Economy

Two Years After the Rana Plaza Disaster, Are Reforms Real?

A series of garment factory fires in Bangladesh spurred reforms in the industry. But will they bring meaningful change?

Rijans007/Flickr
Rijans007/Flickr T wo years ago, on the morning of April 24 th 2013, garment workers at Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh, were afraid to enter the eight-story building that housed five factories. Cracks had appeared in supporting pillars the day before and the workers had been sent home. Bank and retail stores on the ground floor did not open that day. Industrial inspectors had urged the owner of the building to keep it closed. But its well-connected landlord, Sohel Rana, got another local official to say he could inform the factory owners that the building was safe. Supervisors standing at the entrance to the building threatened workers with the loss of their month’s overtime pay (as much as half of their total earnings) if they stayed away. In an account reported by an Australian journalist, one worker was quoted as saying, “The bosses came after us with beating sticks. In the end, we were forced to go in.” Shortly after the workday began, the building collapsed. More than 1,100...

Greece on the Razor's Edge

Bailing out Greece is politically impossible—it's also increasingly necessary. 

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis A pedestrian passes anti-austerity graffiti in front of Athens Academy on Thursday, January 29, 2015. T he morning after Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza coalition won the Greek elections in late January, an old friend called from Athens. He’d been a senior figure in the Papandreou government that had struggled for nearly two years to stave off the collapse of the Greek economy, so he knew firsthand just how deadly the chalice now about to be passed to Tsipras was. He also knew Tsipras personally—Greece is a small country—as well as Yanis Varoufakis and other key figures who would be appointed to the new government. And he clearly understood what Tsipras aimed to do to quickly and decisively break “the golden shackles” that had bound Greeks in a crushing web of debt: face down the creditors. But my friend also knew firsthand the stubbornly conservative and judgmental consensus that had steadily solidified, not just among European elites but among a broader European...

No Cost for Extremism

Why the GOP hasn't (yet) paid for its march to the right. 

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
According to the news media, 2014 was the year that the GOP “Establishment” finally pulled Republicans back from the right-wing brink. Pragmatism, it seemed, had finally triumphed over extremism in primary and general election contests that The New York Times called “proxy wars for the overall direction of the Republican Party.” There’s just one problem with this dominant narrative. It’s wrong. The GOP isn’t moving back to the center. The “proxy wars” of 2014 were mainly about tactics and packaging, not moderation. Consider three of the 2014 Senate victors—all touted as evidence of the GOP’s rediscovered maturity, and all backed in contested primaries by the Establishment’s heavy, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

Obama's Trade Agreements Are a Gift to Corporations

Trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership are about dismantling critical regulations on health, safety, labor, and the environment. 

(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
(Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/NurPhoto/Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images) Protesters gathered outside the Smith Center to speak out against the fast-track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Portland, Oregon, on January 31, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Boston Globe . L ate last week, legislation moved forward that would give President Obama authority to negotiate two contentious trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But for the most part, these aren’t trade agreements at all. They’re a gift to corporations, here and in partner countries that view purely domestic regulations as restraints of trade. If these deals pass, the pharmaceutical industry could get new leverage to undermine regulations requiring the use of generic drugs. The tobacco industry has used similar “trade” provisions to challenge package label warnings. A provision in both deals, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, would allow...

Faculty Join Fast Food in the Fight for $15

On campuses across the country, adjunct professors are starting to organize against rock-bottom pay and tenuous job security. 

Faculty Forward USC
Faculty Forward USC Adjunct faculty march for better pay and working conditions at the University of Southern California on April 15, 2015. A s yesterday’s Fight for $15 protests wound to a close across the country, it’s become clear that this movement is not a fleeting effort—it’s here to stay. The focal point has primarily been on the most visible low-wage workers: fast food and retail workers whose pay perpetually hovers around minimum wage. And their employers seem to be taking a small, yet encouraging, step in the right direction as both McDonald’s and Wal-Mart recently announced increases to their respective minimum wages. However, another employment sector that’s not typically associated with low wages was prominent yesterday as well: the American professoriate. Higher education institutions in the United States employ more than a million adjunct professors. This new faculty majority, about 70 percent of the faculty workforce , is doing the heavy lifting of academic instruction...

Calls From Home

In a region dominated by coal companies and privatized prisons, activist Amelia Kirby charts a new path for her community. 

(AP Photo/David Goldman)
(AP Photo/David Goldman) In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, an unreclaimed strip mine just across the state line from Kentucky's Harlan County stands in Virginia as seen from the Kentucky side of Black Mountain in Lynch, Ky. A melia Kirby was driving in a particularly beautiful part of her home county in the late 1990s when she noticed the construction. She thought it was yet another strip mine, taking off the tops of mountains to extract the coal beneath. But instead, it was the beginnings of a prison. Amelia’s double-take was indicative of a general shift in central Appalachia, an area roughly spanning eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, western Virginia, and southern West Virginia. As the coal industry has declined in an area long synonymous with it, states have turned to prisons as an alternative form of economic development. Since 1992, central Appalachia has seen the construction of four federal, three state, and one private prison, with another federal prison potentially on the way...

Federal Contract Workers and the Fight For a Living Wage

How your tax dollars are creating millions of underpaid jobs—and how workers are fighting back. 

Tommy Wells/Flickr
Tommy Wells/Flickr Public employees at a 2013 Good Jobs Nation rally in Washington, D.C. T oday, workers in hundreds of cities across the United States will take to the streets to protest meager minimum wages that are keeping them in poverty. Fight For 15 organizers and activists are speaking out against low wages. McDonald’s, Walmart, and other mega-corporations employ a good number of those workers, but the biggest creator of low-wage jobs in the United States is none other than the federal government through federal contracting. In 2013, a coalition of labor groups started Good Jobs Nation (GJN) to fight to increase and recover wages for government contract employees. On April 9 of this year, GJN released a report, “ The Return of Federal Sweatshops? How America’s Broken Contract Wage Laws Fail Workers ,” which details how the federal government creates poverty-wage jobs and how workers on federal contract routinely don’t receive their fair amount of pay. Alongside the report, the...

Hillary Clinton: From Symbolism to Specifics

Hillary's economic agenda is vague and undefined. When she's forced to get specific, what kind of Democrat will she be?

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the America Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), in Washington, Monday, March 23, 2015. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W e progressives should feel pretty good about ourselves after watching Hillary Clinton's launch video. The core economic theme was there—most American's aren't getting ahead; the top is taking too much. And the social theme was stunning—a heavy emphasis on the racial and ethnic mosaic that is America, the gay couple holding hands, the strong focus on women and families. Among other things, it was a delicious if belated rebuke to those Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) types of the first Clinton era who disparaged "identity politics." The video appealed to the best in American aspirations, and shamed the hateful negativity in the squabbling camp of Republican...

Today's GOP: The Party of Jefferson Davis -- Not Lincoln

(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Photo: Mathew Brady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons) Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, as captured by photographer Mathew Brady in 1861. This essay originally appeared in The Washington Post . O ne hundred and fifty years ago Thursday, after Union infantry effectively encircled the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee sent a note to Ulysses S. Grant proposing a meeting to discuss terms of surrender. With that, the Civil War began to end. And at some point in the future, it may yet. The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive...

The Opportunity Dodge

It's an empty promise—because the chance to thrive will never be good amid great inequalities.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) Conservative politicians like Jeb Bush, shown here speaking at the Economic Club of Detroit in February, avoid addressing inequality and focus instead on what they call "the opportunity gap." This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. And click here for a free PDF of this 25th Anniversary Issue of the Prospect . W e think of America as the land of opportunity, but the United States actually has low rates of upward mobility relative to other advanced nations, and there has been no improvement in decades. Creating more opportunity is therefore a worthy goal. However, when the goal of more opportunity is offered instead of addressing income inequality, it’s a dodge and an empty promise—because opportunity does not thrive amid great inequalities. It is important to distinguish between opportunity (or mobility) and income inequality. Concerns about mobility relate to strengthening the chances that children who grow up with...

Brewing Human Rights Crisis in Baltimore as City Threatens Mass Water Shutoffs

Residents warn move is part of global trend towards the 'commodification of our basic needs.'

Davide Restivo
Davide Restivo/Wikimedia Commons This article originally appeared at Common Dreams . I n what residents warn is a mounting human rights crisis, the city of Baltimore has commenced sending 25,000 notices, the vast majority to city and county residents, threatening to shut off water if delinquent bills are not paid within ten days. The organization Food & Water Watch estimates that 75,000 residents are under immediate threat of having their taps turned off, in a city beset with rising water rates and housing costs, where nearly one out of four people live below the federal poverty line. Jessica Lewis, co-founder of the Right to Housing Alliance, a human rights organization led by people most affected by the affordable housing crisis in Baltimore, told Common Dreams that local communities are in the process of assessing the impact and getting organized. "A lot of renters we work with are angry but also tired, because they see more and more of the costs of having a place to live...

Our Corporate Saviors

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) In this March 31, 2015 file photo, people participate in rally in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York. A pay bump for workers at some McDonald's restaurants, announced Wednesday, April 1, 2015, isn't likely to ease the pressures the chain is facing over labor issues. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hat are we to make of the fact that some big corporations are turning out to be the relative good guys, on issues as varied as same-sex marriage, the environment and even (to a limited extent) workers' wages? Last week, the governors of Indiana and Arkansas were forced to back down and dilute bogus "religious freedom" laws intended to shelter discrimination against gays and lesbians, in large part because their corporate bigwigs told them to stop embarrassing the state and scaring off business. In Indiana, these included the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the Indiana Pacers, and even the Indy 500. In Arkansas, the pressure...

Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

(Photo courtesy of USW Local 675)
(Screenshot of video from International Brotherhood of Teamsters) A picket line of truckers in Long Beach, California, in 2014. This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . I n 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all. At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to...

Why the Feds Can't Seem to Rein in For-Profit Colleges -- Or Stop Giving Them Money

For-profit colleges have mastered predatory lending while still relying heavily on federal dollars. 

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Makenzie Vasquez, from left, Pamala Hunt, Latonya Suggs, Ann Bowers, Nathan Hornes, Ashlee Schmidt, Natasha Hornes, Tasha Courtright, Michael Adorno and Sarah Dieffenbacher, pose for a picture in Washington, Monday, March 30, 2015. Former and current college students calling themselves the “Corinthian 100” say they are on a debt strike and refuse to pay back their student loans. The name comes from Corinthian Colleges Inc., which operated the for-profit Everest College, Heald College and WyoTech schools before agreeing last summer to sell or close its 100-plus campuses. This article was originally published by Demos . L ast week, after some dogged journalistic legwork by Inside Higher Ed ’s Michael Stratford, the Department of Education released a list of 560 colleges that have been placed under a level of extra scrutiny—known as “Heightened Cash Monitoring”—due to concerns about a college’s finances or administrative capacity, or as the result of an...

The Crisis of Black Unemployment: Still Higher Than Pre-Recession Levels

Despite increasing hires of black workers, the employment gap between African Americans and whites remains high.

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
This report was produced by the Economic Policy Institute as part of the Full Employment Project of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. B y the end of 2014, the U.S. economy had experienced 58 consecutive months of job growth, and the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.6 percent from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. In fact, 2014 was by far the strongest year of the recovery, with job growth averaging over 246,000 per month, the highest monthly rate since before the recession. Economic growth also picked up, with gross domestic product rising at annual rates of 4.6 percent and 5 percent during the second and third quarters, respectively, following a first-quarter decline of 2.1 percent. Last year’s solid job growth proved to be especially beneficial to communities of color, whose unemployment rates rose well above 10 percent during the worst years of the recession. In particular, after reaching a high of 16.8 percent in March 2010, the African American unemployment rate...

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