What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fighting for Fair Labor!! (just not yours)

Really?!?  Hypocrisy knows no bounds?  I just spent a few hours working on an application for an organization working for "fair" labor practices throughout the world.  Yes, I'm going to name them: 
The Fair Labor Association (FLA) combines the efforts of industry, civil society organizations, and colleges and universities to protect workers’ rights and improve working conditions worldwide by promoting adherence to international labor standards.
Sounds great right?  And then they put this great disclaimer on the bottom of the job advertisement:
FLA is an equal opportunity employer. It is the FLA's policy to employ, compensate and advance personnel without regard to race, color, religious creed, citizenship, political activity or affiliation, marital status, age, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, sexual orientation, veteran status, family care status, sex or gender.
 But then at the very bottom they say, "applications without salary history will not be considered."

Wait, you mean you don't discriminate against any of those things, and you are fighting for fair and equitable working conditions for people all over the world, but then you start any relationship with your own future employees by reaffirming the same abusive power relationship that capitalist ownership has held over their workers for centuries.

You know what, I am not comfortable giving you my socio-economic status. I am not interested in telling you how I am doing financially, or giving you a glimpse into – what in this country – is my social and political capacity. The amount of money I make (or don't make) is personal to me and should not be coerced out of me by an employer. I understand why you could want to know this; so that you can pick a person or weigh several candidates based on how much it is going to cost you to employ them. Right there you have betrayed the entire purpose of your mission as an organization. You are now evaluating – and in fact discriminating against – me based on my willingness to give you intimate details about my life and doing it in a way that is manipulative and laced with power implications of an extortionary nature. You are a labor organization, you are fighting for the rights of individual laborers, yet you have just told me that I, the prospective employee, have to furnish you, the prospective employer, with certain personal details of my life that strengthen your position and control over me as a potential worker or else you will not consider me for a position in your company. During the worst economic downturn since the great depression, where people are dying for jobs, you are going to bludgeon prospective employees with a take it or leave it position of blatant and expropriative power that exemplifies the principle hold of capital and ownership over the rights of labor.  I am truly amazed.

I considered doing a number of things. A, walking away from the application on principle. But B, I believe in what the organization is trying to do. And then of course most importantly there is C: I have no job.  I have no home in a few weeks, and little prospect of alleviating any of this in a desirable manner.  In short, I am desperate.  Exactly the emotion that they and every other power hungry capitalist business is preying on regarding labor issues.  They hold the key and strings to power over us.  Force us to compete on only their terms: with a lack of power for the people.

So what do I do?  If I send it in with no salary history it won't be considered.  But I don't believe in reaffirming that power structure by giving them my salary history – even if I could rummage up the mish-mash of corporate, academic, retail, construction, football, and nannying work I've done and translate the currencies, dated exchange rates, and cost of living indexes – especially as they are supposed to be an organization fighting for MY rights as a worker.  Just like I never denote my race, sexual disposition, or any other categorization I do not agree with on anything.  No, I think I'm going to have to make a stand on this one, and hope that they respect it.  You want someone passionate about labor issues?  Someone that is going to fight for them?  Yeah, well I'm starting right now - with you!  That's the only way I could respect myself in the morning.  And frankly, there just isn't enough of that in the world.  We all stand for something bigger than ourselves. 

So you u want to know my salary history?  Well my salary history is that of an expropriated laborer. I have spent my whole life working for people, companies, and organizations that have tried to pay me as little as they possibly could in order to get the maximum amount of work out of me. I don't own any of the means of production; I've volunteered, I've worked and not been paid, I've interned, I've worked hourly, for tips and a for a salary, I've even been used by a university as an athletic beast of burden to fill their coffers. As with most all of us, it has never been enough. The struggles I have been through, the actual dollar amounts that I have obtained though are my business: my economic, my political, and my personal business. I do not want to compete in a rigged power struggle with you before I've even met you, and I don't want you to choose whether to interview, hire, or dismiss my application based on whether I am willing to divulge personal and political information about myself.   I want to do a job for you - with you.
I view it as my political and social right to tell you that for fear that my application could be discriminated against on socio-economic and political grounds that I chose not to divulge my personal information.  That this is my political stance on corporate power over workers, and I will definitively take a stand against a labor organization trying to exercise such excessive power.  I hope that as per your disclaimer you won't discriminate against me for exercising that political right, but it would be even better if you would step up to your mission statement and reverse this expropriative power structure between management and labor in our - and now your - world today. 

As is, while I now have serious reservations about this organization, I can only hope this is simply an isolated theoretical miss-step and that this note is the change needed.  Still though, I really would like to do this work and would surely entertain any offer the "Fair" Labor Association gave me.

I work because I believe in what I do, and I'd work for them because I believed in what they do. But their statement about salary histories tried to make work with them just about money, which everyone knows it is not. It is about making the lives of expropriated workers throughout the globe better, sadly though, that is going to have to start right here at home with our own mindsets.


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