How Much Progress for Women in Past 20 Years?

This is a cross-post from the Solidarity Center.

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.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Grand Budapest Hotel’s Story of Worker Solidarity

Wes Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a lovely paean to a lost era but it’s also a subtle story of workers and worker solidarity.

Set mostly in the 1930′s in the fictional central European nation of Zubrowka, the film’s heroes are the concierge and lobby-boy at the Grand Budapest, a luxurious hotel where bejewelled and top-hatted Old European nobles — the 1% of the day — enjoy the finer things in life.

As usual in Anderson’s films, the story, as convoluted and entertaining as it is, is less important than the quirky characters and intricately detailed sets on which the film plays out. After all the rushing about, what stands out this time is the sympathetic portrayal of the nobility of the work done by what today are simply called service workers.

While Grand Budapest concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is tyrannical and exacting in his attention to every detail in the vast hotel — click here for Gustave’s lobby-boy job interview while walking briskly through the lobby issuing commands in all directions — he is also fiercely loyal to his fellow workers, which not only sets the film’s main plotline in motion but ultimately exacts a costly price. And when Gustave winds up in prison, his dedication to his work there quickly earns him the loyalty of even the most hardened prisoners. The unwavering commitment of young lobby-boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) to his job, to the hotel as an institution and to Gustave as his boss and colleague, will be perfectly understandable to any union hotel worker today.

Young Zero’s apprenticeship as a lobby-boy and the pastry-maker’s dedication to her craft also resonate as memories of bygone days when work had implicit dignity in a job well-done and respected, if not by the oblivious hotel guests then by other workers.

In one of the best scenes in the film, Gustave, on the lam and stranded in the middle of no-where, activates the network of European hotel concierges to rescue him. It’s the sort of organization that would probably have been called a guild or mutual aid society in those days. A union, in other words.

All filmmaking by definition is teamwork among professionals and colleagues in which everyone has a job and must effectively carry out that work both individually and as part of the collective whole. Anderson, like his protaganist, is legendary for both his work ethic and attention to detail as well as for his generous collegiality, and that solidarity shines through brilliantly, on-screen and off, in “Grand Budapest.”

Chris Garlock is the Director of the DC Labor FilmFest, celebrating its 14th year in May-June 2014 and this year anchoring the first annual DC LaborFest, a monthlong celebration of labor arts and culture in May 2014. Details at www.dclabor.org

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Could Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Survive One of His Company’s Own Warehouses for a Week?

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That’s the question Nancy Becker, an American employed by Amazon in Germany since 2001, asked as she trekked to Seattle this week to stand up for the rights of workers in the online retailer’s “fulfillment centers.” The centers—little more than warehouses where workers are faced with near-impossible workloads for minimal pay—are the subject of rallies in Seattle and Germany on Monday. Becker traveled from her workplace in Germany, “I’m coming to Seattle to dare Jeff Bezos to try working as a picker for a single week. I’m sure he would not survive.”

In recent months, workers at Amazon’s warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig and Graben in Germany have engaged in a series of rolling strikes. They are hoping to increase pressure on Amazon by sending protesters to the company’s Seattle headquarters, where they were joined by American workers also opposed to the low wages and harsh work conditions that the company’s American warehouses share.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

We welcome the German Amazon workers and their union, ver.di, to the United States. Just as German workers have stood in support of U.S. workers employed by global corporations, we join your fight for fairness at one of the largest corporate retailers in the world. It’s time that Amazon make good on its obligations to its workers, not just its shareholders and executives, and we will be there in Seattle to make our voices heard.

The complaints about Amazon are pretty similar in both countries: “The Amazon system is characterized by low wages, permanent performance pressure and short-term contracts,” said Stefanie Nutzenberger, a board member of ver.di, the union representing the German Amazon workers. Instead of classifying fulfillment center workers as retail employees, the company calls them “logistics” workers and then pays them lower rates than they would have to pay retail workers. This misclassification allows the company to claim that it’s paying workers a higher wage for their field than other companies, when the reality is they would have significantly higher wages if correctly classified as retail workers. And despite claims that Amazon has made about safety being a top priority, “Last month, an investigation by the BBC’s “Panorama” program into a U.K.-based Amazon warehouse found conditions a stress expert said could cause ‘mental and physical illness.’”

Workers categorized the conditions similarly:

“The workers are treated more as robots than human,” Markus Hoffmann-Achenbach, an organizer for Ver.di at the Amazon warehouse in the city of Werne, said by email. He was on his way to Seattle to participate in the demonstration.

“As a worldwide company,” Mr. Hoffmann-Achenbach added, “Amazon should treat their workers fairly and with respect in every country. The solidarity of American unions and ver.di, the united services union of Germany, is a sign that social movements are not bounded by national borders and that in times of globalization, the workers worldwide stand together as one.”

Amazon officials seemed to have little sympathy for their own workers:

But Amazon’s German country head Ralf Kleber said the company had no intention of bowing to pressure from striking workers and was more worried about bad weather hurting Christmas deliveries, he told Reuters in an interview last month.

You can almost hear Kleber ending the sentence with a “bah” or a “humbug.”

Photo by jurvetson on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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