Informal Workers: When No One Watching, No One Cares – Walmart & Domestics

Labor Organizing Organizing WalMart

New Orleans  In the modern workforce economy of informal workers, contingent employees, and endless layers of subcontracting, both domestically and internationally, the obvious conclusion is that when no one is watching, no one cares, and, perhaps worse, no one is ever accountable.  This is not just a “race to the bottom,” but deliberate strategies to conceal, avoid, and operate with impunity in the most predatory fashion possible.

On the Walmart Watch

In the ashes of the Bangladesh fire with the obvious physical evidence of Faded Glory clothing in their hands, as reported by the Times, Walmart was not able to continue to insist on yesterday’s lie that the Tazreen factory was NOT working for them.  The latest spin in perhaps even more pernicious than an outright lie!

On Monday, Walmart said that the ‘Tazreen factory was on longer authorized to produce merchandise for Walmart,’ but confirmed that one of its suppliers had ‘subcontracted’ work to the factory without authorization.  The company said that it was immediately terminating its relationship with the supplier.

So this is how it all works.  Walmart of course doesn’t manufacture anything directly so all of its suppliers are essentially subcontractors.  It goes unsaid whether subcontracted work from one of its contractors ever requires “authorization” from Bentonville.  But, hey, let the good times roll, who cares, Walmart thinks it can walk away despite all of the evidence to the contrary by simply firing an unnamed, unknown fall guy, “the supplier.”  Meanwhile the Clean Clothes Campaign tallied the deaths by fire in Bangladesh textile mills at 500 over the last 6 years, making it impossible to believe that even in Bentonville, Arkansas, there was not an acute understanding that the risk of fires in these plants was not always omnipresent.  Come on, man!

            Almost as amazing was another business based story on the release of a study called “Home Economics:  The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”  In what must be one of the least surprising conclusions ever produced by any foundation funded study in the history of such animals, the surveys exhaustively found that the workers were underpaid.  Heck, they didn’t even make a living wage!  Hello?!?  Invisible?  Unregulated?  That’s the point of informal labor, friends, not the surprise behind it.

Steven Greenhouse from the Times tries to pull one story out of the obvious from Barbara Young, an organizer for the domestic workers alliance.

Ms. Young said she once asked her employer to take out money to contribute to Social Security for her.  But at the end of the year, she recalled, the husband in the house returned that money, saying he had not bothered to pay it into Social Security.

Well, at least there is some surprise here.  It’s amazing that the “husband in the house” bothered to tell her that he had not paid and even more amazing that he “returned that money.”  Of course it is not surprising that the employer did not want to pay the matching contributions and payroll taxes either.

In 1980, ACORN’s Household Workers Organizing Committee (HWOC) based in New Orleans won and settled a lawsuit for domestic housekeepers that that required the IRS to notify employers who were actually paying social security that they also had to pay the federal minimum wage that covered such workers for the first time in 1978.  This is almost the definition of a Pyrrhic victory since the vast majority of employers were simply paying neither the minimum wage nor Social Security despite the requirements.  Little has changed in the intervening years.

Too bad the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, and the Alexander Soros Foundation didn’t step up to the plate and actually move their funds to support the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance to do real organizing, rather than a survey proving the obvious and easily observable fact that domestic workers in the home are underpaid, blah, blah, blah.