Eric Lee first made sure our aim is for unionists to think locally and act globally.
LabourStart has over 1,000 journalists world-wide and assists unions with global pressure on companies and governments;
1. LabourStart will continue to assist union struggles, such as at the conference; 2.Support for Bahrain unionists; 3. Nissan launch; 4.Support for Chinese workers and SACOM;
5. Solidarity Phillipine Airline union; 6 Solidarity Fiji unions and 7 solidarity Mexican workers.
See LabourStart campaigns
First rate media strategies are presented by unionists and Essential Media Communications, Peter Lewis and campaign strategists.
LabourStart Australia with veteran union journalist Andrew Casey.
1. Eric Lees’s first thoughts.
‘I write these words barely 16 hours after the end of the third annual LabourStart Global Solidarity Conference, held in Sydney, Australia this week.
This won’t be a full or formal report; other conference participants are invited to make their own reports and I’ll try to link to them below as I learn about them.
These are more a series of random observations than a proper report told in chronological order, but that’s all I’m capable of at the moment.
This turned out to be relatively difficult conference to organise. We had originally planned to do it in Sydney in 2011, but that fell through and we hastily convened the one in Istanbul instead. This time, we pulled together a fairly large organising committee, got a great venue for free (from the New South Wales Teachers Federation), and thought we had things under control.
But about two months ago, it became clear that the conference was in trouble so I intervened. I convinced members of the committee to move from a conference that would cost more than $100 per head to attend to a free one, and from a registration procedure that required the printing off of a form and its posting by mail to a simple online one. I also secured the involvement on a voluntary basis of Essential Media Communications, headed up by Peter Lewis, and this proved to be decisive. The conference agenda was rewritten from scratch, and the number of registered participants soared from 5 to well over 200.
The conference opened on Sunday evening with a reception at a local bar, hosted by UnionJobs.com, and this was an opportunity to meet many of the international participants.
In the end we had people from more than 15 countries — the UK, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, the USA, Fiji, the Philippines, Timor Leste, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and New Zealand — as well as Australia (including members of the Bahraini and Vietnamese communities).
The conference was formally opened by the traditional ‘welcome to country,’ delivered by a representative the indigenous population. We were reminded that the conference was held on aboriginal land and paid our respects with a moment of silence.
The two initial speakers were myself and Dave Oliver, the secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Dave gave a terrific speech, the first part of which spoke very highly of the work LabourStart does and the esteem in which it is held in Australia.
The rest of the conference was a series of plenaries and workshops focussing on six different selected campaigns.
These included Nissan USA (which became the subject of a LabourStart campaign launched during the conference itself), Qatar (an ITUC campaign focussing on migrant workers), Bahrain (we heard an impassioned appeal for help from Bahrainis living in Australia), China, Fiji, and Mexico (miners).
The conference was privileged to hear addresses by such prominent activists as Daniel Urai, of the Fiji Trades Union Congress and Benjamin Velasco from the Philippines, who spoke about the campaign at Philippines Air Lines against outsourcing.
Monday evening the entire conference packed up and moved across town to a dinner and reception hosted by the Australian Workers Union at Trades Hall, including a display of banners and a tour of EMC’s new television studio there.
The final session on Tuesday, following detailed reports from each of the workshops, focussed on ways LabourStart can be more helpful to Australian unions
The second day saw a much smaller turnout, as expected, but there were a credible number of people in the hall and an exhausted crowd did manage to rise up from their seats to sing a rousing version of the Internationale.
Wednesday morning there was a small meeting of LabourStart correspondents including participants from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Norway and the UK. We discussed the conference that just took place, a possible conference in Berlin in May 2014, the proposed ActNOW DIY system, LabourStart’s finances and fundraising, and more.
Special thanks are due not only to the unions and individuals name above, and to all those who attended, by to members of the organizing committee including Alison, Crystal, Tony, Caroline, Michael and of course Andrew.
I encourage others who attended the conference to post their own reports and I look forward to reading these.’
Michael Walker, a member of the conference organizing committee, reported.see website
Fair for All report
I believe that tasks for unions and communicators is to improve the reach to unionists in Australia of LabourStart and to improve our journalistic reporting of workers’ struggles to be posted internationally.
2. During the conference we with Bahrain unionists welcomed this development of the release of union leader
3. LabourStart Nissan USA Right to be in a union.
Jeffery Moore Mississippi autoworker launched the Nissan USA campaign with actor Danny Glover.
ACTU supports international campaign for Nissan workers.
‘With Nissan set to join the V8 Supercar circuit next year, Australian unions are calling on the giant Japanese carmaker to respect workplace rights.
Nissan is currently embroiled in a dispute over the right of its American workforce to have free and fair union representation.’
Support this campaign.
4. Support SACOM Students and scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour. http://sacom.hk
In my media workshop, Australian unionists developed a draft solidarity campaign with the SACOM campaign to improve the working lives of thousands of young Chinese workers at the giant Taiwanese Foxconn company that assembles all computer products, but with our campaign focussing on the existing criticisms of the Apple corporation.
For those who want to join this campaign please contact me.
SACOM distributed in English a campaign brochure “Apple Products Made in Sweatshops.”
Debby Yi Yi Cheng Project Officer at the conference can be contacted in HK email@example.com
For daily China news on disputes, go to LabourStart and put in China.
Similarly with this blog on Foxconn.
Support this petition against crackdown on labour NGOs in China
Put in Apple in this blog search to see international campaign against Apple.
Taiwanese activists described how their direct action campaign focussed on Apple launches and the FoxConn company.
Apple in China: SACOM Statement ‘iPad Mini-mizes Labour Rights’
Hong Kong, 23 October 2012 Apple products
‘The gross and systematic labour abuses at the iPad mini manufacturer, Riteng Computer Accessory Co, demonstrate that Apple’s inaction in cleaning up its supply chain. Riteng is a subsidiary of Pegatron Corp in Shanghai, China. The factory is known to the public after an explosion in its polishing department last December, which caused injuries to 61 workers. Given the supplier’s poor record in workplace safety, the factory deserves special attention from Apple to address the labour rights violations in the facility. Disappointingly, labour rights abuses are widespread at Riteng. The problems are rooted in the purchasing practice of Apple and in its ineffective monitoring system.
In the first week of October, Students & Scholars Against Coporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) conducted off-site interviews with the Riteng workers. The following are the major labour rights violations found at Riteng:
Unlike other IT manufacturers which have a low season and peak season, there are peak seasons and super peak seasons at Riteng. Usually, workers have 10-hour work shift a day, 6 days a week. Overtime hours are about 80 hours per month, which exceeds the legal limit by 2 times. Meanwhile, in the super peak season, workers often have to work 5-6 hours overtime a day. The overtime work is up to 200 hours a month which is more than 5 times the legal limit. Riteng avoids documenting the overtime hours of the workers on their pay slip. It lists the overtime premiums to workers under the categories of allowances and bonuses.
Besides excessive overtime, workers grumbled that they are often unpaid for overtime worked. Every day, the workers have to arrive in the factory 15 minutes before the regular work shift begins for a work assembly. After the work shift, there is another work assembly which lasts for 15 minutes. Even during 30-minute lunch period, workers have to return to the shop floor early to resume production or to attend another meeting. Apple and Riteng have promised that workers can have a 10-minute recess every 2 hours, but all the interviewees have never enjoyed this benefit. Together with the delays in getting off duty, workers estimate that the unpaid overtime is up to 20 hours per month.
Abusive use of student workers
SACOM researchers met some student interns at Riteng. They are organized by schools to do “internships” in the factory. Instead of learning skills related to their respective discipline, they work as frontline production workers. The student workers are given CNY 85 a day, including overtime premium pay. “The production target is 5000 pieces per day,” said a student from Sichuan Province who works in the polishing department that produces the iPad. “I am really exhausted. Like all other workers, we have overtime work everyday. The working environment is dusty and noisy. I want to go back to the school, but my teacher said we would not receive our graduation certificates if we left.”
Cheating on social insurance
Social insurance, which covers pension, work-related insurance and medical insurance, is mandatory according to the labour laws. Both employer and employee have to contribute to the social insurance fund. Regrettably, Riteng only buys insurance for the regular workers who have worked in the factory for 6 months. Yet, those who work as dispatched labour are not protected by the social insurance at all.
Exploiting dispatched labour
Dispatched labour, or sub-contractual workers, are easily found at Riteng. They are denied the fundamental rights to have an employment contract and social insurance. Additionally, they are not eligible for the annual production bonus. As the dispatched labourers are the employees of the labour agency, Riteng can evade responsibility if there are any labour disputes. Even worse, the dispatched labourers will find their lives even more precarious if they are diagnosed with occupational diseases or suffer industrial injuries.
Pressuring injured workers
The explosion at Riteng injured 61 workers. Among the victims, were many who suffered skin burns and even disfigurement, while some of them suffered bone fractures. To this day, some workers are still hospitalized. During the medical treatment in the hospital, the injured workers are entitled to a monthly salary which is equivalent to their respective salary in the past 12 months. Yet, several injured workers revealed that they only receive CNY 1800 a month and the amount was much less than the amount they deserve according to the law. The victims reported that management does not show concern for the well-being of the victims, and asks them to sign several agreements to give up their rights. Two injured workers confided in SACOM researchers that the factory deliberately relocated them to smaller hospitals soon after the tragedy lest the victims would organize themselves. An injured worker even told that the factory threatened not to pay her compensation if she refused to move to the dormitory. She resisted.
Hazardous working environment
In the aftermath of the explosion, Riteng has not learned a lesson from the tragedy. In the polishing department, the shop floor is still filled with dust. The ventilation is poor and the masks used are ineffective in protecting workers. The dust can penetrate the mask and goes into the nose and mouth of the workers. The face of workers is covered with dust because of the dusty working environment.
“Cutting fluid” is commonly used by the machine operators. Workers complained of the strong and unpleasant odour of the chemical. In fact, they are equipped with surgical masks only. They do not know anything about the substance of the chemical and do not feel the mask can protect them at all.
Apple is root problem of the violations
To divert the public criticism about Apple’s unethical labour practices, the company joined the Fair Labor Association (FLA) in January 2012.
Apparently, Apple seeks to distance itself from the problems at its supplier factories. Nevertheless, Apple is not the victim of the scandals at its supplier factories. It is the root problem. SACOM reiterates that only if workers can form genuine unions to defend their rights, working conditions can be improved. Equally important, Apple must raise the unit price and prolong the delivery time, so workers do not need to have excessive overtime to earn a living. Apple should also provide remedies to the workers for its negligence in enforcing labour rights standards.
Here is one report from SACOM. Please download their report
Sweatshops are good for Apple and Foxconn, but not for workers
“What’s wrong with sweatshops?” sums up the attitude of Terry Gou Taiming, the Foxconn CEO.
In April 2012, when Foxconn organised a trip to Taiwan for selected Mainland workers, Gou explained his views to the Taiwan media, saying “There’s nothing wrong with working hard, with blood and sweat, as long as no laws are broken.” Most of the workers are angry with Terry Gou’s statement. “Of course sweatshops are good for Terry Gou, but not us. Without our blood and sweat, how could Foxconn grow rapidly?” Lin Yong, a male worker from Guanlan campus retorted.
From March to May 2012, SACOM revisited the Foxconn’s production sites in Zhengzhou of Henan province in inland China and Shenzhen where most of the interviewees work on Apple production lines.
The research shows labour rights violations remain the norm in the factories. The following are the key findings of SACOM’s investigations:
– No freedom of speech: In the orientation, workers are warned not to talk to journalists and researchers unless given permission by the management.
– No freedom of association: Workers are ordered to sign up for the company-controlled union without knowing the functions of the unions.
– No transparency in the FLA’s inspections: Workers have no access to the FLA’s report and the remedial actions.
– Overall salary decreases: The basic payment of workers increases but, overall, the salary of workers decreases because the overtime work is cut down.
– Unpaid overtime and demanding production targets: After the pay rise, overtime hours were reduced but, since then, workers have been set higher production targets and sometimes have to work unpaid overtime.
– Excessive overtime for the iPad workers: In the lead-up to the release of the new iPad, workers could not take leave for family reunions during the Chinese New Year. And overtime work for the iPad workers remained at 80 hours a month in April.
– Inhumane treatment: The frontline management continue to impose humiliating disciplinary measures on workers, including forcing workers to write confession letters, reading out these confession letters, cleaning the toilets and manual labouring work.
– Psychological tests for job applicants: The written test for job applicants includes a section designed to screen out workers who have, or might develop, mental health problems.
– Unsafe working environment: No adequate training for workers on work and safety. Workers do not know what kinds of chemicals they are using. At least 728 cases of industrial injuries at Foxconn’s production facilities in Shenzhen have been recorded.
5. Solidarity with Philipine Airline workers from PALEA Philippine Airlines Employees Association with Media Officer Benjamin Velasco.
6.Daniel Urai,from the Fiji Trades Union Congress explained the dictatorship’s crackdown on basic union rights.
7.Solidarity in Mexico
In partnership with IndustriALL, Amnesty International and Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales, A.C (PRODESC).
IndustriALL Global Union represents 50 million workers in 140 countries in the mining, energy and manufacturing sectors and is a new force in global solidarity taking up the fight for better working conditions and trade union rights around the world. PRODESC is a non-governmental organization founded in 2005 whose primary mission is the defense of economic, social and cultural rights of underrepresented workers and communities in Mexico. Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.
8. Support for the ITUC Qatar World Cup campaign.
Other solidarity campaigns are developed, but not recorded here.
The ‘how to do union media/communications skills in global campaigns’ presentations are of high quality and can be represented for use by unions in communicating our strategies.
See my son Alex White on five essential elements of strategy for unions to win.
See Treating Union Communication seriously
The main problem with being in an audience listening to these reports is that there are few opportunities to debate publicly their main political strategies, including weaknesses and alternatives.
APHEDA is represneted in most of these countries with overseas aid programmes.
AFTINET’s Pat Ranald presented the arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement see http://www.aftinet.org.au
Amanda Tattersall on adding Community organising to Union strategy explained the sucesses of the Sydney Alliance.
While conference time was given for a report by Viet Labor on a jailed Vietnamese activist, the report ignored many positive years of Australian unions working in Vietnam including with the official Vietnam union confederation and unions, occupational health programmes, government agencies and NGOs through APHEDA’s excellent programmes. Again, not enogh time to debate the politics of solidarity.
US IWW Starbucks organiser Erik Forman explained their campaign
Please support http://www.starbucksunion.org/
It was good to see Timor Leste unions represented by the Maritime, Transport, Energy Union Paulino da Costa and the international aid of the Norwegian Industrial Oil union with Espen Loken, from Industri Energi union.
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