(Sorry–no picture today–the post is already too long, and there are two embedded videos. Even if you skim, though, please read through to the end. There’s a bit of a punchline in item #5. –CS)
1.) #OccupyWallStreet: This weekend, I’ll be going to a conference at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, sponsored by the Union for Radical Political Economics, called The War on the Working Class. I’m looking forward to the trip, both for the conference and for the chance to check out #OccupyWallStreet at some point during my visit.
(An #OccupyBoston “General Assembly” happened last night in Boston Common, steps away from our offices, and apparently there are plans to demonstrate in the Financial District starting this Friday night. Amazingly, the Guardian, which has had lots of coverage of #OccupyWallStreet, has an article up on its site about the Boston effort, here.)
When I first started reading people’s reaction to the #OccupyWallStreet, in advance of the protest and in its early days, on lbo-talk (the list-serve affiliated with the excellent Left Business Observer), and elsewhere, most of the comments ranged from dismissive to churlish. There were some reasonable complaints, e.g. the call for the demonstration used the unfortunate phrase “days of rage,” which has unfortunate associations with the Weathermen (but: maybe the mostly young organizers didn’t know that?), and it was originally sponsored by the culture-jamming magazine AdBusters (but: so what?), and the demonstration seemed rag-tag and disorganized at first, and appeared to eschew demands and aims. But it turns out the effort has some real staying power, and from what I’ve read the idea is to provide a democratic forum (via “General Assemblies”) to allow people to decide about demands, or maybe one big demand, collaboratively. And as I mentioned, it seems to be spreading across the country.
Here are some reports that are worth checking out, from people with varying degrees of enthusiasm for the demonstrations:
–Doug Henwood, of LBO, from his blog and radio show;
–Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now!, reporting early on in the Guardian (again, they’ve had a surprising amount of coverage);
–This nice piece by Arun Gupta, of the Indypendent (which looks like it’s gotten picked up by Alternet and the other aggregators);
–This from Michael Smith, lbo-talk regular, on his blog.
–This from Glen Greenwald at Salon.com (hat-tip to Maz Ali of UFE).
There’s also livestreaming of the protests, here.
There’s also been lots of reporting (including in the New York Times, which has otherwise not covered the protests very much) about the police using force against protesters, e.g. this incident near Union Square a couple of days ago:
Here’s a nice first-hand account in the Boston Review by a woman who was a bystander.
The officer who did the pepper-spraying in this incident, one Anthony Bologna, has apparently been charged with violating protesters’ civil rights in an earlier incident around the time of the Republican National Convention in New York City back in 2004, according to the Guardian.
More about the police reaction later in this post. On the role of the police in strikes and labor actions, see “Cops for Labor?” by Kristian Williams, in the current issue of Dollars & Sense.
2.) Amazon Warehouse Working Conditions: What is up in Pennsylvania? Last month we heard about the horrible conditions for student guestworkers on J-1 visas at a warehouse subcontracted by Hershey’s (read about it in Labor Notes):
The Palmyra J-1 workers packed and lifted 65 pound boxes of candy at breakneck speed, many on night shift. They complained of severe back pain, bruising, and numbness in their arms.
Workers were subjected to camera surveillance and were told they would be fired if they didn’t keep up the pace. Zhao Huijiao, a 20-year-old international relations student from China, said managers pushed them, “work, work faster, work.” Students said they were threatened with deportation if they didn’t keep up.
The J-1 visa program dates from the early 1960s; it was intended to expose young pre-professionals from developing countries to U.S. culture and values. Looks like these students got more of a taste of the U.S. economy and labor market than they bargained for! But they clearly get it, and their resistance is inspiring: the Labor Notes story quotes a med student from Turkey: “Why did they bring us here? Because they want to make profits from us instead of giving good jobs to local workers.”
Now we find out about more horrible conditions–this time at Amazon.com’s Lehigh Valley warehouse near Allentown, Penn., where temperatures often reached over 110 degrees on hot days this summer. Read the article in Allentown’s newspaper, The Morning Call (hat-tip to Dan DiMaggio). It is hair-raising. A choice bit:
Karen Salasky, 44, was out of work for two years after getting laid off from a secretary job with a home builder. The Bethlehem resident got a postcard from ISS saying it was hiring people to work at the Amazon warehouse, so she applied.
“At first, I loved it,” she said. “I started in November. We worked 11-hour days because of Christmas. It was hard, but I pushed myself and I got used to it.”
Salasky had worked as a waitress, so she didn’t mind being on her feet all day. And she enjoyed the walking, which she considered good exercise. But she said she grew frustrated when she received a warning letter in March from a manager stating she had been unproductive during several minutes of her shift. Salasky said she was working as hard as she could, and she declined to sign the warning letter.
She wrote a letter to Amazon’s human resources manager at the Breinigsville warehouse about the working conditions, saying sometimes minutes go unaccounted for in the system because workers use the restroom, their scanners stop working and they have to log back into the system, aisles get crowded requiring workers to take longer routes to retrieve inventory, or workers move at a slower pace if they are not feeling well. Salasky invited the human resources manager to contact her about the concerns. She said she never received a response.
When the weather got hot in May, Salasky said, her work pace dropped, which prompted questions from supervisors.
“I just kept pushing myself,” she said. “They asked me why my rates were dropping, and I said my rates are dropping because it’s hot and I have asthma.”
Salasky said she would cry herself to sleep at night. She and her colleagues lamented about the heat, often chanting sarcastically “End slavery at Amazon.”
Salasky said she informed ISS and Amazon that she was not interested in a permanent position, but wanted to complete her 1,200-hour temporary term.
One hot day in June, Salasky said, she wasn’t feeling well. Her fingers tingled and her body felt numb. She went to the restroom. An ISS manager asked if she was OK, and she said no. She was taken by wheelchair to an air-conditioned room, where paramedics examined her while managers asked questions and took notes.
“I was really upset and I said, ‘All you people care about is the rates, not the well-being of the people,’” she said. “I’ve never worked for an employer that had paramedics waiting outside for people to drop because of the extreme heat.”
Supervisors told Salasky to go home and rest. She reported to an ISS office the next day to drop off medical paperwork, and she was asked to sign papers acknowledging she got irate and used a curse word on the day she suffered from the heat. She refused to sign the papers because she said she didn’t curse. A few days later, she called ISS and found out her assignment had been terminated.
“I don’t know how they can treat people this way,” Salasky said. “I think the faster you work, the bigger raise they get, and they’re just benefiting themselves and not caring about people. I used to shop Amazon all the time. I will never shop Amazon again.”
Again, read the article. OSHA’s inaction is particularly stunning.
3) More Punishment Ahead for State Workers: A recent piece by Bloomberg points out that the further cuts to aid to states and cities that are likely to come out of Congress’s Supercommittee will put extra pressure on states to extract concessions from public-sector unions. The threat of layoffs is how they get those concessions, as the Bloomberg piece explains, using the example of Connecticut (but the same thing is happening in New York, as reported in today’s New York Times, but then, Andrew Cuomo promised as much when he was running for governor). We’ll have a long-promised piece by Jerry Friedman on the assault on public-sector workers soon. Gerry predicted a lot of the state-budget pain we are seeing now back in an online-only article we ran in December of 2009.
4.) Rogue Trader Tells the Truth on the BBC: If you haven’t heard about how a trader named Alessio Rastani spilled the beans to the BBC about how financial traders don’t really care about fixing the economy, as long as they can make money, and about how Goldman Sachs rules the world, you have to watch this segment:
The segment has been widely discussed (e.g. on Zero Hedge and Naked Capitalism). There were some rumors that this was a hoax (e.g. on Huffington Post, via Common Dreams; I don’t visit HuffPo anymore because they don’t pay their authors and the National Writers Union has called for a boycott), partly because what he’s saying is so outrageous, and partly because he bears a passing resemblance to Yes Men founder Andy Bichlbaum.
But it turns out it is not a hoax–or not exactly. If we take what he says on the segment seriously, he is interested in shorting stocks, i.e. trying to profit on them as they go down, so he has a stake in markets going down. Going on the BBC to declare that things are going to crash because markets are gripped with fear would be a good way to engineer that. So the fact that he’s a trader isn’t a hoax, and what he’s saying may be brutally honest, but there’s still the flavor of a hoax about it.
Forbes was so convinced that it was a hoax that they had reporter Emily Lambert call him to try to get him (they were assuming he was Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men too, and even mentioned the Yes Men’s hoax against Dow Chemical, which featured prominently in the Yes Men movie, and also involved the BBC); read that article here.
But in the comments section of the Forbes piece, someone provided a link to a France 24 piece about romance in Iran that mentions, and appears to confirm the existence of, an Alessio Rastani who is a trader living in London. He is Italian-Iranian, and put together this video in 2010 about how well-to-do single heterosexuals in Tehran use fancy cars and phone numbers on pieces of paper to meet each other. Looks like he’s been trying to get attention for at least a year.
I will let Forbes off the hook for trying to make Rastani look like a hoax, because of the story they ran a couple of days ago (and mentioned Rastani): New Story, Old News: Stock Traders Are Psychopaths.
5) “Stop Resisting! Stop Fighting!” Last but not least, the article from today’s New York Times that motivated me to put together this whole blog post: A.C.L.U. Report Details Wide Abuse in Los Angeles Jail System.
Like the piece on Amazon.com’s warehouse, this is a must-read–really horrifying how widespread the abuse is, how it has gotten so bad that some of the civilian monitors that have been put in place because the system is under a court order have even started to see the abuse, so brazen are the guards, and so secure do they feel that they can beat prisoners with impunity (and apparently they can).
In the last several months, the civil rights group has amassed 70 declarations from former prisoners and civilians who witnessed beatings. The statements suggest few patterns — the complaints span all times of day and multiple units in the jail. But, the A.C.L.U. says, the guards do seem to use the same terms repeatedly, shouting, “Stop resisting!” and “Stop fighting!” while they hit inmates, even when inmates are not moving or are in handcuffs.
Paulino Juarez, a Roman Catholic chaplain who has worked in the jail since 1998, was visiting an inmate’s cell early one morning in February 2009 when he heard several thumps and gasps in the hallway. When he moved to the cell door, he saw three deputies hitting a man and yelling, “Stop fighting!”
“But he wasn’t fighting; he wasn’t even defending himself,” Mr. Juarez said in an interview. “When they saw me, they froze. I was frozen, too. I didn’t say anything. I was too shocked, and I was terrified.”
Mr. Juarez filed a report with the Sheriff’s Department but did not hear anything about it for several months. More than two years later, during a meeting with his supervisor and Sheriff Baca, Mr. Juarez was told that the department found that the inmate had resisted going into his cell. There was no record of Mr. Juarez’s report, although a guard indicated in the file that the chaplain had exaggerated what he had witnessed. He was told that the inmate, whose name he did not know at the time, had later been released.
“I really don’t trust anymore,” Mr. Juarez said. “They always say inmates are liars and nobody believes them. But I saw them treated like this.”
The one pattern the A.C.L.U. saw in the abuse–that guards (who had obviously been trained to do so, just in case anyone witnessed it) would always say “Stop resisting! Stop fighting!” while they beat a prisoner. Since the only justification for beating a prisoner is that he is resisting, if you want to beat him, you must proclaim that he is resisting or fighting, whether or not he is.
Given the beating that the U.S. working class is taking–and (somewhat understandably) not even resisting, not even fighting!–this seems like the perfect metaphor for how the ruling class and the government (Bloomberg’s cops spraying pepper spray, anyone?) just keep on kicking. “Stop resisting! Stop fighting!”
Well, I’m looking forward to visiting Zuccotti Park, now renamed Liberty Plaza, this weekend to see what resistance looks like. And I’ve heard there’s another General Assembly for OccupyBoston tonight–I’ll be checking that out too.