NYC Young Professionals Amnesty International Message Board › Labor Day present?
New York, NY
As Americans celebrate Labor Day, it is worth noting how far the fortunes of the labor movement have sunk. Labor trafficking has increasingly become an accepted part of the global economy. The economic burdens of unemployment and low wage jobs fall disproportionately on women and people of color. We sadly note the continued disparity in wages for women performing the same work as men.
Most people who work in this country have the right to form and join unions under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which encourages union formation. Yet millions of workers, such as farm laborers, domestic workers and managers, are still not covered by the NLRA. In much of the developing world, unionizing is not a right, but rather a serious risk to life, limb and liberty.
In 1983, the union membership rate for wage and salary workers was over 20 percent. Today it is barely half of that and in the private sector it is below 7 percent. "Look for the Union Label" was a catchphrase of earlier times. Today unions are reviled by many, even among the working class that has built this country into a superpower. Even as outsourcing, downsizing, foreclosures and unemployment have become commonplace, still the labor movement seems moribund.
They gave us the Weekend! The 40 hour work-week. Child labor laws. Minimum wage standards. Pension benefits. American Labor built a movement that protected worker's dignity while still enabling the United States to dominate the world as an economic powerhouse for more than a generation. What has happened?
Certainly corruption and over-reaching have played a part. But the real contribution to the downfall of the American worker lies in the corporate takeover known as globalization. A worker today in Missouri or Massachusetts is competing with impoverished workers in Vietnam, Bolivia and Bangladesh. Despite the protestations of some political aspirants, corporations are NOT people. They are legal fictions. They are conglomerates of wealthy investors, without national or political allegiance, upon whom the courts have conferred rights usually reserved for actual individual citizens.
They may make millions, or they may go bust. But they do not bleed. They don't stay up at the kitchen table trying to figure out how the keep a roof over their children's head, how to pay for food or for medicine. They don't toss and turn and lose sleep worrying about an ever bleaker future. They just follow the bottom line and go wherever labor is cheapest and people most desperate. At the same time they are entitled to contribute millions of dollars anonymously to politicians who will protect their interests.
So what's the Labor Day present? Well, it's sort of a present only in a back-handed kind of way. A labor trafficking ring in Pennsylvania has been broken up and the successful prosecution has resulted in significant sentences for those convicted.
This case demonstrates the involvement of corporate giants like Walmart and Target in exploiting the most vulnerable among us. They do it with plausible deniability by outsourcing contracts and, whenever they can get away with it, by not hiring actual employees to whom they might have to extend benefits. It further illustrates how labor trafficking can be every bit as violent and brutal a violation as sex trafficking.
Open your Present: Pennsylvania man sentenced to life for operating human trafficking operation
The brothers used physical force, threats of force, sexual assault and debt bondage to keep the victims in involuntary servitude. The brothers also threatened violence to workers' families still residing in Ukraine. Two female workers testified at trial that Omelyan Botsvynyuk brutally raped them on several occasions. Other victims testified at trial that they were struck and beaten if they attempted to quit or leave the employ of the Botsvynyuk brothers, or if they questioned the lack of payment or the broken promises made in Ukraine. Workers were struck in the presence of other workers, which served as a warning to the rest. After some workers escaped, Omelyan Botsvynyuk resorted to extorting the workers' families in Ukraine, threatening them with mutilation, rape and death if the workers did not return to work or pay their debts.
Happy Labor Day. Look for that Union Label or at least Fair Trade!
Peace, Justice and Freedom...