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Category Archives: Wage Slavery
Posted: May 14, 2020 at 6:01 pm
Through the public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are witness to another massive tragedy of workers being abandoned by their employers and, above all, by the state. The workers right to go home was curbed using the Disaster Management Act, 2005. No provisions were made for their food, shelter, or medical relief. Wage payments were not ensured, and the states cash and food relief did not cover most workers.
Full coverage | Lockdown displaces lakhs of migrants
Staring at starvation, lakhs of workers started walking back home. Many died on the way. More than a month later, the Centre issued cryptic orders permitting their return to their home States. Immediately employer organisations lobbied to prevent the workers from leaving. Governments responded by delaying travel facilities for the workers to ensure uninterrupted supply of labour for employers.
Employers now want labour laws to be relaxed. The Uttar Pradesh government has issued an ordinance keeping in abeyance almost all labour statutes including laws on maternity benefits and gratuity; the Factories Act, 1948; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Industrial Establishments (Standing Orders) Act, 1946; and the Trade Unions Act, 1926. Several States have exempted industries from complying with various provisions of laws. The Confederation of Indian Industry has suggested 12-hour work shifts and that governments issue directions to make workers join duty failing which the workers would face penal actions.
Thus, after an organised abandonment of the unorganised workforce, the employers want the state to reintroduce laissez-faire and a system of indenture for the organised workforce too. This will take away the protection conferred on organised labour by Parliament.
The move is reminiscent of the barbaric system of indentured labour introduced through the Bengal Regulations VII, 1819 for the British planters in Assam tea estates. Workers had to work under a five-year contract and desertion was made punishable. Later, the Transport of Native Labourers Act, 1863 was passed in Bengal which strengthened control of the employers and even enabled them to detain labourers in the district of employment and imprison them for six months. Bengal Act VI of 1865 was later passed to deploy Special Emigration Police to prevent labourers from leaving, and return them to the plantation after detention. What we are witnessing today bears a horrifying resemblance to what happened over 150 years ago in British India.
Also read | The face of exploitation
Factory workers too faced severe exploitation and were made to work 16-hour days for a pittance. Their protests led to the Factories Act of 1911 which introduced 12-hour work shifts. Yet, the low wages, arbitrary wage cuts and other harsh conditions forced workers into debt slavery.
The labour laws in India have emerged out of workers struggles, which were very much part of the freedom movement against oppressive colonial industrialists. Since the 1920s there were a series of strikes and agitations for better working conditions. Several trade unionists were arrested under the Defence of India Rules.
The workers demands were supported by our political leaders. Britain was forced to appoint the Royal Commission on Labour, which gave a report in 1935. The Government of India Act, 1935 enabled greater representation of Indians in law-making. This resulted in reforms, which are forerunners to the present labour enactments. The indentured plantation labour saw relief in the form of the Plantations Labour Act, 1951.
By a democratic legislative process, Parliament stepped in to protect labour. The Factories Act lays down eight-hour work shifts, with overtime wages, weekly offs, leave with wages and measures for health, hygiene and safety. The Industrial Disputes Act provides for workers participation to resolve wage and other disputes through negotiations so that strikes/lockouts, unjust retrenchments and dismissals are avoided. The Minimum Wages Act ensures wages below which it is not possible to subsist. These enactments further the Directive Principles of State Policy and protect the right to life and the right against exploitation under Articles 21 and 23. Trade unions have played critical roles in transforming the life of a worker from that of servitude to one of dignity. In the scheme of socio-economic justice the labour unions cannot be dispensed with.
The Hindu Explains|How can inter-State workers be protected?
The Supreme Court, in Glaxo Laboratories v. The Presiding Officer, Labour (1983), said this about the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946: In the days of laissez-faire when industrial relations was governed by the harsh weighted law of hire and fire, the management was the supreme master, the relationship being referable to a contract between unequals... The developing notions of social justice and the expanding horizon of socio-economic justice necessitated statutory protection to the unequal partner in the industry namely, those who invest blood and flesh against those who bring in capital... The movement was from status to contract, the contract being not left to be negotiated by two unequal persons but statutorily imposed.
Any move to undo these laws will push the workers a century backwards. Considering the underlying constitutional goals of these laws, Parliament did not delegate to the executive any blanket powers of exemption. Section 5 of the Factories Act empowers the State governments to exempt only in case of a public emergency, which is explained as a grave emergency whereby the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance. There is no such threat to the security of India now. Hours of work or holidays cannot be exempted even for public institutions. Section 36B of the Industrial Disputes Act enables exemption for a government industry only if provisions exist for investigations and settlements.
Also read | Are Indias labour laws too restrictive?
The orders of the State governments therefore lack statutory support. Labour is a concurrent subject in the Constitution and most pieces of labour legislation are Central enactments. The U.P. government has said that labour laws will not apply for the next three years. Even laws to protect basic human rights covering migrant workers, minimum wages, maternity benefits, gratuity, etc. have been suspended. How can a State government, in one fell swoop, nullify Central enactments? The Constitution does not envisage approval by the President of a State Ordinance which makes a whole slew of laws enacted by Parliament inoperable in the absence of corresponding legislations on the same subject.
Almost all labour contracts are now governed by statutes, settlements or adjudicated awards arrived through democratic processes in which labour has been accorded at least procedural equality. Such procedures ensure progress of a nation.
In Life Insurance Corporation v. D. J. Bahadur & Ors (1980), the Supreme Court highlighted that any changes in the conditions of service can be only through a democratic process of negotiations or legislation. Rejecting the Central governments attempt to unilaterally deny bonus, the Court said, fundamental errors can be avoided only by remembering fundamental values, as otherwise there would be a lawless hiatus.
Also read | RSS affiliate BMS to protest against labour laws suspension in U.P., M.P., Gujarat
The orders and ordinances issued by the State governments are undemocratic and unconstitutional. The existing conditions of labour will have to be continued. Let us not forget that global corporations had their origins in instruments of colonialism and their legacy was inherited by Indian capital post-Independence. The resurgence of such a colonial mindset is a danger to the society and the well-being of millions and puts at risk the health and safety of not only the workforce but their families too.
In the unequal bargaining power between capital and labour, regulatory laws provide a countervailing balance and ensure the dignity of labour. Governments have a constitutional duty to ensure just, humane conditions of work and maternity benefits. The health and strength of the workers cannot be abused by force of economic necessity. Labour laws are thus civilisational goals and cannot be trumped on the excuse of a pandemic.
R. Vaigai and Anna Mathew are advocates practising at the Madras High Court
Posted: at 6:01 pm
Labor, land, capital and entrepreneurship underlie all economic activity, and all four are so profoundly intertwined that when one falters, the others stumble too.
Economists refer to these as the factors of production. To understand how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the economy, all four need examination.
More than 30 million people have filed claims for unemployment insurance since our governments began ordering businesses shuttered in March. The world has never seen the labor force contract on such an enormous scale or at such a rapid pace.
Unemployment rates will soon reach the mid-teens. The $600 a week federal supplement for workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 will help, but the bigger problem is those who do not qualify. They will weigh heavily on the economy.
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Land value is typically a reflection of a propertys income potential, either from commercial activity or residential use. When companies close, they struggle to pay leases. When people lose jobs, they fall short when the rent or mortgage comes due. Land values of all kinds are in trouble.
Americas pessimism shows up in the residential housing market, where new home sales are down 15 percent, and housing starts are down 22 percent, the Census Bureau reports. Construction workers are losing jobs, which contributes to the downward cycle.
Fewer people shopping for homes means sellers cut prices. Personal wealth evaporates, and people spend less.
Brick-and-mortar stores, already closing due to e-commerce, are creating even larger holes in the retail market. Nieman Marcus, JC Penney and J. Crew are among dozens of retailers considering or filing for bankruptcy.
Smart mall owners have been recruiting new kinds of tenants, such as restaurants, movie theaters and gyms. But consumers now avoid those businesses for fear of COVID-19.
More than a quarter of Houstons office space is already empty, with an astonishing 61 million square feet of available and another 3.4 million under construction, the Greater Houston Partnership reports.
San Antonio has a 10 percent vacancy rate with 1.5 million square feet under construction, according to NAI Partners, a commercial real estate firm. But more companies are moving out than moving in, according to data from the first three months of the year.
Office building tenants are also laying off workers or asking many to work from home. Companies desperate to save money will likely shrink their floor space as much as possible.
Landlords and banks are doing what they can to help struggling families and businesses. Mortgage companies have given 7 percent of their clients permission to skip a payment. Commercial landlords are providing shuttered businesses breaks on rent.
Yet such generosity has long-term effects on property values, according to MSCI, a global financial data analysis firm. When landlords see reduced income from their property, appraisers mark down its value.
We often hear that were all in this together, but that goes beyond the risk of disease. We need to remember we also share the same economy, which depends on the flow of capital.
The government and the Federal Reserve recognize that unemployment, lost rents and lower property values compound one another to worsen economic recessions. They have injected capital into the markets to prevent a death spiral.
President Donald Trump and Congress have authorized $3.6 trillion in spending, while the Federal Reserve has announced $8.6 trillion in financial support. About 95 percent of the money is going to businesses.
Stock markets rally on news of every new program because they hope the cash will spur companies to rehire workers, who will pay their rent and buy more stuff. But so far, the unemployment numbers keep climbing, lines at food banks get longer, and the economy keeps shrinking.
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If the numbers do not turn, we may discover that governments cannot spend their way out of this recession. In some places, the problems are more fundamental. If people do not resume travel, Houstons energy economy will not recover, and San Antonios tourism industry cannot restart.
The coronavirus experience is changing businesses and economies in unpredictable ways. Our fourth factor, entrepreneurship, will make the difference.
Successful entrepreneurs identify a societal problem and create a business to solve it: the more problems, the more opportunities. As COVID-19 changes our lives and presents new challenges, entrepreneurs will profit from addressing them.
The Great Recession led millions to give up wage slavery and open new businesses. Most new companies will need real estate as they grow, hire laborers and build capital.
This is, of course, the business cycle. As long as humans survive, we will be in one, and therein lies endless hope and optimism.
Tomlinson writes commentary about business, economics and policy.
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Posted: at 6:01 pm
For quite a while now, Ramadan comes handy as the Holy month of spiritual grounding or for what Farid Esack, the South African Scholar and former Commissioner for Gender Equality under Nelson Mandelas government called rootlessness with the communities, in his thought-for-food book entitled Finding a Religious Path in the World Today .
Of course my spiritual grounding during the month of mercy-seeking is in Kaduna, Ilorin and Makkah (in-that-order!). For over a decade , Ramadan offers an ample flight from work- overload, a kind of un-official holiday from the endless distractive work schedules that toss one from one part of the world to the other.It is pleasant to be over-employed in the age of massive unemployment and underemployment.
But are we to live to work or are we working to live and worship? We definitely need some balance, which often tilts in favor of work drudgery or what V.I Lenin, the 20th Bolshevik revolutionary, aptly called wage-slavery. Its been a battle to harmonize my spiritual calendar with religion-blind work erratic schedules.
I recall that last year, I started 2019 Ramadan in Brussels where I attended IndustriALL Congress Working Group and Executive Board Meetings from 19th May to 23rd May 2019 at ITUC Trade Union House. The then Nigerian Ambassador, Alhaji Ahmed Inusa, to Belgium hosted me and other Nigerian Muslim brothers to Iftar at his Brussels residence.
I had enjoined countless generous Nigerias consular services abroad, especially in Geneva which hosts the ILO, that harbors labour market Stakeholders all over the world annually. I often agonize about the prospects of Ramadan coming to an end, as one is again severed from the month of piety and serenity to the cult of matter, gluttony, noise making, work and the newest anti-faith, fake news . I deliberately refused to attend ILO conference every year, as the calendar of the UN agency increasingly falls into Ramadan. Luckily, last year the opening session of the ILO 108th centenary Conference held first week of June after the Ramadan.
Managing the spiritual and the secular had been my lot in the last three decades of work without rest.The point cannot be overstated: our world is (or should be) both spiritual and secular.
Any attempt to separate the two pushes us further into the abyss of ruination, material and spiritual poverty.Certainly not at times like this. COVID: 19 pandemic, which has hit 4,197,142 million mark cases with over 277,000 deaths worldwide, tasks our imagination for both spiritual and scientific reflections. For the past five months, globally religion, spirituality and science, rationality and epistemology make up the two sides of the same existential coin!
The pandemic theme runs through many Ramadan messages by religious and temporal leaders.President Muhammadu Buhari had congratulated all Muslims who witness this challenging years Ramadan fast. Some 150 have died, as many as 4651 are infected, 901 have recovered.
No thanks to the pandemic. But these are loved ones, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, not just Statistics. With aspirations distorted.
The President was on point in urging for measured socializing to avoid risking spreading the Coronavirus during the Holy month.
The real significance of Ramadan however is in its intrinsic values that include forbearances, discipline, mercy, forgiveness and sacrifice. Its one of the five pillars of Islam.First it is obligatory with defined exceptions and the discipline it imposes. Muslims certainly dont need sermons again on the imperative of personal hygiene (washing of hands) which we are enjoined to do before all prayers. I am often reminded of-the Islams pragmatism. It makes Ramadan fasting a loud social compulsion as distinct from a private affair.
And think about it .How difficult it would have been for individuals to live their spiritual doors open, by abstaining from food, drink, sex from dawn to sunset for a full moon month while others keep their spiritual doors shut and neck and body deep in indulgence.
Muslims live in a world of diverse faiths but it is remarkable that even at best of times, Muslims and non-Muslim alike (who are under no spiritual obligation to fast) still respect this spiritual/ social month long compulsion. COVID-19 has paradoxically made this years Ramadan a kind of universal compulsion in Nigeria.
All spiritual and temporal doors are widely open in the effort to overcome the challenge of the pandemic.The undercurrent lesson of Ramadan at the time of pandemic is the need for communal solidarity to cement our collective God consciousness so as to tame the spread of the Virus through prayers and wearing of face masks, washing of hands and respect for all public health protocols.
A Virus is defined as an ubiquitous piece of parasitic DNA. A cupful of seawater is said to contain more viruses than the entire human population of 8 billion.
Just imagine how many viruses would fill a bucket or are in the seven seas that encircle our globe! Interestingly, out of the trillions of viruses, God empowers only 219 viruses to target humans. And if one Virus could put the whole world on a tenterhooks just within four months as Coronavirus is audaciously rampaging, its better imagine if additional one Virus is on the loose. We have revealed the Quran in the month of Ramadan says Allah in the Quran, a guidance for humankind.
Thus let those who witness the month fast.As for others who may be ill or travelling, let them complete it some other time. Allah desires ease for you and not difficulty or discomfort (Q. 2:185) Kindly note that the Qurans injunction addresses point-blank humankind not race, tribe or class and the injunction is all inclusive.
The exclusion is on the compassionate practical and verifiable grounds of illness and travelling and not our artificially created purchasable status of first class or VIPs or distinguished or Honourables. I bear witness that throughout this month the difference would not be clear between the hitherto visible rich and the obviously miserable poor before the Ramadan.
We are daily erecting class society as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Does it dawn on us that the rampaging Virus is also class and race blind? It takes head on some governors no less it attacks some Almajiris? We are at liberty to keep on agonizing about the unproved conspiracy theory of its causes.
We can even fuel unhelpful controversies over its cures. What is undeniable is its indiscriminate borderless spread. COVID-19 has exposed the futility of our fortress mentality expressed in thousands of artificially contrived walls, from border wall between Israel and the West Bank to proposed Donald Trumps Mexico border wall. Its clear that solidarity not personalization would assist to contain the infections.
If so why the selective criminalization and feverish deportations of Almajiris to their states of origin? Whence the empathy during the month we are all seeking for Allahs mercy and at times like this in which an infection to all is a threat to all?
The mosques and churches are rightly under lock and keys.But days and nights men and women of faiths especially during the last ten days of Ramadan, are still seeking extra bonus from Allahs bagful of mercies to forgive our shortcomings and make us overcome the present afflictions.
Issa Aremu, Member, National Institute, Kuru Jos
Posted: at 6:01 pm
For decades, prisoners in American correctional facilities have worked for no wages or mere pennies an hour. As the United States attempts to reduce transmission of COVID-19, more than a dozen states are now relying on this captive labor force to manufacture personal protective equipment badly needed by health care workers and other frontline responders.
Prisoners in Missouri are currently earning between $0.30 and $0.71 an hour to produce hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and protective gowns that will be distributed across the state. In Louisiana, prisoners are making hand sanitizer for about $0.40 an hour. And in Arkansas, where incarcerated workers are producing cloth masks for prisoners, correctional officers, and other government workers, their labor is entirely uncompensated.
This unprecedented health emergency is re-exposing how our countrys long-held practice of paying nothing or next-to-nothing for incarcerated labor, with no labor protections, is akin to modern-day slavery.
Prisoners are not protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law establishing minimum wage and overtime pay eligibility for both private sector and government workers. In 1993, a federal appeals court held that it is up to Congress, not the courts, to decide whether the FLSA applies to incarcerated workers.
Courts have also ruled that the National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees the right of private sector employees to collective bargaining, does not apply in prisons.
Even worse, prisoners are excluded from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration protections that require employers to provide a safe working environment. This dehumanizing lack of protection for prison workers has long subjected them to conditions that have endangered their physical safety.
Amid a health threat that worsens in crowded environments, many prisoners are working without any mandated protections. Congress must amend the language of federal employment protections to explicitly extend to work behind bars.
Forced labor in prisons has its roots in the post-Civil War Reconstruction period, when Southern planters faced the need to pay the labor force that had long worked for free under brutal conditions to produce the economic capital of the South.
Though the 13th Amendment abolished involuntary servitude, it excused forcible labor as punishment for those convicted of crimes. As a result, Southern states codified punitive laws, known as the Black Codes, to arbitrarily criminalize the activity of their former slaves.
Loitering and congregating after dark, among other innocuous activities, suddenly became criminal. Arrest and conviction bound these alleged criminals to terms of incarceration, often sentenced to unpaid labor for wealthy plantation owners.
For news and guidance on organizing in your workplace during the coronavirus crisis, click here.
In the following decades, Southern states, desperate for cheap labor and revenue, widely began leasing prisoners to local planters and Northern industrialists who took responsibility for their housing and feeding, a practice known as convict leasing.
Under this system, the captive labor worked long hours in unsafe conditions, often treated as poorly as they had been as slaves. Records approximate that on an average day between 1885 and 1920, 10,000 to 20,000 prisonersthe overwhelming majority of them Black Americanscontinued to toil under these insufferable circumstances.
In the 1930s, a series of laws prohibited state prisons from using prison labor, but the federal government continued to rely on this workforce to meet the demands of the rapidly changing markets of mid-century. By 1979, Congress passed legislation allowing state corrections officials to collaborate with private industries to produce prison-made goods, birthing the modern era of prison labor.
Today, approximately 55 percent of the American prison population works while serving their sentences. Prison jobs are broadly divided into two categories: prison support worksuch as food preparation, laundry services, and maintenance workand correctional industries jobs, in which prisoners might make license plates, sew military uniforms, or staff a call center. It is prisoners in correctional industries who are currently being deployed to help meet the nations need for protective gear.
While so many behind bars are manufacturing items the country desperately needs to combat our health crisis, their low wages and lack of labor protections, among myriad other factors, mean they are not accorded the same benefits or recognition as other workers.
Whats more, the measly cents per hour that is typical compensation across often-dangerous prison jobs is not nearly enough to cover the court fees and fines, restitution, child support, and room and board expenses that most state departments of corrections deduct from prisoners earnings. When there is anything left, it is barely enough to pay for commissary goods such as food, hygienic products, and toiletries, let alone marked-up email services that prisoners rely on to stay in touch with their loved ones. Despite working for years, many prisoners are left with thousands of dollars in crippling debt by the time they complete their sentences.
In 2018, prisoners in dozens of facilities across the country went on strike and issued a list of demands, which included an immediate end to prison slavery and that prisoners be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.
This time of national emergency requires that everyone do their part to slow the spread of coronavirus. The significant shortage of face masks, protective gowns, and hand sanitizer that is putting the lives of our frontline workers in jeopardy necessitates bold and swift action. But if the states and federal government are going to rely on correctional labor to manufacture this equipment, they need to improve the wages and labor protections of our incarcerated workers. To fail to do so is not far off from the devaluation and brutalization of slave labor that was ostensibly abandoned a century and a half ago.
This piece originally appeared at the Brennan Center.
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Posted: at 6:01 pm
(Kenan Kitchen, Unsplash)
This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration ofThe European Stingwith theWorld Economic Forum.
As COVID-19 upturns supply chains around the world, consumers are increasingly conscious of where their food comes from.
Shoppers in the developed world, used to supermarkets stocking seasonal food all year round, faced empty shelves in late March as retailers grappled with a spike in demand and uneven supply from producers struggling under new lockdown rules.
At the same time, dairy farmers saw prices collapse as restaurants and cafes closed their doors indefinitely, causing a 70% drop in demand from the food sector. Many were left with no option but to dump unsold milk. Now there are fears that fruit and vegetables will be left to rot in fields, as travel bans to curb the spread of COVID-19 have left farms across western Europe short of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers.
In the UK, some 70,000-80,000 seasonal pickers are usually needed, but travel restrictions mean migrant workers cant fill the vacancies. So the government has launched a Pick for Britain scheme to redeploy students and furloughed workers on farms across the country. There are concerns however, over how sustainable this will be if lockdown is lifted in June and many are able to return to their jobs.
Spain, the EUs biggest exporter of fruit and vegetables, faces similar shortages. Its government has said it will allow illegal immigrants to take farm jobs alongside the unemployed, an idea also being aired in Italy. Italys agriculture minister, Teresa Bellanova, said: For those who do not have legal documents, but who have perhaps worked in the fields, they should become legalized.
Germany and France have launched job-matching schemes, appealing for people who have lost work during the pandemic to plug the gap. The German government launched a website called The Land Helps to link farmers with the millions of people whose workplaces have closed, and with students whose exams have been cancelled.
Around 70 people from migrant and asylum seeker shelters in Seine-et-Marne, east of Paris, responded to calls to harvest berries and asparagus. The Guardian reports that they will receive contracts and at least the minimum wage. But the scheme is fraught with difficulties, with refugee advocates worried about modern slavery.
In the US, many farms are responding to the crisis by selling direct to consumers, a trend some small-scale producers hope will outlast the pandemic. Simon Huntley, founder of Harvie, a company that helps farmers market and sell their products online, told Reuters: I think we are getting a lot of new people into local food that have never tried buying from their local farmer before.
Many are adopting a community-supported agriculture (CSA) programme. One CSA in Wisconsin is using Harvie to offer customers in the area a selection of 95 products, from vegetables to honey and meat. Chris Duke, one of the farmers, said the farms made about $7,000 between them over one week in April, which is huge for a season when not much is growing.
In India, there is growing interest in a decades-old programme for farmers to supply fresh produce directly to consumers. Back in 2000, the government in Maharashtra State created smaller, less congested weekly markets in urban areas where growers can sell their produce, rather than going through large wholesalers.
During the pandemic, most producers are minimizing contact by selling pre-packed, customized packets of vegetables. In several areas of Pune and Mumbai, these decentralized markets have given way to growers delivering directly to the gates of housing societies. Elsewhere in Maharashtra, the Paani Foundation is collecting surplus produce from farmers for distribution, in order to reduce crowds at vegetable markets and ensure almost door-to-door delivery.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?
A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.
Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forums mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect peoples livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.
As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.
3. Living the good life, vicariously
Meanwhile in France, city-dwellers who have been locked down for two months are being offered a taste of the good life via a new television service. Cultivons Nous.tv is styled as a Netflix for farming. It streams news, documentaries and clips filmed by farmers, to give a true picture of the hard work that goes into feeding the nation.
The subscription platform has been set up by Edouard Bergeon, a farmer and film director, and Guillaume Canet, a French film star, with the aim of educating the urban population.
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COVID-19 outbreaks in German slaughterhouses expose grim working conditions in meat industry – Euronews
Posted: at 6:01 pm
Working conditions for migrants in German slaughterhouses are under the spotlight after more than 200 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at a factory in Coesfeld, in the west of the country.
Coronavirus outbreaks have also been identified in at least two other meat processing plants in Germany. The majority of those infected were from Romania and Bulgaria.
Officials say the virus most likely spread through shared staff housing, and the outbreaks are drawing attention to the industrys difficult working conditions.
"Workers in the German meat industry work very often through subcontractors, not for the slaughterhouses themselves, and the working conditions at these subcontractors are often very, very bad," said Szabolcs Sepsi, a counsellor at DGB Fair Mobility, which defends migrant workers rights in Germany.
These workers contend with "extremely long working hours" insecure jobs and often squalid housing, Sepsi told Euronews in a live interview, adding that they typically share their bedroom with two or three other people and are shuttled to work together.
"Their living conditions simply do not allow social distancing measures," he said.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle spoke to meat workers crammed in decrepit homes, writing that the outbreaks exposed "modern slavery" in the industry.
There have been outbreaks of COVID-19 at slaughterhouses in a number of countries in recent weeks, mostly in the United States but also in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Spain.
The trend is starting to expose an uncomfortable reality: much of the cheap meat on Western supermarket shelves is slaughtered by migrant workers who earn low wages, often live together in dorms and operate in crowded working conditions even in the midst of a pandemic.
"Its mostly the workers in the meat industry and other food industries who are actually paying the price for this cheap meat and for the cheap food," Sepsi said.
After years of debate and controversy, Germany introduced a minimum wage in 2015. It stands at around 1,500 per month gross for full-time workers.
But Sepsi says the various laws introduced over the past decade to improve the lives of migrant workers in the German meatpacking industry only address the symptoms and not the root of the problem: the fact that most slaughterhouse workers are hired by subcontractors that try to undercut each other.
"We believe the slaughtering companies have to hire people directly and give them direct jobs," he said, adding this would help workers afford their own apartments instead of having to live together in dormitories during a pandemic.
You can watch the interview in the video player above.
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Posted: at 6:01 pm
Covid-19 is ravaging vulnerable communities, and can be prevented if the root causes of inequality are addressed.
'Inequality' is an insurgent word pervading popular and policy discourse since the 2008 financial crisis. From discussions surrounding Occupy Wall Street to Thomas Pikettys widely acclaimed book Capital (centered around income inequality), the concept of social, economic and political inequality rears its head in several contexts.
While someBritish politicians have implied and the New York governor has referred to the virus as the great equaliser, others have called it the inequality virus revealing the sharp equity gradient in societies globally.
While income inequality alone is a definite fault-line through which the coronavirus is expressing its devastation, a nuanced narrative is emerging through the statistics coming out of countries with marginalised ethnic minorities like the United Kingdom and the United States.
These stories are diverse but share some core themes which point to disparities in survival which follow racial or ethnic lines.
Available statistics are often rudimentary but aggregated data from some US states which have accounted for race and ethnicity are gradually emerging. These (as of April 30th) reveal a disturbing picture that black Americans across most states are experiencing coronavirus related deaths at elevated rates, relative to their population, in 31 of the 39 jurisdictions as analysed by the APM research lab.
Interestingly, a similar trend is noted in the UK. A recent analysis of four datasets reveal that the black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have experienced disproportionately higher deaths among NHS staff as well as hospital and community deaths from the coronavirus.
Remarkably, the first 10 doctors to die from the coronavirus in the UK were all from minority communities.
These statistics are jarring, but come as no surprise. Racial and ethnic minority groupings face increased risk from coronavirus related death and illness (morbidity and mortality) through three major downstream pathways: increased direct exposure to the virus, poorer baseline health status including increased chronic conditions and finally through less accessible and lower quality healthcare.
As decontextualised risk factors it may seem logical that interventions at these levels would lead to health improvements and hopefully lower overall risk when faced with a future pandemic.
The problem though, is that these risks, like the coronavirus, are not neutral functions of nature or inevitable biology. They are a consequence of upstream determinants which are very much influenced by human intent.
It could be argued that these poor health outcomes in ethnic minority groupings could be accounted for by a lower socioeconomic status - since a poorer health status and lower income levels have well established associations.
However, US studies around the racial opportunity gap show us that when each income level is analysed, health disparities between black Americans and white racial groupings persist. Many of the upstream factors accounting for this are related to spatial issues linked to segregation.
Health inequalities have been proven to follow racial lines through various, and often interlinked pathways both at an individual level - through the individual experience of racial discrimination having a proven direct effect on health - as well as at the structural level.
Structural racism that perpetuates health inequalities have some similarities when looking at the US and the UK. These root issues include education, employment, income, housing, and proximity to pollution.
These factors place disadvantaged populations at greater risk of chronic and underlying health conditions which may allow for greater morbidity and mortality from the coronavirus.
BAME groupings, both in the US and the UK face increased exposure to the coronavirus as a result of the areas in which they live. In urban areas, these are often densely populatedspaces with overcrowded housing which may face multiple environmental risks.
These areas face chronic underinvestment from both government and the private sector leading to poorer educational opportunities and weaker health systems, especially in the US where citizens dont have the benefit of an National Health Service like the UK.
We see that black Americans and BAME populations in the UK are more likely to hold jobs which put them at greater risk to coronavirus exposure.
In the UK, "Pakistanis, black Africans and black Caribbeans are overrepresentedamong key workers overall," placing them at greater risk of "contact with contagious individuals."
Intriguingly, trends in the US are comparable to the UK where, "Black workers are about 50% more likely to work in the healthcare and social assistance industry and 40% more likely to work in hospitals, compared with white workers."
In the US, where income is tied to access to healthcare and health outcomes, there is still a wide household incomedifferential between black American and white households.
Individual income is also linked to food security and safe housing which are some of the underlying determinants of chronic conditions which then prove to be risk factors for coronavirus related morbidity and mortality.
As of 2018 (even after the Affordable Care Act), African Americans had an uninsured rateof 9.7 percent compared to 5.4 percent among whites. This translates to less health-seeking behaviour and less control of chronic conditions which may predispose these individuals to severe illness as a result of the coronavirus infection.
Among the uninsured, there may also be a reluctance to seek treatment for symptoms of the coronavirus infection because of the threat of out of pocket payments. These payments impact already-strained household budgets with resultant secondary adverse health impacts from decreased household financial reserves.
It's not theory
How we chose to explain these factors which place ethnic minorities at greater risk matters, because it has a bearing on outcomes.
Failing to recognise the root causes of health inequalities which follow ethnic lines means that interventions aimed at secondary measures will simply allow inequalities to persevere through other pathways.
Tying factors like education, occupation and housing to individual effort and choice erroneously misses the root cause of these issues.
The reality is that these inequalities need to be considered through the paradigm of structural, cultural and individual-level racism.
The individual experience of racism is well known to have direct effects on health, with emotional distress leading to physiological consequences including hypertension.
Centering risk factors for morbidity and mortality from the coronavirus around discussions ofVitamin D deficiency or explaining that unhealthy lifestyle choices places blame at the level of the individual.
By holding individual choice and cultural factors responsible for health differentials, broader entrenched prejudices and discrimination are obfuscated.
Here, the legacy of federal policies which have entrenched segregation or redlining and mortgage discrimination can be overlooked becuse inequalities in death and illness from the coronavirus are then tied to and bound within the bodies of ethnic minorities.
In the US, the argument around innate biological differences being responsible for health differentials dates back to slavery where there was a need to justify enslavement of Africans.
We see this same pattern playing out with some science attempting to sidestep issues of socioeconomic stratification along racial and ethnic lines with the vitamin D discussion as well as the provision of culturally bound reasons for certain groupings having a greater prevalence of chronic health conditions.
Are African Americans and BAME groupings destined to be low wage, front-line, high exposure jobs because of biological predisposition or would the legacy of racial segregation, redlining and chronic underinvestment in health, environmental and educational services be a more plausible rationale for higher coronavirus related mortality rates within certain communities?
These questions require evidence-based, theoretical probing and morally driven answers. As society conducts a collective post-mortem, an honest body of evidence needs to emerge so that the tragedy unfolding before us is not repeated.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion please send them via email, to email@example.com
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Policymakers need to rethink the way we measure economic success in America, according to Clinton and Obamas chief economic adviser Gene Sperling -…
Posted: at 6:01 pm
Gene Sperling served as the director of the National Economic Council under both President Clinton and President Obama.
Sperlings new book Economic Dignity questions the way political leaders in Washington measure the countrys economic success and what they consider to be economic issues. Following is a transcript of the video.
Sara Silverstein: Gene, I cant think of a better time for this book to come out than at this inflection point where were all rethinking what the economy really is. How do you define economic dignity in your book?
Gene Sperling: So I wanted to step back after all the years Ive done policymaking and write something not about what our GDP target should be, or even a wage target, but really, why do we want to achieve those metrics? Whats the ultimate economic aspiration?
So I set out to define what should our actual North Star be in lifting up people. And I arrived at this definition, economic dignity, that basically rests on three pillars. Your capacity to care for your family and to be there for lifes most precious moments thats the first pillar. The second pillar is can all of us have first and second chances to pursue purpose, potential, and meaning in our life? And three, can people contribute and work economically with respect as opposed to domination and humiliation?
And I want to say that keeping our eye on this North Star for economic policy would lead us to serve people better, to get less distracted by the metrics or the policy fights of the day.
And I think youre absolutely right. This has been kind of a moment of truth on economic dignity. In my book, I mentioned that Martin Luther King at the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968, he says his famous line, All labor has dignity. But the line he says leading up to that is, Someday our nation will come to realize that the sanitation worker is as essential as the physician for our health and well-being. And Sara, I think probably people would have thought those were beautiful words before, but I think this is that moment where people are seeing, theyre taking a second look at farm workers who we couldnt survive without and perhaps asking, Is it right they only have 50% of them have healthcare? Or the home health aides and nursing aides who were applauding as they go to work. And yet they make $12, $14 an hour. And 47% of them couldnt take a day of paid sick leave.
So I think it is forcing us to look at the dissonance between who we value, who we think is essential, and how theyre treated economically. And so the temporary moment of truth will be whether we rise to the occasion and make sure people have safety, and are paid with respect, and have paid sick leave. Id say the bigger moment of truth is, will we just go back to normal? Or will this make us rethink what that compact of economic dignity should be for any American whos putting it on the line, working hard, doing what they can to contribute to their country and their family?
Silverstein: And Ive heard you use that word before, compact. What do you mean by that?
Sperling: Well, I think that if you look at FDRs language when he does the New Deal, but I think also just a general feeling in the United States. I think one of the things that unifies us is when people can see each of us as people struggling to do their part. Not everybody can, some people are struggling with disability, addiction, etc. But if we have a compassionate compact not a punitive one where were trying to say, You didnt do everything right, so were going to deny you food relief but one where we say, Were here with you. And the compact is we want to help every American do their share, carry their load. But with that comes a sense that you can raise your family with a degree of dignity. And again, less than one in 10 people who for a living care for other peoples children, could take a day of paid sick leave or day of leave for the birth of their own child. One in eight women are forced economically to come back to work within the first week.
And so, what should that compact be? What should we owe each other? And I think there is a strong sense in America that when youre doing your share, you should be able to live, you should be able to raise your children with a degree of dignity. You should be able to work with a degree of dignity. You should be able to retire with dignity.
Silverstein: And when you look at that from a policy perspective, lets take the meat processing plants if that was restructured to optimize for economic dignity, as opposed to just economic growth, or unemployment, or things like that, what would that look like?
Sperling: Well, I try to make this more of a policy than a philosophy book, but I do quote Immanuel Kants definition of dignity. And Im not trying to go in the weeds here, but its a simple, powerful notion, which is no human being should be treated as if they were purely a means to another persons end. Everyone should be treated as an end with intrinsic value in themselves.
And I think when you see something like the reopening of the economy or the people on the front lines that becomes very real, because I think both the nurses, the health workers, theyre willing to be there essentially as a means to care for our family. But they want people to say, Yes, we care about your safety too. We want you to have the best PPE. And I think that the same goes with the meat workers.
Now, some of the workers ordered back had been in the poultry industry. This is an industry already where you could say that those workers, and perhaps you could say that about warehouse workers for Amazon, etc. are very much treated as if they are just micro-efficiency components to an end goal. And then poultry, for example, regulations have been relaxed so that they have to do 175 birds a minute, which means they have twice the amount of serious injuries, seven times the amount of carpal tunnel syndrome. And there was already a story that said that many had to wear diapers as they work, because there wasnt enough time for a bathroom break. Now thats not being treated with dignity. And I read many of the interviews of the meat workers going back. And I found most of them were saying, Yeah, Im willing to do my part. I can get that what I do is important for the country. But I want to know that were safe. I want to know people care about me. I want them to recognize we have families too.
So I think that were going to talk a lot about the guidelines for reopening all of those things, whether customers will trust going back. But I think a pretty important issue is going to be how we treat the workers who are going back. Do we make clear that theyre just not a means for us to bop GDP up another point, but that we care about them, and that were treating them with that degree of dignity.
Silverstein: And If you optimize for economic dignity, do you believe that there will be more of a payoff for traditional economic measures in the long run? Because it seems that a lot of times when were optimizing for regular economic measures, that there are a lot of unintended consequences, like people feeling humiliated, or like they have no dignity in the workplace.
Sperling: I absolutely believe that a dignified economy can lead to a more growing economy as well. What I just tried to say is that its not that GDP doesnt matter. It can matter. But if you have 4% growth in a country and it all goes to the royal family, thats hardly your economic goal or the top 1/10 of 1%. So GDP should be judged not just on how large it is, but whether it is part of a policy that raises up everybodys well-being. But to give an example of where they can merge, remember my second pillar says everyone should be able to pursue purpose, potential, and meaning. And one of the things I thought that was excellent about the kind of ideals of our founding, granted completely hypocritical when it came to slaves, African-Americans, and women, but still that ideal was that you could always pursue your potential.
We were the first country that got rid of debt prisons. We were the first country to have a bankruptcy that allowed people to have a fresh start. And if you go back even to the 1820s, theyre saying, Yes, this is about the individual being able to always move forward. But well also be a nation that achieves more. So if we reduce the degree of abuse or sexual harassment at the labor force, we should do that just because its the right thing for dignified economy. But yes, it could lead to more participation.
If we see the laid-off steelworker and the young man who has been suffered from racial discrimination and racial barriers their whole life, instead of seeing them as different constituencies, if we say these are both Americans who right now cannot fully achieve their potential, thats a dignity harm for them, but that is a loss of value for all of us.
So yeah, I strongly believe that a dignity agenda is consistent with an economy at full potential.
Silverstein: And how do you view universal basic income through an economic dignity lens?
Sperling: So I have a lot of respect for the values of people pushing universal basic income. Its not what I push in this book because universal basic income, when it says universal, what it means is every single person in the country, you and I included, is going to get the same amount each year. Thats not how we reach universal economic dignity. We need bold measures, but we should do those bold measures to ensure that people whove been doing their part or maybe have suffered a devastating job loss, or injury, or challenge in their life, that were still helping keep them at a level of economic dignity.
And let me take this back to the current. The $1,200 checks that go out, Ive supported those. I think they help a lot of people who fall through the cracks, but theyre not really how we keep people whole. The two major options for keeping people whole is to have a really bold unemployment insurance thats near a hundred percent of wages, so people can keep the lights on and support their family. Or the proposals that youve seen from Congresswoman Jayapal, and Warner, and Sanders, where you actually give money to the company if they keep people on the job. Those are big bold proposals, but theyre not going to the 70% of us who dont need the help. Its ensuring economic dignity for everybody by saying that if youre one of the people that is a victim or hurting with this pandemic, were going to speak boldly. Thats what I think you need big, bold things, but theyre designed to make sure that at any time in your life, if you take a fall or youre kept from rising, that theres a basic wage. That theres a degree of healthcare, and a degree of paid leave, an ability to collectively stand up for yourself or organize that every person should have it every time.
Silverstein: And how bad you think unemployment is right now beyond just the numbers? And how bad you think its going to get?
Sperling: Well, I agree with everybody who feels that it is understated right now. I mean, we know its understated. We know 33 million people have filed claims. We know that the numbers that we saw only covered up to the week of April 12 to the 18th. So its going to get worse. And when we count underemployment, we already know its 22.8%. So I think its going to be very This is a devastating unprecedented period. And yet it is not as complicated in some ways as the financial crisis we or other countries have had, we kind of know what to do. Were just not doing it well. We know wed like to preserve any small business that is viable, that could open their doors later. We know that we dont want families whove done nothing wrong, other than be alive in a once in a hundred or two year pandemic to have, after all their life, have this moment mean they lose their house, they lose their healthcare. They tell their kids they cant really provide for them. And we know how to do that.
And the real question is, are we going to step up to the plate for long enough? And I think we have to. I dont think theres a fiscal concern that makes sense with preserving our economy to that degree. And if we dont, well have more damage, more harm to people, more small businesses that shut their doors forever when they really were a viable business other than the pandemic.
Silverstein: And are you looking to have the current solutions implemented for a long period of time, or are you proposing that we need different fiscal measures?
Sperling: So I think that one has to look at what we need to do to get through this once-in-a-hundred-years crisis. And what makes sense. Now some of those things also coincide with what I would think would be longterm agenda items, universal paid sick leave makes especially, and universal healthcare makes enormous sense right now, because if people cant get healthcare or if they feel compelled to go to work when theyre sick or have symptoms, youre going to have higher community spread, higher hospital surges. So its kind of the smart thing to do now, and we are doing it to a degree. Will that continue?
On unemployment insurance, I just dont think most people realize it only covered 35% to 50% of your paycheck, that every gig worker, or domestic worker that worked for several different employers was never covered, ever. I dont know what did they do? And so they are covered now.
These are important things that I think are improvements that hopefully will be part of that new new deal for workers or an economic dignity compact. But policy-wise, its very clear what you need to do. Youve got state relief, youve got relief for small businesses, and you have relief for unemployed workers. And instead of this drama where were, Whats going to happen with Pelosi and Mnuchin? And every two months . You should just say these things for the crisis dont have to go on forever, but we can say until we get back to something more normal, I mean cant we even say till at least unemployment gets under 8% were going to continue a degree of expanded unemployment insurance, and state relief, and help for small businesses.
And then my hope is when we get past this, well say, lets not go backwards. Lets go forward. This isnt radical. This isnt inconsistent with our values. The notion that if you work hard, you do your part, you contribute, you can raise your family with dignity and be treated with dignity at work is a pretty widespread and longterm American value. And I can give you beautiful words that Republican President Teddy Roosevelt said that very similar to almost everything I said 108 years ago.
Silverstein: And one of the things weve heard a lot with dignity is the dignity of work. Can you talk about the difference between the dignity of work and what youre defining here with economic dignity?
Sperling: Yeah, I set out to do something a little broader. When I looked I spent a lot of time looking at how people use the word dignity, and Joe Biden is very eloquent talking about his father, talking about the, excuse me, a persons paycheck is a job is more than the paycheck. Its about their dignity. Mario Cuomo at the 1984 convention speech, Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin, Cesar Chavez, so many people taught And Sherrod Brown recently. So many people talk about that. What the difference with me was I didnt want it to be just that pull, that theme. I wanted to say this should be our economic North Star.
And to me, that meant if I was serious about that, it couldnt even be just a nice phrase or a nice page. I needed to go through and say these are the three components you have to have that Ive thought about it for years, that you need to have all three. Heres why you do. Heres why its rich in our ideals. And now then go from issue to issue and say, what would that make you do? How would that make you look at the minimum wage? How would that make you look at whether we should accept the degree of segmentation of work? Of having people who do data and cleaning, not considered part of our own workforce? Theres a lot of issues that when you put a dignity lens, you look differently.
And one thing Ive tried to say, because when Ive talked to young economist is, I know what its like in the White House. An issue is often only considered economic when it shows up in an economic metric like labor force participation. And I want to say, if being human is often about your sense of contributing, working, and being able to raise a family and tens of millions of people cant do both, why is that only an economic issue when we can say, Aha, its affecting labor force participation among women 25 to 44. Thats only if we define economics as controlled by metrics. If its about do all people have economic dignity, then you would know that was a first-tier economic issue from the start. And thats, I think a bit how this focus helps us keep the eye on the ball and keeps less people and their economic pain from being invisible to the economic policy world. Silverstein: And before I let you go, is there any economic model that you feel like we need to drastically rethink now that youve looked through everything through this lens of economic dignity?
Sperling: Well, somebody asked me, As an employer what can you do? And the one thing I think people do have to step back on is, I think theres people who are good, caring people, beyond the policymaking at jobs where they just accept a kind of micro-efficiency model. If somebody comes in and says, Sara took an extra minute in the bathroom before she came in. If we could reduce that minute we could increase profits by this or this much. I mean, Matthew Desmond has this article in the 1619 Project where he says that kind of micro-efficiency of people grew out of slavery and cotton producing. Its not human. So when I hear about people sitting and saying, Aha, we can maximize the efficiency of every single thing a person does. That is treating a person like a means to an end.
Real, live people, when we think of ourselves, the people we love, we know that they come to work and they worry about their kids. And occasionally theyre depressed. And occasionally I have to check in on an older parent. Thats what being human is, and to build workforces and policy structures that build in that humanity from the start. And dont start with a micro-efficiency model and then say, Huh, should we give somebody a longer bathroom break? I think thats something that everybody can address in their thinking.
And again, I go back. I think its a terrible thing in our country that so many people who work pretty much full time for major companies that have take your daughter to work days, and birthday parties, and great events, then have people who work there cleaning, providing food that are contractors. They not only get paid less. They not only dont get the benefits. Theyre not even considered part of the team. They dont get invited to the take your daughter to work day, the networking. Why should we accept that? Why should we accept that we have second-class citizenship at work when were a country that is supposed to be based on the notion that all of us, the basic rights have first-class citizenship.
Posted: at 6:01 pm
On April 14, to no ones surprise, Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden for president of the United States. The former president came off as eloquent and calming throughout a 12-minute videoalso unsurprising, as he clearly wishes to fill a Donald Trump-sized chasm in the hearts of worried Americans. Obama emphasized Bidens role in helping the U.S. recover from the last recessionmore predictable praise, given the looming post-COVID-19 economy.
Then, six minutes in, Obama said something that took many off guard. After praising Bernie Sanders, the democratic-socialist senator and erstwhile Biden rival, he claimed that Biden already has what is the most progressive platform of any major party nominee in history.
Really? How could Obama claim that Joe Bidena man who argued repeatedly for the governments right to cut Social Security over his years in the Senate, who voted against busing for desegregation decades ago, who has fundraised millions of Wall Street dollars for his current campaign, who infamously backed the Iraq Warhow could this guy helm the most progressive platform in American history?
There is some merit to the claimalbeit the kind that plays best in debating societies. PolitiFact, a fact-checking site run by the non-profit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, calls it half-true, noting that Biden wants to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, erase past marijuana convictions, shut down private prisons, abolish the death penalty, create a national firearm registry and implement a study into reparations for slavery. He also loudly committed to naming a woman as his running mate, and a Black woman to the Supreme Court. Objectively, these are the most progressive policies Americans have seen in their countrys 243-year history.
READ:Can Joe Biden win the presidency from his living room couch?
The counter-argument: The definition of progressive in 2020 isnt what it was 243 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The title of most progressive can only be examined contemporaneously, not retrospectively. George McGovern, who suffered a huge loss to Richard Nixon in 1972 (fun fact: the same year Biden was first elected to the Senate), pushed an aggressively liberal agenda for his time, including withdrawal from the Vietnam War, amnesty for draft dodgers, a 37 per cent reduction in defence spending over three years, and other environmental and crime policies that, while status quo today, were deemed radical in their day. The question, then, isnt whether Joe Biden is more liberal than any of his predecessors, but whether hes more liberal than any of his contemporaries. That answer is obviously no.
Neither interpretation is wrong. According to David Barker, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, D.C., Bidens progressive promises are less about social progress than frank popularity. That is how Biden has always operated; he modulates his positions based on where the median American voter is, Barker told Macleans in an email. In that way, he has always been squarely in the centre of the Democratic party ideologically, wherever that centre has beennever a lefty and never a true centrist.
That delicate spot, squarely in the middle of a never-ending tug of war between moderates and progressives, is precisely where Biden finds himself trapped right now, as he draws up his platform in the run-up to the November election. Appease the frustrated far left, and he risks alienating the middle; pander too much to the middle, and progressives may simply stay home. For Democrats, this decades-long conundrumhow to advance a liberal agenda without scaring off middle-of-the-road votershas taken on existential implications. Three and a half years ago, a moderately progressive agenda led by the first-ever female nominee pushed middle-of-the-road voters in key swing states into Trumps arms. Has anything changed?
The greatest flashpoint between progressive and moderate Democrats has been Medicare for All, the health-care overhaul pushed by Sanders that would abolish private insurance companies and bring all Americans into a single-payer system. A recent countrywide poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent non-profit health-care organization, found support among 56 per cent of respondents for Medicare for All, but fully 68 per cent for a so-called public option, which is what Biden is proposing. That would allow anyone to buy into Medicare, an affordable program currently available only to seniors.
Bidens more liberal policies might be better received by conservative voters because of COVID-19 (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Still, despite the support, Biden has not etched his health-care plan in stone. Shortly after Sanders dropped out on April 8, crowning Biden the presumptive nominee, Bidens camp shot out two policy proposals ostensibly targeting the Berniesphere: He would lower the age of Medicare from 65 to 60 and forgive student debt for low-income and middle-class individuals who attended public post-secondary institutions and historically Black colleges. In the media, this twofer was widely construed as an overture to the left, which sounded odd, since virtually every other presidential candidate, after clinching the nomination, shifts toward the centre. (The theory is that party members on the extremes will vote for you anyway, so you need to start working on undecided centrists and independents.)
In reality, diehard Sanders supporters were not impressed by those policies. Biden struggles with younger voters, says Luke Savage, a Canadian staff writer at Jacobin, a democratic-socialist magazine based in Brooklyn. He doesnt struggle with older votersthats his base. Lowering the Medicare age eligibility by five years isnt really courting Sanders supporters. (Young progressivesespecially womenmay be even more skeptical of Biden after a former aide, Tara Reade, accused him of sexually assaulting and harassing her in the early 1990s. Biden has denied the allegations and prominent Democrat women seem to be rallying around the candidate rather than his accuser.)
READ:Joe Biden:For those that have been knocked down, counted out, left behind, this is your campaign
Optimistic progressive Democrats have portrayed this as merely a first step in a years-long battle. Theyre hopeful about six joint task forces established by Biden and Sanders in Aprilon climate change, health care, criminal justice, immigration, the economy and educationthat comprise members of both camps, which could lead to further leftward policy shifts.
Even if Biden adjusts his messaging, however, those platforms are unlikely to replace any of his current ones, becauseas with his health-care strategytheyre poll-tested and popular. According to Ryan Pougiales, a senior political analyst at Third Way, a centrist Washington-based think tank, Biden was merely throwing a bone to the left with his Medicare age-lowering compromise. Bidens health-care plan, essentially, is a Medicare public option. So literally anyone has the option of buying into Medicare. Any adjustments he makes between now and November will not substantially change that.
Still, the outreach is meaningful, and it extends beyond Sanders. In mid-March, Biden absorbed Elizabeth Warrens progressive proposal on bankruptcy reform, which would help middle-class Americans move on with their lives more quickly after declaring bankruptcy by waiving fees and protecting them from looming debts.
Democrats across the spectrum point to this consolidation as proof of a quality unknown in todays White House: the candidates ability to listen. While critics blast it as flip-flopping, others hail it as open-mindedness crucial to building a strong coalition. Against Donald Trumps authoritarian tendencies, it may be Democrats greatest weapon. Say what you will about Joe Bidenand hell hear you out.
Hours after Sanders dropped out, eight progressive youth organizations signed a public letter addressed to Biden, and published it on the website of Tom Steyers climate organization, NextGen. The letter is a blueprint for the program that Gen Z, democratic socialists and their progressive allies are hoping Biden will adopt: support Medicare for All, cancel all student debt, legalize marijuana. Biden will almost certainly not do any of that.
But some requests overlap with what he has already promised. For example, the NextGen authors want him to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid dollars being used for abortions; Biden formerly supported the amendment, but openly changed his mind last June. They want greater accountability and transparency for border patrol guards while expanding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; his website promises he will do both. The letter makes no mention of a $15 minimum wagea moot request, since Biden (following Sanderss lead) is already on board.
One could envision the former veep shifting left on other files. His website sketches plansalbeit watered-down versions of what the NextGen authors wantfor investing US$20 billion in crime prevention over incarceration, and laying out a framework for the Green New Deal. Around the same time Biden adopted Warrens bankruptcy proposal, he picked up a 2017 Senate bill, led by Sanders, which would make public colleges and universities tuition-free for students coming from a household with an income less than $125,000.
Promises, however, are one thing; actions are another. Progressives cried out when Biden named Larry Summers, the former president of Obamas National Economic Council, who enjoys close ties with Wall Street executives, as his economic adviser. Serious progressives care as much about appointments as they do about policy. Weve encouraged the Biden campaign to bring on personnel in the campaign, transition and presidency that are committed to fighting for people, not corporations or Wall Street, Chris Torres, a political director at the progressive organization MoveOn, told Macleans in an email.
By including establishment Democrats in his cohort, Biden will never win over all Sanders supporters. But looking at the data, one has to ask: Why bother trying? A Morning Consult poll of 2,300 Sanders fans found that 80 per cent would vote for Biden in November. And while democratic socialists often point to Bidens weakness among younger Americans, who skew progressive, multiple polls from March all showed Biden beating Trump among millennials by at least 10 percentage points. Even if those predictions dont come to pass, younger voters are statistically less likely to vote than older ones, who skew conservative. Crunching the numbers in Vox, the journalist Matthew Yglesias summarized it mathematically: Every voter on the margin between Democrats and Republicans is worth twice as much as every voter on the margin between Democrats and the Green Party.
Yet Biden cannot ignore young Americans, for fear that they might actually vote Green, or not at all, and spoil the outcome in critical states. The delicate political calculation he has to make is how far he can go to mollify the progressive wing, says Matthew Dickinson, a political science professor at Middlebury College in Vermont. He points to Bidens electability argument, that he can win back the disenchanted middle- and working-class white voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania who swung to Trump in 2016 after decades of supporting Democrats. The issue that really divides those Trump supporters is a sense of fairness. They think that the rules have been stacked against them. And anything that smacks of favouritism or elitism, or elevating one group over the concerns of other groups, they tend not to support. For Biden to win back the Rust Belt, hell need to convince voters that a $15 minimum wage, public option and criminal-justice reform are in fact equitable policies.
Luckily for him, that argument may be easier to make in 2020 than it was in 2016, due to the seismic shift brought about by COVID-19. Terry Moe, a political science professor at Stanford University, believes weve been living in a post-Reagan world for decades, where conservative politicians successfully run on anti-government policies, promising retrenchment, lower taxes and less red tape. In the same way the Great Depression led to Roosevelts New Deal in the 1930s, he says, the current pandemic proves how badly we rely on well-funded, effective government. This could be the beginning of a new political era in which politicians run on agendas that promote government capacity and government action in solving social problems, Moe says. That is the progressive agenda.
Democrats will likely link the concept of a strong and equitable government to everything Trump opposes, harkening in some ways to the anything-but-Trump campaign of 2016. The message may sound more convincing after a devastated economy compounds the chaos of Trumps last four years. With a pragmatic, fair, progressive-lite platform, they might be able to convince enough voters to join the blue team.
Policies this early have never been about affecting real change, anyway. Theyre about hope. And at this point, with no standard-bearer left to fight for them, hope is all progressives have.
This article appears in print in the June 2020 issue of Macleans magazine with the headline, Whats left to Biden. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.
Posted: at 6:01 pm
On February 24, Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and rape in the third degree. On Wednesday, March 11, he was sentenced to 23 years in prison. On Thursday, March 19, California issued a stay at home order, the first statewide measure in the United States, and New York followed suit on March 20. On Sunday, March 22, Weinstein tested positive for the coronavirus.
The impact of the Weinstein verdict is not as simple as a win for the #MeToo movement. His sentencing, by a jury that included six men, is good news for women who hope to be successful in court and thus may encourage women to come forward and bring charges against their assailants. But the conviction does not change the culture in which women live, especially women of color and working-class women. These women still live in a world where sexual assault is common, and resources to bring charges are scarce.
This victory for the #MeToo movement will not have the same impact on women and feminism now that the coronavirus crisis has all out attention. Shelter-in-place orders, which are clearly necessary during this crisis, have several unintended effects that will impact #MeToo and other social movements.
First on a long list of these unintended consequences is the fact that women (and children) are forced to stay at home with their abusers. Domestic abuse is on the increase across the world during the lockdowns. The UN has asked governments to take this into account in the ways they address this pandemic.
Second, feminism, womens advances in work and pay, as well as hard-won cultural changes of the past 50 years in the US and abroad, will take a hit. In families with two working parents and children, telework will most often result in women having a triple or at times a quadruple burden: paid work, unpaid housework, childcare (which will now include home-schooling for some) and, at times, elderly care. There will be places where men help or take up an equal share of this burden, but more often than not this will fall on women. In single-mom households, of which many women are low-wage workers who unlikely to telework or who have lost their jobs due to layoffs, survival, not feminism, will be the priority.
Then there is the fact that no one is paying attention to the Weinstein verdict during the coronavirus crisis. This is partly due to so many other pressing concerns and partly to the primacy of the story in the news. This reduces its potential to fuel the movement. To compound the problem, no one can protest or march, or even go to court in some places during a lockdown. Many legal practices have been suspended.
Finally, a recession is imminent. This will mean that fewer people have money to give to organizing efforts and nonprofits will have to lay off staff. Many nonprofits are already feeling the impact.
How will all of this impact the future of the #MeToo movement? While we cannot answer this question, we can look for clues in past crises that led feminist movements to refocus their efforts, and the #MeToo movement can look for guidance and hope in their strategies. Of particular relevance is the womens suffrage movement. During its lifetime, it survived three major crises the American Civil War, World War I and the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 as well as economic recessions, including the panics of 1857 and 1873. What can the current #MeToo movement learn from their reaction to these crises?
First of all, it needs to focus attention on the crisis because the crisis requires it and deserves it. During the Civil War, the womens rights movement directed its energy toward assisting with the war effort. This was a strategic choice as well as a practical one there was really no other choice. The crisis required all hands on deck and did not allow for other issues to take primacy.
The #MeToo movement needs all its organizational strength to assist with the crisis, thereby maintaining member involvement and positive relations with political allies, the press and kindred movements. During the Civil War, the womens rights movement worked with or created groups dedicated to abolition. The womens movement viewed the two issues as related and hoped that after slavery was ended, their allies would assist them in gaining the vote and other womens rights.
The focus on abolition kept women involved, politically savvy and ready to take up the cause again once the war was over. When the United States joined the First World War, many women from various American suffrage organizations assisted with the war effort and with the Spanish pandemic that followed. There is evidence to suggest that they were rewarded in some states for their work during both crises.
Finally, #MeToo needs to look for ways in which its issue and the crisis are interconnected and frame the movement narrative around that. But it must choose carefully. The womens suffrage movement sought to connect the plight of women with that of slaves. This tactic met with mixed reactions. Women were legally chattel at the time, but the reality of life for many white women in the movement was not identical to the reality of life for slave women. Thus, this tactic harmed some of their relations with abolitionists and didnt resonate with the public. But later in the movement, during World War I, women did successfully make the case to President Woodrow Wilson and other political leaders that it was ironic that the US was fighting for democracy abroad when it wasnt truly a democracy at home. So: Connect, but choose wisely and thoughtfully.
How can these lessons be put into in practice? During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the group Women Deliver has highlighted the interconnectedness of this virus and womens issues, thereby maintaining their work on womens issues while simultaneously showing their commitment to ending the pandemic. The frame is thoughtful and relevant. Many womens groups could adopt a similar approach, as we know this virus will have a disproportionate impacton low-wage workers and people of color, but in particular women in both groups.
The #MeToo movement could organize around ways to help women who are stuck at home with an abuser during lockdown orders. While the #MeToo movement has been focused around sexual harassment at work, domestic violence is a close cousin. And the movement certainly could continue to organize around the sexual harassment that female low-wage workers continue to face as essential workers. This is as pressing as ever.
Crafting ways for those active in the movement to remain relevant at this time will help everyone. It will help the movement survive this time when attention is rightly directed elsewhere, it will help women in abusive relationships, and it will help women who continue to be sexually harassed in the workplace and have no recourse during this crisis. Given the roots of the movement, it is a logical step.
The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observers editorial policy.
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