Posts Tagged ‘Worker Safety’

The passing scene: November 1, 2014

November 1, 2014

Common Core and the End of History by Alan Singer for Huffington Post.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Is the purpose of public education to educate citizens or to train employees?   Alan Singer described how the New York State Board of Regents voted to allow high school students to skip final examinations in either American history or global history and substitute an exam or proficiency test in some unspecified vocational-technical subject.  He quoted a teacher on how a school dropped social studies so students would have more time to cram for Common Core standardized math and reading assessments.

Living wages, rarity in U.S. fast-food workers, served up in Denmark by Liz Alderman and Steven Greenhouse for the New York Times.

A Burger King employee in Denmark is paid the equivalent of $20 an hour, about two and a half times his U.S. counterpart.  He gets his work schedule four weeks in advance, and cannot be sent home without pay just because it is a slow business day.  And he enjoys the benefit of Denmark’s universal health care plan.  What’s the secret?  A powerful labor union, which negotiates wages and working conditions on an industry-wide basis.  And employers who are satisfied with a smaller profit as the price of not having extreme poverty.

Americans are working so hard it’s actually killing people by Esther Kaplan for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Under-staffing is dangerous, but it is on the rise as a means of cutting costs and increasing short-term profit.  Workers such as nurses, who are tasked with preserving life, are stretched too thin to be able to do their jobs well.  Workers in dangerous occupations, such as coal mining, neglect safety precautions in order to get the job done on time.  This is a major factor in industrial accidents.  And workers who are pushed to their physical limits are worn down over the years.

Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns by Valerie Strauss for the Washington Post.

An experienced high school teacher spent two days shadowing high school students, one a 10th grader and one a 12th grader, and did everything the students did.  She learned how exhausting it is to spend most of the day sitting still and passively listening, and took away lessons she will use in her teaching.  I think the shadowing exercise should be required in college courses in education.

As infrastructure crumbles, trillions of gallons of water lost by David Schaper of National Public Radio.

Trillions in global cash await call to fix crumbling U.S. by Mark Niquette for Bloomberg News.

Get ready for deja vu in the credit markets by Ben Eisen for Market Watch.

With interest rates being held down by the Federal Reserve System, this would be a great time to issue bonds to perform needed repairs and reconstruction of water and sewerage systems, roads and bridges and other public works.  But now the Fed has decided to end its “qualitative easing,” which held down interest rates, so that window of opportunity is going away.

The Caliph fit to join OPEC by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar speculated on whose interests are served by the fact that ISIS is allowed to sell oil on world markets.

The War Nerd: Crunching Numbers of Kobane by Gary Brecher for Pando Daily.

Gary Brecher discussed the public relations war against ISIS and the appeal of terrorism and war to sexually-frustrated young men.

Free to choose in Bangladesh

April 29, 2013

More than 375 garment workers died last week in Bangladesh as the roof of their building collapsed.  The response of Slate’s Matthew Yglesias was that people in Bangladesh ought to be free to work under unsafe conditions if that is their choice. is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans.  That’s true whether you’re talking about an individual calculus or a collective calculus.  Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.  Rules that are appropriate in Bangladesh would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States.  Split the difference and you’ll get rules that are appropriate for nobody.  The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine.

via MoneyBox.

Notice the rhetorical two-step.  Yglesias switches back and forth between something obviously true but meaningless, namely that Bangladesh and the United States don’t need to have the exact same safety rules, and something outrageous but false, that the deaths of the workers in Bangladesh are the result of them making different choices than U.S. workers.

“Different choices.”  American retailers make choices as to which low-wage foreign supplier they’ll go to garments.  Bangladeshi manufacturers make choices as to whether or not to repair roofs so they won’t collapse.  Bangladeshi workers also were offered a choice.

bangladesh.roof.collapse.lrescue.workersSome workers had reportedly noticed a crack in the building’s edifice shortly before the incident, but their warnings went ignored.  Some were told to report to work anyway or risk losing a month’s wages.  With minimum pay set below $40 per month (about the retail price of a typical sweater they might produce), workers could ill afford to be concerned about their safety, and so they followed orders and reported to what would be for many their last day of work.

via Working In These Times.

Workers in the United States worked under the same conditions 100 to 150 years ago.  The same arguments about freedom of choice were made to to justify the status quo.   Unionized workers were killed in battles with company police, state militias and federal troops.  Wages and safety standards were raised not by the magic of the market, but by collective bargaining by unions and by the federal laws and regulations established in the Progressive, New Deal and Great Society eras.

If you follow my blog, you might wonder how my concern with worker safety fits in with my new-found interest in anarchism.  How can someone who wants a world without government call for better enforcement of worker safety laws?

Actually, I’m not a strict anarchist, just sort of anarchish.  My understanding is that in an anarchist world, the Bangladeshi garment factories would be controlled by syndicates of workers, and they would determine their own safety rules.   And they probably would manufacture for local customers rather than for a global supply network run by people who didn’t know or care about local conditions.

Another solution would be to replace the World Trade Organization with another international organization that would allow sanctions against countries that denied workers the right to bargain collectively or that refused to enforce minimum standards for worker safety and health.

In These Times magazine reported that Bangladeshi and international trade unionists have proposed a surcharge of 10 cents a garment on Bangladeshi exports to improve the country’s manufacturing infrastructure.  Such a surcharge wouldn’t put any company at a competitive disadvantage because they’d all pay.  It wouldn’t be a burden on Bangladesh because foreigners would pay the surcharge.  It would be too small to appreciably affect sales of individual garments, but the magazine said it would raise an estimated $600 million a year, enough to considerably improve conditions.

bangladesh.texasClick on International factory safety for Matt Yglesias’s complete post, and Some further thoughts on Bangladesh for his reply to criticism.

Click on Would it not be easier for Matt Yglesias to dissolve the Bangladeshi people and elect another? for comment on the Crooked Timber web log.

Click on No, Matt Yglesias, Bangladeshi Workers Did Not Choose to be Crushed to Death for comment in In These Times magazine.