DECEMBER 3, 2012 6:55PM

Libby's Pol Stew: FastFood, Hunger, Fed, Hostess, Bangladesh

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Workers protest low wages at New York City fast-food restaurants

Sandy English

Hundreds of fast-food workers and their supporters protested against low wages and lack of benefits such as healthcare at several McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants in New York City on Thursday and Friday.

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Workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and similar establishments are some of the most exploited in New York City. Many positions start at $7.25 an hour and seldom see wages rise above $9.00 an hour. Few fast-food chains offer health insurance or other benefits to their workers.

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Over 50,000 people work in New York’s fast-food industry. Often these are the only jobs available to workers, especially youth, in a city with over 9 percent unemployment. Over one million workers—a third of the workforce—earn less than $11.75 an hour. Twenty-one percent of New York City’s population meets the official poverty guidelines, and the city’s homeless shelters now accommodate a record 47,000 people, including 20,000 children. That figure is expected to rise substantially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Fast-food restaurants are part of a $200 billion-dollar industry that pays its CEOs astronomical amounts in salaries, bonuses and stock options. The 2012 compensation for David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, was $29.4 million, or over 4,300 times as much as the pay of an average employee. In 2011, after four months on the job, Wendy’s CEO Emil Brolick earned $4.6 million. Jim Skinner, McDonald's outgoing CEO, is slated to receive about $10 million by the end of the year.

The extreme inequality and worsening living conditions for masses of people in New York have created explosive conditions in the city.

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The Fast Food Forward protest comes on top of similar actions at Walmart stores across the country on Black Friday. The Walmart protests were part of an attempt to unionize the company’s low-wage workers (who make an average of $8.81 an hour) by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

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The unions themselves play a key role in suffocating dissent. Their job is to isolate and weaken any spontaneous struggles by sections of the working class. The SEIU was one of the biggest contributors to the 2012 campaign for the re-election of Obama, whose economic policies promote low wages as a means of making the US economy more “competitive” and attracting corporations that have moved production to China, Mexico and elsewhere to reduce labor costs.

Hungry For The Holidays: 20 Facts About Hunger In America That Will Blow Your Mind

Michael Snyder

Food stamp use is at an all-time high.  Demand at food banks is at an all-time high.  They keep telling us that we are in an “economic recovery” and yet the middle class continues to shrink and the number of Americans living in poverty just continues to grow.  We are witnessing unprecedented hunger in America, and this especially seems tragic during the holidays.  ...

For many Americans, hunger has become a way of life.  Families that don’t have enough money are often faced with some absolutely heartbreaking choices.  Just check out what one Maine official that works with the Emergency Food Assistance Program recently had to say…

“One in six people in Maine don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or skip a meal so their kids can eat, or have to choose between paying for prescriptions and food, or fuel for your car and food,” Hall said. “What’s amazing is that food is always the first thing to go from your budget. It’s staggering, the choices people have to make.”

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In Staten Island, all of the agencies that respond to hunger reported not having enough food to meet demand, while in the Bronx that was true for 80 percent of agencies. In Queens and Brooklyn, more than 60 percent of agencies did not have enough food to meet the needs of the populations they serve.

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#1 According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”

#2 In October 2008, 30.8 million Americans were on food stamps.  By August 2012 that number had risen to 47.1 million Americans.

#3 Right now, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#4 It is projected that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18 years of age.

#5 According to new numbers that were just released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans living in poverty increased to a new all-time record high of 49.7 million last year.

#7 Today, about one out of every four workers in the United States brings home wages that are at or below the federal poverty level.

#8 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate for children living in the United States is about 22 percent.

#9 Overall, approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are living in homes that are either considered to be either “low income” or impoverished.

#10 In the United States today, close to 100 million Americans are considered to be either “poor” or “near poor”.

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#13 In 2010, 42 percent of all single mothers in the United States were on food stamps.

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#18 More than 20 million U.S. children rely on school meal programs to keep from going hungry.

Our Collapsing Economy and Currency

Paul Craig Roberts

The US economy has two serious diseases, and neither one is too much welfare spending.

One disease is the offshoring of US middle class jobs, both manufacturing jobs and professional service jobs such as engineering, research, design, and information technology, jobs that formerly were filled by US university graduates, but which today are sent abroad or are filled by foreigners brought in on H-1B work visas at two-thirds of the salary.

The other disease is the deregulation, especially the financial deregulation, that caused the ongoing financial crisis and created banks too big to fail, which has prevented capitalism from working and closing down insolvent corporations.

The Federal Reserve’s policy is focused on saving the banks, not on saving the economy. The Federal Reserve is purchasing not only new Treasury bonds issued to finance the more than one trillion dollar annual federal deficit but also the banks’ underwater financial instruments, taking them off the banks’ books and putting them on the Federal Reserve’s books.

US bankruptcy judge approves $1.75 million in bonuses for Hostess executives

David Walsh

A federal bankruptcy judge in White Plains, New York, Thursday granted approval to bonuses of $1.75 million for Hostess Brands executives as they organize the liquidation of the company.

The shutting down of Hostess’s operations means the destruction of 18,500 jobs and the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, some 5,500 distribution routes and 570 outlet stores scattered across the US. Many smaller communities will be devastated by the actions.

However, Judge Robert Drain saw fit to agree with Hostess management that 19 executives deserved extra compensation as they wind down the company they helped to drive into the ground.

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The Wall Street Journal noted that “The management bonuses would total about 25 percent to 75 percent of the managers’ annual base salary and are in lieu of bonuses they would ordinarily receive.” CEO Gregory Rayburn, not eligible for a bonus, is currently earning $125,000 a month, or $1.5 million a year.

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Speaking of the proposed bonuses, an “outraged” Carroll told ABC News, “Anybody’s got a reason to be upset who lost their job, if they’re handing out large amounts of money.” He also explained, “I was qualified to draw my pension, with no notice I lost about 70 or 75 percent of it. I didn’t work 34 years to lose it.”

Police attack Bangladesh garment workers

Wasantha Rupasinghe

Thousands of Bangladesh garment workers demonstrated this week over the deaths of at least 112 workers in the country’s worst factory fire at Tazreen Fashions in the Ashulia industrial zone north of Dhaka. At least another 150 were injured, either by the fire or after jumping out of factory windows to escape the blaze.

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Protesters blocked the Dhaka-Tangail highway for six hours and clashed with police. About 50 workers were injured when the police charged with truncheons, and fired teargas shells and rubber bullets. Authorities shut most of the 300 garment factories in the area.

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Bangladesh’s New Age newspaper reported: “[M]ost survivors who became injured in the fire were struggling to pay for their treatment as neither the government, nor the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporter’s Association (BGMEA), nor factory owners had come forward to help them.”

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The economy heavily depends on garment exports, which constitute about 80 percent of total exports and are worth $19 billion per year. Major global corporations source their products in Bangladesh, precisely because costs are low. At $37 a month, wages for garment workers are lower than in China, Sri Lanka or Vietnam.

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More than enough evidence has already emerged, however, about the real causes of the tragedy: unavailability of emergency exits, locked exit doors during work hours and the lack of proper fire extinguishers and drills. These conditions are common throughout the garment industry, which is the world’s second largest after China.

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Over the past five years, at least 500 people have died in factory fires.

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Global transnationals have attempted to distance themselves from the Tazreen factory fire. Walmart initially declared that it was not sure if its items were manufactured there. But after items with one of its brands were found at the site, it blamed a supplier. Similarly, Sears Holdings declared that it did know its items were being made at the factory, and sacked its supplier.

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The reality is that these global giants maintain a façade of concern through a system of codes of conduct, third-party inspectors and audits. These inspections carry no legal force and are designed to protect the companies and their brand names, not the workers. At the same time, global giants like Walmart continue to maintain the pressure on suppliers and factories to lower prices, inevitably leading to deteriorating, not improving, working conditions.

The brutal face of global capitalism

Peter Symonds

The worst factory fire in Bangladesh’s history, which broke out on Saturday night in the Ashulia industrial zone, has exposed the ugly workings of global capitalism.

At least 112 workers died in the blaze, either through suffocation and burns, or from jumping out of the eight-storey building in a desperate attempt to escape. The fire, which began on the ground floor, where flammable textile and yarn was stored, blocked the stairs. The only other exits were locked.

Photographs of the burnt-out Tazreen Fashions building show rows of incinerated workspaces where hundreds of workers produced clothes for major European and American corporations, including Walmart and the C&A retail chain. The lack of elementary fire safety precautions was matched by long hours, poor conditions and low pay. Survivors explained that they were owed three months of unpaid wages, plus bonuses.

In the fire’s immediate aftermath, a well-practised cover-up swung into operation at all levels. The government, local and national authorities and employers’ groups shed a few crocodile tears over the deaths, announced sham inquiries and promised pittances in compensation to the families of the victims. All of this is aimed at silencing critics and preventing unrest until the story drops out of the news.

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All the global corporations sourcing their goods in Bangladesh have sought to distance themselves from the tragedy. PVH, Nike, Gap, American Eagle Outfitters and the French company Carrefour released statements declaring that their products were not made at the Tazreen garment factory. After its brand labels were found at the scene, Walmart blamed a supplier that subcontracted work to the factory, allegedly without authorisation.

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None of these giant companies makes the same mistake when it comes to meticulously detailing the manufacture, quality and cost of the items being made in Bangladesh’s sweatshops. They are all well aware that improvements to working conditions, safety standards and poverty-level wages will only lift the price, and so they turn a blind eye.

The conditions at the Tazreen Fashions factory were not the exception, but the rule. Saturday’s fire was simply the worst of the blazes that have claimed at least 500 lives since 2006. The garment industry in Bangladesh has expanded over the past three decades to become the second largest in the world, after China, precisely because its wages are the lowest of the cheap labour platforms.

A comment in Bangladesh’s Financial Express yesterday detailed the appalling conditions throughout the garment sector: “Only a few owners of garment factories pay the monthly wages and overtime bills to their workers in time… In most factories, the owners deliberately keep at least two months’ salary and overtime bills of the workers in arrears. The management does hiring and firing of workers randomly and the retrenched workers, in most cases, are not paid their dues. Further, in the absence of weekly holidays, the workers, their families and their children are all severely affected both mentally and physically.

“Most garment factories in Bangladesh have no minimum safety measures, not even the required number of fire extinguishers. Some 227 factories in Dhaka alone do not have emergency exits. Most factories do not conduct the required monthly evacuation drills… According to national labour studies, there are only five inspectors for the entire industry—the same number as in the 1970s, when the industry first started sprouting.”

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Businesses in Bangladesh are in a cutthroat competition with their rivals elsewhere in Asia, Africa and Latin America for orders and profits. The conditions and safety standards facing workers in these countries are no different to those in Bangladesh.

In September, the world’s worst factory fire, at Ali Enterprises in Pakistan, took nearly 300 lives, surpassing the death toll of 188 in Thailand’s toy factory fire in 1993. The story in both these cases was the same: no fire exits, blocked stairwells and locked doors, and no existent fire safety measures, forcing workers to jump from windows, in some cases to their death. Once public outrage subsided, it was back to business as usual.

Far from conditions and safety standards improving, the worsening global economic crisis is driving companies to cut corners and impose new burdens on workers as corporations struggle to compete. Wages and conditions in the so-called developing economies are becoming the benchmark for the advanced capitalist countries. Already there has been a massive erosion of living standards in the countries at the centre of the European debt crisis—Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

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And the solution is?
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Always enlightening. Yes, where will it end? Are we in a slumbering Corporate police state that controls people, not unlike the goon squads of the thirties in Europe? The Healthcare scare was a true travesty, revealing the vile contempt for the Insurance industry for the people it purportedly serves ... no shame here.

The people at the bottom, now, appear closer to those who just barely make bills -- yet work longer, for less. We know that without some kind of collective bargaining, that many people would be below $5.00 /hr. Shameful.
Thanks for sharing. R>>>>>>>>
We seem to be slouching towards that point where all the useless military bases and all the useless brutal minor and major wars will be too expensive for a totally collapsed economy. You've got to look at the bright side.

Incidentally it took me a half hour of parallel search to get to your blog on this site which also seems to be slouching towards oblivion.
Our Salon is in fine operating condition and probably would profit greatly by your participation