Email this article to a friend

Working In These Times

Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 9:20 am

After the Crisis, Rise of Worker Discrimination Is Breathtaking

BY Jonathan Tasini

A migrant farm worker from Mexico holds his time card to be scanned while working at Grant Family Farms on September 3, 2010, in Wellington, Colo.   (Photo John Moore/Getty Images)

It's bad enough that the global financial crisis has put millions of people out of work and trashed the future of the ranks of workers everywhere. But, let's take a moment to consider an undercurrent of the economic crisis, fanned by fear, stupidity and the relentless drive to cut government (oh, that comes under stupidity so please excuse the redundancy): the rise in all forms of discrimination.

I just read a very sobering just-released report from the International Labour Organization, "Equality at work: The Continuing Challenge." Yeah, it may not be as compelling as some declaration by Donald Trump or Michelle Bachmann (since they say something new every time) but it's worth reading...The report points out that a lot of progress is being made around the world combating discrimination of all forms.

But, the economic crisis has set this effort back. Let's start with migrant workers:

Migrant workers have been particularly affected by the crisis, with more situations of discrimination in access to employment and migration opportunities, increased xenophobia and violence, and worsened conditions of work, among other factors. These have added to the existing situations of inequality and discrimination against migrant workers.

There was a time when bad times in one country meant that migrant workers returned home. But, they can't now--because the crisis has swept the globe and there isn't a lot to go home to.

Which is why it is a national disgrace that fair and serious immigration reform has gone nowhere. What we've done is left millions of people here without protections, vulnerable to employers who are ready to exploit workers--and vulnerable to racist politicians who want to exploit people for political gain.

Women are bearing the brunt of the crisis:

A United Nations report indicates that the current crisis is following a similar pattern, partly as a result of attitudes that give preference to male employment by promoting the image of the male breadwinner. When jobs are scarce, women encounter tougher competition in access to jobs, increasing the influence of existing and persistent barriers to their employment.

This took my breathe away. I challenge you not to want to weep:

Recent data show that 829 million people living in poverty in the world are women, compared to 522 million men.With women’s wages equal to only 70 to 90 per cent of men’s for work of equal value, non-discrimination in remuneration should be a core component of measures aimed at both gender equality and reducing poverty.[emphasis added]

Repeat this: 1.3 billion people living in poverty. While the Fortune 500 registered huge profits and the U.S. has 413 billionaires worth $1.5 trillion.

And it isn't just the lack of money in your pocket:

Living in poverty is not only about low incomes. It also means a vicious cycle of diminished health, reduced working capacity, bad working and living conditions, low productivity and reduced life expectancy. Combined with illiteracy, hunger, child labour and early parenthood, the pervasive effect of poverty can be transferred from parents to their children.

As for the foolish obsession over the deficit and debt "crisis", let's be blunt: those people who are advocating deep cuts in government spending are racist, sexist and discriminatory. Why:

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, global attention has increasingly been paid to reducing large budget deficits and public debts in many countries. Yet many have urged caution in formulating fiscal consolidation policies – defined by tax increases and cuts in government spending – since the measures involved could jeopardize recovery efforts, propel countries into deeper recession and exacerbate inequalities in the workforce. A joint ILO–IMF paper in 2010 warned that a premature consolidation push could damage macroeconomic growth and subsequently lead to even larger deficits and debts....

Certain groups may be particularly susceptible to the bulk of the effects of fiscal consolidation measures, as austerity policies in many countries could take the form of cuts in the welfare programmes that assist lower-income workers in access to employmentas well as direct job cuts. [emphasis added]

Look, I don't expect Paul Ryan et al. to understand discrimination. But, it would be nice if Democrats did--and stopped promoting the phony debt and deficit "crisis" mantra.

The report digs into a whole raft of discrimination--against people with HIV, older people--and it's a chilling story.

The bottom line: what the financial and political elites did was not just crash an entire global economic system. They made the world a meaner, nastier, uglier place to live in. My new bumper sticker: Raj Needs Cellmates.

This post originally appeared at Working Life, Jonathan Tasini's blog.

Jonathan Tasini is executive director of the Labor Research Association, a New York City-based nonprofit labor advocacy organization. He blogs at Working Life, a project of the association.

View Comments