Meeting the Challenge of Organizing Immigrant and Domestic Workers

Rabat   We got a good look at alternative strategies to meet the demand of immigrant and domestic workers in Morocco, one from an NGO project with the African Cultural Center of Morocco and the other from a feisty, political union of 18,000 members that had created a “section” for immigrant workers, domestics, and others, like street sellers.

Rose Monde and the NGO

Rose Monde and her colleagues were sharp as tacks and very articulate. They had narrowed their focus within the outlines of a European Union grant over recent years to the sub-set of domestic workers who were from sub-Saharan countries, like the Congo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and Senegal. Their estimate of the total numbers of domestics in the country and in Rabat, the capital, were huge and in the six figures, but their target was only a couple of thousand. Their main strategy had been education and training in various conferences over the years of the project. The butcher paper on the walls, looked like they had a good understanding of the issues and abuse, but might not have succeeded in forging tactics for effective response. They touted the law that would protect some workers from some of the more extreme abuses, but it still had another year to go before implementation, so it was unclear what their options might be now.

They agreed with the ODT, the Democratic Organization of Workers, and its leadership on several issues, one of them being the fact that Morocco has become less a transition stop for migrant workers moving to Europe, than a destination location now. The ODT was a younger union and touted its inclusiveness and openness to various workers. They ran what they called parallel structures with the formal workers and then the various sections of informal and immigrant workers running semi-autonomous programs within them. They were proud of being the first to welcome immigrant workers.

The legal framework for immigrants is fraught. The law allows a process of receiving registration that allows the ability to work. In a provision that only President Trump could love, they have to re-register annually and certify that no native Moroccan is interested in the job. If not, all good. If so, away you go!

With such a far-flung membership and several offices around the country, the fact that ODT opens its ranks is a smart strategy for growth in the future with limited investment or capacity in the present. Ali Lotfi, the General Secretary, of the union was proud of his international labor contacts, and mentioned having been at the SEIU convention and heard Hillary Clinton speak. He said they had also helped on the McDonalds’ campaign.

The ODT is worth watching. They are doing some interesting work, even if we were sometimes struggling to put our arms around it. The ACM project has some good staff, research, and skills, but lacks some of the innovative instincts and aggressiveness of the ODT.

Immigrants and domestic workers with a clear view of their plight are probably wishing there was one plan to build a real organization so that they could win their rights and protect them. Hopefully we’ll hear about that in the next stage.

Please enjoy David Bowie’s Suffragette City.

Thanks to KABF.


AI and Algorithms Are Not That Smart and Could be Dangerous without Supervision

Little Rock Artificial intelligence or AI, as people are starting to call it fairly routinely, and the algorithms that crowd around us everywhere, are muscling into every part of our lives in ways we don’t clearly understand, but that increasingly demand our attention. We are making a mistake by relaxing our concentration and relying on them without caution and careful observation.

Let me give some examples.

In Greenville, Mississippi the other day before a meeting we were chatting about computers and how we depended on them. My friend argued that if he wasn’t working, he would have a flip phone still, rather than a smartphone. He then told me a story both hilarious and frightening. One of his grandnephews had passed away as a teenager of cancer. He was talking to a much young grandnephew and trying to both console and counsel him. His nephew had asked him why his cousin had died. My friend explained cancer and in brief the search for a cure, and ended by saying perhaps his nephew would end up becoming a doctor and helping find the cure when he grew up. The boy nodded as he listened, and then looked at his uncle and said, “Maybe so, but if not, I’ll ask Siri for help.” Siri is of course the robotron voice on Apple devices. We both laughed hard, but the other thing at work was how much the young boy already depended on this detached AI voice for his way forward.

Of course Amazon and Facebook are headline news example of shortcuts and greed failing to supervise their algorithms. Facebook of course is having to explain how its vaunted AI and algorithms allowed people to search out racist, misogynist, and anti-Semitic folks to be their hater buddies. A report by Pro Publica pulled their tail, and CFO Sandy “Lean-In” Sandburg drew the straw to go public on this by saying she was personally offended by it, but leaving the nagging question of why they had to be told this was a problem and didn’t know already? Oh, and of course they also allowed Russian fronts to create fake groups as long as they paid them $150,000 so that there was no nevermind. Amazon makes billions by tooling its algorithm so that when you buy item x, they will suggest that people who buy x, also usually by y and z with it. Someone had to pull their sleeve about the fact that their algorithm was helping people build bombs by linking the needed elements together. Whoops – bang!

Interviewing Edward Hess of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia about his new book, Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age on Wade’s World on KABF makes all of this seem like child’s play. He wants to trigger a conversation by business, policy makers, and the rest of us about the tech revolution that is coming from these same directions. He argued that the job displacement would be many factors more than we saw in the Great Depression and that the impact would dwarf the Industrial Revolution when it took 60 to 80 years to recover the jobs. This is a revolution that takes the breath away once we start twisting our worry beads. His advice was start retraining yourself today because everyone from bottom to the top professionals could find themselves in the unemployment line without new skills.

I’m already running as fast as my legs can carry me just trying to keep up, but all of this is a warning to pay attention, ask hard questions even of the robots, and start planning your own survival strategy.