical. “We have to say, `Men will not speak in our name.’” More than 100 million women live in Brazil, yet they hold only 13.7 percent of executive positions and are only 22 percent of management, dos Santos said. But over the past 10 years, the governing Worker’s Party has enabled women to make tremendous gains because of the focus on alleviating poverty and improving the economic rights of workers.
Rosana Sousa de Deus, an executive committee member from Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT); Cassia Bufelli, women’s secretary at União Geral dos Trabalhadores (UGT); and Lais Abramo, director of the International Labor Organization in Brazil, also spoke this morning.
Gertrude Mtsweni, national gender coordinator for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), shared how women unionists pushed for the creation of a full-time gender coordinator position and gender coordinator chairpersons throughout COSATU. “A conscious effort was made to build an active gender structure,” Mtsweni said. The federation also integrates gender issues in collective bargaining and wages campaigns on a variety of issues crucial for women, including prevention of workplace sexual harassment and violence and creation of child care facilities.
Sally Choi, project coordinator for the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) on China and International Affairs, discussed HKCTU`s recent victory in moving the government toward improving the nation’s workplace sexual harassment laws, so that women in service and retail jobs are covered. An organizer and researcher, Choi has coordinated gender and labor programs in mainland China and has been active in the local women’s movement in Hong Kong for 10 years.
As Cobble summed up the conference goal: “Our challenge over the next two days is to think about how to sustain these new efforts, to learn from and spread their wisdom, to capture their stories and let the world know that labor women will not and are not being silenced.”
Check out more posts on women in the international labor movement from the Solidarity Center here, here and here.
In 2008, at the height of the recession, Mitt Romney declared that government should “let Detroit go bankrupt” rather than providing federal aid to automakers. President Obama was a lot smarter than that. As a result of federal assistance, General Motors (GM) posted record profitsand paid back its loans early, Chrysler paid back all its loans and hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers are on the job who otherwise would be out of work.
Karen Eusanio, a UAW Local 112 member and second generation autoworker, is one of those workers. Speaking last night at the Democratic National Convention, Eusanio recalled her struggle to support her children after GM laid her off, and the unpopularity of Obama’s plan to save the auto industry. Yet, President Obama didn’t think about the polls or the politics, said Eusanio.
He thought about the people. Because he put himself in our shoes, we’re back on our feet. Obama believed in us, he stood up for us.
Speaking next, UAW President Bob King said, in the face of tremendous political venom, President Obama met the test of moral character.
He stood up for not what was popular and easy but what was right. He stood up for workers, not just autoworkers, but all workers.
King said President Obama’s strong leadership saved 1 million jobs—jobs in the auto industry and throughout communities where autoworkers live and work. King also gave a big shout-out to Obama for strongly backing working people and their unions.
Generations of working people fought for, and in some cases died for, the right to organize and the right to collectively bargain. President Obama strongly supports these basic human rights because these rights are good for all Americans. Strong unions and collective bargaining have lifted millions of people out of poverty and built the great American middle class, and it’s a middle class that keeps America’s democracy and economy strong.
In contrast, King said, Republicans:
just want to take us back, back to a time when…workers couldn’t speak out for fairness, justice and middle-class opportunity. That’s why unions matter.
Not only would Romney have let Detroit go bankrupt, as CEO of Bain Capital, he “often didn’t build companies up but took them apart,” King said.
In ripping apart already profitable companies, Romney’s actions laid off those like Randy Johnson, who worked for American Pad & Paper in Marion, Ind., when Bain bought out the company and laid off thousands of workers. Addressing the convention, Johnson said he does not fault those who want to make a profit. But he faults Romney for:
making money without a moral compass. Putting profits before people like me. America cannot afford Romney economics. Romney will stick it to working people. Obama will stick up for working people.
DNC speaker and Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren reminded the delegates that as it stands now, the “game is rigged” against working people and a Romney/Ryan economy would make it worse:
People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right. The system is rigged. Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.
If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were really interested in maximizing taxpayer money to get the most bang for the buck, they would not push to cut Social Security and Medicare. (And, in the case of Medicare, the Romney/Ryan plan would raise health care costs for seniors on average by $11,000, with today’s 54-year old paying $59,500 in increased Medicare costs.
Rather than cutting Social Security and Medicare, they should strengthen both programs.
Medicare is more cost effective. According to economist Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI),
Social Security saves taxpayer money because it bypasses the high administrative costs found in the private sector. In addition, writes Bivens, Social Security is cost effective because of the
government’s ability to provide actuarially fair insurance without needing the compensation that private-sector insurance providers would demand.
Then there’s that little factor of increased risk if Social Security were privatized. The private-sector solution to retirement means gambling with your retirement funds—so there’s a good chance you could lose a significant portion of your retirement investments if we encounter another market downturn like in 2008. Social Security, like Bivens mentions, has very modest administrative costs—less than 1 percent of the programs’ expenditures go to overhead. Doesn’t it make sense to increase Social Security benefits, instead of privatizing or reducing them? We need a stronger Social Security, not a riskier one.
So what about all the noise from the Romney/Ryan types who say social insurance programs are increasing portions of the federal budget?
Bivens has this false argument covered, too, noting that the increase is “because our private health system has failed to constrain these costs.”
Yet, even so,
Medicare (which provides public finance for purchasing health services from private-sector providers) has been able to blunt this failure better than private insurance.
America’s workers are existing on the edge of financial disaster: 40 percent say they live paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent CareerBuildersurvey. Worse, 37 percent say they sometimes need to rely on the next payday to make ends meet. Although the percentage of those literally living for payday has decreased from 42 percent in 2011 and from 46 percent in 2008, the height of the recession, this is not good news (click on chart to enlarge).
In addition, the survey found:
Women (44 percent) are more likely than men (36 percent) to live paycheck to paycheck. One quarter (25 percent) of female workers missed a monthly payment at least once in the past year, compared to 17 percent of men.
More than a quarter of workers (27 percent) do not save anything each month. Thirty percent save more than $250 and one in ten (10 percent) save more than $1,000.
CareerBuilder, the nation’s largest online job site, also found that those most likely to live paycheck to paycheck are between ages 45 and 54 (43 percent).
Still, whether 40 percent or 43 percent of working people live from paycheck to paycheck, either percentage is far too high for a nation this rich. There’s something more going on.
The declining standard of living for middle- and working-class Americans is no accident. U.S. trade policies depleted our nation’s manufacturing base. Federal tax policies promoted inequality and rewarded wealth over work, leaving us without enough money to fund our public infrastructure or the education and training we need in a global economy. And some employers and lawmakers have made conscious and coordinated efforts to delegitimize government and destroy unions to take away working people’s ability to stand up to corporate excess.
The Romney/Ryan ticket, with its support for offshoring jobs, massive tax cuts to the massively wealthy and calls to defund core public programs like bridge and street maintenance, education, Social Security and Medicare, would further financially sink America’s middle- and working-class.
The thought of how many U.S. workers would be living paycheck to paycheck at the end of a Romney administration is chilling.
New Hampshire, which raised its minimum wage several times during this period…experienced the smallest decline in employment. Rhode Island, the one state that did not increase its minimum wage at all, had the largest decline in employment—5.9 percent, 2.5 percentage points higher than the 3.4 percent drop in New Hampshire.
In addition to New Hampshire and Rhode Island, the other states studied are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.
The study further notes that:
although employment has not returned to pre-recession levels in any of these states, growth has been faster…in the three states with the highest minimum wages.
Maybe when people are paid more, they can buy more, so business creates more jobs to fill the demand?
Congress is home for summer vacation right now, but lawmakers will be back. And when they return, the AFL-CIO, as well as noted economists, urge them to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2012 (read letter here).
Machinists (IAM) District 8 in Joliet, Ill., and Caterpillar Inc. reached a tentative contract agreement late Tuesday and members are now voting on whether to ratify it. Workers have been on strike against the heavy equipment maker since May 1.
The proposed six-year contract contains many improvements over previous offers, said District 8 Business Representative Steve Jones.
While it does not address every issue for every member, it deserves to be brought to the membership for a vote.
Despite making nearly $5 billion in profits last year and on course to earn even more this year, Caterpillar demanded the nearly 800 workers accept a six-year wage freeze, doubled health care premiums and cuts to pensions. Meanwhile, Caterpillar’s chief executive, Douglas Oberhelman, enjoyed a 60 percent pay increase in 2011, to $16.9 million.
While concessions are nothing new, what sets Caterpillar apart is that it is a thriving company, not a struggling corporation trying to stay on its feet. This “Caterpillar Capitalism,” as Roger Bybee dubbed it, is part of what happens when a nation, like the United States, does not have an industrial policy.
Striking workers drew support from a range of union and community members, including Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who donated $10,000, and SEIU, which donated $25,000 to the union strike fund. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin (D) was among those visiting workers on the picket line.
Full details of the proposed contract will be released after members are notified.
More information and details of the proposed agreement will be posted on IAM Local 851′s website atwww.iamll851.com.
Yet another study shows that supposed rampant “voter fraud” is nearly nonexistent. The Washington Post reports on a study today that finds onevoter fraud case for every 16 million prospective voters.
An analysis of 2,068 reports of alleged election fraud over the past 12 years byNews21 shows that in-person voter impersonation on Election Day, which has prompted 37 state legislatures to enact or consider tougher voter ID laws, was virtually nonexistent.
News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative reporting project, found 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation since 2000. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, those represent about one for every 15 million prospective voters.
Yet those who seek to restrict voting rights have done so in the name of ending voter fraud. As a result, 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws. At least 180 bills restricting votinghave been introduced in 41 state legislatures since the beginning of 2011, after the 2010 elections shifted control of 20 state legislative houses from Democrat to Republican. Thirty-four states introduced voter ID requirements that would effectively disenfranchise more than 21 million eligible voters who don’t have the required IDs—mostly people of color, low-income voters, students, seniors and people with disabilities.
In short, the real fraud being perpetrated is by those who want to take away one of most fundamental democratic rights.
Between 2002 and 2005, the Justice Department made the investigation and prosecution of voter fraud a top priority. Out of the hundreds of millions of votes cast during that period, the department brought only 38 cases, only one of which involved impersonation fraud.
As Clarissa Martinez De Castro, National Council of La Raza director of civic engagement, puts it: The real problem is not that too many Americans are participating in the electoral process. Rather, “there are not enough.”