FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE: SOCIAL MEDIA, CELEBRITY, AND MIGRANT RIGHTS ACTIVISM IN ITALY

CW: Murder, suicide, abuse

by Alessandra Arpaia

In recent years, Italy has undergone enormous internal change as a result of mass immigration from sub-Saharan African countries. The situation has been exploited and manipulated from every angle by the Italian media, politicians and organised crime gangs, fostering hostility towards migrant labourers as well as fuelling their exploitation. Right-wing political elites are adept at harnessing the power of social media to influence the masses; but this is a tactic that needn’t be irreplicable for social justice movements and activists on the Left, too.

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COVID AND EXPLOITATION; GARMENT INDUSTRY WORKERS ARE FIGHTING A DOUBLE-PANDEMIC

by Lotty Clare

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the worst parts of the global system of racial capitalism, and has put into stark focus the number one priority of corporations: wealth accumulation above all else. One of the most exploitative facets of this economic regime is the garment industry.

With governments poised to bail out massive corporations for their losses during this pandemic, who will bail out textile workers in the Global South, where so much of the labour that has generated enormous corporate profits has been outsourced to?

An abrupt halt in demand due to mass store closures has led to brands cancelling orders at short notice and in some cases refusing to pay for orders that suppliers are already manufacturing. CEO of New Look, Nigel Oddy, sent a letter to its suppliers stating that they would not be paying for any costs “in connection with any cancelled orders….this is a matter of survival for New Look.” For big brand executives, the pandemic is a concern purely in terms of profit loss, but for millions of garment workers, delay in payment of wages is quite literally  a matter of survival. 

Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers. 

The global garment industry relies on a combination of low wages, rapid production lines, and precarious job security, with its buyer-driven supply chains designed in a way which allows corporations to avoid accountability at the production end. The costs of labour and production are outsourced, and brands then enforce extremely unrealistic production targets. As a result, suppliers are left with little alternative but to exploit their workers in order to operate. Labour and human rights abuses in these supply chains occur mostly in the Global South, conveniently hidden from Western consumers. 

The vast majority of the 50 million workers engaged in garment production in the Global South are women of colour. Many of these women are engaged in informal employment, have little or no savings, and are consequently living in a state of income poverty in countries which offer limited if any social security. Furthermore, most small factory suppliers lack the cash reserves or access to credit to pay workers and cushion financial shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In such a context, millions of workers and their families in the Global South face an imminent risk of losing their livelihoods.

In Burma, the pandemic is even being used as a cover to sack unionised garment factory workers. Employees at the Huabo Times factory – a supplier for brands including Zara and Primark – have been resisting ongoing exploitation and abuse of their labour rights carried out by the factory. Nwe Ni Linn, president of the workers’ union there, explained that only 3 days after submitting a union registration form, 107 workers were dismissed, most of whom were union members or leaders. This was done under the guise of COVID-19 physical distancing measures but a matter of days after this took place, 200 workers were then transferred from another factory to replace the workforce lost. 

employees often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week and earn around $3 a day,

This is not an isolated incident. In the Yangon-based Jin Sen factory, workers took part in a sit-down strike after the factory reportedly sent spies into union meetings; 13 union leaders were fired shortly after. Sit-down strikes have also been used in other factories to avoid COVID-19 laws that ban demonstration gatherings. In one of Primark’s Yangon supplier factories – Amber Stone factory – workers have been wearing red headbands to protest a similar case of union busting, in which union leaders had allegedly been intimidated and beaten up by company thugs. At the Rui-Ning factory, 298 union members were fired in early May, and Myan Mode factory recently fired 520 of its unionised workers.

These employees often work 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week and earn around $3 a day, however very little has been done in response to workers’ demands for better treatment.

In India too, similar stories are emerging. On the 9th of July more than 300 garment workers organised a demonstration in Erode district of Tamil Nadu to protest non-payment of wages and lack of health and safety measures in factories. In Bangladesh, labour activists have raised the alarm about pregnant textile workers being illegally fired, employees who asked for PPE losing their jobs, and union members being purged under the cover of pandemic response measures. 

Garment factory workers’ strike in Myanmar. Image credit: Food Not Bombs Myanmar Facebook page (Wai Yan Phyoe Moe)

The pandemic has not only revealed the exploitation of workers in the garment industry of the Global South, but closer to home too. In the UK, warehouse workers for ASOS have raised objections and campaigned with GMB trade union over a lack of social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace. Headlines over the past week have also exposed the exploitation of workers in Boohoo supplier factories in Leicester. Wages of £2–3 an hour have been reported as being commonplace in Leicester factories that supply Boohoo, and employees have said that they were forced to continue work despite being unwell with the coronavirus.

Brands are pushing hundreds of thousands of working class, migrant, and Black and Brown workers into increasingly desperate situations. Yet this is taking place at the same time that these very same brands are releasing statements standing against racism; promising to ‘listen to learn’. But when will they actually listen to workers resisting exploitation in their own factories?

When working conditions are revealed, brands tend to spout empty words about their commitment to fairness and transparency. Sometimes brands will respond to criticism by cutting ties to the individual suppliers in an attempt to shed the blame. But this is not about a few bad factories treating their workers poorly, this is a systemic problem which needs a transformative systemic solution.

The pandemic is making it increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that struggles for labour rights are global struggles. Despite international campaigns, reforms have not done enough to improve working conditions and have done little to change fatally unequal power relations that exist in the garment industry.  Successful change will mean real international solidarity between workers movements in the Global South and Global North.


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RESISTANCE AND REBELLION AFTER COVID-19

by Sarah Edgcumbe 

What a time to be alive. As Covid-19 rampages its way across the globe ravaging families and livelihoods, a medical fetish company has had to supply the NHS with equipment because the British government is a lethal combination of neoliberal, greedy and incompetent. While kink is contributing to saving lives, and while many people are faced with the prospect of trying to subsist and keep their families afloat on £94.25 per week sick pay during the lockdown, the British government has been putting together £1 billion of public funding to be doled out to countries who then intend to use this loan to buy British-made bombs and surveillance technology. British people die through negligence, people in other nations die through cataclysmic violence: welcome to Tory Britain.

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THE TORY RECORD ON GYPSIES, ROMA & TRAVELLERS MAKES FOR GRIM READING

by Jonathan Lee

A political party in the UK is defined by its members and its representatives. Regardless of the leader, the real character of a party is found in the policies it puts forward, and the things that its cabinet members, MPs, and local councillors do and say. In the Labour Party, the about turn the party took from being the neoliberal centre-right party of Tony Blair, to the democratic socialist party of Jeremy Corbyn was brought about by the will of its members. The elected politicians of the Labour Party do not always see eye-to-eye with their leader, but if you look at the collective things they say and do, and the policies they propose, there is a broad consensus on certain values which tell you the nature of the party as a whole. The same can be said of the Conservative Party. You can read more here if you want a ten year history of Conservative hate speech against Romani and Traveller people.

The following is a summary of Conservative policies which have affected Gypsies, Roma, & Travellers during the time the Conservatives have been in power.Continue Reading

ANTIGYPSYISM WILL NOT BE CURED BY NEOLIBERAL WISHFUL THINKING

by Jonathan Lee

There is a mendacious yet persistent fantasy that Roma could be saved from the horrors of racism and discrimination if only they weren’t so poor. It is the conservative idea that the free market can cure racism, that racism is purely a product of economic disparity, and that if only Roma were more economically engaged, most of the nasty symptoms of antigypsyism would simply fall away. Continue Reading

JUSTICE FOR CLEANERS AT KING’S COLLEGE LONDON

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By KCL Justice for Cleaners Campaign

Content warning: mentions sexual harassment, homophobic abuse

This week, the KCL Justice for Cleaners Campaign released a short film revealing the struggles of migrant cleaners at King’s College London, a day before management made a recommendation to the College Council as to whether to end the outsourcing of cleaning. Through the film, cleaners speak in their own words about the violence of the outsourcing model and how mistreatment at KCL is normalised.

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BEYOND TUITION FEES #11 – MUCH TO LEARN, MORE TO DO

By Bradley Allsop and Rowan Gavin

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green have brought together perspectives from across the sector to explore the possibilities of post-fees HE. In the final instalment, the series editors summarise the visions for the next chapter of UK HE that the series has laid out.

There is more energy, debate and innovation on the left now than there has been for decades. Capitalism’s multiple crises, and the inability of its defenders to respond to them, are beginning to translate into tangible political opportunity. This series sought to capture the essence of some of this historical moment and direct it towards thinking about what we want our university campuses to look like, beyond the staple progressive policy of scrapping tuition fees. A project in unashamedly utopian thinking, it recognised the very real possibility that free tuition might be a reality in the near future, and sought to explore how this requires the left to think practically about what comes after and where our energy should be focused next.

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A CO-OPERATIVE FUTURE FOR STUDENTS – BEYOND TUITION FEES #9

By Robyn Banks

It is a time of extraordinary potential for change in UK Higher Education. Labour’s promise to end tuition fees has defied the critics and united many behind Corbyn’s political project. But what will the implications for universities be if this comes to pass? And what can we do to leverage this progress? In this series, the Norwich Radical and Bright Green are bringing together perspectives from across the sector to explore these questions.

Up and down the UK, from Edinburgh to Brighton, students are building alternatives to existing, exploitative housing and food practices. How? By creating co-operatives! These alternative ways of organising are expanding and flourishing at a rate never seen before, as students look to take their lives into their own hands, in defiance of the rising cost of living and exploitative landlords and businesses. The founding of Student Co-operative Homes, a launch pad organisation for potential student housing co-ops across the UK founded by the grassroots network Students for Co-operation and supported by national co-op federation Co-Ops UK, demonstrates the growing support for these independent, democratic projects.

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“MORE POWERFUL THAN LANDLORDS CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE” – THE SUSSEX RENT STRIKE

by Robyn Banks

Last week, students living in accommodation at the University of Sussex staged a rent strike, and successfully achieved their goals in the space of three days. The university has capitulated and agreed to £65,000 of compensation for the students who live in the halls due to the appalling state they are currently in.

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TRADE SECRETS #1 – HOW TO HUNT THE STAG: POWER, BLACKMAIL AND EXPLOITATION

By Toby Gill

Part of a new series exploring the concept and consequences of ‘free trade’ from a variety of perspectives.

John, Tyrion and Ned lie patiently in wait. They have cornered their target, a colossal, fully-grown stag, grazing nearby. The three of them are in position, bows drawn, waiting to strike. Suddenly the stag bolts, leaping into the undergrowth. Tyrion jumps into pursuit. He knows he has little hope of catching the beast, but he does not despair – it is headed directly towards John’s position. The creature approaches the bush where John is hiding, its end clearly drawing near. But there is no shot. The stag runs past unscathed, and escapes into the night. Tyrion runs over to the bush, exasperated, ready to strike John with the back of his hand. But John is not there. He is around the corner – attempting to catch a rabbit with his pocket knife.Continue Reading