February 19, 2018

Book Review, Unemployment and the Popular Sectors’ Pursuit of Inclusion

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Book Review: Unemployment and the Popular Sectors’ Pursuit of Inclusion
by Ray Bromley

The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina
Rossi Federico M. The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

Writing as a political scientist with a wide-ranging and comprehensive knowledge of social movements, popular organizations, and politics in Argentina, Federico Rossi provides an insightful review of “the second incorporation,” the period from 2001 till 2008 in which the piqueteros had a major impact on Argentine politics and public policy. Argentina’s piquetero (picketer) movement consists of dozens of different organizations, some emerging from union federations, some from political parties, some from radical Catholic (liberation theology) movements, and many representing provincial, municipal, and local interests. They continue as significant participants in Argentine politics, and Rossi provides some information on post-2008 changes, but his main focus is on events and transformations leading up to 2008.

February 16, 2018

Political Report # 1312 The Many Ways Mexico Is Trying to Stop an Indigenous Woman Candidate for President

By Tamara Pearson


Mexico's first Indigenous female presidential hopeful might not even get her campaign off the ground, thanks to outright discrimination and a host of arduous requirements that stop ordinary people from participating in politics.
The campaign of Maria de Jesús Patricio Martinez (also known as Marichuy) so far has just 14 percent of the signatures necessary to register her as a candidate for July's general election.
"To collect signatures, you have to have a high-quality phone that processes data quickly and has a high-resolution camera. That's what the INE [National Electoral Institute] requires for scanning voter ID. These phones cost at least 12,000 pesos," said Gerardo Bazan, a member of Resistrenzas, a Puebla city-based group that supports Marichuy and her broader campaign.
Marichuy is representing the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), as well as a broader campaign in defense of land against multinationals, for environmental justice, women's rights and more. But those campaigning for her know she doesn't stand a chance -- starting with the expensive smartphones required.
"If you think about what the minimum wage is (2,220 pesos per month), that's very expensive. And that's on top of the fact that a lot of communities, especially Indigenous ones, aren't even registered to vote -- so there's already that censuring," said Eva Serna, another member of Resistrenzas.
Communities can submit requests to the INE to be allowed to use paper signatures, but even then, they face an uphill battle, as many don't have access to the internet, electricity or photocopiers. Those supporters who manage to get the smartphones then have to wage war with the application, which requires high-speed internet. Even some of the wealthier independent candidates are struggling, with Margarita Zavala, wife of former president Felipe Calderon, uploading a video illustrating how the INE application gives her a range of error messages, before she gives up.
For now, campaigners have worked out that the best time to use the app is midday, when sunlight is good enough to get a decent scan of voter ID. But despite managing to overcome many of these hurdles, Marichuy supporters found that phone and internet reception stopped working on October 14 in Altamirano, and on October 15 in Ocosingo, right when the campaign tour was passing through. Marichuy herself has also complained that various banks had refused to open a bank account for her -- which is one of the requirements made of independent candidates. Then, on January 21, armed people in two vans stopped Marichuy's campaign caravan and stole journalists' phones and cameras.
The Poor Are Overlooked, Overworked and Don't Have Time to Collect Signatures
"What the INE asks for is nothing, really, compared to the organizational effort that goes into a campaign like this," Serna said. "How do we make this campaign visible with most media refusing to cover it, without a printer -- using just our own resources?"
"You have to be visible in public all the time, otherwise people don't take you seriously," Bazan said. "There's a lot of physical effort and time involved. Marichuy is traveling the country, visiting a few towns every day, with next to no resources."
Upper-class candidates tend to have financial support from businesses, colleagues and cartels, but Marichuy's base is mostly made up of people below the poverty line. Almost 60 percent of workers in Mexico are informal workers, without any labor rights or security, and Mexico tops the list for the longest working day, as well as for women spending the largest amount of their time on unpaid work. While women spend an average of 373 minutes a day on unpaid work in Mexico (the second-highest amount globally), Mexican men spend just 113 minutes a day, and Korean men, for example, spend just 45 minutes.
For many of Marichuy's supporters, "If they don't work for a day, they don't eat that day," according to Bazan. "They aren't going to be able to volunteer. But other candidates have the luxury to pay for campaigners. All of us though are volunteers who care about a cause."
"When she's traveling around campaigning, Marichuy stays in a local home; she doesn't stay in hotels," Serna said.
On top of that, media stereotypes about who makes a plausible national leader are making things even harder for women, Indigenous peoples and the poorer classes. "When the proposal (for a female Indigenous candidate) first came out in March last year, the media went on the attack, saying 'how is it possible for an Indian to be a candidate?'" Bazan said. "People on social media went on the offensive, taking it as a joke. Combined with such racism, we're faced with the lack of knowledge -- that people aren't aware of the CNI."
Indeed, people on Twitter claimed Marichuy looked like the "woman who cleans my house." Further, 80 percent of Mexicans are excluded from media and entertainment, according to an author on racism in Mexico, with most television shows and advertising portraying white and light-skinned Mexicans and upper-class Mexicans almost exclusively.
"Indigenous people are systematically forgotten," Bazan said. It wasn't until 2001 that the political rights of Indigenous peoples were recognized in Mexico, and by 2015, the INE still didn't have any data on the number of registered Indigenous voters. Currently, there are just eight Indigenous legislators representing 15 million people from Indigenous communities, while some 8,000 Indigenous people are in prison, waiting long or indefinite periods for a sentence.
The Strange Advantages That Other Candidates Have
While Marichuy's campaign is organized as a movement to defend various rights, most of the other candidates run their campaigns and their politics as a business.
Indeed, when running as an independent candidate became a possibility in 2012, many people were hopeful that it was a sign of increased democracy.
"But, now I think that 'independent' should be in inverted commas, because most of these candidates leave an old party but keep the structures and power that comes with it," said Maria Maldonado, another member of Resistrenzas. "They run independently because their party didn't choose them, but I don't see that as independence."
"While we've been out there collecting signatures, we have come across other people doing the same thing for other candidates, and found out from them that they have a wage, and they get a bonus for every 15 signatures they get -- they have that advantage," said Pavel Mayorga, also a member of Resistrenzas. "But there's no wage or bonus for dong something socially useful, like our campaign."
Competing with party candidates is even harder. Resistrenzas activists have found that just entering many communities is difficult and fraught with danger because local organizations are often part of a dominant, right-wing party like the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the National Action Party (PAN), and don't allow others to go there.
"Some of these organizations put pressure on people to affiliate to a party, and people will join so that they don't lose their land, for example," Bazan said. "We need to build up our contacts and allies in these communities, but that is a slow and long-term process that extends beyond the upcoming elections."
"People often feel that they have to join the party [the PRI] in order to obtain benefits and rights," Serna said. "Often, people aren't convinced of the politics, but they are on PRI lists because they needed something simple. They don't understand that they are paying taxes, and that what the state gives them actually isn't a gift. We have to understand that this goes back decades, and find ways to campaign despite it."
Lorena Hernandez, another member of Resistrenzas, is a teacher in a small community, where she says it was a lot of work to initially be accepted, as locals argued she shouldn't criticize the PRI during class.
"There's a tradition where during elections, [the students' parents] think they'll [be] receiving something, like a bag of school products or a water tank or graduation money in exchange for a vote or a voting credential," Hernandez said. "The local mayors are like the representatives of national party legislators and leaders, and they will suspend classes, for example, if a party candidate visits for a campaign speech."
Even in the aftermath of last year's devastating earthquakes, parties like the PRI and PAN were found distributing donated goods through refuges set up in their own names -- and having control over institutional structures like ministries -- with the police helping them do that.
A Different Type of Electoral Campaign
But Resistrenzas activists were quick to point out that they had one clear advantage over other independent candidates. "Marichuy really represents people, and the ideas she stands for have support around the country," Bazan said. While other candidates may just be known in their local area -- perhaps for their business connections or wealth -- Marichuy's campaign is about telling people that she doesn't just want their signature or vote, she wants them to get organized for long-term change.
"Marichuy even refused the money from the INE that all those aspiring to be a candidate get. That way, no one can say she's in it for the money," Maldonado said.
"The idea behind this campaign for Marichuy is to use the signature collection as a pretext to organize ourselves," Serna said. "We have to be prepared for what will probably come after the presidential election: violent structural reforms. If we're not organized, we'll be screwed."
Juan Carlos Guerrero, a supporter who accompanied Marichuy when she initially registered with the INE, said, "Through (Marichuy's campaign), the suffering that many Indigenous communities face and the violence against women will be made much more visible. She isn't just another presidential candidate; her candidature is about making the underdog side of Mexico visible."
"Our organization is important because of the plundering of Indigenous communities ... and in the cities as well, there are so many deaths, imprisonments and forced disappearances," Marichuy said. "Trump wants to finish us off -- that was clear from the moment he took over. Our struggle is also against him. We know it isn't easy, but we have to build our forces."

Original article can be found here:

Book Review, Historical Contexts of Street Vendor Politics in the Mexican State

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Book Review: Historical Contexts of Street Vendor Politics in the Mexican State
by Walter E. Little

Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico
García Sandra Mendiola Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017.

Street vendors constitute one of the largest sectors of the global economy. Their presence is ubiquitous in the Global North and South, where they may be incorporated into the formal economy as taxpaying and permit-holding business owners or vilified by elites, fixed business owners, and government officials as a blight on urban aesthetics, unfair competitors, and health and zoning hazards. Latin American street vendors’ economic practices, lifestyles, and struggles have been well documented by anthropologists, geographers, historians, political scientists, and sociologists, but in Street Democracy: Vendors, Violence, and Public Space in Late-Twentieth-Century Mexico the historian Sandra Mendiola García makes significant contributions to our understandings of how street vendors organize and survive in a politically hostile environment and how grassroots democracy functions. Despite her claim to bring together their economic and political histories (2), little of her book relates to economics. Rather, it is a well-researched description of how street vendors organize politically and re-envision their social and political relations with each other and with social and political actors such as students and neighborhood associations. Drawing on a wide range of archival sources and on oral history and interviews, she reconstructs the struggles of street vendors in Puebla, Mexico, from roughly 1970 to 1990 to form the Unión Popular de Vendedores Ambulantes (Popular Union of Street Vendors—UPVA) and resist the efforts of the local government and its elite allies to squash their sales and remove them from the historic center of the city.

February 14, 2018

Political Report # 1311 Media Ignoring Puerto Rico’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ Makeover

By Reed Richardson,


Nearly five months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, more than a hundred thousand US citizens there still lack clean drinking water, and almost one-third of the island has no reliable electric power. As initial life-sustaining recovery efforts still grind toward completion, Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has wasted no time using his territory’s recovery as an opportunity to push a number of policy proposals right out of the “disaster capitalism” playbook: from privatizing the island’s power utility to converting nearly all of its public schools to charters.
And while the mainstream US press has been mainly focused on the Trump administration’s woeful institutional response to the storm, it has barely noticed this much more radical political transformation of Puerto Rico, and the potentially disastrous long-term consequences for the citizens who live there.
Ever since Maria made landfall on September 20, the corporate press has been neglecting  the island in its coverage. Despite ranking second behind 2005’s Hurricane Katrina for property damage and lives lost, Maria has drawn markedly less media attention than the two major hurricanes that preceded it last summer. For example, according to a survey by the Tyndall Report, broadcast network evening news reports in 2017 devoted 30 percent less coverage to the aftermath of Maria than to Houston’s recovery from Hurricane Harvey. Likewise, Maria drew 12 percent less evening news coverage than Hurricane Irma’s devastation of Florida and the US Virgin Islands.
NYT: FEMA Contract Called for 30 Million Meals for Puerto Ricans. 50,000 Were Delivered.
New York Times (2/6/18)
To be sure, major US news outlets have produced some notable pieces of accountability journalism about the storm’s aftermath. Intrepid reporting by the Daily Beast (10/24/17) uncovered how a tiny Montana energy contractor won an exorbitant $300 million no-bid contract to help restore the island’s power grid, a story that ultimately cost the head of the island’s power utility his job. A New York Times story this week (2/6/18) found similar incompetence and recklessness in Trump’s FEMA, which hired a one-woman company to provide 30 million meals to needy Puerto Ricans, only 50,000 of which were ever delivered.
However powerful, the focus of these breakout stories is mainly anecdotal, and the outrage they engender tends to fade from headlines and cable news talk shows after a few days. In her seminal report on “disaster capitalism” (The Nation,  4/14/05), author and activist Naomi Klein noted how these stories can also have the perverse effect of distracting from much larger, systemic transgressions happening out in the open:
If anything, the stories of corruption and incompetence serve to mask this deeper scandal: the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering. And on this front, the reconstruction industry works so quickly and efficiently that the privatizations and land grabs are usually locked in before the local population knows what hit them.
Nowhere was this “shock doctrine,” as Klein christened it, more evident than in New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Mere weeks after the storm hit-with many victims still missing or their bodies unrecovered-Republicans were already planning an onslaught of right-wing policy changes for the ravaged city, but few in the mainstream press took notice.
One example was an email list of policies sent from Congress’s Republican Study Committee, at the time chaired by then-Indiana Rep. Mike Pence. The memo proposed dozens of “pro-free market” ideas for the Bush administration to consider for the still-suffering city, which were little more than a wish list for corporations and private enterprise.
Similarly, Rep. Richard Baker, a Republican from New Orleans, offered this famously macabre comment on the storm’s devastating impact: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” He got his wish, and accompanying the subsequent massive makeover of the New Orleans public housing was a rapid, wholesale restructuring of the city’s troubled school system.
Klein’s 2007 book, Shock Doctrine, zeroes in on the bifurcated response post-Katrina and its impact on the schools:
In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city’s poor resident still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just four. Before that storm, there had been seven charter schools in the city; now there were 31. New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its 4,700 members had all been fired. Some of the younger teachers were rehired by the charters, at reduced salaries; most were not.
More than a decade later, Klein’s book sounds eerily prophetic of Puerto Rico Governor Roselló’s post-Maria plans. Under his education reform proposal, announced just this week, the island would closely follow the roadmap of New Orleans, creating a voucher system and converting more than 800 public schools to charters that would be run by non-profits or corporations. If implemented-the plan would require approval of the Puerto Rican legislature, but many in the majority party have already come out in support of it-the move would represent a seismic shift for the island’s struggling school system, and a major milestone for US education policy.
But mainstream US news organizations mostly shrugged at the news. Many, like the Washington Post, CBS News, CNN and MSNBC, didn’t even bother to cover it. For its part, the New York Times didn’t bother to write its own story. Instead, it just ran the same syndicated Associated Press article (2/5/18) that NBC News (2/5/18), ABC News (2/5/18) and Fox News (2/6/18) did.
El Nuevo Dia: Ricardo Rosselló announces his education reform plan
El Nuevo Dia (2/6/18)
Tellingly, none of the national news coverage saw fit to mention New Orleans’ post-Katrina experience with charter schools, even though it closely resembles what Rosselló is proposing. Local news outlet El Nuevo Dia (2/6/18) did, however, giving its readers key context that the New York Times and Associated Press left out. It painted a much different picture than Rosselló’s rosy outlook:
In Louisiana, which is one of the models the Island tries to follow, all public schools in the city of New Orleans were converted into charters after Hurricane Katrina, but did not reach the expected academic achievement.
On the contrary, education and civic organizations have denounced segregation in the education system and that the poorest or most vulnerable did not have the same access to high-quality educational opportunities.
In fact, a three-month investigation of New Orleans charter schools in 2015 by In These Times (8/28/15) found even more systemic failures. Formerly tight-knit communities were disrupted by the voucher system, teachers unions were gutted in favor of younger, cheaper and less experienced staff, and many students were left out or left behind because they were considered too difficult to teach, and thus threatened the charter schools’ standardized test scores track record. And a New Orleans Times-Picayune analysis (4/20/16) found that dozens of the city’s charter school executives ended up earning well over six-figure salaries, while teachers’ pay averaged closer to $50,000.
A similar scenario played out at the end of January, when Rosselló announced plans to privatize PREPA, Puerto Rico’s antiquated, bankrupt public utility. Again, news organizations like ABC News (1/29/18), the New York Times (1/29/18), the Washington Post (1/29/18) and Fox News (1/29/18) all relied on one or two of the same news briefs from the AP for their coverage. However, few of these news organizations chose to include critical, historical detail from the AP, buried deep in one of its stories (1/23/18):
Puerto Rico once privatized its water and sewer company only to have the government take it back in the early 2000s after problems with service, billing and quality requirements set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
How would Rosselló’s plan avoid these same past mistakes? You won’t find any answers.
CNN: Puerto Rico governor announces privatization of power utility
CNN (1/22/18)
CNN (1/22/18) and NBC News (1/22/18) wrote their own short articles on privatizing PREPA, but front-loaded Rosselló’s claims, with only cursory skepticism over selling off such a critical public asset. With no other alternative sources or plans presented, their coverage made privatization seem like a fait accompli.
Left unmentioned were some of the reasons for PREPA’s dreadful state. To appease bondholders of Puerto Rico’s skyrocketing debt, the island instituted austerity measures in 2014, prompting hundreds of experienced PREPA employees to retire early to claim their pensions before the cuts kicked in (Economist, 10/19/17). They were never replaced, leaving maintenance and upgrades languishing. Similarly, Rosselló recently began stacking PREPA’s board with political cronies that had little to no experience in running a public utility.
A Wall Street Journal article (1/22/1) on PREPA’s possible privatization waited until the final paragraph of the story to point out this detail, as well as the fact that Roselló intentionally undermined a regulatory appointee charged with oversight of the agency-something particularly relevant to how well a future privatized Puerto Rican power company might respond to public needs.
Exacerbating nearly all of the many crises facing Puerto Rico is the territory’s broader fiscal situation-it currently suffers from $70 billion in debt-and federal oversight more focused on Wall Street bondholders than American citizens living in Puerto Rico. Again, only the Associated Press (1/17/18) seems to have paid much attention to the fact that, last month, the Trump administration withheld an already-approved billion-dollar emergency disaster loan, claiming Puerto Rico had too much cash on hand. This follows a little-reported announcement in late 2016 that the federal control board overseeing the territory’s finances rejected legislation creating a $100 million emergency fund for municipalities struggling in Maria’s aftermath-no matter that most of the island’s power, water and sewer systems have little to no funds left for operations.
A rare Washington Post story (1/23/18) on the territory’s fiscal problems noted that Republicans in Congress are still intent on forcing it to honor its crushing financial burden, despite projections that the island’s economy will be devastated by a massive diaspora of nearly 500,000 people by 2020, according to one Hunter College study. As the Post story noted, House Natural Resources Committee chair Rob Bishop (R.-Utah) said the goal of the federal oversight legislation was “to return Puerto Rico to fiscal accountability and the capital markets, and this can only occur if the fiscal plans respect the lawful priorities and liens of debt holders.” Servicing a monumental debt in the midst of the island’s 11-plus-year recession while trying to rebuild from one of worst natural disasters in US history is tantamount to fiscal harakiri. But it does provide a handy excuse for Puerto Rican officials looking to tear down or sell off whatever is left of the public commons for pennies on the dollar.
WSJ: Puerto Rico Doesn't Want Reform
Wall Street Journal (11/24/17)
When not ignoring the the pillaging of Puerto Rico, some in the corporate press were not so subtly trying to make it worse. In late November, a Wall Street Journal op-ed by “Americas” columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady (11/24/17)-headlined “Puerto Rico Doesn’t Want Reform”-criticized the territory’s unwillingness to extend its own post-Maria misery when it dared to reject a predatory funding offer from PREPA bondholders.
Puerto Rico rejected the offer. “The bondholders’ proposal is not viable and would severely hamper and limit PREPA’s capacity to successfully manage its recovery,” Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority said at the time. It added that the offer had the “appearance” of “being made for the purpose of favorably impacting the trading price of existing debt.” Heaven forbid.
The arch condescension in that “heaven forbid” sums up the disaster capitalism mindset. It also speaks to a broader failure of the press to cover more radical solutions to Puerto Rico’s formidable struggles. One such proposed solution, co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz back in September, has been all but blacked out of corporate media’s post-Maria coverage of the territory, although Bloomberg (1/16/18) did mention it when the territory’s new fiscal plan was rolled out early this year. Coincidentally, this plan rejects the conventional wisdom that the island should further retrench into austerity while stripping down its assets and selling it off for parts. Instead, Stiglitz calls for more borrowing and expansion, coupled with massive write-offs of Puerto Rico’s debt-as much as 80 to 90 percent-and canceling interest payments on the remaining debt for at least five years.
Ironically, none other than President Trump endorsed the idea of radical debt forgiveness during his post-Maria visit to the island in October. “They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” he said about Puerto Rico in the Washington Post (10/3/17). “You’re going to say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that.”
NYT: White House Dials Back Trump’s Vow to Clear Puerto Rico’s Debt
New York Times (10/4/17)
This off-the-cuff comment, from someone whose White House is chock full of Goldman Sachs alums, clearly caught his staff off guard. A day later, it fell to his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to do damage control, reassuring bondholders that they could safely ignore the president’s comments. In statements to the press, Mulvaney made it clear that a Puerto Rican debt jubilee, like so many of this president’s populist-sounding promises, would not be happening (New York Times, 10/4/17).
But just because the White House wants to memory hole the inconvenient truth about Puerto Rico’s indentured servitude at the hands of Wall Street doesn’t mean the press should willingly oblige. Nor should journalists continue to ignore the long-term impacts of the privatization schemes its governor is intent on pushing through, or how the federal government enables them-not merely through its woeful emergency response, but in its failure to fund a full recovery.
Though last week’s government shutdown budget deal did allocate more money for the island, the new disaster relief package-for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, as well as California wildfires-only totaled $89 billion, whereas Puerto Rican officials have estimated more than $94 billion would be needed for the island’s recovery alone. And good luck seeing any news coverage point out that this shortfall could have easily been made up by taking some of the extra $165 billion that Congress happily added to the military budget. But then, under the “shock doctrine,” disasters are to be exploited, not mitigated-and the main role of the corporate press is not to notice.

Original article can be found here:

Book Review: Day Labor in Two U.S. Cities

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Book Review: Day Labor in Two U.S. Cities
by David Stoll

Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA
Ordoñez Juan Thomas Jornalero: Being a Day Laborer in the USA. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2015.

Against the Tide: Immigrants, Day Laborers, and Community in Jupiter, Florida
de la Vega Sandra Lazo & Steigenga Timothy Against the Tide: Immigrants, Day Laborers, and Community in Jupiter, Florida. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.

Day laborers and open-air labor markets are not new in American history, but in the twentieth century, thanks to high employment and increasing job security, they almost disappeared. Now they’re back, fed by heavy migration from Mexico and Central America, and a bone of contention in the U.S. immigration debate. For immigrant-rights activists, the increasing visibility of day laborers is irrefutable evidence of the demand for immigrant labor. Since most day laborers lack legal status, their advocates continue, they also illustrate the need for a comprehensive legalization program. For critics who wish to reduce immigration, in contrast, the resurgence of day labor is a sign that job markets are being flooded and labor laws are being ignored.

February 12, 2018

Political Report # 1310 Slave Labor, Deforestation and Greed Create Crisis in Brazilian Countryside

 By Gabriel Leao,

Americas Program

Many believe agribusiness pulled Brazil out of the worst recession in its history. Estimates for 2017 register a scant 0.4% growth after four years of crisis, according to the Boletim Focus from the National Central Bank. Agribusiness represents almost 23% of Brazil’s GDP.
Although renewed growth is good news for the world’s 9th economy, progressive sectors of society worry that the rise of agribusiness hides severe labor and environmental costs.
In October the Brazilian Ministry of Labor narrowed the official definition of what qualifies as “slave-like work” to include only situations in which the worker is deprived of freedom, be it through submission under threat of punishment from armed security guards or retention of documents, or debts. The ruling caused an uproar because it eliminated important criteria that included workplaces where workers face degrading conditions, exhausting work hours, and forced labor.
The Ministry also announced it would cease publishing its “dirty list” of employers who subject workers to abusive and humiliating conditions. The government of conservative president Michel Temer decided that those names will only be made public if and when the labor minister decides to do so. Since 2003 when the list began, the list comprised mostly names of wealthy farmers. After widespread protests and national and international headlines, the government rescinded the controversial reforms to the criteria for slave work. Later in the year, the minister of labor, Ronaldo Nogueira, left the government to run for congress. Still smarting from the controversy and with unemployment on the rise, the nation still awaits the nomination of a new minister

Abstract, Informed But Insecure: Employment Conditions and Social Protection among Paid Domestic Workers in Guayaquil

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Informed But Insecure: Employment Conditions and Social Protection among Paid Domestic Workers in Guayaquil
by Erynn Masi de Casanova, Leila Rodriguez and Rocío Bueno Roldán

Salaried domestic labor in private homes in Latin America is informal, precarious, and exploitative, but for thousands of women who have no other options it is their occupation and the sustenance of their families. The results of a study based on 400 surveys of paid domestic workers in Guayaquil, Ecuador, about social protection and labor rights show that workers possess a high level of knowledge about their labor rights but the majority do not belong to the social security system and many do not enjoy any of the benefits guaranteed them by law. Understanding the situation and experiences of these workers is a precondition for creating strategies to recognize the importance of their work and to guarantee their labor rights.

February 9, 2018

Abstract, Women’s Small-Scale, Home-Based Informal Employment during Cuba’s Special Period

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Women’s Small-Scale, Home-Based Informal Employment during Cuba’s Special Period
by Daliany Jerónimo Kersh

There is consensus in the literature that adherence to the traditional division of labor in Cuban society caused women to be disproportionately affected by the cutbacks to state services and shortages during the post-Soviet economic crisis known as the Special Period. After the devaluation of the state wage, many Cubans had to look for alternative forms of employment. Highly skilled professional Cuban women turned to feminized informal activities that made them similar to women in capitalist countries in the region and amounted to a partial reversal of the revolution’s substantial progress on gender equality. In contrast to the regulated self-employment on which existing studies focus, women’s informal labor up until 2010 was often small-scale, home-based, and unregulated. An analysis of oral histories and press archives identifies changes and continuities in women’s informal work during the crisis and shows where the interviewees locate themselves within this watershed in the Cuban Revolution.

February 7, 2018

Abstract, Pensions, Peasants, and the Informal Economy: Family and Livelihood in Contemporary Peru

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Pensions, Peasants, and the Informal Economy: Family and Livelihood in Contemporary Peru
by Susan Vincent

A Peruvian case study explores how urban informal workers negotiate their livelihoods as they age, highlighting reciprocity among urban informal workers, retired formal sector workers, and peasants in a pattern of rural-urban circular migration. Labor-intensive mining in the twentieth century created a proletarian workforce that included men from the peasant community of Allpachico. Their wages became an anchor for kin-linked clusters of households. Now, despite an economic boom, the lack of formal jobs forces younger Allpachiqueños to undertake precarious and informal work. Resource-sector-funded state social spending, such as through state-administered pensions for retired workers and the elderly poor, has replaced wages as a stable source of cash. This state mediation between the technology-intensive resource sector and citizens elicits suspicion and uncertainty. Dispossessed of the right to work and subjected to conditions of eligibility for social programs, urban informal workers continue to rely on kin and community.

February 5, 2018

Abstract, Paid Domestic Work: Gender and the Informal Economy in Mexico

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Paid Domestic Work: Gender and the Informal Economy in Mexico
by Georgina Rojas-García, Mónica Patricia Toledo González

A consideration of paid domestic work as an aspect of the informal economy in Mexico identifies some distinctive features: a paternalistic view rather than a labor relation based on a contract, a reluctance on the part of the state to regulate this employment area, and a devaluation of this work as something largely performed by women who are poor and of rural or indigenous origin. The lack of social security is almost universal among paid domestic workers, and coverage is one of the principal demands of organizations formed in defense of their rights.