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A Worldwide Revolt Against Poverty Wages

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Jonathan TasiniYesterday, I wrote about how the decline of U.S. wages has made workers here cheaper to hire than workers in India, at least in the call center industry. Today, the news hails from Asia where workers are rising up against poverty-level wages.

From the Financial Times (and, as a side observation, the FT gives far better insight on a regular basis on these trends than anything you can read in the U.S. traditional press):

Bangladeshi garment workers, who make clothes for western brands such as H&M, Gap and Marks & Spencer, greeted a recent 80 per cent pay rise by rampaging angrily through the capital Dhaka burning cars and looting shops.

For the world’s lowest- paid garment workers, the increase in the minimum wage, effective from November, takes their pay from $23 to $43 (€33, £27.50) a month. It was their first pay rise for four years, a period of soaring food and fuel prices. However, the workers were enraged that Dhaka had not agreed to the $75 a month they had demanded.

“This is not enough for the survival of workers and their families,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of Bangladesh’s National Garment Workers’ Federation, which has about 23,000 members. “Living costs – including food, clothes, shelter and medical care – are going higher and higher.”

….Demands for better pay across Asia reflect improving job opportunities in economies that are growing faster than their western markets.

….
In Cambodia, Phnom Penh recently raised the minimum wage by 21 per cent  – from $50 a month to $61. That was below what the more activist of Cambodia’s 273 unions demanded, although a three-day, industry-wide strike did not materialise.

Vietnam recorded 200 strikes last year by workers hit by inflation of 9 per cent. In April, for example, nearly 10,000 workers walked out of a Taiwan-owned shoe factory, demanding better pay.

In Indonesia – where powerful trade unions with millions of members play a crucial role in negotiating with employers – minimum wages, set by regional authorities, have been increasing.

In 2008, Jakarta raised the local minimum wage by 10 per cent to nearly $100 a month, although wages in the country’s remoter regions are half that.
….
“There are no industrial relations,” says Mr Alam. “The whole attitude is arrogant and feudal. Owners and government think they are helping the workers. The workers are not treated like workers – they are treated like beggars.”[emphasis added]

What is going on here?

There is a thread that connects the anger coursing throughout the globe about the entire failed economic model foisted upon the world’s workers for decades. Here, people have had it with working hard for decades and seeing all that hard work–productivity has been rising for 30 years–turn into a steady stream of money into the pockets of CEOs and the richest one percent. Republicans and Democrats have supported a bankrupt economic system based on the “free market” and “free trade”, leveraged buyouts that obliterate middle-class jobs and a campaign finance system that greases a knee-jerk granting of tax cuts for business before making sure that regular people can form unions to act as a counter-weight to the rapacious nature of the market.

And what of those jobs flowing abroad? Well, the FT article shows the reality: slave labor. No surprise. Those stories have been surfacing for years–yet, despite the growing poverty around the world, we still have a bi-partisan support (including from our president) for the very so-called “free trade” policies that have bred substandard wages.

Where this leads is not easy to tell. It is easy to talk about worldwide solidarity–and a whole lot harder to make it happen, because of cultural and language differences, the massive physical distances between one slave-wage haven and another, the inability of the poorest to have enough resources to organize on a daily basis…a whole host of reasons.

But, it is clear–the people have had it. They cannot, and should not, put up with the siphoning of the world’s wealth and resources into the hands of a few.

About the Author Jonathan Tasini: is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.


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