Happy Feminist Labor Day!

socialist feminis,Despite the number of economic and labor issues that affect women of all classes – from the wage gap and maternity leave to globalization and the fight for a liveable minimum wage – women are often invisible figures in the history and activism of the Labor Movement. Yet their participation in strikes and their contributions to labor policy, union organizing, and activism made the labor movement a success.

Thankfully, the Zinn Education Project is a wonderful resource, featuring brief bios and photographs of notable women in labor history. To learn more about some of the diverse women who shaped the Labor Movement, including Dolores Huerta and Mother Jones, visit the Zinn Education Project’s “Women in Labor History” page.

MORE READING ON CONTEMPORARY LABOR ISSUES AFFECTING WOMEN

Want to know more about contemporary labor issues affecting women? Here is a sampling of articles. Read on.

Lots of Other Countries Mandate Paid Leave. Why Not the U.S.? on NPR

Pay Equity and Discrimination, facts from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)

Women’s Fight for Better Pay is About More Than Just Money in The Washington Post

The Beauty Industry’s Invisible Victims in Ms. magazine

Women Garment Workers Fight Back Against Inhumane Conditions in India in truth-out.org

 

Workers Fight the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership)

As we’re watching Maquilapolis this week and thinking about the effects of globalization on the world’s workers, let’s also think about the current debate over fast-tracking the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, in the U.S., a multi-country trade and investement agreement.

In many cases, major news media like the BBC have focused primarily on the macro-level politics of the TPP, analyzing how the agreement might affect countries and their respective economies. Put simply, reporting has reinforced the idea that such an agreement has little to do with workers on the ground and more to do with international relationships between governments.

Union members and community activists rally to protest the TPP in Miami, FL.

Union members and community activists rally to protest the TPP in Miami, FL.

 

Many of these articles discuss “strengthening economies” and “creating jobs.” While such promises seem appealing on the surface, they often mask how globalization has, and continues, to harm workers, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Washington Post reporter Katrina vanden Heuvel explains how such an agreement will affect workers:

“Our global trade and tax policies have been and still are controlled by corporate and financial interests. They, not workers or consumers, write the rules…In theory at least, workers in both nations might benefit from larger markets and increased trade. But now a significant portion of our trade is intra-corporate trade, an exchange between one branch of a multinational and another. Multinationals have different interests than national companies. They profit even if U.S. workers suffer. Increasingly companies choose to report their profits or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards where the legal position of companies is the strongest. Companies like Wal-Mart set up global distribution systems designed to drive down wages here and abroad.”

This is a pattern we witness with the maquiladora workers in Mexico in the early 2000s, who worked for companies like Panasonic and Sanyo, corporations that benefited from an older trade agreement, the 1994 North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. NAFTA was also sold to American workers as a way to help the economy and create jobs. In reality, it has had the opposite effect.

The TPP has been privately negotiated by elite CEOs and bankers, and the terms (before information was leaked to Wikileaks) have been inaccessible to workers and voters – a good sign that the agreement is rigged in the favor of those with the greatest power and privilege. In short, Heuvel concludes, “The TPP is a classic expression of the way the rules are fixed to benefit the few and not the many.”

LABOR IS A WOMEN’S ISSUE TOO: ANTI-CAPITALIST FEMINISM

socialist feminis,

This might be a good place to revisit bell hooks’s definition of feminism, which emphasizes “a commitment to reorganizing U.S. society, so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires” (1981). If we follow hooks’s definition of feminism, a feminist critique of economic expansion and globalization must likewise be a critique of capitalism and profit-driven policies.

Read more about the roots of anti-capitalist feminism (sometimes Marxist Feminism) here.

 

Garment Workers Overseas: Unpacking the Feminist Politics of Clothing

Over the last year or so, U.S. companies, including brands like Gap, Joe Fresh (JCPenney), H&M, and Faded Glory (sold at Wal-Mart) have come under increasing pressure to increase the safety standards for the workers in their garment factories overseas. Recent disasters, including the factory fire in Bangladesh (on India’s eastern border), in November 2012 that killed 112 and the collapse of another building that houses five garment factories near Dhaka (in Bangladesh) in May of 2013, which killed 1,127 workers have brought worker safety to the forefront of global conversation.

Why would these disasters be of especial importance to feminists? For one, the majority of the workers are women.

Here is some context for our reading of Cynthia Enloe’s “Blue Jeans and Bankers” from her book Bananas, Beaches, and Bases.

The collapse of the factory in 2014 is one of the worst industrial disasters in history–and some U.S. corporations,  most notably Wal-Mart, still refuse to sign off on the safety regulations for overseas factories that Europeans have already agreed to.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

A garment factory in Rhana Plaza, Dhaka collapsed in May 2013. Over 1,000 workers were killed, and it has been called one of the worst industrial disasters in history.

 

These recent disasters have fueled ongoing labor protests and other areas as workers demand safer working conditions and better pay.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

Bangladeshi garment workers demand better wages and safety regulations after the industrial disasters of the last year that have left thousands of workers dead.

 

If companies like Wal-Mart have gotten themselves in trouble for exploiting their workers abroad, they’ve also come under fire at home, as American workers have participated in ongoing strikes and boycotts for a livable wage and benefits. (FYI: Wal-Mart remains staunchly anti-union.) In fact, despite mounting evidence of Wal-Mart’s numerous abuses (labor, environmental, etc.), celebrities like Tom Cruise have praised the company for improving women’s lives all over the world (Democracy Now, “Striking Workers, Bangladeshi Activist Challenge Wal-Mart”).

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

This haunting photograph was taken in the aftermath of the garment factory collapse in Dhaka, India, earlier this year.

LEARN MORE…

Watch the full story of the Bangladesh garment factory disasters on Democracy Now, including a report from global labor activist Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity and Scott Nova of WorkersRights.org.

Read an interview with a garment industry labor activist involved in the protests, who spoke to Purdue’s own Tithi Battacharya.

Homework Due Wednesday, April 15th

In preparation for a more in-depth discussion about globalization and low-wage labor overseas (Cynthia Enloe), visit the following site and answer the questions to see how many slaves work for you around the world.

Slavery Footprint

Write up a lecture card – question, comment, quote – about the experience, and be sure to include your number! We’ll begin class with these on Wednesday.

Controlling Images: Welfare Reform, Work Ethic, and the “Welfare Queen”

Toward the end of the presidential election in 2012, Mother Jones journalists released the following footage of Mitt Romney meeting behind closed doors with some of his inside supporters. Listen especially to his characterization of President Obama’s supporters and how he uses the accusation of “entitlement.”

FYI: he’s not just talking about those on welfare and programs like SNAP here. He’s also talking about anyone who gets (“feels entitled to”) money from the government, including, for example, those of us using students loans or veterans receiving benefits.

At the core of Romney’s speech is the beloved “boostraps rhetoric” – the idea that if an individual starting with “nothing” can just work hard and “pull himself up by his bootstraps,” he will be able to “make it”; and that success is so often defined in a narrow, profit-driven way, that is, as the accumulation of private wealth and material goods. Much of the time, the people who invoke a bootstraps story about their immigrant grandparents, for example, don’t recognize that those relatives may still have come to the U.S. with racial privilege, support from family already in the country, political rights, a knowledge of English, etc. (Here’s another controlling image: who do we picture when we think of an immigrant?)

What stereotypes of poor and/or working class Americans does Romney invoke in his speech? How do such stereotypes connect to public arguments about welfare reform?

STEREOTYPES VS. CONTROLLING IMAGES

One of the most pervasive controlling images that exists at the intersection of race and class is the image of the welfare queen. First, let’s clarify, stereotypes are:

implicit biases about how a person’s race, gender, class, or sexual orientation influences the individual’s behavior that become strong beliefs that influence individual or collective behavior.

A controlling image goes farther than a stereotype and its effects are more insidious. A controlling image is:

a stereotype that has become so ingrained in thought that it becomes a means to control those who are stereotyped and justifies the beliefs of those doing the stereotyping.

In other words, a controlling image is one that has a cumulative effect, that we see over and over to the exclusion of other images or narratives, until we internalize it and believe it to be true.

Such images have the ability to “guide behavior toward and from those persons [depicted], constrain what is seen and believed about them, and when internalized, profoundly influence the self-perceptions of the marginalized” (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman).

THE WELFARE QUEEN IN THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION

Let’s think more specifically about how the stereotype of the welfare queen is often used to justify cuts to welfare programs and other restrictions on the poor and working classes.

A political cartoon of the stereotypical image of the welfare queen living off the government, linked also with Democrats, who have historically been defenders of welfare programs.

A political cartoon of the stereotypical image of the welfare queen living off the government, linked also with Democrats, who have historically been defenders of welfare programs.

The welfare queen was coined by President Ronald Reagan during the late 1970s and was based on a specific Chicago woman, Linda Taylor, who was clearly a grifter and con artist, suspected even of homocide and baby trafficking, and an exception. In an article for Slate, Josh Levin sums up the power on Reagan’s controlling image, embodied by Taylor, who was tried and sent to prison in 1977:

With her story, Reagan marked millions of America’s poorest people as potential scoundrels and fostered the belief that welfare fraud was a nationwide epidemic that needed to be stamped out. This image of grand and rampant welfare fraud allowed Reagan to sell voters on his cuts to public assistance spending. The “welfare queen” became a convenient villain, a woman everyone could hate. She was a lazy black con artist, unashamed of cadging the money that honest folks worked so hard to earn.

Taylor’s story was picked up and carried widely in national newspapers, and her story made a lasting impression. Listen to NPR’s interview with Josh Levin on All Things Considered.

POLICING THE POOR BY CONTROLLING CHOICE

On November 1, 2013, welfare recipients saw dramatic cuts amounting to a total of $40 billion to their SNAP (or food stamp) allowances. More recently, states like Maine and Missouri have passed bills that prohibit individuals on SNAP from buying particular food items, including cookies, chips, soda, canned tuna, steak and seafood.

welfare queen before and after birth

And many states continue to enforce mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, despite the fact that such tests have proven to be a monumental waste of government money (typically less than 1% of those on welfare ever test positive for illegal drugs, and in some states, certain prescription drugs found in urine can still be grounds for losing one’s benefits, even if that person has a prescription from a doctor).

According to Lister, who recently published an article in The Washington Post, writes of her own experience:

When I drive my 19-year-old car, with its drooping bumper, peeling paint and loud muffler, the police follow me. Utilizing American safety-net programs (which, by the way, I paid into for years before receiving any “entitlements”) requires that I relinquish my privacy multiple times. I have to reveal how much I pay to live where I live, the amount of my utility and medical bills, what car I own, even whether I have a plot to be buried in when I die. I have to update the local office any time my income changes, or if a family member moves in or out, and even when my college-age children come home for the summer.

Why would policy makers and government officials spend so much money policing the bodies and choices of poor people? Why do we believe that some citizens are more deserving of privacy than others, and who gets to determine this?

Last year, Congresswoman Speier (D-CA) gave this speech in an attempt to put such cuts in perspective, especially in an age of “austerity panic”:

Do you think you could take the SNAP challenge and eat on just $4.50 a day?

Want to now more about common myths the media uses to undercut welfare and perpetuate those stereotypes of the poor that Adair talks about? Read “What the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Welfare: 9 Myths Exposed.”

Tim Wise on the Creation of Whiteness and Privilege

In the following clip from his talk “The Pathology of Privilege: Racism, Denial, and the Costs of Inequality,” author and speaker Tim Wise discusses the creation of whiteness in the American colonies and the relationship of the “psychological wage” to class divisions – and racial segregation – that we still feel today.

TIME WISE: “ON WHITE PRIVILEGE”

 

As Buck discusses in “Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege,” one of the important historical moments that contributed to formation of “the psychological wage” of whiteness was Bacon’s Rebellion. During the 1676 rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon, both former indentured servants and Africans banded together to rebel against Governor Berkeley, who had failed to address settlers’ demands regarding their safety in the disorganized colony. The uprising, however, was also a revolt against indentured servitude, which affected both poor white Europeans and Africans; and this alarmed the ruling class, as well as the royals back in Britain who were invested in the productivity of their colonies, as continuing rebellion had the potential to rob them of their new-found, labor, capital, and resources.

When wealthy landowners and royals were unwilling to offer material compensation for whites, namely land, they constructed what Buck terms “the psychological wage” of whiteness – that is, “the sense of superiority [that] allowed struggling northern Whites to look down their noses at free Blacks and at recent immigrants, particularly the Irish. This version of whiteness was supposed to make up for their otherwise difficult situation, providing them with a ‘psychological wage’ instead of cash – a bit like being employee of the month and given a special parking place instead of a raise” (p. 35).

Want to watch the whole talk by Tim Wise? Check it out below.

 

Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Puts Childcare and Paid Parental Leave Front-and-Center

As you’re gearing up to start your semester-long Current Events Journal, consider watching President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, delivered Jan. 20th.

Childcare SOTU 2015

 

Unlike previous presidents, Obama placed both childcare costs and the issue of paid maternity/parental leave front-and-center, framing it not as a “women’s issue,” but as an economic one. The president pledged to bring the U.S. into the 21st century and follow the example of every other country in the developing world, who already guarantees paid leave and free or subsidized childcare to its citizens. In many developed countries, paid parental leave can be taken by anyone, not just expectant mothers.

 

Source: International Labor Organization (2013)

Source: International Labor Organization (2013)

 

This comes at a time when many American employers, like Wal-Mart and UPS, have come under fire for firing pregnant women or failing to provide safe and appropriate working conditions for them. Of course, this reality tends to impact poor and working class women most.

Will the president follow through in the next two years? Keep your eyes and ears open for these issues in the news.

Watch the President’s full 2015 State of the Union address below:

 

Education Theft and the Policing Image of the Welfare Queen

In 2011, Kelly Williams-Bolar, a young, Black mother of two daughters living in Akron, OH, was jailed and convicted of a felony for sending her daughters to a well-to-do private school in her father’s better neighborhood. The court’s decision ultimately jeopardized her job as a teacher’s aid and her future career as an educator. Watch ABC’s news coverage of the story:

However, this isn’t an isolated incident; it may be the beginning of a new trend. Last year, another woman, Tanya McDowell of Bridgeport, CT, was sentenced to 5 years in prison for “education theft.”

The Feminist Wire asks: “…when does American Dream seeking, innovation, motherly ‘instinct,’ and creative problem solving get celebrated and when does it get criminalized? Which mother’s children deserve the best, and which mothers are demonized for asserting their children’s worth?”

To begin to answer this question, we first need to determine what these two women have in common. Let’s go back to Adair:

“…systems of power produce and patrol poverty through the reproduction of both social and bodily markers” (233).

In other words, Adair, like the French Philosopher Michel Foucault whom she cites, understands that the body of a citizen becomes “written on,” or like a text that we all read meanings onto; and some bodies, like those of the poor and of minorites become texts we read, in particular, as warning signs. This, Foucault asserts, is how such systems of power discipline the rest of us to behave or think in certain ways. Consider, in particular, the image of the welfare queen (see Adair, p. 234 and p.240).

Here’s Adair analyzing how our culture “reads” the body of the welfare queen:

The welfare queen’s body is portrayed as “the embodiment of dependency, disorder, disarray, and otherness. Her broken and scarred body becomes proof of her inner pathology and chaos, suggesting the need for further punishment and discipline. In contemporary narratives welfare women are imagined to be dangerous because they refuse to sacrifice their desires and fail to participate in legally sanctioned heterosexual relationships; theirs is read, as a result, as a selfish, ‘unnatural,’ and immature sexuality” (240).

 

Organizing for Change: “Salt of the Earth”

In many ways, Salt of the Earth brings together nearly all of the issues we have discussed this semester: that ways that gender, race, and class shape our lived realities and our placed in society; the value we place on domestic versus public labor, the ways in which our very institutions, including the law, often serve to reinforce and maintain these social constructions, reproducing patterns of privilege and oppression.

But the film also shows the creative ways that men and women have worked together (though not without challenges) to change both their personal and public lives. Earlier in the semester, Tax told us what it takes to move from false to revolutionary consciousness. In the film, note how the characters move one state of being to the other, and how they inspire others in their community to think in a more revolutionary way too.