Boing Boing 

Bain Capital buys profitable American plant, ships it to China; soon-to-be-jobless workers train their overseas replacements

In the Guardian, Paul Harris reports from Freeport, IL, where a profitable, competitive auto-parts plant has been bought out by Bain Capital, who have literally shipped the factory to China, and who have extended the "kindness" to the American workers who will lose their jobs of a few extra weeks' worth of work training their Chinese replacements. Mitt Romney owns millions of dollars' worth of equity in the Bain fund that is shipping good jobs overseas, and stands to make a tidy profit from this.

"I understand business needs to make a profit. But this product has always made a ton of money. It's just that they think it is not enough money. They are greedy," said Tom Gaulraupp, who has put in 33 years at the plant and is facing the prospect of becoming jobless at the age of 54.

Mark Shreck, a 36-year-old father-of-three, confessed he was one of the few workers not surprised at the layoffs, as this is the second time his job has moved to China. "I feel this is what companies do nowadays," he said. Freeport mayor George Gaulrapp

The Freeport workers have appealed to Bain and Romney to save their plant. The local town council, several Illinois politicians and the state's Democratic governor have all rallied to their cause. "This company is competitive globally. They make a profit here. But Bain Capital decided to squeeze it a little further. That is not what capitalism is meant to be about," said Freeport mayor George Gaulrapp, 52, pictured.

The anger towards Bain and Romney is palpable. Romney has become the target for the emotions of a community who built lives based on the idea of a steady manufacturing job: a concept out of place in the sort of fluid buy-and-sell world from which Bain prospers. "I didn't have a clue what Bain was before this happened," said Cheryl Randecker, 52. "Now when I hear Romney speak it makes me sick to my stomach."

'I'm sick to my stomach': anger grows in Illinois at Bain's latest outsourcing plan

Time wars: our finite lives frittered away in the precarious world of automation

Mark Fisher's essay "Time-Wars" riveted me. It's an analysis of the way that stories about technology and work -- both explicit political/ideological stump speeches and futurism, and science fiction stories -- have failed to keep pace with the reality of work, automation, and "precarity" (the condition of living a precarious economic existence). After all, time is finite. Life is finite. Automation makes it possible not to work, or to work very little, at least in the rich world. The system distributes the gains of automation so unevenly that a tragically overworked class is pitted against a tragically unemployed class. Meanwhile, the only resource that is truly non-renewable -- the time of our lives -- is frittered away in "work" that we do because we must, because of adherence to doctrine about how money should flow.

For most workers, there is no such thing as the long term. As sociologist Richard Sennett put it in his book The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, the post-Fordist worker “lives in a world marked … by short-term flexibility and flux … Corporations break up or join together, jobs appear and disappear, as events lacking connection.” (30) Throughout history, humans have learned to come to terms with the traumatic upheavals caused by war or natural disasters, but “[w]hat’s peculiar about uncertainty today,” Sennett points out, “is that it exists without any looming historical disaster; instead it is woven into the everyday practices of a vigorous capitalism.”

It isn’t only work that has become more tenuous. The neoliberal attacks on public services, welfare programmes and trade unions mean that we are increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity. The consequence of the normalisation of uncertainty is a permanent state of low-level panic. Fear, which attaches to particular objects, is replaced by a more generalised anxiety, a constant twitching, an inability to settle. The uncertainty of work is intensified by digital communication technology. As soon as there is email, there are no longer working hours nor a workplace. What characterises the present moment more than our anxious checking – of our messages, which may bring opportunities or demands (often both at the same time), or, more abstractly, of our status, which, like the stock market is constantly under review, never finally resolved?

We are very far from the “society of leisure” that was confidently predicted in the 1970s. Contrary to the hopes raised at that time, technology has not liberated us from work. As Federico Campagna writes in his article “Radical Atheism”, published on the Through Europe website. “In the current age of machines … humans finally have the possibility of devolving most productive processes to technological apparatus, while retaining all outcomes for themselves. In other words, the (first) world currently hosts all the necessary pre-conditions for the realization of the old autonomist slogan ‘zero work / full income/ all production / to automation’. Despite all this, 21st century Western societies are still torn by the dusty, capitalist dichotomy which opposes a tragically overworked section of population against an equally tragically unemployed one.”

Campagna’s call for a “radial atheism” is based on the recognition that the precariousness that cannot be eliminated is that of life and the body. If there is no afterlife, then our time is finite. Curiously, however, we subjects of late capitalism act as if there is infinite time to waste on work. Work looms over us as never before. “In an eccentric and an extreme society like ours,” argue Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming in their book Dead Man Working, “working has assumed a universal presence – a ‘worker’s society in the worst sense of the term – where even the unemployed and children become obsessed with it.” (2) Work now colonises weekends, late evenings, even our dreams. “Under Fordism, weekends and leisure time were still relatively untouched,” Cederström and Fleming point out. “Today, however, capital seeks to exploit our sociality in all spheres of work. When we all become ‘human capital’ we not only have a job, or perform a job. We are the job.”

INCUBATE-special: Exclusive essay ‘Time-wars’ by Mark Fisher

UK prisons to open outsource call centres; David Cameron urges business to switch to prison labour

The UK prison systems will soon supply in-house call centres on contract through industry partners. One such partner, UrbanData Ltd, sent out sales solicitations to potential call-centre customers last month touting the advantages of prison labour: low overheads and "British Regional accents" (UrbanData subsequently went into administration). The Ministry of Justice characterises this as a rehabilitation scheme, and says that prisoners will earn a minimum of £3 per day. A Welsh call centre called Becoming Green recently made headlines for firing non-prison labourers even as it brought in extra day-release prisoners to work at the £3/day rate. Here's more of UrbanData's solicitation, as published in The Guardian by

In a ONE3ONE prospectus, David Cameron urged businesses to take advantage of the opportunity working prisoners offered. "Prisoners working productively towards their own rehabilitation will contribute to the UK economy and make reparation to society," he wrote.

"Many businesses, large and small, already make use of prison workshops to produce high quality goods and services and do so profitably. They are not only investing in prisons but in the future of their companies and the country as a whole. I urge others to follow their lead and seize the opportunity that working prisons offer."

Prison call centre plans revealed

Call centre brings in prison labour at £3/day, fires regular workers

Becoming Green is a Welsh call centre that brought in cheap prison labour at £3 per day. These workers were supposed to be receiving temporary on-the-job training, but just as they were brought on, non-prisoner workers who'd been doing the same job for a real wage were fired. The company claims these two facts are not related.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed that dozens of prisoners from Prescoed prison in Monmouthshire, south Wales, had done "work experience" for at least two months at a rate of 40p an hour in the private company's telephone sales division in Cardiff.

People working in the prisons sector described the scheme as "disgusting" and a "worrying development".

After establishing an arrangement with minimum security HMP Prescoed late last year, roofing and environmental refitting company Becoming Green has taken on a staff of 23 prisoners. Currently 12 are being paid just 6% of the minimum wage. When contacted by the Guardian last month, that figure was 17 – 15% of the company's call centre staff.

The company confirmed that since it started using prisoners, it had fired other workers. Former employees put the number at 17 since December. However, the firm said firings were part of the "normal call centre environment" and it had hired other staff in a recent expansion.

Becoming Green said the category D prison had allowed the company to pay the prisoners just £3 a day for at least 40 working days but added that they could keep them at that pay level for much longer if they wanted.

Prisoners paid £3 a day to work at call centre that has fired other staff

Lenovo CEO distributes 3/14th of his compensation to junior employees

Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing took $3,000,000 out of his bonus and shared it among 10,000 of the company's junior employees. From CNN:

Yang had earned $5.2 million in bonuses for the fiscal year ending in March. His total earnings, including salary, incentives and other benefits, amounted to $14 million, according to the company's annual report.

I'm not sure what a "junior" employee is -- if it's a Chinese factory assembly worker, then a $300 bonus would probably contribute a significant improvement in material conditions.

CEO gives part of his bonus to employees

"Everyone Only Wants Temps"

In Mother Jones, Gabriel Thompson goes gonzo with a stint doing "on demand" grunt work for one of America's hottest growth industries: temping.

I grab a chair from a stack in the corner and take a seat, studying a sign that implores me to be "true" and "passionate" and "creative." In reality, passion and creativity have nothing to do with it. Labor Ready provides warm bodies for grunt work that pays minimum wage or thereabouts. "Here's a sledgehammer, there's the wall," is how Stacey Burke, the company's vice-president of communications, characterized the work to Businessweek back in 2006.

Read the whole piece here: "Everyone Only Wants Temps" (Mother Jones).

Old-fashioned animation expresses Winnipeggers' concern over mass-privatisation

The Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500 -- Winnipeg -- has created a video to express the city's widespread horror at the mass privatisation campaign looming over its political landscape. Winnipeg has long been a bastion of progressive labour politics, and is riven by the new prairie politics emanating from the Tar Sands and its randroid Tories: "Using innovative stop graphic animation, Winnipeg animators Christian and Sean Procter tell the story of Winnipeg's proud history and the negative impact privatizing public services has on our city."

Our Winnipeg (Thanks, David!)

How Mitt Romney "created jobs"

Gazillionaire financier Mitt Romney is the latest "CEO President" offered up by the GOP, on a platform of "job creation." When Romney oversaw Bain capital, he supervised the takeover of American Pad and Paper. When the deal was complete, the 258 employees were marched out of the Marion, Indiana factory, told they were fired, and told they could re-apply for their jobs at lower salaries and with fewer benefits. They were warned that some of them would not be re-hired. A long piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Ron Scherer and Leigh Montgomery consider the record of his imperial corporateness:

“We were told they bought the assets, not the union or the [labor] contract,” recalls Randy Johnson, who at the time worked as a machine operator and was a union shop steward. The workers – some the third generation in their families to have jobs there – eventually went on strike, and Bain closed the factory 5-1/2 months after acquiring it...

In an analysis of Bain Capital under Romney, the Journal estimated that Bain made $2.5 billion in profits on $1.1 billion invested in 77 separate deals. Of those 77 transactions, 22 percent ended with the firms in bankruptcy after the eighth year of the Bain investment. Bain disputes the Journal’s account as inaccurate.

Is Mitt Romney really a job creator? What his Bain Capital record shows. (via Reddit)

True Chinese factory horror stories Mike Daisey might have told, had he not been such a lying liar

At the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, India-based journalist Adam Matthews writes about the rising labor movement in China.

Below, a snip from his most recent piece on the phenomenon of "bloody factories" in China, which he argues is a far greater problem than Foxconn.

Matthews interviews a labor advocate and self-taught "barefoot lawyer" for migrant workers who have experienced workplace injuries; the man takes him on "a tour that even Daisey couldn’t have dreamed up."

We traveled through hardscrabble sections of Dongguan’s Tangxia Town, a factory town near the coast in Guangdong. He introduced me to a worker fired for organizing a union, a man denied overtime payments and a woman whose symptoms mirrored those of the Wintek workers. The notes about her on his printed spreadsheet were: “leg can’t move.”

That woman is Shi Yuping, a mother of two with short black hair, capris and flip-flops. Shi is in her late thirties but looks much older. We sat at a picnic table outside a convenience store as Shi told her story. Her husband Jiang Ancai stood nearby and listened.

Shi worked for a Hong Kong-owned plastics factory. The factory used a chemical as toxic as n-hexane to clean plastic parts. Shi fell ill during a trip home to Henan province to see her mother and her children (many migrant workers send children to stay with grandparents so the parents can both work). She received no compensation and no reimbursement for her 20-day hospital stay. “She called the company to ask for continuation of the leave,” Wang explained. Instead, she was fired. The factory held two months of salary, money that Wang was suing to recover. Shi suffered degenerative nerve damage and can no longer work. When she got up to leave the picnic table her left leg went lame. She had trouble even getting into her flip-flops.

Shi did not work for a supplier of a high-profile brand, like Apple. There was no coverage of her case in the English-language media.

Image, courtesy pulitzercenter.org: Zhang Zhiru (seated), a "barefoot lawyer," meets with workers. The younger man (l) was suing his former employer for wrongful dismissal. His case didn't look promising: the factory was illegal. Li Zuping (r) lost part of two fingers while cleaning a factory machine. Image by Jocelyn Baun. China 2011

Invisible Robota: the robots who ate our jobs

Joe Posner sez, "A month ago Marketplace told me they're doing a weeklong special called "Robots Ate My Job" this week and asked if I could make videos to go with it. Where to start? "Even though we don't see them with anthropomorphic features and two arms and legs walking down the streets, there are robots all around you," say Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAffee, authors of "Race Against the Machine." Here is one of the two short films we made for them, about the hard work, now robotic, that invisibly surrounds us. It's called "Robota" rather than "Robots" for a particular reason ... (hint) -- Enjoy!"

Here's the other video.

Joe and Ian McAlpin had a harrowing time shooting the footage of the toll-booths here, with authorities first demanding a $15,000 fee and then saying they wouldn't permit filming at all ("security," natch, as if protracted toll-booth waits don't give attackers ample opportunity to study the high-stakes target that is a tollbooth; and as if a bad guy would have a hard time sneaking a video camera onto a car). He eventually just shot it on the d/l.

Invisible Robota

Rude messages left by monks in the margins of medieval manuscripts


Colin Dickey introduces the current Lapham’s Quarterly collection of rude and complaining messages left by monks in the margins of medieval manuscripts, a subject covered in detail in Image on the Edge: The Margins of Medieval Art, Michael Camille's 2004 book.

Depictions of sexual consort are frequent, among men and women, among various species of animals, and enough other combinations to make even contemporary readers blush. Camille cautions against reading such images as violations of the sacred text; because the medieval world was so rigidly hierarchized and structured, “resisting, ridiculing, overturning and inventing was not only possible, it was limitless.” That these psalters and books of hours often contained sacrilegious sentiments right alongside their holy piety, it seems, was perhaps the point: “We should not see medieval culture exclusively in terms of binary oppositions—sacred/profane, for example, or spiritual/worldly,” Camille explains. “Travesty, profanation, and sacrilege are essential to the continuity of the sacred in society.”

Living in the Margins

Nested layers of temp agencies allow WalMart's supply chain to shave pennies through terrible, illegal working conditions


Dave Jamieson has a long investigative feature in the Huffington Post about the lives of subcontracted temps in the American warehouse supply-chain. Jamieson describes a world of nested layers of temps -- "temp agencies that supervise temp agencies that deal with temp agencies" -- providing layers of plausible deniability for the titanic corporations on whose behalf all the work is conducted. The agencies are "fly-by-night," operating from "garages, convenience store parking lots and, in one case, a Super 8 motel room," which means that it's nearly impossible for workers to get redress for illegal treatment.

Combined with the economic downturn and the cuts to employment benefits and the social safety net, this creates a perfect storm for horrific working conditions in the warehouses that serve the largest companies in America, such as WalMart. Workers are illegally docked pay, denied access to toilet facilities (one worker interviewed for the story describes how she got a bladder infection because she wasn't allowed to use the toilet while working), paid less than minimum wage, and billed for their own pre-hire background checks.

Meanwhile, the companies at the top of the chain are thriving, turning over great profits even in the midst of recession, and claiming no responsibility for the working conditions that their subcontractors' subcontractors workers endure -- despite the deliberate creation of this many-arms'-length relationship for the purpose of dodging liability.

Six lumpers at the warehouse filed a class-action lawsuit on the heels of the state investigation. Everardo Carrillo and his co-workers say they've been moving Walmart goods in a warehouse where the temperature regularly climbs to over 90 degrees, walking in and out of 53-foot-long steel containers that get even hotter baking in the Southern California sun. After working for a set hourly wage, the workers claim that a year and a half ago they were switched to a piece-rate pay plan -- an arrangement largely out of a bygone era. Their bosses told them they would earn "much more money" under the new scheme, which paid them according to the container, but their earnings actually fell, according to the lawsuit.

The workers claim it was never made clear how their pay was supposed to break down -- an allegation apparently bolstered by the state's investigation. They claim that when they complained about their confusing paychecks, their supervisors responded by sending them home without pay or refusing to give them work the following day. The lumpers were working on a temp basis. According to the lawsuit, the majority of workers were direct hires as recently as 2006; now, three out of every four workers are temps.

When asked if a Schneider executive could be interviewed about allegations from temp workers in its warehouses, a spokesperson sent HuffPost a statement, saying its labor suppliers are "separate corporate entities": "The only legal avenue which Schneider has to enforce their compliance would be to terminate the contract with these vendors. We have no plans to terminate the contracts with our vendors; our expectation is that they will comply with all applicable statutes, regulations and orders."

Walmart, whose products the workers were handling, also kept an arm's length from the charges. When HuffPost reported on the state investigation and lawsuit in October, a Walmart spokesman said the retailer is "not involved in this matter." When a similar lawsuit was filed in April in Illinois -- again, naming low-level companies contracted to move Walmart products -- the company asserted its distance from the allegations then as well, a spokesman noting that "the facility isn't operated by Walmart nor are the people who work in it employed by Walmart."

The New Blue Collar: Temporary Work, Lasting Poverty And The American Warehouse (Thanks, Deborah!)

(Image: Beautiful Day at the Walmart store in Gladstone, Missouri, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from walmartcorporate's photostream)

America's 55-hour work weeks ruin workers' lives and don't produce extra value for employers


Sara Robinson's written an excellent piece on the productivity losses associated with extra-long work-weeks, something that has been established management theory since the time of Ford, but which few employers embrace today. Americans are working longer hours than they have in decades, sacrificing their health, happiness and family lives, and all the data suggests that those extra hours are wasted -- resulting in hourly productivity losses that offsets the additional hours worked. Everybody loses.

It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits — starting right now, today — is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing...

By 1914, emboldened by a dozen years of in-house research, Henry Ford famously took the radical step of doubling his workers’ pay, and cut shifts in Ford plants from nine hours to eight. The National Association of Manufacturers criticized him bitterly for this — though many of his competitors climbed on board in the next few years when they saw how Ford’s business boomed as a result. In 1937, the 40-hour week was enshrined nationwide as part of the New Deal. By that point, there were a solid five decades of industrial research that proved, beyond a doubt, that if you wanted to keep your workers bright, healthy, productive, safe and efficient over a sustained stretch of time, you kept them to no more than 40 hours a week and eight hours a day.

Evan Robinson, a software engineer with a long interest in programmer productivity (full disclosure: our shared last name is not a coincidence) summarized this history in a white paper he wrote for the International Game Developers’ Association in 2005. The original paper contains a wealth of links to studies conducted by businesses, universities, industry associations and the military that supported early-20th-century leaders as they embraced the short week. “Throughout the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, these studies were apparently conducted by the hundreds,” writes Robinson; “and by the 1960s, the benefits of the 40-hour week were accepted almost beyond question in corporate America. In 1962, the Chamber of Commerce even published a pamphlet extolling the productivity gains of reduced hours.”

What these studies showed, over and over, was that industrial workers have eight good, reliable hours a day in them. On average, you get no more widgets out of a 10-hour day than you do out of an eight-hour day. Likewise, the overall output for the work week will be exactly the same at the end of six days as it would be after five days. So paying hourly workers to stick around once they’ve put in their weekly 40 is basically nothing more than a stupid and abusive way to burn up profits. Let ‘em go home, rest up and come back on Monday. It’s better for everybody.

Yes, you can squeeze out some extra productivity with sporadic overtime pushes in the busy season (though the returns diminish -- 80-hour weeks aren't twice as productive as 40-hour ones), but if you turn "sporadic pushes" into business as usual, you're just paying for the same work to take place over more hours while destroying your workers' lives. You may not care about the latter -- not if you've got five more applicants lined up to take the jobs of the workers who drop at their desks -- but even so, why pay more for less?

Bring back the 40-hour work week (via Beth Pratt)

(Image: Luigi Antonini speaks with a foot-sore picketer during the Dressmakers' strike for overtime pay, as supporters look on., a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kheelcenter's photostream)

Miserable working conditions in ecommerce packing facilities

Mother Jones's Mac McClelland goes underground at an unnamed ecommerce packing facility in a rural American town and reports on the terrible, back-breaking working conditions that are compounded by continuous verbal abuse, unsafe working conditions, mandatory overtime, and humiliating disciplinary procedures.

At lunch, the most common question, aside from "Which offensive dick-shaped product did you handle the most of today?" is "Why are you here?" like in prison. A guy in his mid-20s says he's from Chicago, came to this state for a full-time job in the city an hour away from here because "Chicago's going down." His other job doesn't pay especially well, so he's here—pulling 10.5-hour shifts and commuting two hours a day—anytime he's not there. One guy says he's a writer; he applies for grants in his time off from the warehouse. A middle-aged lady near me used to be a bookkeeper. She's a peak-season hire, worked here last year during Christmas, too. "What do you do the rest of the year?" I ask. "Collect unemployment!" she says, and laughs the sad laugh you laugh when you're saying something really unfunny. All around us in the break room, mothers frantically call home. "Hi, baby!" you can hear them say; coos to children echo around the walls the moment lunch begins. It's brave of these women to keep their phones in the break room, where theft is so high—they can't keep them in their cars if they want to use them during the day, because we aren't supposed to leave the premises without permission, and they can't take them onto the warehouse floor, because "nothing but the clothes on your backs" is allowed on the warehouse floor (anything on your person that Amalgamated sells can be confiscated—"And what does Amalgamated sell?" they asked us in training. "Everything!"). I suppose that if I were responsible for a child, I would have no choice but to risk leaving my phone in here, too. But the mothers make it quick. "How are you doing?" "Is everything okay?" "Did you eat something?" "I love you!" and then they're off the phone and eating as fast as the rest of us. Lunch is 29 minutes and 59 seconds—we've been reminded of this: "Lunch is not 30 minutes and 1 second"—that's a penalty-point-earning offense—and that includes the time to get through the metal detectors and use the disgustingly overcrowded bathroom—the suggestion board hosts several pleas that someone do something about that smell—and time to stand in line to clock out and back in. So we chew quickly, and are often still chewing as we run back to our stations.

The days blend into each other. But it's near the end of my third day that I get written up. I sent two of some product down the conveyor line when my scanner was only asking for one; the product was boxed in twos, so I should've opened the box and separated them, but I didn't notice because I was in a hurry. With an hour left in the day, I've already picked 800 items. Despite moving fast enough to get sloppy, my scanner tells me that means I'm fulfilling only 52 percent of my goal. A supervisor who is a genuinely nice person comes by with a clipboard listing my numbers. Like the rest of the supervisors, she tries to create a friendly work environment and doesn't want to enforce the policies that make this job so unpleasant. But her hands are tied. She needs this job, too, so she has no choice but to tell me something I have never been told in 19 years of school or at any of some dozen workplaces."You're doing really bad," she says.

I'll admit that I did start crying a little. Not at work, thankfully, since that's evidently frowned upon, but later, when I explained to someone over Skype that it hurts, oh, how my body hurts after failing to make my goals despite speed-walking or flat-out jogging and pausing every 20 or 30 seconds to reach on my tiptoes or bend or drop to the floor for 10.5 hours, and isn't it awful that they fired Brian because he had a baby, and, in fact, when I was hired I signed off on something acknowledging that anyone who leaves without at least a week's notice—whether because they're a journalist who will just walk off or because they miss a day for having a baby and are terminated—has their hours paid out not at their hired rate but at the legal minimum. Which in this state, like in lots of states, is about $7 an hour. Thank God that I (unlike Brian, probably) didn't need to pay for opting into Amalgamated's "limited" health insurance program. Because in my 10.5-hour day I'll make about $60 after taxes.

I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave (via MeFi)

ICYMI: a robust BB comment thread on Foxconn, labor standards, and Pogue's recent column

On Friday, I threw together a quick blog post about a recent David Pogue column on Foxconn, and responses to that column by others around the web. The resulting Boing Boing discussion thread was full of thoughtful, interesting stuff, and (for the most part!) surprisingly non-inflammatory. Give it a read. I've also updated the post to include a few relevant links I neglected to include, like this related ABC Nightline TV episode, and another Pogue column on the hidden cost of cheap gadgets.

Toronto's librarians need your help and love


Toronto's librarians are considering going on strike, as Mayor Rob Ford continues to make good on his election promise of "outsourcing everything that isn't nailed down." They're looking for your support, in the form of an endorsement for their "Love a Librarian" petition.

The City is pursuing a bargaining agenda to downgrade and reduce library staff and service. Their strategy is to slash service to diminish satisfaction in our public library. They think the public backlash will be smaller when the Toronto Public Library, in whole or in part, is placed on the market for sale. Standing in the wings is the huge American library management firm Library Systems and Services, or LSSI.

Already, LSSI engaged the lobbying services of Paul Christie, a former city politician with close ties to Mayor Ford and at least one of his hand-picked members of the Library Board, to influence debate about the budget for our public library. Christie quietly wined and dined officials extolling the virtues of private ownership of our public library during the budget debate.

This is the same Paul Christie who oversaw the decimation of public school funding under Conservative Premier Ernie Eves. Even though LSSI has concluded its arrangement with Christie for the time being, they are ready to pounce if we give them the opportunity. This would be disastrous for Toronto residents. Every experience involving LSSI in the US and the UK where the company operates has resulted in higher costs, fewer books and less access for library users.

That is why we must strongly oppose the Mayor’s privatization agenda and keep our library public. Working together, I know we can prevail. Please sign the Love a Librarian petition right now, then share it with your networks.

Love a Librarian Petition

Apple and Foxconn to engage in Fair Labor Audit

Foster Kamer at Betabeat writes: "Apple released an announcement today explaining that the Fair Labor Association will be conducting an independent audit that is 'unprecedented in size and scale' in the electronics industry. As part of it, they contend that they’ll be interviewing thousands of Foxconn employees, and that the FLA will be taking the 'unusual' step of identifying the individual factories audited in their report."

Letter from ex-slave to ex-master, on occasion of a request to return to work

Jourdon Anderson, an ex-slave, penned this letter to his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee in 1865, after the Colonel wrote and asked him to return to service as a paid worker. The letter starts out seeming like a heartbreaking example of Stockholm Syndrome, as Jourdon Anderson recounts several wartime atrocities that the Colonel committed and expresses his gladness that the Colonel wasn't hanged for them. But by the letter's end, it is revealed as one of the great, all-time, understated sarcastic missives, with the final sentence, "Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me," being the icing on the cake.

Update: Derp -- this is a repost. On the other hand, it seems to be authentic.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

Letters of Note: To My Old Master (Thanks, graeme!)

Ten-year employee fired for skipping lunch to work

Chicago real estate company Equity Lifestyle Properties Inc. fired a receptionist named Sharon Smiley for violating company policy and working through her lunch break. She had worked for them for ten years. Because she was fired, she was ineligible for unemployment benefits.

After a protracted legal battle, she won her benefits claim.

After being fired, Smiley learned she was ineligible for unemployment benefits because she had been discharged for misconduct connected with her work.

She appealed to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's board of review three times, was denied, then took her case to a circuit court. That court ruled Smiley, who did not challenge the firing, was eligible for benefits.

Smiley received a check with a lump sum on Nov. 28 for several months of unemployment, a percentage of her previous salary. Then she received a check every two weeks for $528 until she obtained her latest job last month.

The appellate court of Illinois affirmed the circuit court ruling Jan. 11, saying the "insubordination arose from [Smiley's] efforts to perform additional work for [her employer], beyond what was required of her," as first reported Monday in the Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Woman Fired for Doing Work at Lunch Wins Unemployment Claim (via Neatorama)

Virtual sweatshops versus CAPTCHAs

KolotiBablo, a Russian service, pays workers in China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam to crack CAPTCHAs -- it's a favorite of industrial scale spammers. This company's fortunes represent an interesting economic indicator of the relative cost of labor (plus Internet access and junk PCs) in the poorest countries in the world, versus skilled programmer labor to automate CAPTCHA-breaking (or automating a man-in-the-middle attack on CAPTCHAs, such as making people solve imported Gmail account-creation CAPTCHAs in order to look at free porn).

Paying clients interface with the service at antigate.com, a site hosted on the same server as kolotibablo.com. Antigate charges clients 70 cents to $1 for each batch of 1,000 CAPTCHAs solved, with the price influenced heavily by volume. KolotiBablo says employees can expect to earn between $0.35 to $1 for every thousand CAPTCHAs they solve. The twin operations say they do not condone the use of their services to promote spam, or “all those related things that generate butthurt for the ‘big guys,’” mostly likely a reference to big free Webmail providers like Google and Microsoft. Still, both services can be found heavily advertised and recommended in several underground forums that cater to spammers and scam artists.

Virtual Sweatshops Defeat Bot-or-Not Tests

Guide: which US restaurants pay sick leave, living wages? Which have institutionalized racism?


"Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants" is a 30-page guide to working conditions in popular American restaurants, published by Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a worker-rights advocacy group. It tells you whether the staff at the restaurant you're thinking of eating at gives its staff sick-leave, whether they are paid beyond the $2.13 minimum wage for tipped workers, and whether the restaurant has a policy of limiting women, immigrants and people of color to lower-paid "back of the house" jobs.

Working with students from Tulane University and the University of Cali- fornia at Los Angeles, we asked restaurants about their practices with regard to:

a) wages for tipped and non-tipped workers;

b) paid sick leave and other benefits; and

c) opportunities for workers to move up the ladder.

We asked this information from all of our ‘high road’ restaurant partners in our eight current affiliate cities and from the top 150 highest revenue- grossing restaurants in America. Using the Restaurants & Institutions Top 400 list1, we identified the top 50 highest revenue-grossing restaurants in each of the industry’s three segments.

QUICK SERVE: fast food, delis, and any establishment without waiter service

CASUAL: full service restaurants with casual service

FINE DINING: higher-priced full-service restaurants2 Some restaurants did not provide us with all requested information. If any of these restaurants–or any other in America–can provide us with this information, we would be happy to update the Guide.

Consumer Guide on the Working Conditions of American Restaurants (PDF) (via The Pump Handle)

TSA agent sues over on-the-job sexual assault

The culture of groping runs deep at the TSA: Nilda C. Marugame, a TSA agent from Hawaii, claims that she faced sanctions from her superiors when she reported a sexual assault by co-worker who had generated similar complaints from two other women at the job-site. She says she was intimidated into signing an official retraction of her complaint. She's suing. (Thanks, Marilyn!)

Dutch copyright group accused of pirating its anti-piracy anthem, music collecting society boss seeks 33% finders' fee for getting musician paid

A musician called Melchior Rietveldt was commissioned by the Dutch copyright-lobbying group BREIN to compose an anthem for an "anti-piracy" video. According to Rietveldt, BREIN licensed his work for a single use. However, the film industry has gone on to use the music in those crappy anti-piracy ads they run at the start of DVDs telling you off for being a pirate when you've just bought the DVD you're watching. Rietveldt's representatives claim that tens of millions of Dutch DVDs contain his composition, and that he's owed more than EUR1M.

Soon after he discovered the unauthorized distribution of his music Rietveldt alerted the local music royalty collecting agency Buma/Stemra. The composer demanded compensation, but to his frustration he heard very little from Buma/Stemra and he certainly didn’t receive any royalties.

Earlier this year, however, a breakthrough seemed to loom on the horizon when Buma/Stemra board member Jochem Gerrits contacted the composer with an interesting proposal. Gerrits offered to help out the composer in his efforts to get paid for his hard work, but the music boss had a few demands of his own.

In order for the deal to work out the composer had to assign the track in question to the music publishing catalogue of the Buma/Stemra board member. In addition to this, the music boss demanded 33% of all the money set to be recouped as a result of his efforts.

It gets worse. Click through to read how Gerrits was recorded making this demand, and what happened next.

Copyright Corruption Scandal Surrounds Anti-Piracy Campaign

JWZ: you don't need to sleep under your desk to succeed in a startup, but if you do, it'll make your VCs plenty rich

Prompted by his being quoted in Michael Arrington's article on how you should view your work at a startup, Jamie Zawinski opines that the reason that venture capitalists tell you that startups should involve health-destroying, life-destroying, brutal work is because doing this will make them rich, not you. He calls this a con. JWZ, who made a tidy sum by being an early Netscape engineer and used it to open San Francisco's legendary DNA Lounge venue, closes with these stirring words: "I recommend that you do what you love because you love doing it. If that means long hours, fantastic. If that means leaving the office by 6pm every day for your underwater basket-weaving class, also fantastic."

Follow the fucking money. When a VC tells you what's good for you, check your wallet, then count your fingers.

He's telling you the story of, "If you bust your ass and don't sleep, you'll get rich" because the only way that people in his line of work get richer is if young, poorly-socialized, naive geniuses believe that story! Without those coat-tails to ride, VCs might have to work for a living. Once that kid burns out, they'll just slot a new one in.

I did make a bunch of money by winning the Netscape Startup Lottery, it's true. So did most of the early engineers. But the people who made 100x as much as the engineers did? I can tell you for a fact that none of them slept under their desk. If you look at a list of financially successful people from the software industry, I'll bet you get a very different view of what kind of sleep habits and office hours are successful than the one presented here.

So if your goal is to enrich the Arringtons of the world while maybe, if you win the lottery, scooping some of the groundscore that they overlooked, then by all means, bust your ass while the bankers and speculators cheer you on.

Watch a VC use my name to sell a con.

(Image: Create equity, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from globalx's photostream)

Britain's jobless youth told to work without pay for profitable retailers or lose benefits

Young unemployed people in the UK are being told to work for up to 30 hours a week in low-skilled retail jobs for big, profitable firms, without any pay and without promise of any job when their "training" period is finished. Workers who refuse this are cut off their "Jobseekers" allowance (how they're supposed to seek a job while working nearly full-time without any pay is a mystery).

Under the government's work experience programme young jobseekers are exempted from national minimum wage laws for up to eight weeks and are being offered placements in Tesco, Poundland, Argos, Sainsbury's and a multitude of other big name businesses.

The Department for Work and Pensions says that if jobseekers "express an interest" in an offer of work experience they must continue to work without pay, after a one-week cooling-off period, or face having their benefits docked.

Young people have told the Guardian that they are doing up to 30 hours a week of unpaid labour and have to be available from 9am to 10pm.

Young jobseekers told to work without pay or lose unemployment benefits

Minimum wage hike coming to Guangdong, the world's factory


Guangdong, the Chinese province in the Pearl River Delta where practically everything you've bought in the past ten years was made, is about to see a minimum wage increase effective Jan 1, with some workers seeing increases as high as 20 percent. Guangdong has experienced high inflation. The wage increases, combined with weak western currencies, suggests that prices for virtually every consumer good in the west will rise significantly in the new year. The experts quoted in this Global Post article say that while other cheap labor markets exist in places like Bangladesh, they lack the scale and infrastructure of south China and are unlikely to provide a substitute.

For decades, Guangdong province and China’s Pearl River Delta have been at the heart of China’s economic rise. And while larger manufacturers and state-owned companies have contributed greatly to the boom, smaller and medium-sized private firms have also helped propel China to become the world’s second-largest economy.

As wages, raw material costs and other costs rise, those smaller businesses say they’re being cut out of the mix.

Lau said at the current rate, he expects 30 percent of factories in Guangdong to reduce production or close down this year, in the wake of a minimum wage increase last year. Another 18-20 percent pay rise would decimate the industry.

But Crothall is less than sympathetic, noting that although China’s inflation rate has slowed somewhat, China’s workers still need more to get by.

Bye-bye cheap, Chinese labor (via Digg)

Cloud computing and labor disputes: University locks striking profs out of their coursework and email

Robert Spahr, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Department of Cinema & Photography, writes,

I wanted to let you know that we are not only in the middle of a labor strike, but most importantly, a public university has shown by their actions, the dangers of Cloud Computing.

The University has disabled faculty email, and locked them out of their personal work contained in Blackboard (a course management system) as well as censoring pro-union comments from the official University Facebook page.

Myself, and some fellow faculty and students quickly produced a blog and Twitter feed to combat this censorship.

Turns out the uni isn't just nuking pro-union statements, but any questions about the labor dispute posted by its students and other stakeholders.

Barista's "Starbucks Rant" song gets him fired

Chrissizle was a barista at Starbucks who wrote and recorded a ranty, funny song about his job and posted it on YouTube. It "went viral" (oh, how I hate that phrase!) and he got fired.

Welcome to starbucks
my name is Chris
I'll be your barista for the day
Can i make a drink for you miss?

I know you've had a shitty day
well so have I
I really don't want to care
but I get paid to try

Hello rich white lady,
I already know what you want
you want a skinny vanilla latte
young debutaunt

Barista fired after 'Starbucks Rant Song' goes viral

Free public service games for young people about sweatshops and death

My wife Alice quit her day job (commissioning public service games for the UK's Channel 4) in January to do a start-up, but some of the games she got underway are still coming out. Two new ones that are of particular interest are Sweatshop, a tower defense game that "highlights the abject horror and terrible exploitation of sweatshop factories – and the most dangerous enemy in the game is your own impulse to succeed"; and The End, a game about death, existentialism, and the afterlife, released into the increasingly atheist population of young Britain. All free, of course!