Labor

A new study reveals the disturbing truth about the base of Trump's support

How do we know anything at all about the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020? Are they mostly racist? Sexist, homophobic, xenophobic? Are they white working-class males who suffer from status anxiety as the U.S. population grows more diverse? Are Trump supporters wealthier voters or poorer? Are they anti-elites, or elites themselves? Are working people becoming the core of the Republican Party, as Senator Josh Hawley proclaimed on election night? Or did Joe Biden bring them back into the Democratic fold?

Answers to these questions traditionally come from exit polls supplemented by what we hear from political commentators, labor union officials, and community leaders. An NBC poll (February 21, 2021) reported that the news is not good for labor progressives:

The GOP is rapidly becoming the blue-collar party.
In the last decade, the percentage of blue-collar voters who call themselves Republicans has grown by 12 points. At the same time, the number in that group identifying as Democrats has declined by 8 points.

Are working people really flocking to the party of their bosses? Or are the polls really screwed up? Given the massive polling errors during the Trump elections, there is reason to be skeptical. Just recall the pre-election polling of the critical "Blue Wall" states. On the morning of November 3, 2020, Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight poll-of-polls had Biden up by 8.4 percent in Wisconsin, 7.9 percent in Michigan and 4.7 percent in Pennsylvania. That forecast was off by 3.5 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 5.1 points in Michigan and a whopping 7.8 points in Wisconsin, thereby underestimating the Trump vote by 16.4 points in these three key states alone. And in the Senate race in Maine, the poll-of-polls had Susan Collins losing by 8 percent the day before the election. She won by 10.6 percent. Exit polls, which analyze who voted for whom demographically, are even less accurate.

This is why we have been searching for another way to determine whether or not the political inclinations of white working-class voters are radically different from their Black and Brown brothers and sisters. Is it possible that the polls are missing critical features that bind working-class people together rather than divide them by racial and ethnic identities?

Asked another way: Is there an alternative to polls?

Yes. Political polling can be avoided by examining the actual election results, precinct by precinct, and then linking those precincts to the census tracts that contain those precincts. This approach doesn't rely on any political questions and therefore is not subject to misleading subjective responses to hot-button issues. It also doesn't depend on whether someone tells the pollster the truth, or doesn't recall their vote correctly, or if the poll sample is skewed. The Census doesn't ask people their political preferences or their stances on various issues, or even their religion. It just gathers information on hundreds of demographic features like race, ethnicity, age, gender, income, occupation, housing, and the like.

Since we know the actual results in each election district and since we know the demographic information of the neighborhoods connected to each voting district, we are able to determine (to a high degree of certainty) if neighborhoods with more white working-class people disproportionately support Trump. To do this, we use a statistical method called multiple regression.

A Few Notes on Methodology

How multiple regression works: Imagine an average neighborhood in Pennsylvania with a given percentage of old, young, Black, white, Hispanic, working class folks and a certain median income. Now what would happen to the Trump vote if we moved to a new neighborhood with exactly the same demographics except that the percentage of white people increased? Our guess is that the Trump vote would go up and in fact it does. A multiple regression does that with each characteristic at the same time. So we can say what happens to the Trump vote if we increase the percentage of white working class men in the neighborhood and change nothing else.

There are limitations using this approach to be sure. Polling, while imperfect, does have the benefit of tying individuals and their characteristics to their individual behaviors (how they say they voted). This provides a more fine-grained analysis assuming that the responses and polling samples are reasonably accurate. Using census data is constrained by the fact that we are looking at how groups (neighborhoods), not individuals, are voting, and therefore there will be more uncertainty since neighborhoods are not demographically coherent. So pick your poison: Use polls that may be skewed due to the passions Trump engenders, or focus on neighborhood census data which is less precise, but free from the Trump phenomena. We're going with the neighborhood approach.

Lastly, the independent variables are income or education or working class occupations plus gender, Black, Hispanic, Asian and size of the precinct vote. The dependent variable is the percentage of the Trump vote in the precinct. The model explains 70 to 80 percent of the variation in the Trump vote depending on which definition of working class is used. All the independent variables are highly significant (all p values smaller than 0.000).

What the Study Found

Our study focuses on 3,058 voting precincts and their surrounding neighborhoods in the all-important swing state of Pennsylvania.

Finding #1: The Pennsylvania white working class in general shows significant Trump support.

We didn't want this answer, but there it is: White working-class neighborhoods strongly support Trump. This is the case no matter how working-class is defined: by education (high school or lower); by income (below the median); or by occupation (non-management service and blue-collar occupations). Pennsylvania neighborhoods with a preponderance of these white working-class groups lean significantly towards Trump.

Finding #2: The Pennsylvania white working-class neighborhoods do not form a coherent political entity. They are divided politically by higher and lower paying occupations.

Our findings show significant splits among white working-class neighborhoods, including among white working-class men.

Overall, white neighborhoods strongly support Trump while Black neighborhoods do not. But that homogeneity breaks down when white working people are defined by different types of working-class occupations. To see this clearly, we focused on neighborhoods with lower-paying service jobs (Low Service Neighborhoods), and higher-paying blue-collar construction and production neighborhoods (Blue-collar Neighborhoods). Low Service jobs, which make up approximately 16.4 percent of all Pennsylvania occupations, consist of four census-defined occupations (with May 2019 median Pennsylvania wage estimates noted in parenthesis):

  • Healthcare support occupations ($13.53/hr.)
  • Food preparation and serving related ($10.72)
  • Personal care and service ($11.58)
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance ($13.60)

Blue-collar job categories (23.3 percent of the state's occupations) include:

  • Natural resources (($15.21)
  • Construction ($23.91)
  • Maintenance ($22.60)
  • Production ($18.17)
  • Transportation and moving, ($15.61)

Our statistical method allows us to focus in on the white workers in these occupations.

The Results:

Graphic of Trump change voters

Read the above chart as follows: For every one standard deviation increase in the neighborhood variable in the demographic column, what is the percentage increase or decrease in the Trump vote, holding all the other variables constant? For example, if the percentage of Black residents in an average neighborhood goes up by one standard deviation (about 21%), the Trump vote would go down 11.5% holding constant all the other independent demographic variables.

And to be clear:

  1. At the neighborhood level, we find that an increase in white blue-collar males has about seven times the positive impact on the Trump vote as the same increase in white blue-collar women. [Note: The regression shows that if the percent of white blue-collar men and women is increased by one standard deviation, the rise in the Trump vote would be 9.2% for these men and only 1.4% for these women.]
  2. At the neighborhood level, an increase in Low Service white women correlates with an increase in the Trump vote. But there was no impact at all from a similar increase in Low Service white men. (That an increase of women in any occupation would have bigger impact than a similar increase of white men is a counter-intuitive surprise that deserves more careful study.) [Added note: With the gracious assistance of Oberlin politics professor Michael Parkin, we tested and retested this result. The finding remained: Women in lower paid service occupations had a small but positive impact on the Trump vote whereas the men in those same occupations did not.]
  3. Overall, the neighborhood increase in the percentage of white blue-collar workers has a much larger impact on the Trump vote than a similar increase in white Low Service workers.

The blue-collar occupations in our study earn wages that are near or above the median hourly wage for the state, which is $18.99 per hour. While Trump has modest support from Low Service and Blue-Collar white women, the guts of his white working-class support seems to be centered with more middle-income blue-collar white men.

This suggests that millions of white male working people in low-paying service industry jobs—from waiting tables to cleaning building—did not support Trump. And there is only weak support for Trump among white women in the same occupations.

Finding #3: Pennsylvania neighborhoods with increased percentages of Hispanic residents between 2010 and 2019, increased their support for Trump between 2016 and 2020.

This is a shocker.

We compared 2016 and 2020 election precincts in Pennsylvania: 1280 precincts showed percentage increases in the Trump vote, and 1760 precincts showed percentage decreases. Next we calculated the change in demographic factors between the last census in 2010 and the latest data for 2019 in the "more-for" and "less-for" Trump precincts. As we would expect, the "more-for-Trump" neighborhoods, showed, on average, increased percentages of blue-collar workers, of those with lower educational levels, and of those with lower incomes. Also, there were fewer Black and Asian residents. But much to our surprise, the percentage change in the Hispanic population in the last decade was significantly higher in the "more-for-Trump" neighborhoods than in the "less-for-Trump" neighborhoods.

Why?

There are two very different theories that might explain this disparity. The first is that a significant number of Hispanic voters may have increased their support for Trump in Pennsylvania for reasons similar to the shifts that took place in southern Florida and Texas. Perhaps more Hispanic middle class/small business owners in Pennsylvania viewed Trump's economic policies as good for their work and standard of living. Perhaps more had become involved in law enforcement, which Trump strongly supported. Perhaps more believed Biden was too "socialistic" and would head the country towards the problems of Cuba and Venezuela.

A second explanation, based on "the Great Replacement" theory, is more novel. It comes from a study produced by the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago which examined the characteristics of the 377 individuals who took part in the Jan 6th riot at the Capitol, and who have been charged with crimes. The study claims that the insurrectionists were very likely to come from counties in which the Hispanic populations were increasing relative to the white population: "Odds of sending an insurrectionist is six times higher in counties where the percent of non-Hispanic whites declined." Furthermore they report, "Among Americans, believing that Blacks and Hispanics are overtaking Whites increases the odds of being in the insurrectionist movement three-fold."

In our study, there was a significant correlation between the increased percentages of Hispanic residents in "more-for-Trump" precincts from 2010 to 2019. This was not the case in "less-for-Trump" precincts. So it is possible that that Hispanic voters themselves did not shift to Trump. Rather, it might be the case that neighboring white voters increased their vote for Trump as the percentage of Hispanics increased all around them. Perhaps, this demographic shift triggered "replacement" anxieties among a growing number of white residents of all classes.

The University of Chicago study also provides a cautionary tale about our perception of the January 6th rioters. Those charged with crimes did not come only from white working people. The study found that 14 percent of those arrested are business owners and 30 percent are white collar. These groups include: "Owner, Ameri-I-Can Ammo; CEO, marketing firm Cogensia; Owner, Wholesale Universe, Inc.; Owner, Matador Sport Fishing; Google Field Operations Specialist; Regional Portfolio Manager at BB&T Bank; Doctors, Attorney, and Architects."

(And let's not forget the three Texas real estate agents who got arrested after flying in on a private jet, as well as the eight financial elites from Memphis who arrived on their private Bombardier Challenger 300 jet.)

These reports suggest that the Trump phenomena should not be heaped solely on the backs of the white working-class. Trump's base also includes a large percentage of well-to-do professionals and entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, there are far more Trump supporters in the ranks of labor than working class leaders (and labor educators) ever wanted to see, especially among the better paid, blue-collar workers.

For those of us doing educational work in the labor movement, the message is crystal clear: Stay on it …and then some!

Acknowledgements: A deep debt of gratitude to Peter Kreutzer for his data wizardry and editorial support. Also thanks to Kris Raab and Sharon Szymanski for their edits and sage comments. Thanks to Bob Kuttner for his tough-love read of the first draft. And special thanks to Professor Michael Parkin of Oberlin College for his statistical guidance, and for the generous donation of his time to this project. Any and all methods and findings, however, are the sole responsibility of the author.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute in New York is working with unions, worker centers and community organization to build a national economics educational campaign. His latest book, "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice" (Oct 2015), is a text for that effort. His previous book is "The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It" (Chelsea Green/2009).

A leftist teacher in Peru is poised to claim victory in a contentious election against the far right

With his wide-brimmed peasant hat and oversized teacher's pencil held high, Peru's Pedro Castillo has been traveling the country exhorting voters to get behind a call that has been particularly urgent during this devastating pandemic: "No más pobres en un país rico" - No more poor people in a rich country. In a cliffhanger of an election with a huge urban-rural and class divide, it appears that the rural teacher, farmer and union leader is about to make history by defeating--by less than one percent--powerful far-right candidate Keiko Fujimori, scion of the country's political "Fujimori dynasty."

Fujimori is challenging the election's results, alleging widespread fraud. Her campaign has only presented evidence of isolated irregularities, and so far there is nothing to suggest a tainted vote. However, she can challenge some of the votes to delay the final results, and much like in the U.S., even an allegation of fraud by the losing candidate will cause uncertainty and raise tensions in the country.

Castillo's victory will be remarkable not only because he is a leftist teacher who is the son of illiterate peasants and his campaign was grossly outspent by Fujimori, but there was a relentless propaganda attack against him that touched on historical fears of Peru's middle class and elites. It was similar to what happened recently to progressive candidate Andrés Arauz who narrowly lost Ecuador's elections, but even more intense. Grupo El Comercio, a media conglomerate that controls 80% of Peru's newspapers, led the charge against Castillo. They accused him of being a terrorist with links to the Shining Path, a guerrilla group whose conflict with the state between 1980 and 2002 led to tens of thousands of deaths and left the population traumatized. Castillo's link to the Shining Path link is flimsy: While a leader with Sutep, an education worker's union, Castillo is said to have been friendly with Movadef, the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights, a group alleged to have been the political wing of the Shining Path. In reality, Castillo himself was a rondero when the insurgency was most active. Ronderos were peasant self-defense groups that protected their communities from the guerrillas and continue to provide security against crime and violence.

Two weeks before the elections, on May 23, 18 people were massacred in the rural Peruvian town of San Miguel del Ene. The government immediately attributed the attack to the remnants of the Shining Path involved in drug trafficking, although no group has taken responsibility yet. The media linked the attack to Castillo and his campaign, whipping up fear of more violence should he win the presidency. Castillo denounced the attack and reminded Peruvians that similar massacres had occurred in the run-up to the 2011 and 2016 elections. For her part, Fujimori suggested Castillo was linked to the killing.

On the economic front, Castillo has been accused of being a communist who wants to nationalize key industries, and would turn Peru into a "cruel dictatorship" like Venezuela. Billboards along Lima's main highway asked the population: "Would you like to live in Cuba or Venezuela?" referring to a Castillo win. Newspapers linked Castillo's campaign to the devaluation of the Peruvian currency and warned that a Castillo victory would hurt low-income Peruvians the most because businesses would shutter or move overseas. Time and time again, the Castillo campaign has clarified that he is not a communist and that his aim is not to nationalize industries but to renegotiate contracts with multinationals so that more of the profits stay with the local communities.

Meanwhile, Fujimori was treated with kid gloves by the media during the campaign, with one of the newspapers in the above pictures claiming that "Keiko guarantees work, food, health and an immediate reactivation of the economy." Her past as a first lady during her father Alberto Fujimori's brutal rule is largely ignored by corporate media. She is able to claim that "fujimorismo defeated terrorism" without being challenged on the horrors that fujimorismo inflicted on the country, including the forced sterilization of over 270,000 women and 22,000 men for which her father is on trial. He is currently in jail over other human rights abuses and corruption, though Keiko promised to free him if she won. Also ignored was the fact that Keiko herself is out on bail as of last year, pending a money-laundering investigation, and without presidential immunity, she will probably end up in prison.

The international media was no different in its unbalanced coverage of Castillo and Fujimori, with Bloomberg warning that "elites tremble" at the thought of Castillo as president and The Financial Times headline screaming "Peru's elite in panic at prospect of hard-left victory in presidential election."

Peru's economy has grown impressively over the past 20 years, but that growth did not raise all boats. Millions of Peruvians in the countryside have been left abandoned by the state. On top of that, like many of its neighbors (including Colombia, Chile and Ecuador), Peru has underinvested in health care, education and other social programs. Such choices so decimated the health care system that Peru now has the shameful distinction of leading the entire world in per capita Covid-19 deaths.

In addition to the public health disaster, Peruvians have been living through political turmoil marked by an extraordinary number of high-profile cases of corruption and four presidents in three years. Five of its last seven presidents faced corruption accusations. In 2020, President Martín Vizcarra (himself accused of corruption) was impeached, unseated and replaced by Manuel Merino. The maneuver was denounced as a parliamentary coup, leading to several days of massive street protests. Just five days into his tenure, Merino resigned and was replaced by current President Francisco Sagasti.

One of Castillo's key campaign platforms is to convoke a constitutional referendum to let the people decide whether they want a new constitution or wish to keep the current one written in 1993 under the regime of Alberto Fujimori, which entrenched neoliberalism into its framework.

"The current constitution prioritizes private interests over public interests, profit over life and dignity," reads his plan of government. Castillo proposes that a new constitution include the following: recognition and guarantees for the rights to health, education, food, housing and internet access; recognition for indigenous peoples and Peru's cultural diversity; recognition of the rights of nature; redesign of the State to focus on transparency and citizens' participation; and a key role for the state in strategic planning to ensure that the public interest takes precedence.

On the foreign policy front, Castillo's victory will represent a huge blow to U.S. interests in the region and an important step towards reactivating Latin American integration. He has promised to withdraw Peru from the Lima Group, an ad hoc committee of countries dedicated to regime change in Venezuela.

In addition, the Peru Libre party has called for expelling USAID and for the closure of U.S. military bases in the country. Castillo has also expressed support for countering the OAS and strengthening both the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The victory is also a good omen for the left in Chile, Colombia and Brazil, each of which will have presidential elections over the next year and a half.

Castillo will face a daunting task, with a hostile congress, a hostile business class, a hostile press and most likely, a hostile Biden administration. The support of millions of angry and mobilized Peruvians demanding change, along with international solidarity, will be key to fulfilling his campaign promise of addressing the needs of the most poor and abandoned sectors of Peruvian society.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and author of books on the Middle East and Latin America, is in Peru with an election observer delegation organized by Progressive International.

Leonardo Flores is a Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CODEPINK.

Robert Reich: Why the PRO Act is critical

Something I've just learned about Amazon – one of America's most profitable and fastest-growing corporations, headed by the richest man in the world:

According to the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Amazon warehouse workers sustained nearly double the rate of serious injury incidents last year as did workers in non-Amazon warehouses.

In addition, largely because Amazon failed to provide its workers adequate protective equipment during the pandemic, the corporation admits that nearly 20,000 employees were presumed positive for the coronavirus.

Workers who spoke out about these unsafe workplace conditions were fired.

Amazon boasts of paying its workers at least $15 an hour. But that comes to about $30,000 a year, hardly enough for a family to get by on.

The explosive growth of Amazon's army of poorly-paid and ill-treated hourly workers is emblematic of the long-term decline of America's middle class and levels of economic inequality America hasn't seen since the late nineteenth century's Gilded Age.

This has strained the social fabric of the nation – fueling anger and frustration, a rising tide of drug overdoses and deaths of despair, even tempting some working-class people to embrace Trumpism and white nationalism.

The success of Amazon's "shock and awe" campaign against workers who dared try to bring a union to their Bessemer, Alabama warehouse exemplifies the immense political power the architects of this growing inequality now wield.

It's an alarming omen of the future.

In Amazon warehouses like Bessemer, workers are treated like robots. Algorithms relentlessly impose dangerous production quotas. They get two 30-minute breaks each ten-hour day. Every movement is monitored.

Amazon delivery drivers report being instructed to turn off their safety apps so they can meet their quotas.

Others report having to urinate into bottles because of delivery timing pressures.

Even though public support for unions is as high as it's been in 50 years – 60 million American workers would join a union today if they could – Bessemer workers were outgunned by a behemoth whose market capitalization exceeds Australia's GDP.

The National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to fire workers for trying to organize a union. But the penalties employees for violating the Act are so laughably small (rehiring the worker and providing back pay) that employers like Amazon routinely do it anyway.

Amazon may be the future of the American economy, but if that future is to have room for the kind of prosperous working families that fifty years ago defined American capitalism, unions are critical.

In March, the House of Representatives passed legislation designed to level the field. It's called the Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act). The Senate version has 47 Democratic co-sponsors. It needs three more to give the PRO Act a fighting chance of getting to Joe Biden's desk.

The PRO Act would end many of the practices Amazon used to defeat the union effort in Bessemer. Real penalties would be imposed on companies and corporate officers who retaliate against union advocates or otherwise violate the National Labor Relations Act.

The PRO Act would make it easier for workers to form a union, with the aim of protecting them from unfair working conditions.

The PRO Act alone won't end economic inequality or return prosperity and opportunity to America's working families. But passage of the PRO Act would help.

It would also send a clear signal that ours is truly a government "of the people" – such as the million people who work for Amazon today, not the one multi-billionaire at the top, and of the vast majority of Americans who are working harder than ever today and getting nowhere, in America's Second Gilded Age.

The US is complicit in the global war on workers

Global capitalists have turned back the clock to the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The working class is increasingly bereft of rights, blocked from forming unions, paid starvation wages, subject to wage theft, under constant surveillance, fired for minor infractions, exposed to dangerous carcinogens, forced to work overtime, given punishing quotas and abandoned when they are sick and old. Workers have become, here and abroad, disposable cogs to corporate oligarchs, who wallow in obscene personal wealth that dwarfs the worst excesses of the Robber Barons.

This article originally appeared on ScheerPost.

In fashionable liberal circles there are, as Noam Chomsky notes, worthy and unworthy victims. Nancy Pelosi has called on global leaders not to attend the Winter Olympics, scheduled to be held in Beijing in February, because of what she called a "genocide" being carried out by the Chinese government against the Uyghur minority. New York Times columnist Nick Kristof in a column rattled off a list of human rights violations overseen by China's leader Xi Jinping, writing "[Xi] eviscerates Hong Kong freedoms, jails lawyers and journalists, seizes Canadian hostages, threatens Taiwan and, most horrifying, presides over crimes against humanity in the far western region of Xinjiang that is home to several Muslim minorities."

Not a word about the millions of workers in China who are treated little better than serfs. They live separated from their families, including their children, and housed in overcrowded company dormitories, which sees rent deducted from their paychecks, next to factories that have round-the-clock production, often making products for U.S. corporations. Workers are abused, underpaid and sickened from exposure to chemicals and toxins such as aluminum dust.

The suffering of the working class, within and outside the United States, is as ignored by our corporatized media as the suffering of the Palestinians. And yet, I would argue, it is one of the most important human rights issues of our era, since once workers are empowered, they can fend off other human rights violations. Unless workers can organize, here and in countries such as China, and achieve basic rights and living wages, it will cement into place a global serfdom that will leave workers trapped in the appalling conditions described by Friedrich Engels in his 1845 book "The Conditions of the Working Class in England" or Émile Zola's 1885 masterpiece "Germinal."

As long as China can pay slave wages it will be impossible to raise wages anywhere else. Any trade agreement has to include the right of workers to organize, otherwise all the promises by Joe Biden to rebuild the American middle class is a lie. Between 2001-2011, 2.7 million jobs were lost to China with 2.1 million in manufacturing. None are coming back if workers in China and other countries that allow corporations to exploit labor and skirt basic environmental and labor regulations are locked in corporate servitude. And while we can chastise China for its labor policies, the United States has crushed its own union movement, allowed its corporations to move manufacturing overseas to profit from the Chinese manufacturing models, suppressed wages, passed anti-labor right-to-work laws, and demolished regulations that once protected workers. The war on workers is not a Chinese phenomenon. It is a global one. And U.S. corporations are complicit. Apple has 46 percent of its suppliers in China. Walmart has 80 percent of its suppliers in China. Amazon has 63 percent of its suppliers in China.

The largest U.S. corporations are full partners in the exploitation of Chinese labor, and the abandonment and impoverishment of the American working class. U.S. corporations and Chinese manufacturers kept millions of Chinese workers crammed into factories at the height of a global pandemic. Their health was of no concern. Apple's profits more than doubled to $23.6 billion in the most recent quarter. Its revenues rose by 54 percent to $89.6 billion, which meant Apple sold more than $1 billion on average each day. Until these corporations are held accountable, which the Biden administration will not do, nothing will change for workers here or in China. Economic justice is global or it does not exist.

Workers in Chinese industrial centers—self-contained company cities with up to a half million people—drive the huge profits of two of the world's most powerful companies, Foxconn, the world's largest provider of electronics manufacturing services, and Apple, with $ 2 trillion dollars in market value. Foxconn's largest customer is Apple, but it also produces products for Alphabet (formerly Google), Amazon, which owns more than 400 private-label brands, BlackBerry, Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, GE, HP, IBM, Intel, LG, Microsoft, Nintendo, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba, as well as leading Chinese firms including Lenovo, Huawei, ZTE, and Xiaomi. Foxconn assembles iPhones, iPads, iPods, Macs, TVs, Xboxes, PlayStations, Wii U's, Kindles, printers, as well as numerous digital devices.

Jenny Chan, Mark Selden, and Pun Ngai spent a decade conducting undercover research at Foxconn's major manufacturing sites in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Shanghai, Kunshan, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Tianjin, Langfang, Taiyuan, and Wuhan for their book "Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and The Lives of China's Workers". What they describe is an Orwellian dystopia, one where global corporations have perfected the techniques for a disempowered work force. These vast worker cities are little more than labor penal colonies. Yes, it is possible to leave, but to incur the ire of the bosses, especially by speaking out or attempting to organize, is to be blacklisted for life throughout China's archipelago of industrial centers and cast to the margins of society or often prison.

Workers live under constant surveillance. They are policed by company security units. They sleep in segregated male and female dormitories with eight or more people to a room. The multi-story dormitories have bars on the windows and nets below, put up to halt the spate of worker suicides that afflicted these factory cities a few years ago.

"The workplace and living space are compressed to facilitate high-speed, round-the-clock production," the authors write. "The dormitory warehouses a massive migrant labor force without the care and love of family. Whether single or married, the worker is assigned a bunk space for one person. The 'private space' consists simply of one's own bed behind a self-made curtain with little common living space."

Workers, who earn about $2 an hour and an average of $390 a month, are paid in wage debit cards, an updated version of company scrip. The bank card allows a worker to deposit, withdraw, and transfer money from 24-hour ATM machines that are accessible at Foxconn facilities.

Managers, foremen, and line leaders prohibit conversation on the assembly floor that operates on a 24-hour cycle of 10- or 12-hour shifts. Workers are reprimanded if they work "too slowly" on the line. They are punished for turning out defective products. Workers are often forced to remain behind after a shift if a worker committed an infraction. The worker who violated the rules is required to stand before his or her co-workers and read a statement of self-criticism. Any worker issued a "D" grade in their review for "unsatisfactory performance" is fired. The workers receive one day off every second week, or two rest days a month. They can be summarily shifted between the night and day shifts.

The authors describe the daily routine of a worker entering a Foxconn factory at 7 a.m. with hundreds of thousands of other Foxconn employees. Each person, prohibited from entering the factory complex with electronic devices, is checked by facial recognition systems to confirm his or her identity.

The human flow continues for more than an hour. Night-shift workers cross the footbridge and pour into the shopping malls and street markets that have sprung up around the factory. Day-shift workers cross the same footbridge, in the opposite direction, heading to work. From the moment they enter the factory gate, workers are monitored by a security system more intrusive than any that we found in the neighboring smaller electronics-processing factories. "Foxconn has its own security force, just as a country has an army," a stern faced, broad-shouldered security officer stated as a matter of fact. Workers pass through successive electronic gates and Special Security Zones before arriving at their workshops to start work.

Once inside, the authors write, workers endure a familiar ritual:

As workers prepare to begin a shift, managers call out: "How are you?" Workers must respond by shouting in unison, "Good! Very good! Very, very good!" This drill is said to foster disciplined workers. A laser-soldering worker reported, "Before shift-time, a whistle sounds three times. At the first whistle we must rise and put our stools in order. At the second whistle we prepare to work and put on special gloves or equipment. At the third whistle we sit and work. "No talking, no laughing, no eating, no sleeping" during work hours is the number one factory rule. Any behavior that violates discipline is penalized. "Going to the toilet for more than ten minutes incurs an oral warning, and chatting during work time incurs a written warning," a line leader explained.

The work is exhausting, stressful and repetitive. An iPhone has more than one hundred parts. "Every worker," the authors write, "specializes in one task and performs repetitive motions at high speed, hourly, daily, ten hours or more on many working days, for months on end."

A woman interviewed in the book described her life on the assembly line:

I am a cog in the visual inspection workstation, which is part of the static electricity assembly line. As the adjacent soldering oven delivers smartphone motherboards, both my hands extend to take the motherboard, then my head starts shifting from left to right, my eyes move from the left side of the motherboard to the right side, then stare from the top to the bottom, without interruption, and when something is off, I call out, and another human part similar to myself will run over, ask about the cause of the error, and fix it. I repeat the same task thousands of times a day. My brain rusts.

The work can also be hazardous. The polishing machine emits aluminum dust as it grinds the casings. This dust gets into the eyes and causes irritation and tiny tears. Workers suffer from respiratory problems, sore throats and chronic coughs. "Microscopic aluminum dust coats workers' faces and clothes," the authors write. "A worker described the situation this way: 'I'm breathing aluminum dust at Foxconn like a vacuum cleaner. With the workshop windows tightly shut, workers felt that they were suffocating.'"

The aluminum dust can also cause fires, such as one on May 20, 2011 when an accumulation of aluminum dust in the air duct on the third floor at Foxconn Chengdu Building A5 was ignited by a spark from an electric switch. Four workers died. Dozens were injured. It was not the only explosion, which Foxconn managed to largely hide by imposing a near total media blackout. "Seven months after the Foxconn tragedy, on December 17, 2011, combustible aluminum dust fueled another blast, this time at iPhone maker Pegatron in Shanghai, injuring sixty-one workers. In the blast, young men and women suffered severe burns and shattered bones, leaving many permanently disabled," the authors write.

Workers are required to clean one thousand iPhone touchscreens per shift. They were cleaned for years with the chemical n-hexane, which evaporates faster than industrial alcohol. Prolonged exposure to n-hexane damages peripheral nerves, leading to painful muscle cramps, headaches, uncontrollable shaking, blurred vision and difficulties walking. It should only be applied in well ventilated areas by workers wearing respirators. Thousands of Foxconn workers applied n-hexane in sealed rooms without ventilators and were sickened, finally leading to its ban.

These vast industrial complexes also discharge huge amounts of heavy metals and wastewater into the rivers and ground water. Rivers near plants run black with sewage and are filled with plastic waste. Workers complain that the drinking water is discolored and smells.

The United States cast its workers aside in the 1990s with de-industrialization. China did the same by dismantling socialism in favor of state-controlled capitalism. State and collective sector jobs in China fell from 76 percent in 1995 to 27 percent in 2005. Tens of millions of laid off workers were left to compete for jobs run by corporations such as Foxconn. But even these jobs are now under threat, partly from automation, with workers on assembly lines replaced by robotic automatons that can spray, weld, press, polish, do quality testing and assemble printed circuit boards. Foxconn has installed over 40,000 industrial robots in its factories, along with hundreds of thousands of other automated machines.

But over the past decade, the authors note, "the major changes inside Foxconn were not the replacement of workers with robots but the replacement of full-time employees with growing numbers of student interns and contingent subcontracted laborers."

These workers, part of the gig economy familiar in the United States, have even less job stability and security than full time employees. As many as 150,000 high-school age vocational students are employed in Foxconn plants. They are paid the minimum wage, but are not entitled to the 400-yuan-per-month skills subsidy, even if they pass the probationary period. Foxconn is also not required to enroll them in social security.

Those who lead these corporate behemoths often replicate the behavior of despots, not only exerting total control over every aspect of their workers lives but dispensing folksy wisdom to the masses. They are often treated by a fawning media as gurus, asked to opine–as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos do–on a range of social, economic, political and cultural issues. Their immense fortunes confer to them in our Mammon-worshipping society a sage-like status.

Terry Gou, the founder and CEO of Foxconn, has published a list of slogans and aphorisms that adorn the walls of his factories, along with his portraits. Workers are required to write out passages from "Gou's Quotations." While Mao Zedong called for class struggle and rebellion, Gou calls for conformity and blind obedience. "Growth thy name is suffering," reads one of his quotes. The Wall Street Journal reporter Jason Dean, in a 2007 interview with Gou, characterized Gao as a "warlord," and noted that "he wears a beaded bracelet he got from a temple dedicated to Genghis Khan, the thirteenth-century Mongolian conqueror whom he calls a personal hero."

"A harsh environment is a good thing," one of Gou's quotes reads. "Achieve goals or the sun will no longer rise. Value efficiency every minute, every second. Execution is the integration of speed, accuracy, and precision."

His more than one million employees, as is true at Amazon and other large corporations, are subjected to mandatory company meetings where they are taught to obey company rules, pay fealty to the interests of the corporation and, as the authors note, strive for "the individualistic model of success." Those who heed the rules, workers are told, are rewarded. Those who do not, are punished or banished.

Workers in these global sweatshops are organizing underground and protesting. There were 8,700 incidents of labor unrest in China in 1993, the first year for which official data is available, to 32,000 in 1999, the authors write. "The number 'continued to increase at more than 20 percent a year' between 2000 and 2003. In 2005, the official record noted 87,000 cases, rising to 127,000 in 2008 during the world recession–the last time the Chinese Ministry of Public Security released figures."

In Hubei's East Lake High-Tech Development Zone, the authors note, known as Optics Valley, on January 3, 2012, 150 Foxconn workers threatened to jump from the roof of the factory and commit mass suicide if the managers refused to address their demands, which included protests over forced transfers to other factories' cities and a wage dispute.

Strikes, protests and work stoppages that take place now are state secrets, but the past statistics seem to indicate that they are growing. Strikes are usually swiftly and brutally broken by company security and police, with strike leaders being fired and often imprisoned.

We will not save ourselves through the perverted individualism, sold to us by our corporate masters and a compliant mass media, which encourages our advancement at the expense of others. We will save ourselves by working in solidarity with workers inside and outside the United States. This collective power is our only hope. Amazon workers from the Hulu Garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Global Garments factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh, recently led a global day of action to make Amazon pay all its workers, no matter where they live, fair wages. This has to be our model. Otherwise, workers in one country will be pitted against workers in another country. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels got it right. Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

How enforcement of the USMCA will end a corporate race to the bottom

Chris Reisinger and his coworkers recently added a third daily shift at the Metal Technologies, Inc. (MTI) Northern Foundry because surging vehicle sales boosted demand for the tow hooks, steering components and other auto parts they produce.

Yet Reisinger knows that jobs at the Hibbing, Minnesota, facility will always hang by a thread—even in really good times—as long as his employer has the option to shift production to poorly paid Mexican workers.

Americans can protect their own livelihoods by ensuring their Mexican counterparts have unfettered, unconditional use of new labor reforms intended to lift them out of poverty and stop employers from exploiting them.

To protect workers on both sides of the border, America's labor community and the U.S. trade representative recently filed the first-ever complaints under the 10-month-old United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), demanding action against two plants that suppressed Mexican workers' right to unionize.

Swift, significant punishment of these kinds of offenses through the USMCA's innovative "rapid response" enforcement procedures would deliver a major boost to Mexican workers' efforts to form real unions for the first time. And those unions, in turn, would help Mexican workers negotiate better wages, eliminate employers' incentive to move jobs out of the United States and end a corporate race to the bottom that's harmed millions in both countries.

Not only has Reisinger seen a steady stream of U.S. automakers and suppliers send work to Mexico over the years, but his own employer opened a location there about three years ago. Reisinger, who represents about 50 Northern Foundry workers as president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 21B, doesn't want to see the company open a second just to take further advantage of low wages there.

He's counting on the USMCA to help keep that from happening.

"It's just frustrating to see work going away from American workers," said Reisinger, noting MTI could have expanded the Northern Foundry or its other U.S. locations rather than open the Mexico facility.

Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the previous trade deal in place for 25 years, U.S. corporations relocated about a million good-paying manufacturing jobs south of the border to exploit the abysmal wages, weak labor laws and a lack of environmental safeguards.

These companies made huge profits at the expense of powerless Mexican workers while devastating U.S. manufacturing communities, gutting the nation's industrial capacity and decimating the middle class.

To curb this greed, U.S. labor leaders and their Democratic supporters in Congress successfully battled to enshrine tougher labor standards in the USMCA as well as enforcement mechanisms to hold employers' feet to the fire.

The USMCA, for example, required Mexico to pass laws enabling workers to form democratic unions, select their leaders and negotiate real contracts for the first time.

Those changes empower Mexican workers to kick out the corrupt cabals—masquerading as labor organizations—that for decades collaborated with employers to suppress wages, stifle dissent and even kill those who publicly challenged the status quo. These groups not only denied workers a say on the job but bound them to oppressive contracts that made them the perfect targets for U.S. corporations preying on cheap labor.

Now, Mexican workers can look forward to joining unions that, like Reisinger's, fight not only for better wages but affordable health insurance, retirement plans and safety measures to ensure they return home safely to their families at shift's end.

"It gives you a voice," Reisinger said of the local he's proud to lead. "We have pushed back against the company several times on safety issues."

Eradicating the anti-worker forces entrenched in virtually every Mexican workplace would have been a herculean, time-consuming process even without delays associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December, the Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board, created to monitor the labor reforms, noted that progress had been made with the help of well-intentioned Mexican officials.

However, the board reported that "serious concerns" remained. Most workers still awaited opportunities to form unions and elect leaders, for example, and many continued to face intimidation for organizing efforts.

Those are some of the issues at the heart of the complaints filed recently.

The AFL-CIO, other unions and the activist group Public Citizen alleged that Tridonex, an auto parts maker owned by a Philadelphia company, harassed and fired hundreds of workers trying to organize. Hourly wages at Tridonex range from about $1.80 to $3.30.

In a separate complaint, the U.S. trade representative reported that a phony labor group trying to cling to power at a General Motors plant in northern Mexico destroyed the ballots of workers seeking legitimate representation for the first time. Workers in the GM factory, which makes Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks, start at $1.35 an hour, with a top wage of $4.95 an hour.

Now, these employers face investigations by the Mexican government, special panels set up under the USMCA or both. Punishments for individual plants found to have violated the new labor rights include tariffs or other sanctions, and repeat violators could have their products denied entry to the United States.

Strict enforcement of the USMCA will not only help the oppressed workers at the Tridonex and GM plants but also send the message to other employers that they have to comply with the law as well.

"Otherwise, they're just going to laugh at it," Reisinger said. "You have to have these enforcement mechanisms in place, and you have to utilize them."

Noting his foundry has struggled at times, Reisinger knows a more level playing field under the USMCA can help secure the facility's future, generate even more business and help his coworkers build better lives.

"I think it's important that they remember to share that increase with the workers," he said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Republican governors are weaponizing a Reagan-era myth to punish those in need

Years ago, I was conducting a months-long journalistic investigation into the street violence plaguing a small community in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Doing that reporting was brutal. But a theme emerged among the moms that has never left me.

They felt shame, so much shame they forwent government help. That's the opposite of what too many conservatives had been telling the public for decades about welfare, a narrative popularized by the welfare-queen myth conjured up by Ronald Reagan.

It illustrates the cruelty of recent decisions by a growing number of Republican governors to cut off extended unemployment benefits to working families because the benefits are supposedly so generous they discourage those on the economic margins from re-entering the workforce as the covid pandemic winds down.

Those moms had lost children to that street violence in multiple ways, often because of the violent drug game. One recounted having to identify her son's body in the medical examiner's office. A piece of preserved skin was unrolled in her presence. On it was a tattoo. That's how she confirmed it was her son. It was all that was left of him. His body had been recovered weeks after he'd been shot in the head and left rotting in an abandoned SUV deep in the woods during a sweltering southern summer.

Another mom told me about how her son as early as 5 years old began cooking full dinners for the family. She worked late, holding down multiple low-wage jobs, meaning he was often left alone to fend for himself and had to grow up fast. By his early 20s, he was dead. Another mom lost two sons a few years apart. She, like the others, was a hard worker often away from the house trying to make ends meet.

Each of these women said they refused to take welfare, even if it would have helped pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads instead of having to work a dozen hours a day for effectively pennies on the dollar in an area with some of the nation's lowest wages. Work was too important. Receiving government help in any form is so frowned upon in states like this, South Carolina, that countless numbers of struggling people would go without even if getting help meant an improved personal-financial picture.

Welfare means shame. Welfare means you have failed. Welfare means you are less than. The sentiment is so ingrained here that when I was growing up and my mother would send me to the grocery with a pocket full of food stamps, I'd do everything in my power to find a checkout lane where there was no line. I didn't want anyone to see me pull out that coupon book and hand those funny-looking things to the cashier. It didn't matter that those food stamps and the free government cheese and free lunches at school and so much more helped sustain my family and me through really dark days.

That's the context you need to understand as an increasing number of Republican governors have decided to scale back enhanced unemployment benefits.

They claim that it's necessary, that it's the only way to get those who have been receiving benefits through this pandemic to go back to work. In short, those governors, along with conservative economists, have convinced themselves the working poor would rather be on the dole than man hot kitchens, wait on tables or stand on their bunions for several hours a day in retail settings to earn poverty wages.

In their minds, there isn't a labor shortage because wages are too low. Or because the pandemic is still literally killing hundreds a day. Or because it's going to take awhile for some of us to get back to normal given we've just survived the worst plague in more than a century, and the emotional and physical scars that have resulted. To men like South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, it can only be because the working poor are lazy and want to be taken care of, instead of wanting to take care of themselves.

McMaster and others know that's not true. They know how much shame has been associated with help of any kind in places like these. They spend their time during campaigns for office saying as much, couching it in the language of the "dignity of work." They know it took a lot for constituents to apply for unemployment benefits even as covid shut down the world. Sheer desperation convinced them to take it, not laziness. This truth isn't anecdotal. Numerous studies have shown time and again that unemployment benefits are hardly ever the reason people don't go back to work.

No one struggling on the margins should be shamed for accepting the help they need. Neither should they be punished for being strong enough to ignore the unearned shame and do what's best for their families anyway. If there should be shame, it should be borne by the wealthy elected officials, executives and economists who keep finding new ways to spit on the working class. If they wanted to help, they'd join Democrats who are trying to enact policies that will help the vulnerable earn a living wage.

When your dream job is a nightmare

by Lisa Cohen, McGill University and Sandra E. Spataro, Northern Kentucky University

What happens when you land your dream job but it turns out to be anything but?

Friends, career consultants and the media inundate us with a constant barrage of advice telling us to follow our dreams, find our bliss or pursue our passions in our professional lives. Yet this kind of advice is not always easily followed.

Even when it's heeded, the advice can come with downsides, especially when it turns out that those aforementioned passions involve jobs with routine, day-to-day tasks that people are less than passionate about. In short, work is often hard work.

People land jobs in data science and artificial intelligence, for example, expecting to create brilliant algorithms that will solve big problems. But they often end up performing menial data collection and cleaning tasks. The excitement of working for a startup loses its lustre with difficult and boring work often outside an employee's primary areas of interest.

And not everyone promoted to the lauded ranks of management is thrilled to be there performing management tasks, or even see the job as a step up.

People romanticize working in the media, fashion, film, fine and performing arts and other cultural industries, but the work often ends up being more drudgery than glamour. Any job, especially an entry-level position, has elements of drudgery.

'Glossy work' is lacklustre

This gap between expectations and the day-to-day reality of jobs is a phenomenon we've labelled as “glossy work" in a recently published study.

For the study, we interviewed magazine fact-checkers who worked for high-status organizations in a glamorous industry while performing menial tasks every day. They experienced a kind of dissonance between their work and its setting.

As one fact-checker described it:

“Because you're affiliated with the magazine, people think you're a strange type of royalty no matter how you're affiliated."

We examined how this phenomenon affects them.

For employees, the glossy work dissonance can spur attempts to change the actual job, frustration and a quick exit from the position. Glossy work also creates a dilemma about how to present the work and themselves to the world. How do they balance their simultaneous needs for self-enhancement and to be fully understood and authentic?

Glossing over mundane work

We find they do so by differentiating their descriptions of their jobs across different audiences. When talking to complete outsiders — people at social gatherings, for example — they focus on the more glamorous aspects: working in journalism and for glossy magazines.

For the high-status writers they collaborate with, they focus on their own expertise and other status markers. And to insiders, they present a more complete view of their work.

Presenting themselves differently depending on who they're talking to can mean that anyone who is not a true insider at the company ends up with a partial or biased view of the work. The full nature of the work is often glossed over, and that's a problem for those considering taking one of these jobs.

When they only hear about the gloss, prospective employees end up with false expectations that tend to fuel the cycle of disappointment.

Potential employees can get around this by doing more careful research on the true nature of the jobs they're considering taking. They should ask questions about the position's day-to-day requirements and consult a range of people who currently have the job or who have previously held it.

What employers can do

“Glossy work" also comes at a cost to employers as they try to manage worker frustration and staff turnover. They can stop this vicious cycle by providing realistic job previews. This doesn't mean they should only show the negative side of work, but they should provide an honest balance of the glamorous and less glamorous aspects of the job.

Employers may also want to consider alternative ways of assembling tasks so that the less pleasant tasks are spread across employees and jobs.

They may also want to be open to employee efforts to craft and tweak their jobs and create new opportunities within their organizations.

Ultimately, however, performing many mundane tasks remains a reality in all jobs despite the promise that AI will eliminate more and more rote chores.

What's more, hiring managers should exercise caution when listing “passion" as a job requirement. In an analysis of more than 200 interviews for a project on startup hiring, passion was a frequent subject of discussion. Hiring managers looked for it. Potential employees wanted to live their passion.

Yet none of the hiring managers who were looking for passion in their prospective employees could describe how they would assess passion in candidates, or why it was important for the specific job being filled. The risk here is that they hire people who are passionate and then provide work that either doesn't match or douses that passion, creating a problematic situation for both employee and employer.The Conversation

Lisa Cohen, Associate Professor, Business Administration, McGill University and Sandra E. Spataro, Professor, Northern Kentucky University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden actually has a plan to finally rebuild the American middle class

Nick Kessler lived paycheck to paycheck—eking life out of his bald tires, "praying to God nothing broke" at home—until he landed a union position at U.S. Steel in Granite City, Illinois, three years ago.

While that job changed his life, Kessler didn't stop there. He also took advantage of free training, provided under the United Steelworkers (USW) contract with the company, to advance to a highly skilled electrician's role that provides even more security for his wife and young son.

President Joe Biden's American Families Plan would make that kind of transformative opportunity available to all, giving millions of workers greater access to family-sustaining jobs while helping the nation rebuild the middle class.

Among many other provisions, Biden's plan would provide access to two years of tuition-free community college and training to every American.

It's essential that Congress now pass legislation that enacts the plan and paves the way for more Americans to obtain associate degrees, commercial driver's licenses or professional certifications in the skilled trades and other crucial fields.

"Your education is something nobody can ever take from you," said Kessler, a member of USW Local 1899, noting skills like his enhance his employment prospects no matter where he lives.

"The electricians and the plumbers and the carpenters and the welders are the ones that keep everything going," he observed. "The demand for the trades is the highest that it's been in years."

And the demand will only grow exponentially under the American Jobs Plan, the president's call to invest nearly $2 trillion in infrastructure, including roads and bridges, locks and dams, schools and airports, manufacturing facilities, the electric grid, new energy systems and communication networks.

These long-overdue infrastructure investments, long championed by the USW, will lift America out of the COVID-19 recession, rebuild the economy and strengthen the country for the next crisis.

The nation will need pipefitters, electricians, carpenters, welders and other skilled workers not only to construct roads and refurbish buildings but also to fill highly technical jobs like Kessler's in steel mills, foundries and other plants that manufacture the materials and equipment for infrastructure projects.

According to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, "[t]he infrastructure plan would create or save 15 million jobs over 10 years." Workers could obtain the skills needed for many of those jobs with six months of training or less.

Providing workers with a pathway for that upskilling will be essential to meeting the nation's infrastructure needs. While union members often receive training benefits through their contracts, many Americans currently lack those opportunities.

Before joining the USW at U.S. Steel, for example, Kessler took electrician's classes at a community college but found the tuition too expensive to complete the program on his own.

Another steelworker, Erik Boyer, picked up mechanical skills as best he could while working on cars in his backyard.

Now, after accepting a job at Cleveland-Cliffs' New Carlisle Works in Indiana and testing into the mechanical program, Boyer will get the combination of classroom instruction and on-the-job training he needs to formalize and complete his education in a year to 14 months.

He knows many more Americans would consider careers in the trades if they knew that the jobs and training were available to them.

"That opens things up to a lot of people," Boyer, a member of USW Local 9231, said of Biden's college and training proposal. "It does provide answers to a lot of problems."

USW Local 14581 in Elkhorn City, Kentucky, operates an on-the-job training program with decades of success putting workers into family-sustaining highway construction jobs like truck drivers, carpenters, drillers, blasters and grader and roller operators.

Local President Gypsy Cantrell realizes that many more local residents would benefit from the program—now supported by government agencies and contractors—and hopes that funds from the American Families Plan will enable her to expand it.

Among other possibilities, she would like to establish a training center so she can begin offering classroom instruction, install equipment simulators and bring in retired union members to offer their expertise. She said some trainees, like carpenters, could even put their skills to use in community service projects as part of an enhanced curriculum.

"The need is there," Cantrell said, noting an expanded program would enable the local to provide skilled workers for new projects generated through Biden's infrastructure push.

Women and workers of color have long fought for equitable opportunities in the nation's economy, and the education benefits afforded by the American Families Plan would help to level the playing field.

An expansion of the Local 14581 training program, for example, would boost the union's longstanding efforts to place struggling residents like DeDe Wallace in family-sustaining jobs. Wallace's training as a grader operator enabled her to raise three grandchildren after her husband, Ricky, became disabled and later died.

"I don't know what would have happened to them if I hadn't been able to take care of them," Wallace, who retired in 2018, said of her grown and successful grandkids.

Because of his past struggles, Kessler appreciates what he has now all the more.

He's happy to be able to provide for his family. But he's also proud to wield skills essential to the nation's prosperity.

"It's a pretty great career," he said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Robert Reich exposes the truth behind the Republican Party's attempt to rebrand itself

The Republican Party is trying to rebrand itself as the party of the working class.

Rubbish. Republicans can spout off all the catchy slogans about blue jeans and beer they want, but actions speak louder than words. But let's look at what they're actually doing.Did they vote for the American Rescue Plan? No. Not a single Republican in Congress voted for stimulus checks and extra unemployment benefits needed by millions of American workers.So what have they voted for? Well, every single one of them voted for Trump's 2017 tax cut for the wealthy and corporations, of which 83 percent of the benefits go to the richest 1 percent over a decade.

They claimed corporations would use the savings from the tax cut to invest in their workers. In reality, corporations used their tax savings to buy back shares of their own stock in order to boost share values. And some corporations then fired large portions of their workforce. Not very pro-worker, if you ask me.

Have they voted for any taxes on the wealthy? No. Quite the opposite. Republicans refuse to tax the rich. They've even been trying to get rid of the estate tax, which only applies to estates worth at least $11.7 million for individuals and $23.4 million for married couples. Working class my foot.

Have they backed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which a majority of Americans favor? No. Republicans refuse to raise the minimum wage even though it would give 32 million workers a raise. That's about a fifth of the entire U.S. workforce.

Do they support unions, which empower workers to get better pay and benefits? No again. To the contrary: Republicans have enacted right-to-work laws in 28 states, decimating unions' bargaining power and enabling businesses to exploit their workers.

And when it comes to strengthening labor laws, only five out of 211 Republicans voted for the PRO Act in the House – the toughest labor law legislation in a generation.

How about the historic union drive at the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon warehouse, which Joe Biden and almost all Democrats have strongly backed? Just one Republican spoke out in support. All others have been dead silent.

What about backing regulations that keep workers safe? Nope. In fact, they didn't bat an eye when Trump rolled back child labor protections, undid worker safeguards from exposure to cancerous radiation, and gutted measures that shield workers from wage theft.

Do they support overtime? No. They allowed Trump to eliminate overtime for 8 million workers, and continue to repeat the corporate lie about "job-killing regulations."

What about expanding access to healthcare to all working people? Not a chance. Republicans at the state level have blocked Medicaid expansion and enacted Medicaid work requirements, while Republicans in Congress have tried for years to repeal the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. If they succeeded, they would have stripped healthcare away from more than 20 million working Americans.

So don't fall for the Republican Party's "working class" rebrand. It's a cruel hoax. The GOP doesn't give a fig about working people. It is, and always will be, the party of big business and billionaires.

The American left needs to use hardball tactics to win worker protections

Among the many reasons behind the recent failure of Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama, to form a union was their employer's intimidation tactics about what a union would mean for workers. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) in its response to the disappointing vote against unionization released a statement saying, "Amazon interfered with the right of its Bessemer, Alabama employees to vote in a free and fair election." RWDSU Union head Stuart Appelbaum claimed that the retail giant "required all their employees to attend lecture after lecture, filled with mistruths and lies, where workers had to listen to the company demand they oppose the union."

Although the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 protects the right of workers to collectively organize without fear of retaliation from employers, most of Amazon's tactics were technically legal. With a nearly endless source of money to fund its barrage of misinformation and fearmongering, Amazon will likely manage over and over again to convince its workers that unions, not management, are their enemy.

While several unions represent Amazon's European workers, no group of Amazon workers in the United States has thus far managed to win the right to unionize, suggesting that there is something unique about our approach to labor organizing that stands in the way. And, in legal challenges, the U.S. Supreme Court has often sided with corporations over workers. Given the court's current conservative dominance, this is unlikely to change.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The U.S. House of Representatives in early March passed the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act of 2021, which, among other things, would make it much harder for companies like Amazon to misinform their workers. The PRO Act, which has been introduced several times before, "makes it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership."

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and a leader in the Movement for Black Lives, explained to me in an interview that "if the PRO Act was law today, it would mean that some of the union-busting tactics that Amazon is employing around the country would be illegal."

The PRO Act would also upend the so-called "right-to-work" laws in many states around the country, including Alabama, that Mitchell calls "horribly regressive." One might imagine based on the name that such laws ensure workers have the right to employment. If only that were so. Instead, "right-to-work" laws, deliberately named so as to confuse workers, are part of an aggressive GOP-led push over the past decade to undermine the financial power of unions by making it illegal for unions to mandate dues.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which for years has championed "right-to-work" state laws, calls the PRO Act "a litany of almost every failed idea from the past 30 years of labor policy," as if the Chamber was ever concerned about the interests of labor. Warning that if passed it would "undermine worker rights, ensnare employers in unrelated labor disputes, disrupt the economy, and force individual Americans to pay union dues regardless of their wishes," the Chamber pretends to care about workers rather than corporate profits.

In the fantasy world of the organization, there are two forces vying for dominance: earnest corporations versus "Big Labor." Such a narrative invokes an Orwellian vision of benevolent corporations and the Chamber of Commerce stepping in to gallantly defend vulnerable workers from tyrannical unions. In fact, the only time pro-business institutions and conservatives ever appear to care about protecting workers' rights is when workers are on the verge of actually winning more rights.

One basic fact throws cold water on the anti-union claims of "Big Business" and its allies: unionized workers—even though there are fewer of them thanks to anti-union efforts—make significantly more money than non-union workers.

According to Mitchell, the PRO Act is, in a nutshell, about "creating a level playing field for workers to be able to organize their labor." He offered a more accurate depiction of our current economic reality: "Organized capital has captured government, and in many ways captured our lives. This [PRO Act] allows us to use the only thing that could counterbalance organized capital: organized labor."

For years, U.S. labor organizations have thrown unconditional support behind the Democratic Party and had little to show for it as unionization levels have fallen precipitously. It is no coincidence that as unions shrank, wealth and income inequality rose. In backing the PRO Act and doing all it can to pass it into law, the Democratic Party can prove it is truly a friend of organized labor, and by extension, American workers. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the bill "a game changer," and asserted that "[i]f you really want to correct inequality in this country—wages and wealth inequality, opportunity and inequality of power—passing the PRO Act is absolutely essential to doing that."

After all, as Mitchell said, the left has "won the debate over neoliberal capitalist policies," and even President Biden openly admitted as much during his recent address to Congress. "[T]rickle-down economics has never worked and it's time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out," said Biden in a surprising pronouncement.

So far, there are hopeful signs as all but one of the House Democrats voted "yes" on the bill (Texas Representative Henry Cuellar voted "no," citing Republican talking points about supporting his state's "right-to-work" law and claiming without evidence that the PRO Act would destroy thousands of jobs).

President Joe Biden, who overtly expressed support for the unionizing efforts among Amazon workers in Alabama, also urged the passage of the PRO Act in his address to Congress. He said in clear terms, "I'm calling on Congress to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act—the PRO Act—and send it to my desk so we can support the right to unionize."

Mitchell explained to me, "We have a limited window for us to create the type of transformative change that is on the agenda that so many people voted for," referring to the two-year period in which Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress before the 2022 midterms potentially change the equation. With the House passage of the PRO Act and the White House signaling it fully supports the bill, it falls into the purview of one of the most undemocratic branches of government—the U.S. Senate—to pass this critical bill.

So far 45 Senate Democrats and two independents have signaled support for the bill. This number surprisingly includes Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has emerged as an obstacle to other progressive-leaning bills but who was apparently convinced by the PRO Act. Now, only three Senate Democrats remain on the fence: Virginia's Mark Warner and both of Arizona's senators, Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema.

A large coalition of labor organizations and progressive activist groups like Mitchell's Working Families Party is waging a fierce campaign to urge those three senators to support the PRO Act. In late April, according to Politico, "Union leaders told the Senate Democrats' campaign arm in a private call Wednesday not to expect them to back lawmakers in upcoming elections unless they coalesce behind" the bill.

This is precisely the type of hardball politics that the American left needs to play in order to push through the relatively modest reforms in the PRO Act so that American workers can enjoy the same standards of their non-American counterparts. With the relentless class war that corporations and wealthy elites have managed to successfully wage against the nation's middle and working classes for decades, there is little left to lose.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Why Workers Memorial Day is a national call to action

The United Steelworkers (USW) Local 959 safety committee leapt into action a few years ago after discovering that more and more workers at the Goodyear plant in Fayetteville, North Carolina, were exposed to knife injuries on the job.

Committee members solicited workers' input on how to address the hazard and then collaborated with the company to provide cut-resistant gloves, introduce more safely designed knives and take other steps to bring the crisis under control.

"It was our number one injury at the plant," recalled Ronald Sessoms, Local 959 safety chairman. "Now, we've almost eliminated it."

It isn't enough to have marked Workers Memorial Day on April 28 by grieving for the thousands of Americans who lost their lives on the job over the past year. Only a renewed, unrelenting commitment to workplace safety will properly honor their memory and ensure that none of them died in vain.

That's especially true in light of COVID-19, which pushed the death toll higher than usual and endangered workers like never before. The pandemic underscored the need for constant vigilance against threats as well as the importance of giving workers a meaningful voice in combating them.

No one knows the hazards and risks better than the people facing them every day. A strong union contract helped to entrench that philosophy at Fayetteville, where worker input not only led to the reduction of knife-related injuries but also resulted in better ventilation, the elimination of certain hazardous chemicals once used at the plant and even adjustments to a machine that helped to avert a head injury risk.

"Our job is not to sit behind a desk," Sessoms said of his USW committee representatives, all of them former production workers who now perform union health, safety and environment (HSE) responsibilities under the contract with Goodyear. "We want to be very accessible."

He and the other USW safety representatives walk the sprawling complex to look for hazards, evaluate hazard controls and confer with 96 "safety coaches"—full-time production workers who volunteer as union safety liaisons in the plant's many departments.

However, committee members realize that plant-wide safety really hinges on leveraging the eyes, ears and expertise of all 2,000 USW members there, and that's why they stop on the shop floor to communicate with workers about their concerns.

Target Zero, an injury prevention program that the USW and Goodyear negotiated more than a decade ago, provides another way to raise red flags.

Frank Cameron, the Target Zero facilitator for Local 959, encourages workers to fill out cards outlining safety concerns and drop them in boxes placed around the plant. He and safety committee members review all cards and follow up with the company to eliminate hazards.

One woman used the program to help a tall coworker constantly at risk of banging his head on a bar used to feed rubber along the production line. She suggested making the bar adjustable so that it could accommodate his height. The change also meant shorter workers, like her, wouldn't have to strain to reach it.

Because of their commitment to vigilance and prevention, union HSE committees can respond quickly and effectively when a crisis strikes.

At Fayetteville, Sessoms, Cameron and other union safety representatives collaborated with Goodyear to implement safety procedures at the start of the pandemic and later worked with local health officials to set up a vaccination clinic.

And at International Paper in San Antonio, the leadership and safety committee of USW Local 13-1 swiftly rose to the challenge and launched a COVID-19 prevention campaign.

"As soon as something happens, you act on it," Emilio Salinas, Local 13-1 executive committee member, said. "You don't want it growing into something bigger. We try to jump on something as quickly as we can to nip it in the bud."

Local 13-1 urged members to wear face masks, disinfect shared tools and practice social distancing in break rooms.

"We're grateful that we're in a union and that we have a voice," Salinas said. "The reason the union exists is not just [to ensure fair] wages and benefits. It's all about safety. It gives us the power to enforce safety for our workers."

Unions not only give workers a voice and protect them from retaliation for raising concerns but also foster a spirit of solidarity that contributes to safety.

"We're 2,150 feet underground. We have to take care of each other," explained JJ Chavez, a union safety representative for USW Local 9477, which represents workers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

He and his coworkers dispose of nuclear waste in a salt bed, working at a depth that is greater than the height (1,454 feet) of the Empire State Building. Chavez, a former deputy sheriff, said only a shared commitment to safety can help union members address the many hazards they face every day.

The fight for healthier workplaces never ends.

At Fayetteville, for example, Sessoms and fellow committee members are analyzing data about ergonomic injuries and hazards to determine the need for equipment that helps lift piles of rubber. And they're looking into the purchase of rubber-cutting machines that would further reduce the potential exposure to knife injuries.

"The goal for every one of our team members is to ensure all of our brothers and sisters go home safely to their families each and every day," Sessoms said.

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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