Friday, February 27, 2009

SIGI Website Launched

The Sisterhood Is Global Institute just opened its website: I have a piece there, under Global Voices. Robin Morgan and Simone de Beauvoir founded this institute 25 years ago. I read Simone's (yup, in my mind, we're on first name basis, though she died before we could shake hands, as it were) book The Second Sex in my teens and it marked me for life. -- ##


Well, what d'you know? The Obama government took a 36% stake in Citibank. They should've taken more and do the same for Bank of America, etc. As promised, I'm on my feet applauding.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The First Speech

Frankly, I was waiting for President Barack Obama to announce “we’re taking over the banks.” I would’ve been perkier than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in applauding.

What intrigued me the most actually was the Republican's response, delivered by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

One cannot help but dislike the almost cynical use of the marginalized as the Republican Party’s new public face. There was Sarah Palin, who functioned as the party’s attack dog during the elections; then the African-American head of the RNC and now Jindal.

I don’t know if people of color find this edifying, As a woman who’s been mistaken for either Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Chicana (when I have curly hair), Romanian (because of my last name) or someone from Kyrgyzstan, and who had been told to her face by an INS agent “I can’t tell you (Asians) apart,” this use of minority bodies to channel neo-conservative anti-people, anti-minority thoughts, reducible to the phrase “let them eat cake,” is extremely repulsive.

It assumes we are stupid enough to fall for the old-message-new-messenger deception.

Btw, Republicans are really trying to make it to the digital age! This blogsite got an invitation to cross-link with one that praises Fox News and attacks the Dems. It was tempting; unfortunately, I wouldn’t have been able to watch their readers’ faces when they start perusing this blog. -- ##

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stats on Trafficking

Sometime in the 1990s, we wrote a statement that was distributed at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria -- the first time that trafficking was characterized as a "modern form of slavery." Since then, the phrase has entered the lexicon of the cause-oriented.

The UN Office on Drug and Crime has issued these new statistics on trafficking:

... the most common form of human trafficking(79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls. Surprisingly, in 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world,
women trafficking women is the norm.

The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour
(18%), although this may be a misrepresentation because forced labour
is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual

Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children.
However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are
the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).

These figures are important in the current tendency to consider women's issues as secondary, and gender as less important than class or race or sexuality.

Here in the US, we're beginning to see trafficking via the "seasonal worker visa" whereby batches of 30-50 men and women are brought in to work for approximately 10 months at labor-intensive, manual jobs. Living conditions are execrable, with one instance of 27 people living in one house. The workers are not paid directly by the companies they work for; instead, they receive their wages from the agency that brought them here -- with all kinds of deductions. On the average, they receive between $400-$600 a month.

The usual offshoot is that these workers run away and join the millions of undocumented -- largely because they are unable to earn enough to pay back what they borrowed to make the trip to the US.

What happens to the women -- well, every step is fraught is peril. -- ##

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Solidarity Statement for Filipino Hanjin Workers

Filipino Americans Call on the Philippine Government to Protect and Render Justice to the Hanjin Shipyard Workers in Subic

We, the Filipino American community in the United States and our allies express our militant solidarity with Hanjin Shipyard workers in their struggle to unionize and thus end their deplorable working conditions which has led to at least 24 deaths. In January of this year, two more were killed while just as February began, 24 were hurt when a bus carrying workers to the shipyard overturned.

We are appalled by the slow response of the Philippine Senate and the Executive branch and their failure to act on the continuing fatal accidents and deaths of workers at Hanjin Shipbuilding.

While we hold Hanjin, a South Korean transnational corporation employing 15,000 workers in the Philippines, directly accountable for the extremely unacceptable living and working conditions of Filipino workers, we equally hold the Philippine government complicit for acting against the country's national interests and against Filipino workers interests. We demand that the Philippine Government compel the Hanjin Shipyard company to clean up the docks and work areas, ensure worker safety, enforce environmental laws and provide just wages and benefits to Filipino workers.

The Philippine Government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should hang its head in shame for allowing foreign-owed companies to treat Filipino workers like slaves and peons, their very lives sacrificed for corporate profits which redound to South Korea, not the Filipino nation. Any government that does this is worthless.

We, overseas Filipinos and progressive allies in the United States, strongly condemn the Philippine government for its inaction in holding Hanjin responsible for the poor working conditions, continuing accidents and deaths of its workers. Indeed, the Department of Labor and Employment has absolved Hanjin and shifted the blame to Hanjin's subcontractors of other nationalities, instead of holding both accountable. Such a Department of Labor and Employment is inutile.

While the Korean-owned Hanjin may be the fourth largest ship-building company in the world, it is also true that Filipino labor is among the finest and most skilled in the world. It is not as though the Philippines brings nothing to the table for Hanjin. No ship can be built without workers, no matter how brilliant the blueprints and management. It is therefore crucial to any enterprise that workers are treated well and recognized for their contribution to production. We therefore support the workers' struggle to unionize. The right to self-organization and collective bargaining is a human right, not simply a labor right.

In this we join our Canadian brothers and sisters who had met with some Hanjin Shipyard workers in 2008. At these meetings, they learned that many workers, labeled "trainees," make less than the Philippine-legislated minimum wage. They are often brought in from outlying provinces and end up living in nearby make-shift barracks that are in very poor condition (plywood shacks that are the size of a common bedroom with bunk beds and a burner), housing fourteen young men at a rental cost of Php600/month each. They also suffer from many forms of harassment, including physical harassment, from Korean supervisors.

Unfortunately, union organizers expect strong negative reactions to the unionization effort from both the Philippine and Korean governments, as well as Hanjin's own management. It is therefore imperative that Filipino workers overseas, as well as compatriots of Philippine ancestry and comrades in the labor movement, provide a counter-pressure to the efforts of the murderous Hanjin Shipyard, in collaboration with the Philippine government, to frustrate the Subic Bay workers' dream of a union.

Stand up and demand that the Philippine Government support its own workers!

Stand up and demand that the Philippine Government stop foreign corporate bullies from emasculating Philippine labor, environment and occupational safety laws.

Stand up and support the Hanjin Shipyard workers!

Stand up and support the labor movement which is integral to the global struggle for justice!

Alliance Philippines(AJLPP)
Kabataang Maka-Bayan (KmB)
Ecumenical Fellowship for Justice and Peace (EFJP)
Philippine Studies Collective-Bay Area
DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association -New York
Pilipino Workers Center of Southern California (PWC-SC)
Echo Park Community Coalition (EPCC)
Justice for Filipino American Veterans (JFAV)
Faith, Workers For Justice and Peace-San Francisco
Free Palestine Alliance

Contact: Rev. Richard R. Bowley

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Fair Pay and Equal Value of Work

Before anything, attention must be paid to what’s happening to the workers at the Hanjin Shipyard in Subic, Philippines.

Since this shipbuilding site opened, 24 workers have died from various causes – accidents, disease, etc. – and scores more injured. Last week, a bus ferrying workers to the workplace overturned and 24 were hurt. The Philippine Department of Labor has exempted Hanjin, the world’s 4th largest shipbuilding company now employing 15,000 workers in the Philippines, from culpability, blaming instead “subcontractors.” Hanjin is South Korean-owned and as we pointed out in a previous post, there are roughly 100,000 South Koreans studying in the Philippines, part of a slow process of turning the archipelago into suzerainty. This seems inevitable, considering the inability of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s government to protect its own constituency from economic subjugation by foreigners. Indeed, threats have been made about “political repercussions,” if the Philippine Senate perseveres in its decision to hold investigative hearings on this continuing worker deaths. The workers are trying to unionize. Hanjin is set to build another shipyard, this time in Mindanao – so it seems shipbuilding in the Philippines is that profitable.

Now to the US scene where even within the women’s movement, the response to President Obama’s signing of the Ledbetter Act -- his first law, nine days after his inauguration – was muted.

The law reverses an artificial statute of limitation established by a US Supreme Court decision denying Lilly Ledbetter her discrimination suit against her employers who hired her, 18 years previous, at a salary lower than those of her male counterparts. The Supreme Court decision considered the original act as the only act of discrimination; the Fair Pay Act signed by Obama considers every salary thereafter that’s below par with male counterparts as part of a continuing act of discrimination.

A small hurrah – because in these times of CEOs getting 400 times the pay of the average worker, we realize there’s another question we should be asking – as in, what kind of work is really vital to production?

When the carmaker CEOs appeared before Congress, flying in on separate corporate jets, the longer lasting outcry was against the $70 per hour wage unionized auto workers were supposedly making versus the $59 per hour that non-union workers made. The argument was that a melt-down economy cannot afford the current cost of labor. It would take more spendthrift scandals and $16 billion in Wall Street bonuses before we wised up and began asking whether we could afford the entire managerial sub-class, members of which are paid around $23,000 to $28,000 per hour ($59-$70 X 400).

I can’t imagine doing anything so significant as to be paid that much – except perhaps working to lop off the entire managerial class.

Which, of course, leads us to ask if workers can put together a car in the absence of management? Conversely, can management put together a car in the absence of workers? Because the product is the end-all of production, isn’t it?

Let us ruminate on this and allied issues as we contemplate the $500,000 cap on executives’ salaries that this administration is proposing and the shrieks from execs that they wouldn’t be able to attract talent at that pay rate. Talent? It takes talent to run down a multi-trillion dollar economy? It takes talent to make the wrong decisions and waste money?

It takes major effort to wrap one’s mind around that.

And by the way, the male-female wage gap has been narrowing – it’s now $1.00 - $.78 -- not because women’s wages have risen but because men’s wages have fallen.

Our view of what's important work is so skewed that, in the stimulus package, it seems like anything that redounds to the benefit of women has been cut, deleted, thrown into the ash-heap. Hey, remember the definition for the work done mostly by women, household work -- the work that makes all other work possible. ##