Archive | workers RSS for this section

Disabled on the Job, Fired without Severance or Benefits

A GM subsidiary is providing an unlikely test for the U.S.-Colombia trade deal’s labor provisions.

By Jess Hunter-Bowman

Jess Hunter-Bowman

Jorge Parra, a welder at General Motors’ South American Colmotores subsidiary, performed manual labor at an assembly plant near Bogotá until he was disabled. The Colombian underwent three surgeries and now walks with a cane and has several screws in his spine. GM fired him when he could no longer work due to his repetitive strain injuries. He wound up with no medical benefits or severance pay.

“My life has been left in ruins by GM. I was fired due to workplace injuries,” Parra says. “The company lied about the reason for my dismissal.”

Parra formed an association of injured GM workers along with another 67 people. He estimates at least 200 workers have been fired from the plant due to workplace injuries. Along with another nine former GM autoworkers, he began a hunger strike on Labor Day. They are demanding GM compensate them for their disabling injuries.


Colombia, one of our newest free-trade partners, has a long history of labor rights violations. In fact, President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to a Labor Action Plan designed to improve Colombia’s labor practices. The hope was that the plan would assuage congressional concerns about continued violations and ensure passage of a U.S.-Colombia trade deal.

Colombia has long been the most dangerous country in the world for union members. And those killers face little risk of prosecution. An estimated 3,000 labor leaders have been murdered since 1986 and a conviction has only been reached in approximately 10 percent of those cases.

The U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan alleviated the concerns of enough Democrats to get the trade deal passed a year ago, but the dangerous climate workers face in the South American country hasn’t improved. In fact, 34 trade unionists have been killed and another 485 have faced death threats since Obama and Santos signed the plan in April 2011.

Surprisingly, a simple case of wrongful firing like Parra’s at a GM assembly plant, rather than the murder of union organizers, has become a litmus test of sorts for the Labor Action Plan.

In GM’s Bogota assembly plant, when workers got injured on the job the sinister plot unfolded. GM fired Parra and other workers without offering any continuing health care coverage, severance, or other benefits. The Colombian government’s labor inspector then signed off on the firings and the workers’ compensation insurance company covering the employees altered medical records to suggest injuries were commonplace, rather than work-related.

The labor inspector has since been suspended and the insurance company was fined, but GM has yet to either reinstate the workers in new positions or offer them fair compensation. And the Colombian government certainly isn’t pressuring them to do so.

This relatively straightforward case has become the test of Colombia’s post-trade agreement commitment to workers’ rights. There’s no need to arrest or prosecute any terrorist gunmen responsible for killing union leaders. The only question is whether Colombia’s Labor Ministry and courts can hold a subsidiary of a Big Three U.S. automaker accountable for firing workers disabled through workplace injuries.

If the answer is no, there’s little chance Colombia will clean up its labor rights record in more serious and challenging areas, such as union murders and subcontracting.

And without labor rights progress, the Obama administration’s Hail Mary pass to get congressional support on the Colombia trade deal — the Labor Action Plan — will be remembered as a two-bit magic trick.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history analyzing U.S. economic and military policy in Latin America.
Distributed via OtherWords. (

Originally posted on:


Lincoln: ‘Labor Is the Superior of Capital’

By Alan Grayson, Open Mike Blog

03 December 11


uring my two years in Congress, I heard an awful lot of speeches. Some of them were delivered by some of the finest public speakers in America today – like Barack Obama, Neil Abercrombie, John Lewis, Anthony Weiner and Alcee Hastings. But none of them was as profound and poignant as the one that I’m about to share with you. It was delivered to a Joint Session of Congress by President Abraham Lincoln, exactly 150 years ago today. The focus of the President’s speech was, of course, the Civil War. But President Lincoln took a short detour, and with a few bare sentences, he summed up an issue that remains with us to this day.

This is what President Lincoln said to Congress, to America, and to us:

“It is not needed, nor fitting here [in discussing the Civil War] that a general argument should be made in favor of popular institutions; but there is one point, with its connections, not so hackneyed as most others, to which I ask a brief attention. It is the effect to place capital on an equal footing with, if not above, labor, in the structure of government. It is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital; that nobody labors unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow by the use of it induces him to labor. This assumed, it is next considered whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent, or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded thus far, it is naturally concluded that all laborers are either hired laborers or what we call slaves. And further, it is assumed that whoever is once a hired laborer is fixed in that condition for life.

“Now, there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights.”

If I were still in Congress, I would have repeated President Lincoln’s speech on the Floor of the House this week, in the same spot where he rendered it 150 years ago. “Labor is the superior of capital.” And we must not “place capital . . . above labor in the structure of government.” Thank you, Mr. Lincoln. If I had to sum up my job as a Congressman in 25 words or less, that would do it.

I realize that for a statement as profound as this one, it is “far beyond [my] poor power to add or detract” (as Lincoln himself said, two years later, at Gettysburg). But I’ll try anyway, recognizing that “the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say.

I find it startling to read something like this, and realize how timeless these battles are. As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” (“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”) In fact, you can hear echoes of Lincoln’s words in what Elizabeth Warren said just ten weeks ago: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”

Now, admittedly, capital is wealthier, better organized, and far more powerful today than it was in Lincoln’s time. Capital gorges on Republican tax cuts for the rich, on bailouts, on government contracts and corporate welfare, on free money from the Fed, and on monopoly profit. Capital treats politicians and whole political parties like puppets. Capital creates and perpetuates a system where Labor is unemployed, where Labor is in debt up to its eyeballs, where Labor cannot see a doctor when ill, where Labor is pitted against Labor. There probably are plenty of well-meaning people who realize this, throw up their hands, and say, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

And then there are us. People with a head, and a heart. People who want to occupy Wall Street, occupy K Street, and occupy America with the simple concept of justice for all. People who understand that the very fact that this fight has been going on for 150 years or more, and will continue after you and I are gone – that very fact – makes this a fight that is worth fighting for.

And gradually, things do get better. I know, I know – two steps forward, one step back. But then two more steps forward.

Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming.

When Lincoln spoke, 150 years ago today, his time was the twilight’s last gleaming. And today, you can see the dawn’s early light.

Can you see it?


Alan Grayson

Michigan Liberal blog: “Bill Schuette wastes taxpayer dollars trying to stop a union election”

By Eric B.: Bill Schuette wastes taxpayer dollars trying to stop a union election

I don’t remember Mike Cox being so overty partisan, which means that all huffing and puffing aside, Bill Schuette is establishing a pattern that would make him the most partisan attorney general in Michigan history.

Allowing University of Michigan graduate student research assistants to unionize would “significantly damage” U-M and harm all Michigan residents, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a brief filed this week to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.

Schuette wants MERC to uphold a 1981 ruling that the GSRAs are students, not employees, and shouldn’t be allowed to form a union when the commission decides on the issue later this month.

Let’s break this down, okay.

First off, contrary to the tenor expressed in this morning’s Detroit News editorial, there are lots of graduate assistant unions across the country. And, there are even a bunch of them in the state of Michigan. CMU’s graduate assistants organized themselves a couple of years back while the university’s temporary faculty (adjuncts, to all of you over the age of 30), for example. And, graduate assistants overall on U of M’s campus are themselves organized.

Second, the fact that U of M’s president objects to the formation of yet another bargaining unit is neither novel nor a compelling argument in opposition to letting these people organize. Despite lofty rhetoric about valuing their employees, university administrations have the same long history in opposing the formation of new unions as everyone else. They just don’t call in the Pinkertons or turn loose private security with fire hoses.

Third, the attorney general’s office isn’t representing the interests of the state of Michigan here. The state has no compelling interest to get involve. This involves 2,200 people, many of whom probably get pay and benefits from research that is ultimately privately funded. Because U of M is much more research intensive a place than most of the state’s universities (U of M is constitutionally one of three research universities with Stinking Cow College and Wayne State), the odds that you’re going to have new bargaining units pop up all over the place are incredibly remote.

Fourth, what the attorney general’s office is trying to stop here isn’t actually the formation of the union, but an election. Why? Because the numbers are pretty clear … given a shot at self-determination, U of M’s research graduate assistants would form a union. To stop the union, you have to stop the vote. So, they filed a brief with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to prevent self-determination.

Fifth, thanks to declining state support for its university system (and for this you can thank forty years of misplaced legislative priorities that cut appropriations for the state’s public universities), university administrations have increasingly relied on temporary faculty and graduate assistants to do grunt work. They get paid slave wages, slave benefits, and are expected to do the work of tenured and tenured-track faculty. That very clearly makes them employees, and since it is a trend that has increased since the MERC last decided on this means that the MERC would be well within the bounds of reality to define graduate student research assistants as employees.

In short, the News’ editorial headline “Leave U-M lab assitants alone” is correct. The problem is that the News is ordering U of M’s lab assistants to leave themselves alone, while providing cover for the attorney general’s office to pre-empt their right to self-determination in the workplace. The News we can laugh at. Schuette, well he’s doing that on your dime.

Nestlé tells Pakistan contract workers ‘Give up your rights, now and forever!’ Mass dismissals, jail, beatings and now blackmail

Management at Nestle’s giant Kabirwala dariy factory in Pakistan is deepening its policy of punishing contract workers who demand their legal rights. Casual workers employed for nine months are entitled by law to direct, permanent employment status, but Nestlé has responded to their demands by dismissing over a hundred, fabricating legal charges against the workers and by recently offering 50 dismissed workers the possibility of returning to their precarious employment (‘no work, no pay) on condition that they permanently renounce all current and future claims against the company! Nestlé management continues to pressure union president Mohammad Bhatti to drop his support for the contract workers, who face fabricated criminal charges for claiming their rights. In the course of their struggle, workers have been physically assaulted by a vengeful labour contractor and goons.

Now Nestlé is cynically creating new, permanent positions for contract workers who are not union members and who have not supported the union’s fight for justice, sending a clear message that those who claim their rights will be punished!

Use the form below to send a message to Nestlé, telling them to Stop Nespressure and respect trade union rights in Pakistan!

Bahrain: Drop all charges against teachers, unionists and students

Sign the Petition!

Education International (EI) calls on you to urge the Bahraini authorities to review the charges and convictions and commute sentences of all teachers, teacher unionists and students charged with offences related to exercise of freedom of speech and right to assemble. The appeals of the Vice-President and President of the Bahraini Teachers Association (BTA) , on Sunday 11 December, are amongst EI’s concerns. Jalila al-Salman and Mahdi ‘Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb are appealing of the sentences issued in September by the military National Safety Court of First Instance to three and ten years’ imprisonment, for their involvement in peaceful protests last March. Seven other BTA board members are also on trial and 76 teachers have been sacked for similar baseless reasons. A larger number of teachers are still suspended. Most BTA Board members and sacked and suspended teachers have had the opportunity to share their experience with Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, during his mission to Bahrain in November. All reported on the unjust treatment they suffered. The revision of the convictions is also highlighted in the strong recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) . On 23 November, it recommended the Bahraini authorities “to review convictions and commute sentences of all persons charged with offences involving political expression, not consisting of advocacy of violence, or, as the case may be, to drop outstanding charges against them.” International Labour Organisation jurisprudence stresses the importance of the “principle of prompt and fair trial by an independent and impartial judiciary in all cases, including cases in which trade unionists are charged with political or criminal offences.”

The Socialist Solution: An Article Calling on All Unemployed People to Join Socialist Organizations

The Socialist Solution: An Article Calling on All Unemployed People to Join Socialist Organizations.

Unemployed people should join socialist organizations because socialist organizations would give these unemployed people a place to use their talents, gifts, and abilities collectively, toward a common goal. Socialism has been given such a negative stigma by the propaganda machine that people simply shudder at the mere thought of it; the Soviets, the Chinese, and the Cubans (among others) all have been portrayed as sworn enemies “in the name of freedom”. There is nothing free about America whatsoever. Capitalism and democracy obviously are not cutting it when you see unemployment rates skyrocketing, as they are now. This is nothing new. The capitalist system thrives on cycles of crisis, depression, revival, and boom. The majority of the time, when the economy is struggling, this is when wars begin in an attempt to stimulate the economy. This is nothing new; it has been happening as far back as the two great World Wars.

People are struggling, starving, or reducing themselves to lawless acts in order to do basic things like eating and having a roof over their heads. The capitalist society is a failure, and always has been. There is no place for people that do not do things the “right” way, hence the prisons remain packed and the all-powerful, oppressive police force remain quick to arrest those who fail to do things “the American way”. If these unemployed brothers and sisters would simply understand that they have been fed propaganda their entire lives by the media and the educational system, among many other sources, and that socialism, the notion of everyone being equal, will not only save the country but the world as a whole. China, since adopting socialism, has been the most prosperous nation in the world. America should follow suit, and soon, before the economy collapses for good. If they don’t give it to us, we’ll just have to take it. At the end of the day, what is green paper really worth anyway?

K.K. El
Party Member  #7359

Turkey: End the lockout at GEA

Sign the petition:

62 workers, all members of the Turkish metal union, Birlesik Metal-IS, have been locked-out since July at a Turkish subsidiary of German-owned GEA Group located in Gebze, Turkey. The company, which professes to respect fundamental labour rights and freedom of association and has an International Framework Agreement with the International Metalworkers’ Federation, is claiming that workers took illegal strike action during 10:00-10:15; 12:00-12:30; and 15:00-15:15, which are also designated times for tea breaks and lunch. A collective bargaining agreement, hard won by workers three years ago, will be up for renegotiation on December 31. An expert’s report petitioned by GEA found there was no strike action taken. A separate investigation petitioned by Birlesik Metal found that workers were denied access to the workplace. In late November the Gebze court ruled that four workers dismissed on May 31 must be reinstated, a clear indication that the Turkish courts have found GEA to be acting unlawfully. There is a heavy police presence inside of the company yet GEA continues to refuse to meet with Birlesik Metal. The IMF, ITUC, IUF, ITF, ICEM and its global partners in partnership with LabourStart are calling on GEA to immediately meet with the union, end the lockout and reinstate all of the workers.