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A Better Recovery: Learning the lessons of the corona crisis to create a stronger, fairer economy

By staff - Trades Union Congress - May 20, 2020

A plan to get Britain growing out of the crisis – and stop mass unemployment

The pandemic alone did not cause this economic crisis. It was made worse by a decade of austerity and the government’s failure to strengthen the UK’s economy. Choosing the wrong approach to recovery now risks embedding low growth, long-term unemployment and all the social ills that go alongside.

An investment for growth approach means taking action on six key areas:

  • Decent work and a new way of doing business: New business models based on fairer employment relationships. A fairer share for workers of the wealth they create, with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights.
  • Sustainable industry: Economic stimulus for a just transition to net zero carbon. Rebuilding the UK’s industrial capacity with modern tech and training in new skills.
  • A real safety net: Reforms to social security to provide help faster and prevent poverty. A job guarantee scheme so everyone can work and long-term unemployment does not take hold.
  • Rebuilding public services: Bringing our public services back to full strength, with decent pay for those who looked after us in the crisis, and a new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care.
  • Equality at work: Specific actions to make sure women, disabled people and BME groups do not suffer disproportionately from the impact of the coronavirus recession.
  • Rebuilding internationalism: New international rules must prioritise decent jobs and public services for all.

The evidence from the post-war recovery is that this investment for growth recovery plan can pay for itself. Millions of working families with higher disposable income create the economic demand needed for strong growth and healthy public finances. Stronger public services and an effective safety net will support people to start and grow businesses, and will better protect against a future pandemic.

Read the report (PDF).

Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery

By staff - Canadian Labour Congress - May 13, 2020

Canada is in the midst of the worst unemployment crisis since the Great Depression. Millions of workers have lost their jobs and now face an uncertain future.

Canada’s unions are proposing a set of ambitious initiatives in order to achieve a strong, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. It is a recovery that places workers directly at the centre of every policy and strategy going forward.

COVID-19 has laid bare the underlying inequalities of our society. The labour movement has been witness to the growing divide between the have and have-nots and is ready to advise on ways to narrow the gulf to ensure fairness for everyone.

By fixing what has long been broken, we can ensure that no one is left behind in the coming phases of recovery.

The guiding principles we propose build on current government efforts to respond to economic disruptions wrought by the pandemic. These priorities aim to ensure that the economic recovery:

  • Focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. As we learned from the Great Recession in 2008, joblessness and labour underutilization will persist without labour market planning, coordination and concerted action by governments.
  • Focuses on public investment in infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. Amidst general uncertainty, weak consumer demand and high levels of indebtedness, business investment will not, by itself, be the engine of recovery. Strong public investment can lift incomes and economic activity that will, in turn, stimulate business investment.
  • Focuses on being gendered, inclusive and committed to reducing inequality. The pandemic and economic shutdown have worsened insecurity and inequality, which will further slow the recovery if left unchecked. It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.

Canada’s unions reject the failed thinking and economics of austerity. Canadians remember how the Conservative Party of Canada cut spending to balance budgets in 2010, just months after the worst depths of the Great Recession. The government prioritized financial support for banks and corporations, instead of investing in people and communities. Those decisions led to years of sluggish economic growth, persistently high unemployment, growing precarity and insecurity, and rising inequality.

Read the report (PDF).

Understanding and Responding to the Changing Nature of Work in the Bay Area

By various - ReWork the Bay, Working Partnerships USA, and Jobs with Justice San Francisco, May 2020

New technologies, accelerating climate change, shifting migration patterns, changes in economic and political norms, and a host of other trends are likely to impact—and indeed already are impacting—key features of work and employment, including management relationships, the types of jobs available, compensation patterns, and other issues that shape the day-to-day lives of working people.

This report presents a framework for understanding why and how work is changing in the San Francisco Bay Area. It provides a scan of strategies that Bay Area workers, communities, businesses, educators and elected leaders are deploying to address changes, and offers a suggested rubric for evaluating the potential effects of such strategies.

In the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, a global epicenter of innovation and extraordinary wealth, low-income communities and communities of color struggle with crises in housing and economic stability, and climate change makes itself felt through increasingly destructive wildfires. If Bay Area funders, advocates, policymakers, and worker organizations ever hope to realize quality, empowered jobs for all, we must be able to articulate how work is changing and identify the systemic interventions that will push change to benefit working people.

Read the text (PDF).

A Low-Carbon Economy Will Be Built By Nannies, Caregivers and House Cleaners

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, October 22, 2019.

Reinvigorated movements are charting new terrain to build worker power and reverse the dramatic climate crisis facing society. Uncompromising mass mobilizations are on the rise, as more workers participated in strikes in the U.S. in 2018 than any of the previous 31 years, and historic demonstrations, like climate strikes, have taken off to demand action around climate change. Migrant workers, many of whom are climate refugees working in the care industry are waging a tremendous struggle against the Trump administration’s relentless, racist attacks, like the new “public charge” rule, which stops immigrants who receive public benefits from obtaining a green card or permanent residency. The Green New Deal offers an opportunity to bring these fights together around a broad program that tackles not only climate change, but also advances a vision of what a society that prioritizes people—not profit—could look like. But this future can only be won if the labor and climate movements find more ways to act together, and if they strategize more seriously about how to ensure low-carbon work is also good work. 

The lowest carbon jobs are the ones that don’t extract anything from the land, don’t create any new waste and have a very limited impact on the environment—an idea put forward by writers and activists Naomi Klein and Astra Taylor, along with striking West Virginia teacher Emily Comer. These jobs include teaching, nurturing and caring— invaluable jobs like cleaning homes and caring for children, seniors and those living with disabilities. Care work is generally ignored or looked down upon because it doesn’t create commodities that can be bought and sold, and because it is typically done by women. The shift towards low-carbon work should necessarily include a dramatic expansion of care work. But in order to make that possible, the standards and conditions of that work must be urgently raised. 

Care work is not only immensely important for individuals and families who depend on it, but for the economy at large. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (my employer) describes it as “the work that makes all other work possible.” By taking care of young children, nannies and child care workers allow parents to produce at their jobs. And by caring for seniors, home care workers, Certified Nursing Assistants and other caregivers keep those in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both children and parents, in the workforce. If there were no more caregivers—or if there were a nationwide caregiving work stoppage—our economy would crumble almost instantly.

The history of domestic work and care work, however, is stained by our country’s legacy of racism and sexism. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed, giving workers the legal right to organize, and recourse if they were intimidated or fired for doing so. But not all workers were afforded these rights—domestic workers and farm workers were purposefully excluded as part of a compromise in order to pass the NLRA. Democrats in the South feared that allowing farm and domestic workers to unionize would give black workers—who were the vast majority of farm workers and domestic workers—too much economic and political power. 

We’ve seen how this legacy affects care work today: low pay, no benefits, and it’s often illegal to unionize. In addition to their lack of labor protections, these workers’ social standing makes them even more susceptible to abuse at work, including wage theft and sexual harassment or assault. The vast majority of domestic and care workers in this country are women of color, many of whom are migrants.

By understanding this connection, we can build deeper solidarity between care workers organizing for power on the job and the climate movement more broadly. The exclusion of domestic workers from the NLRA, and the ensuing degradation of their working conditions and lack of rights at work, was a compromise rooted in economic injustice and political exclusion—two historical wrongdoings that the Green New Deal seeks to undo.

Women’s Struggles for a Peasant and People’s Feminism

By Francisca Rodríguez Huerta - La Via Campesina, June 17, 2019

An Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion

By Wretched of the Earth - Common Dreams, May 4, 2019

This letter was collaboratively written with dozens of aligned groups. As the weeks of action called by Extinction Rebellion were coming to an end, our groups came together to reflect on the narrative, strategies, tactics and demands of a reinvigorated climate movement in the UK. In this letter we articulate a foundational set of principles and demands that are rooted in justice and which we feel are crucial for the whole movement to consider as we continue constructing a response to the ‘climate emergency’.

Dear Extinction Rebellion,

The emergence of a mass movement like Extinction Rebellion (XR) is an encouraging sign that we have reached a moment of opportunity in which there is both a collective consciousness of the immense danger ahead of us and a collective will to fight it. A critical mass agrees with the open letter launching XR when it states “If we continue on our current path, the future for our species is bleak.”

At the same time, in order to construct a different future, or even to imagine it, we have to understand what this “path” is, and how we arrived at the world as we know it now. “The Truth” of the ecological crisis is that we did not get here by a sequence of small missteps, but were thrust here by powerful forces that drove the distribution of resources of the entire planet and the structure of our societies. The economic structures that dominate us were brought about by colonial projects whose sole purpose is the pursuit of domination and profit. For centuries, racism, sexism and classism have been necessary for this system to be upheld, and have shaped the conditions we find ourselves in.

Another truth is that for many, the bleakness is not something of “the future”. For those of us who are indigenous, working class, black, brown, queer, trans or disabled, the experience of structural violence became part of our birthright. Greta Thunberg calls world leaders to act by reminding them that “Our house is on fire”. For many of us, the house has been on fire for a long time: whenever the tide of ecological violence rises, our communities, especially in the Global South are always first hit. We are the first to face poor air quality, hunger, public health crises, drought, floods and displacement.

Morocco: women agricultural workers are organising to resist slavery

By - La Via Campesina, January 31, 2018

Hidden behind the showcases of Moroccan food and cosmetic exports is the abject poverty of a million women and men agricultural workers. These workers have been reduced to a contemporary form of slavery; they are organising in a daily struggle to obtain their rights and to safeguard their dignity.

The case of the women and men working at “Les Arômes du Maroc” stands out. These women, who come from peasant families and who have worked for decades picking aromatic plants, fruit, and blossoms, live in extreme poverty. They are subjected to practices reminiscent of the Middle Ages that one would have expected to belong to the past: forced labour, wages below the Minimum Guaranteed Agricultural Salary SMAG (5.63 euros) and even below the poverty line, over-loaded work days, the loan of workers to other businesses, etc.

The company uses a pay system, prohibited by law, which is a combination of salaried work and piece work. Wages are based not on the number of hours worked but rather on the weight of the produce that has been picked. By setting goals that are impossible for pickers to reach, the company keeps workers’ pay below the minimum wage.

In addition to their “contractual” work (there are in reality no work contracts), the women are obliged to perform other cleaning and picking tasks, for all of which they receive the paltry daily wage, as we have been able to verify by their pay stubs, of 1-5 dirhams (1 dirham = 0.08 euros).

In the words of one of the women: “So as to keep our jobs we are obliged to perform other tasks and chores such as cleaning. We work all day picking blossoms, which are very light and must be handled one by one. In the best of cases, the weight picked is no more than one kilogram per person per day, although, in order to be paid the salary for a day’s work, we are expected by the company to pick 50 kilograms. This means that what we receive is a fiftieth of the minimum daily wage.” Between contract work, over-time work, and the time that is spent waiting for wages to be paid, work days are as long as 14 hours for a salary that does not cover the cost of living. Added to this are other scandalous practices: the women workers are lent to the neighbouring farm of an Emirate prince – without being provided with any means of transportation to get there; safety equipment (to be used, for example, when climbing trees or handling plants with thorns) is non-existent.

Labour and the ecological crisis: The eco-modernist dilemma in western Marxism(s) (1970s-2000s)

By Stefania Barca - Geoforum, January 2019

The article offers an intellectual critique of Marxist political ecology as developed in western Europe between the 1970s and 2000s, focusing on the labour/ecology nexus. My critique is based on the intersection of two levels of analysis: 1) the historical evolution of labour environmentalism, focusing on what I will call the eco-modernist dilemma of labour; 2) the meaning of class politics in relation to the politics of the environment, with a special focus on the production/reproduction dialectic.

Focusing on the work of four Marxist intellectuals whose ideas resonated with various social movements across the Left spectrum (labour, environmentalism, feminism and degrowth), the article shows how the current entrenchment of labour within the politics of eco-modernization hides a number of internal fractures and alternative visions of ecology that need to be spelled out in order to open the terrain for a rethinking of ecological politics in class terms today.

Read the text (PDF).

Realizing a Just and Equitable Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

By Georgia Piggot, Michael Boyland, Adrian Down, and Andreea Raluca Torre - Stockholm Environment Institute, January 2019

Meeting agreed climate goals requires a rapid decarbonization of the global energy system, which in turn necessitates a reduction in fossil fuel production. While limiting fossil fuel use will likely bring a multitude of societal benefits — related to reduced climate risks, sustainable economic growth, air quality and human health — it is important to recognize that not everyone will benefit equally from a transition to a low-carbon economy. In particular, those who rely on fossil fuel production for their livelihood, or who were anticipating using fossil-fuelled energy to meet development needs, may carry a disproportionate share of the burdens of an energy transition.

The need for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy — namely, a transition that minimizes disruption for workers and communities reliant on unsustainable industries and energy sources — is gaining traction in climate policy and political discourse. A call for “a just transition of the workforce” was included in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat has prepared a technical paper on transition planning.10 In addition, several national and regional governments have recently announced new transition planning processes, including Canada, Germany, Spain, Scotland, New Zealand, and the European Union.

A central concern of just transition efforts is to ensure that low-carbon transitions address social and economic inequality. The UNFCCC calls for a transition that “contribute(s) to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.” Likewise, the European Commission aims to “boost the clean energy transition by bringing more focus on social fairness.” And the Scottish Government is seeking a transition that “promotes inclusive growth, cohesion and equality.”

Key messages:

  • Governments are introducing new “just transitions” policies to help workers and communities move away from fossil fuels.
  • Most policies assume that justice goals will be achieved by helping those dependent on coal, oil and gas move into new roles; however, there is little critical reflection on what justice means in the context of an energy transition away from fossil fuels.
  • There are a number of gaps in current just transition policies when viewed through a justice lens. For example, no policies contain measures to improve the lives of people currently marginalized in the energy system.
  • Creating just and equitable transition policies requires collecting data on the current distribution of the harms and benefits of the energy system, and mapping out how this will change as fossil fuels become a less-prominent part of the energy mix.
  • By taking justice considerations into account, transition policies are more likely to limit social and political resistance, win a broad consensus, and achieve effective implementation.

Read the text (PDF).

A Green New Deal Must Be Rooted in a Just Transition for Workers and Communities Most Impacted by Climate Change

By various - Climate Justice Alliance, December 11, 2018

A Call for Special Attention to Highly Impacted Communities Leading a Just Transition

What is the Climate Justice Alliance?

The Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) is a growing alliance, currently linking 68 community organizations, movement networks, and support organizations throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico to unite under Just Transition strategies. CJA’s inter-generational constituencies are rooted in Indigenous, African American, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and poor white communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. They share legacies of colonialism, racial and economic oppression, along with rich histories of environmental, economic and social justice organizing.

CJA believes that in order to effectively confront the climate crisis, we must transition our priorities from global systems of production and consumption that are energy intensive and fossil fuel dependent to more localized systems that are sustainable, resilient, and regenerative.

The transition itself, however, must be just.

What is the Green New Deal (GND)?

The GND is a proposal recently put forth by Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and currently supported by 18 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. It comes on the heels of the midterm election where Democrats won the majority in the House as well as the election of a number of self-proclaimed Democratic Socialists. Building off of energy from the demonstrations in Nancy Pelosi’s office by the youth of the Sunrise Movement, the GND, at this stage, has been presented as a call for the establishment of a House Select Committee that would be charged with “developing a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral.”  It also aims to “significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans and … promote economic and environmental justice and equality.”(1)

The GND is the first time in many years that a proposal of this type has been presented by a number of members of a major U.S. political party. It proposes to tackle climate change and inequality simultaneously, while revolutionizing conditions for workers.  It is a much needed aggressive national pivot away from climate denialism to climate action with large scale federal legislative and budgetary implications.

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