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Walmart-Logo_color_0Walmart made headlines recently by announcing it is raising its base wage rate to $9 per hour (going to $10 per hour in 2016). In response, Gary Silverman of The Financial Times suggests that “Walmart stirs hopes of a Fordist revival,” referring to Henry Ford’s famous implementation of a $5 day in 1914 – double the going rate at the time. Similarly, Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, argues that Walmart’s “wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to” rising real wages and declining inequality for nearly three decades after the Second World War.

While the comparison between Walmart and Ford is apt in some respects, unfortunately, the broader institutional context of today’s postindustrial, globalized, financialized economy is far different from that of the post-WWII years. As a result, the move by Wal-Mart is unlikely to signal a broad reversal of the current trajectory of the American labor market, which is characterized by stagnating wages and rising inequality.

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Image: Francisco Martins CC BY-NC 2.0

The news in 2014 was regularly punctuated with stories of care home residents suffering abuse. As a result, care workers have been prosecuted and sentenced and homes have been closed, yet hidden camera exposes produced by residents’ relatives and by documentary film makers continue to highlight further incidents. The picture is grim. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that we have heard resurgent calls, from politicians, professional bodies and journalists, for a return to ‘compassionate care’. These calls usually emphasise the need for care workers to be re-trained so that they can learn (or re-learn) empathy. Sometimes this is juxtaposed to an emphasis on professional qualifications. For instance, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron suggested that ‘nurses should be hired and promoted on the basis of having compassion as a vocation not just academic qualifications’.

Yet, this widespread interpretation of recent crises in the care sector misunderstands the logic of care work. Simply put, it ignores the fact that care work is a type of what scholars have termed ‘body work‘: paid work that requires workers to touch, manipulate or otherwise work on, and in direct contact with, the bodies of others. For various reasons, summarized below, body work is extremely difficult to standardize or make profitable. Yet a privatized care regime is premised on companies’ ability to do precisely this: realize profit through standardization and capital-labor savings. In this context, one in which private care companies attempt to achieve largely unachievable goals, there is no reason to believe we have seen the last harm to residents nor a shift away from care practices that systematically undermine the dignity of those being cared for. Meanwhile, care workers employed by private companies have become residual casualties; unable to compensate for the structural problems endemic to privatized body work and demonized by the media when things go wrong. Read More

book coverOne day in June 2009 a South African trade unionist emerged from a meeting with the boss of a global security firm, G4S, the largest employer on the African continent. He held his hands in the air, and in his fist he had a wrinkled copy of the contract his union had negotiated with the company. He had just successfully helped a recently-fired security guard reclaim his job, claiming the language in the contract showed unjust termination. He said:

“This is my copy of the global agreement. It’s like a bible, man. When management tells me to get out, I show them this. When workers are afraid to join, I show them this. When people tell me we don’t have the right, I point to this. This this this. This is the key. But only if we use it right.”

He was referring to a global framework agreement (GFA) that was the culmination of five years of acrimonious struggle by UNI Global Union, as well as its allies in South Africa and others around the globe. GFAs are policy instruments signed by transnational corporations and global union federations that create an arena for global labor relations. GFAs also link unions around the world in an effort to impact the behavior of companies throughout their supply chains. The agreement forced G4S, the world’s third-largest employer behind Walmart and Foxconn, to recognize unions and raise standards in a handful of countries, or risk losing investors. Notably, the agreement granted all of its nearly 600,000 employees workplace “neutrality,” the right to organize without management interference.

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Annette Bernhardt, Flickr

By Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan, for Truthout

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

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American_Hustle_Logoby Allyson Stokes

The Sony hacking scandal of 2014 has Americans talking about gender inequality. One of the notorious leaked emails revealed that the two female stars of the film American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, earned less back-end compensation for the film than their male co-stars, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper (7% versus 9%). This despite the fact that all four actors are comparable in terms of star power, critical acclaim, and award nominations for their performances.

Information also came to light about a pay gap between top executives. Among the 17 Sony employees whose salaries topped 1 million dollars, there is only one woman – Hannah Minghella, Co-president of Production at Columbia Pictures. Even more striking is the fact that Minghella earns much less than her co-president, Michael Deluca, a man with the exact same job title. While Deluca’s salary is 2.4 million, Minghella earns 1.5 million annually.

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News of improvement in the January jobs report shows that that there is cause for some optimism. The job market appears to be stable, and jobs are being added. Even the rise in unemployment indicates that those who had previously given up looking for work have returned to the labor market. However, there is still cause for concern.

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AAgradorangeRising productivity, profitability and stock prices have long been heralded as signs of economic recovery from the Great Recession.  Many segments of the population, however, have yet to experience any relief.  Initially concentrated among the upper classes, gains in employment, income and wealth have gradually spread to middle America, but many groups, including race/ethnic minorities and young people have been left behind.

Young people suffered a disproportionate share of job losses in the recession, and current trends suggest that they will be among the last to share in the benefits of economic recovery.  Although a college degree offers some protections in a competitive labor market, it is not uncommon for recent college graduates (males somewhat more than females) to struggle with unemployment for many months following graduation.  Many who do find jobs are underemployed – working fewer hours than they would like or in jobs for which they are overqualified

With an unemployment rate roughly double that of their white counterparts, young African American college graduates have even greater difficulty securing employment.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that in 2013, 12.4 percent of African American college graduates age 22-27 were unemployed, compared to 5.6 of all college graduates in this age group, and more than half of those who had jobs were underemployed.  Those with degrees in the highly sought-after STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fared little better, with unemployment and underemployment rates of 10 percent and 32 percent respectively.

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