Labor Rights Campaigns Gear Up for Holidays: leafleting actions planned
Campaign for Labor Rights, Labour News, 4 December 1996
The year-end holidays are a time when consumerism seems to overwhelm thoughts of good will to people and peace on earth. This year, the season will also feature appeals from labor rights groups to remember the conditions under which many of our consumer goods are made. Holiday shoppers in cities throughout Canada, the U.S. and much of Europe are being asked to show solidarity with their fellow workers around the world.
Disney Week: December 7-14
Disney Week, December 7-14, is an opportunity to support justice for Disney production workers in Haiti, Burma and Thailand. For several months, the National Labor Committee has focused its Disney campaign on the plight of sweatshop workers in Haiti who sew Pocahontas, Mickey Mouse and other Disney children's clothing. Haitian women labor for pennies an hour to sew clothing which none of them can afford to purchase for their own children, who suffer malnutrition because of the meager wages paid by Disney subcontractors.
In recent months, the National Labor Committee has expanded the geographic focus of its Disney campaign. After the authoritative Far Eastern Economic Review reported that Disney subcontracts clothing production to Burma, the NLC called upon Disney to respect the international boycott of Burma. Ruled by a military dictatorship, Burma is a human rights disaster area. Labor rights violations include widespread use forced labor and violent military repression of union activities.
In Thailand, Disney has a contract with the Austrian-owned Eden Group, which recently sacked more than a thousand of its own workers to subcontract work with sweatshops employing child labor. Now Eden contractors are reneging on an agreement to provide severance benefits to the fired workers. Something is rotten in the Magic Kingdom.
If you would like to organize a leafleting action or some other event during the international Disney Week of protests, contact Maggie Poe at the National Labor Committee: (212) 242-3002, 275 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10001. NLC has a Disney Week action packet and a powerful video, "Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti: Walt Disney and the Science of Exploitation."
Nike Protests: December 14
Faster than anyone in the Nike campaign can keep track of them, plans are shaping up for leafleting actions at Nike outlets all across the U.S. and in parts of Canada and Europe. Two events in particular have catalyzed much of this activity.
In Canada, a union local representing 600 custodians in the public schools of Edmonton, Alberta objected when Nike offered to join the school board, the City of Edmonton, the parks department and the Oilers hockey team in sponsoring a children's street hockey program. Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 474 argued that a company which profits from child labor in Pakistan ought not to be held up as a hero to Edmonton children. Also, many of CUPE 474's members come from the same Asian countries where Nike's exploitative, anti-union policies keep workers at inadequate wages while the company makes billions in profit. The 474 leadership points out that Nike uses "charity," donating equipment to the street hockey program, as a slick marketing ploy for which the company gets tax write-offs.
Inspired by Local 474, the Alberta Federation of Labor (representing 300,000 unionized workers) endorsed a Nike boycott. Now 474 is sending almost daily updates, with news of the campaign being picked up by other union locals and carried into school classrooms throughout the province. The unions also are forging alliances with Development and Peace activists. Funded by the Canadian Catholic Church, Development and Peace already had a strong Nike campaign of its own. Last year, D&P collected 86,500 signatures on a petition asking Nike to allow independent monitoring of its overseas production facilities. This year, D&P has an even more ambitious signature-gathering drive underway.
The other major catalyst for an upsurgence in the Nike campaign came on October 17, when the CBS program 48 Hours broadcast a segment on Nike's labor abuses in Vietnam. Vietnamese Americans were outraged when they learned that supervisors at various Nike subcontracted factories in their homeland hit workers about the face, head and neck -- sending two of them to the hospital -- attempted to rape women workers and forced other workers to kneel for long periods with their arms raised overhead. Vietnamese and other Asians figure prominently in the ranks of those organizing demonstrations on or about December 14.
An article written by Australian scholar Anita Chan and published in the Washington Post on November 3 ("Boot Camp in the Shoe Factory") depicts the military regimen imposed in Chinese shoe factories managed by Taiwanese. Treated as virtual prisoners, workers in some of the factories are not permitted to leave. These factories produce for major brand names such as Nike and Reebok. If the substance of this article is disseminated as widely as the CBS program, Nike can expect even more trouble from the Asian American community.
To receive a Nike action packet by E-mail (hard copy mailings are not possible), write to Campaign for Labor Rights firstname.lastname@example.org or call (541) 344-5410. The action packet also lists a multitude of other resource materials available, most of them free, including leaflet masters.
Phillips-Van Heusen Campaign: December 14 Leafleting
After a two-year international campaign, workers at Guatemalan maquilas owned by the Phillips-Van Heusen company won the right to have a union four years ago. However, the shirt company has refused to bargain a contract with its workers. In the entire Guatemalan maquiladora sector, employing some 70,000 workers, not one factory has a contract with its workers.
P-VH workers organized in secret in the months leading up to early September. On U.S. Labor Day, the workers went public with their demand that the company negotiate with them. In an organizing blitz, the union surpassed the 25% membership threshold. Guatemalan law requires any company to bargain with the workers when 25% or more join a union. However, P-VH management refuses to acknowledge the validity of the union membership list.
In a twist of fate, P-VH CEO Bruce Klatsky sits on the board of Human Rights Watch. When this fact became known, HRW agreed to investigate the union's claim that it has signed up more than 25% of the workforce in the two company-owned maquilas. December 14 is the time when the entire Guatemalan maquila sector shuts down for three weeks for Christmas holidays. Historically, employers have used the long lay-off as a time to destroy union drives. Consequently, the US/Guatemala Labor Education Project, which is organizing solidarity support for the union, has asked Human Rights Watch to issue its findings on the 25% question no later than December 14. That date then became a pivotal point for leafleting actions at P-VH outlets in the U.S. and Canada.
P-VH owns a number of different brand names and manufactures for other major retailers. The primary targets are P-VH's own stores and JC Penney stores since JC Penney represents P-VH's most important business relationship. JC Penney sells the Van Heusen line of clothing; P-VH also manufactures some of JC Penney's private labels (e.g. Stafford).
For an action packet ($5 requested donation), contact Hannah Frisch at US/GLEP: tel 773-262-6502 fax 773-262-6602 email@example.com P.O. Box 268-290, Chicago, IL 60626.
Guess Campaign: Support Urgently Needed
The three Marciano brothers, owners of Guess jeans and other apparel, have racked up more than a quarter billion dollars in profit for themselves in recent years. The secret of their success is to market their clothing through sexually exploitative advertising imagery while producing their clothing through exploitative labor practices. It's a long way from the male- fantasy sex kittens of Guess billboards to the women hunched over Guess sewing machines for subminimum wages -- and it's the Marciano brothers who pocket the difference.
Guess previously was the subject of Department of Labor investigations for their use of sweatshop production in the Los Angeles area. After the DOL crackdown, Guess agreed to institute a monitoring system for their subcontractors. This promise earned Guess an entry on the Department of Labor's "Trendsetter" list. Guess's trendsetting behavior largely consisted of sham inspections and sweatshop business as usual.
Guess was recently caught once again using sweatshop labor when a DOL investigation disclosed that Guess receives apparel from a Los Angeles factory paying less than the minimum wage. The DOL has placed Guess on probation for 60 days.
Meanwhile, Guess workers represented by UNITE textile workers union are trying to get Guess to bargain a contract with them. So far, Guess has refused. Guess workers are asking consumers to put pressure on the company during the critical holiday shopping season. People interested in leafleting a Guess outlet in their community may contact UNITE for an action packet and for their 8- minute video on the campaign (available in English and Spanish): (202) 347-7417 815 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006.
El Salvador Labor Rights Campaign: December Activities
The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) continues its El Salvador labor rights campaign with a focus on US/AID. AID helps the government of El Salvador to set up free trade zones but makes no effort to ensure that workers rights are respected in those zones.
During the holidays, many of the maquilas lay off substantial portions of their workforce to avoid paying a Christmas bonus. CISPES will be doing tabling and leafleting on this issue during December.
To become involved in the El Salvador labor rights campaign or to receive copies of the "Sweatgear" catalog, contact CISPES at: (212) 229-1290 firstname.lastname@example.org 19 W 21st Street, #502, New York, NY 10010.
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