Hot Weather Now a Major Cause of Illness and Death for U.S. Workers

BY MARK GRUENBERG

Hot weather becomes major cause of illness, death for U.S. workers“2015 Lineman’s Rodeo 05012015 017” by City of Marietta, GA is licensed under CC BY 2.0 Hot weather now a major cause of illness and death for U.S. workers.

TUCSON, Ariz. (PAI)—Four years ago, on a 95-degree afternoon in Tucson, Ariz., a worker was building a platform for an outdoor concert. He hasn’t worked since.

The worker, whose name advocates are withholding because he both fears retribution and being barred from future jobs was putting heavy 4’x 8’ decks up after lunch, says Shannon Foley, a safety and health activist in the southern Arizona city. Then he collapsed.

The extreme heat felled him. Paramedics attended to him, and later sent him home, she reported. But he had suffered kidney damage, “and has not recovered and returned fully to work. He’s had serious financial issues ever since,” said Foley, a member of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 415. Her local includes stage builders.

The Arizonan is just one victim of a largely ignored workplace danger, heat, say Tucson workers and activists, convened August 19 by the labor-backed National Council on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH).

It’s particularly acute in Arizona, the 10th hottest state, studies show. “In Phoenix, in summer, it’s 95 degrees at 6 am,” says Foley. Daytime temperatures in Phoenix and Tucson regularly top 100 degrees in the summer, records add. That heat takes a big toll on workers.

“Injuries and illnesses due to heat are not properly reported,” says Jessica Martinez, NACOSH’s co-executive director. Often, they’re put down to other causes, she adds. “People are dying every day, and they’re not attributing it to heat,” says Foley.

The problem particularly hits workers of color, Martinez noted. She cited a National Public Radio investigation, released August 17, showing Hispanic-named workers account for 17% of all U.S. workers, and one-third of those felled by excessive heat.

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There Is No Labor Shortage, Only Labor Exploitation

by Sonali Kolhatkar 


For the past few months, Republicans have been waging a ferocious political battle to end federal unemployment benefits, based upon stated desires of saving the U.S. economy from a serious labor shortage. The logic, in the words of Republican politicians like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, goes like this: “the government pays folks more to stay home than to go to work,” and therefore, “[p]aying people not to work is not helpful.” The conservative Wall Street Journal has been beating the drum for the same argument, saying recently that it was a “terrible blunder” to pay jobless benefits to unemployed workers.

If the hyperbolic claims are to be believed, one might imagine American workers are luxuriating in the largesse of taxpayer-funded payments, thumbing their noses at the earnest “job creators” who are taking far more seriously the importance of a post-pandemic economic growth spurt.

It is true that there are currently millions of jobs going unfilled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released statistics showing that there were 9.3 million job openings in April and that the percentage of layoffs decreased while resignations increased. Taking these statistics at face value, one could conclude this means there is a labor shortage.

But, as economist Heidi Shierholz explained in a New York Times op-ed, there is only a labor shortage if employers raise wages to match worker demands and subsequently still face a shortage of workers. Shierholz wrote, “When those measures [of raising wages] don’t result in a substantial increase in workers, that’s a labor shortage. Absent that dynamic, you can rest easy.”

Remember the subprime mortgage housing crisis of 2008 when economists and pundits blamed low-income homeowners for wanting to purchase homes they could not afford? Perhaps this is the labor market’s way of saying, if you can’t afford higher salaries, you shouldn’t expect to fill jobs.

Or, to use the logic of another accepted capitalist argument, employers could liken the job market to the surge pricing practices of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. After consumers complained about hiked-up prices for rides during rush hour, Uber explained, “With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.” Applying this logic to the labor market, workers might be saying to employers: “When enough dollars are being offered in wages, the number of job openings will go back down to normal levels.” In other words, workers are surge-pricing the cost of their labor.

But corporate elites are loudly complaining that the sky is falling—not because of a real labor shortage, but because workers are less likely now to accept low-wage jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that “[t]he worker shortage is real,” and that it has risen to the level of a “national economic emergency” that “poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.” In the Chamber’s worldview, workers, not corporate employers who refuse to pay better, are the main obstacle to the U.S.’s economic recovery.

Longtime labor organizer and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies Bill Fletcher Jr. explained to me in an email interview that claims of a labor shortage are an exaggeration and that, actually, “we suffered a minor depression and not another great recession,” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Fletcher’s view, “The so-called labor shortage needs to be understood as the result of tremendous employment reorganization, including the collapse of industries and companies.”

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Forward to the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees!

Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International

May Day 2021 will mark the second year in which the international day of working class solidarity is held under conditions of a global pandemic. The International Committee of the Fourth International will mark this day with an Online Rally. It will issue a call for the formation of the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC).

The ICFI and its affiliated Socialist Equality Parties are advancing this initiative to begin and develop a global counteroffensive of the working class against the homicidal policies of the governments controlled by the capitalist ruling class, which are responsible for the worldwide catastrophe.

The formation of the IWA-RFC is a critically necessary response to a global crisis that has exacted a terrible toll in human life. When May Day was observed in 2020, the global death toll stood at just under 250,000. It is now 12 times that number, at more than 3,000,000.

The death toll in individual countries and regions is staggering. More than 850,000 people have died in North America, including more than 583,000 in the United States and 213,000 in Mexico. In South America, 640,000 people have died, with more than half, 350,000, in Brazil.

One million lives have been lost in Europe, including 130,000 in the UK, 120,000 in Italy, 110,000 in Russia, 100,000 in France and 80,000 in Germany. In Asia, the death toll is approaching 500,000, led by India with nearly 200,000 victims, Iran with 70,000, Indonesia with 44,000 and Turkey with 37,000.

More than 120,000 have died in Africa, with nearly half of the dead in South Africa.

Beyond the immediate death toll, the long-term consequences for those who have survived are colossal. Nearly 150 million people have been infected worldwide, with millions suffering with persistent symptoms long after they have nominally recovered. According to one recent study, those who have been infected but were not hospitalized have a 60 percent greater risk of death within the next six months than those who were not infected.

Nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, the virus is raging throughout the world. Fueled by the spread of new and more contagious strains of the virus, the average number of new cases worldwide is at its highest level ever.

Health workers carry a patient after a fire in Vijay Vallabh COVID-19 hospital at Virar, near Mumbai, India, Friday, April 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

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From global pandemic to global class struggle: Forward to the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees! Attend this online rally with speakers from throughout the world, organized by the World Socialist Web Site and the International Committee of the Fourth International.

REGISTER NOW

The ICFI and its affiliated Socialist Equality Parties are advancing this initiative to begin and develop a global counteroffensive of the working class against the homicidal policies of the governments controlled by the capitalist ruling class, which are responsible for the worldwide catastrophe.

On May 1, the International Committee of the Fourth International is holding its annual Online May Day Rally. The rally will be addressed by representatives of the ICFI and its affiliated Socialist Equality Parties throughout the world. It will be streamed live at wsws.org/mayday.

This year’s May Day is being held under conditions of a new surge in the global COVID-19 pandemic. The rally will issue a call for the formation of the International Workers Alliance of Rank-and-File Committees (IWA-RFC). The ICFI and the SEPs are advancing this initiative to begin and develop a global counteroffensive of the working class against the homicidal policies of the governments controlled by the capitalist ruling class, which are responsible for the worldwide catastrophe.

Since the emergence of the pandemic more than one year ago, nearly three million people have died and more than 136 million have been infected. Fueled by the emergence of more contagious variants, the seven-day average for new cases is now approaching 700,000 and is close to its previous peak in January. More than 11,000 people are dying every day throughout the world.

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What’s Really Behind the Opposition to a $15 Minimum Wage

Fifty-seven senators from both parties are determined to preserve an economic system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor.

JOEL BLEIFUSS APRIL 5, 2021

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a rally for a $15 minimum wage and unionization rights on April 26, 2017.ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES

Missing from the Congressional debate over raising the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is any acknowledgement that poverty-level wages are integral to a class system that rewards the rich and punishes the poor. 

With few exceptions, where a person ends up in life — in terms of health, wealth and general wellbeing — is determined by the economic class into which they are born. People born poor die poor. People born rich die rich. This basic, intrinsic feature of American political economy is shaded from view by our culture’s celebration of the so-called meritocracy, the myth that if a person works hard enough, they can win at any table, despite the stacked deck. 

Government can intervene to lift people out of poverty. The 1944 GI Bill, for example, enabled the families of millions of World War II vets to enter the middle class. Because of structural racism, however, most of those who benefited were white. The legislation did not guarantee the same housing and educational benefits to 1.2 million Black vets. 

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How Corporations Crush the Working Class

TRANSCRIPT:

The most dramatic change in the system over the last half-century has been the emergence of corporate giants like Amazon and the shrinkage of labor unions.

The resulting power imbalance has spawned near-record inequalities of income and wealth, corruption of democracy by big money, and the abandonment of the working class.

Fifty years ago, General Motors was the largest employer in America. The typical GM worker earned $35 an hour in today’s dollars and had a major say over working conditions.

Today’s largest employers are Amazon and Walmart, each paying far less per hour and routinely exploiting their workers, who have little recourse.

The typical GM worker wasn’t “worth” so much more than today’s Amazon or Walmart worker and didn’t have more valuable insights about working conditions.

The difference is those GM workers had a strong union. They were backed by the collective bargaining power of more than a third of the entire American workforce. 

Today, most workers are on their own. Only 6.4% of America’s private-sector workers are unionized, providing little collective pressure on Amazon, Walmart, or other major employers to treat their workers any better.

Fifty years ago, the labor movement had enough political clout to ensure labor laws were enforced and that the government pushed giant firms like GM to sustain the middle class.

Today, organized labor’s political clout is minuscule by comparison. 

The biggest political players are giant corporations like Amazon. They’ve used that political muscle to back “right-to-work” laws, whittle down federal labor protections, and keep the National Labor Relations Board understaffed and overburdened, allowing them to get away with egregious union-busting tactics.

They’ve also impelled government to lower their taxesextorted states to provide them tax breaks as a condition for locating facilities there; bullied cities where they’re headquartered; and wangled trade treaties allowing them to outsource so many jobs that blue-collar workers in America have little choice but to take low-paying, high-stress warehouse and delivery gigs. 

Oh, and they’ve neutered antitrust laws, which in an earlier era would have had companies like Amazon in their crosshairs.

This decades-long power shift – the ascent of corporate leviathans and the demise of labor unions – has resulted in a massive upward redistribution of income and wealth. The richest 0.1% of Americans now have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90% put together.

The power shift can be reversed – but only with stronger labor laws resulting in more unions, tougher trade deals, and a renewed commitment to antitrust.

The Biden administration and congressional Democrats appear willing. The House has just passed the toughest labor reforms in more than a generation. Biden’s new trade representative, promises trade deals will protect American workers rather than exporters. And Biden is putting trustbusters in critical positions at the Federal Trade Commission and in the White House.

And across the country, labor activism has surged – from the Amazon union effort, to frontline workers walking out and striking to demand better pay, benefits, and safety protections.

I’d like to think America is at a tipping point similar to where it was some 120 years ago, when the ravages and excesses of the Gilded Age precipitated what became known as the Progressive Era. Then, reformers reined in the unfettered greed and inequalities of the day and made the system work for the many rather than the few.

It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re now living in a Second Gilded Age. And today’s progressive activists may be on the verge of ushering us into a Second Progressive Era. They need all the support we can give them.

The Case for Expropriation: Billionaires’ Wealth Surged 60 percent in First Year of Pandemic

Niles Niemuth

The collective wealth of the world’s billionaires exploded by more than 60 percent last year, from $8 trillion to $13.1 trillion, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of global billionaires, released on Tuesday.

“COVID-19 brought terrible suffering, economic pain, geopolitical tension—and the greatest acceleration of wealth in human history,” Forbes writes.

Left: Jeff Bezos (AP Photo/Charles Krupa), Right: Workers wearing PPE bury bodies in a trench on Hart Island, April 9, 2020 (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The number of billionaires in the world grew by 660 to 2,775, the biggest total number and the largest annual increase ever. A new billionaire was minted every 17 hours.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla CEO Elon Musk lead the pack with $177 billion and $151 billion, respectively. They are followed by Bernard Arnault and family ($150 billion), who control the French luxury goods company LVMH, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates ($124 billion) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg ($97 billion).

Press reports discuss how Zuckerberg “earned” $50 billion and Elon Musk “earned” $130 billion last year. But the very term is an absurdity. One cannot “earn” a figure equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-size country.

This wealth is socially appropriated. First, through the exploitation of the working class in the process of production.

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