Tag Archives: labor

Digital Sweatshop: Web Content Editors

Craigslist has it all: shared apartments, casual hook-ups, a decent used (possibly stolen) bike, belay buddys for the local indoor climbing gym.  And jobs, maybe especially jobs.

But some of the jobs are almost as exploitative as some of the sex trade posts. Check out this one—text given in full:

Web Content Editors: “Web Content Editors (Telecommuting okay)

A personal PR firm is seeking skilled, detailed editors experienced in editing web copy. This is a remote contract position with flexible hours, but we do require that you edit a minimum of five pieces per week.

As an editor, you will work directly with the firm’s team of editors and writers on polishing professional biographies for executives and high-profile clients.

The ideal candidate will demonstrate the ability to catch minute grammatical errors as well as possess excellent editorial skills. As a an important gatekeeper of quality, candidates will edit content for organization, language and word choice, tone, quality of content, length, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. All candidates must have prior editing experience as well as possess a proficiency in The Chicago Manual of Style and MS Word. An undergraduate or graduate degree in English, or a certificate in editing, is preferred but not required. Experience editing finance, legal, or medical copy is a plus.

We manage and pay our team on the oDesk platform. Editors receive $5.00 per piece edited (this is the net amount to you after the 10% oDesk fee). Each piece is 250-350 words. Our editors average about three pieces per hour.

Please respond with a succinct cover letter and ensure that you have completed the Education and Employment History sections on the Resume tab of your oDesk contractor profile. Please apply online at https://url.odesk.com/ijalxm. If you do not have an oDesk contractor account, please create one first at http://www.odesk.com. Applicants must also take the U.S. English Chicago Style Editing Skills Test (#505) on oDesk prior to applying.

In other words, they want experienced copyeditors with college degrees to work for $15/hour – with no benefits, job security or guarantee of work… Okay, maybe not quite as bad as a sex trade ad, but still…

According to Payscale, the hourly salary for copyeditors with 1-4 years of experience ranges from $10-25. So the pay here would be within the range, albeit a bit low—but that range is based on a steady job with benefits.  And Payscale’s estimate seems low.

Robert Half International lists a salary range for proofreaders of $35,000 to $51,000—or around $17 to 25/hour, for a fulltime position with benefits—and for a copyeditor with 1-3 years experience the salary range is $36,750-49,750. In San Francisco, according to GlassDoor, the median salary for a copyeditor is $50,000 (around $25/hour – with benefits).

And remember, if you earn much from freelance work, you’ll have to pay taxes and social security, etc. on it, just like you would if you had a real job. That can come as a real stock on April 15th, even if you only earned a couple thousand dollars.

Want health insurance to go with your sweated labor? According to eHealthInsurance, “the average premium paid for individual health insurance coverage in the United States in 2011 was $2,196 per year ($183 per month).”

The future, or really the present, of work in the United States may be flexible—read, deeply uncertain and precarious—work such as this, but right now, the system is geared toward maximum exploitation, and is really only viable through forms of externalization.

In San Francisco, many people I know trying to make a living this way can only do so by relying on all sorts of help and support: from the free internet at cafés to the city’s low cost health plan—or even by using the free cost, high time and stress options available around town (public ER at SFGH or the awesome Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic). Along with occasional, free meals and food handouts from local charitable organizations. And dumpster diving.

When web content is being produced, edited, maintained by people using café’s wifi, eating out of soup kitchens, with no health protection or retirement savings… That’s called exploited labor, and is not sustainable even in the medium term. Some try to romanticize it by celebrating their dumpster diving for survival as living a freegan lifestyle (something I generally support, as a challenge to capitalism and consumerism) and going on about their freedom to work when and where they want.

But mostly what it is is the freedom to live in insecurity.

And only until they’re old. Because they’ll have no retirement savings. And this country will have no social security or medicare for the elderly. They will starve and die on the streets.

What we need is a new Processed World to attack these practices. What we need is what takes shape in Cory Doctorow’s amazing, insightful For the Win.

Refuse to produce content for free – like reviews on Amazon – and refuse to work for anything less than a living wage.

What we need is a WILDCAT STRIKE on teh interwebs.

LaborFest 2012 on now in San Francisco


LaborFest 2012
July 1 – July 31

Occupy, Past Present and Future – Lessons of The Past for Labor Today

LaborFest 2011 is on in San Francisco

LaborFest is happy to present our 18th annual labor cultural arts festival in Northern California. This year in addition to commemorating the 1934 San Francisco general strike, we will commemorate and have events around the 150th anniversary of the US civil war and the role of slavery in California, the 125th anniversary of May Day and the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire In New York where 146 mostly immigrant Jewish and Italian garment workers perished in a fire. We will also be having our Film Works United festival, theatrical and musical performances, our annual BookFair and labor history cultural walks and presentations.

via LaborFest.

Web2.0 and Labor1.0 – and a Call to Action on the Millennium Development Goals

Over the past couple of months I’ve been writing sporadically about what I’ve termed “Labor2.0” – that is, the grimy world of work, of labor, that lies underneath the glossy surface of our Web2.0 world – of World2.0 – or maybe we should say Capitalism2.0 (except it feels like we are up to version 3 or 4, at least, on that).

In my first couple of discussions of the topic, I focused on systems like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and other forms of content creation that seem exploitative in the labor practices they involve – ranging from Mechanical Turk’s digital sweatshop to the unpaid work that we all seem happy to do for large media corporations to the expropriated labor that formed the basis for GraceNotes and IMDb.com.

More recently, in my discussion of toxic exposure in a Chinese factory assembling components for, among other things, Apple iPhones, I tried to highlight the linkages between the world of Web2.0 and much more traditional forms of exploitation and violence, in the way that the supply chain that produces our goodies has its beginning in often appalling working conditions.

Here’s a reminder that Labor1.0 – the Dickensian world of child labor in primitive factories – is still very much with us:

Sweatshop girl ‘has no choice but to work’: As part of a series assessing whether Bangladesh is on track to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, the BBC’s Alastair Lawson visits a safety pin factory in the capital, Dhaka, which employs children

The electricity supply in the sweatshop in the crowded part of old Dhaka where Asma, 10, makes safety pins for a living is so dangerous that the foreman can only turn on the lights using a broomstick.

“If I use my hands I may get an electric shock,” he explains.

(via BBC News.)

After watching the video that accompanies this story, and looking at the other material in the BBC series on Bangladesh and the Millennium Development Goals, I hope you’ll take the time to check out – if you aren’t already familiar with it – the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in more detail.

Of course they are not perfect, and are full of compromises, but they do represent a real attempt to come to grips with problems like poverty and hunger, underdevelopment, climate change and the status of women.

There’s a conference – a summit – being held at the UN in September, and I would love to see a demonstration there, a gathering of radicals from around the world such as we see at G8 and IMF meetings. Not to enact a violent refusal, though, as is done at those events, but rather to articulate (qualified) support for the Millennium Development Goals; to demand that world governments live up to the commitments they’ve made to take steps against poverty, hunger, disease and climate change; and to put forward visions for even more radical “development” goals, for transformation goals.

With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on world leaders to attend a summit in New York on 20-22 September 2010 to boost progress towards the MDGs.

(via United Nations Millennium Development Goals.)

Let’s tell them what our millennium goals are, show then our vision of globalization, of a world for people not profit. Let’s “make poverty history” for real – not with t-shirts, wrist bands and pop concerts, but with real social change.

Labor 2.0: Supply-Chain Sickness

As reported in The Guardian, after exposure to the toxic solvent n-hexane, at least 62 workers involved in preparing Apple components, including iPhone touch screens, have been hospitalized, many for months, and at least one may have died.

Despite its known toxicity, n-hexane was used as a cleaning solvent at a factory in Suzou, China, owned and operated by the Taiwanese electronics giant Wintek, which supplies components for a number of well-known brands including Apple.

Chinese workers link sickness to n-hexane and Apple iPhone screens: “Prolonged over-exposure to n-hexane can cause extensive damage to the peripheral nervous system and ultimately the spinal cord, leading to muscular weakness and atrophy and even paralysis, said Paul Whitehead, a toxicology consultant and member of the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry. It can also affect male fertility. Recovery can take a year or more.

The chemical’s potential risks are well-known in industry, as are safe exposure limits. But the Wintek manager who decided to switch from alcohol to n-hexane for cleaning – apparently because it dried more quickly – did not assess the dangers. It was used without proper ventilation.

(via World news | The Guardian.)

It seems pretty obvious that the manager made the switch to boost productivity – and profits for Wintek – perhaps to meet the insatiable demand for iPhones (and now iPads). Given the absence of unions independent unions, the exploitation common in Chinese factories, and the minimal level of occupational health and safety rules and enforcement, it probably seemed like a no-brainer. After all, the factory wouldn’t have to pay any medical costs.

A large percentage of the workers at comprador factories such as this are migrant workers from rural China – part of the largest wave of human migration in the history of the planet – who, because of Chinese laws on residency (see, eg, hukou – though I am informed this entry is pretty poor), are often effectively illegal immigrants in their own country. As such they have limited recourse to things like official housing and medical care – and are regularly subjected to exploitation by employers and crackdowns by the authorities.

These workers seldom try to complain through official channels about things like working conditions, since they have no legal right to work where they are, and in any case there are a million more rural migrant workers just waiting to take their place. A subjugated workforce, prey to exploitative practices, with few avenues for complaint or redress. The only thing unusual about this case is that the seriously injured workers are getting medical care and that the story has received some international coverage.

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Read This: A May Day distress call

A May Day distress call | Brendan Barber: “Uncertainty – about our job, pension and kids’ future – is now the fate of all workers, and some are making a killing out of our fears

Around the world uncertainty is becoming the single unifying characteristic of working life. And for anyone who’s not independently wealthy, uncertainty about work means uncertainty about everything.

It’s been over a generation since we were told about the end of the job for life. Now people are uncertain about whether they’ll have a job at all, whether they’ll get a pension at the end of their working lives, and whether their kids will grow up – as every parent wants – to be healthier, wealthier and wiser than them.”

(via Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.)

May Day Marches and Protests

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.
~ Gertrude Stein

Just a tiny sampling of bits and pieces from around the internet on this year’s May Day marches, protests and riots…

May Day marked around the world: Traditional May Day rallies and marches have been held all around the world. See video at BBC News.

BBC News – In pictures: May Day rallies.

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May Day – Get off the Computer and Into the Streets

May Day is synonymous with International Workers’ Day, or Labour Day, a day of political demonstrations and celebrations organised by the unions, anarchist, and socialist groups. May Day is also a traditional holiday in many cultures. (via Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Howard Zinn on Haymarket

Music for May Day

Chumbawamba – “Never Do What You Are Told” – Showbusiness!

The Internationale (German)
Billy Bragg – “The Internationale” – The Internationale

The Kingston Trio – “This Land is Your Land” – The Original
Arlo Guthrie with Pete Seeger – “This Land is Your Land” – More Together Again in Concert

Pete Seeger – “Solidarity Forever” -If I Had A Hammer: Songs Of Hope & Struggle
Pete Seeger – “Talking Union” – If I Had A Hammer: Songs Of Hope & Struggle
Billy Bragg – “There is Power in a Union” – Must I Paint You A Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg

Rolando Alarcón – “El Gallo Rojo” – A la Resistencia Española
Billy Bragg – “The Red Flag” – The Internationale

Billy Bragg – “I Dreamed I Saw Phil Ochs Last Night” – The Internationale
Utah Phillips with Ani Difranco – “Joe Hill” – Fellow Workers

Harry McClintock – “Big Rock Candy Mountain” – O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Billy Bragg – “Marching Song of the Covert Battalions” – The Internationale
Bruce Cockburn – “Call It Democracy” – If a Tree Falls  – A Collection of Greatest Songs

Billy Bragg – “The Price of Oil” [free download from Billy Bragg’s website]

Gillian Welch – “A Miner’s Refrain” – Hell Among the Yearlings – dedicated to the coal miners of West Virginia and their families

Carlos Mejía Godoy – “Nicaragua, Nicaragüita” – Grandes Éxitos Vol. 2
Billy Bragg – “Nicaragua, Nicaraguita” – The Internationale

John Lennon – “Power to the People” – Lennon Legend: The Very Best Of John Lennon
Bruce Cockburn – “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” – Stealing Fire
Randy Newman – “Mr. President (Have Pity on the Working Man)” – Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman
Jimmy Cliff – “The Harder They Come” – The Harder They Come
Gil Scott-Heron – “Blue Collar” – Moving Target

Elvis Costello – “Welcome to the Working Week” – My Aim Is True
Rage Against the Machine – “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – No Boundaries: A Benefit For The Kosovar Refugees
Tenacious D – “The Government Totally Sucks” – The Pick Of Destiny
Devo – “Working in a Coal Mine” – New Traditionalists
The Clash – “Career Opportunities” – The Clash
The Clash – “The Clampdown” – London Calling
MDC – “I Hate Work” – Millions of Dead Cops

May Day Music

Labor 2.0 meets Labor 1.0

“We are like prisoners… We do not have a life, only work.”
-Teenaged Microsoft Worker

read the story at: China’s Youth Meet Microsoft – The National Labor Committee.

Watch the Growth of Walmart and Sam’s Club Across America

“Walmart (blue) started slow in 1962 and then spread like wildfire in the southeast, starting in 1970, and then made its way towards the west coast. Sam’s Club starts to sprout up in the 1980s with bursts up to present.”

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Accountability for Mine Deaths [updated]

Obama seeks accountability as mine death toll hits 29 | Reuters

President Barack Obama demanded accountability on Saturday after four missing West Virginia coal miners were found dead, nearly five days after an explosion killed 25 others in the worst U.S. mining disaster in nearly four decades.
Federal records show Upper Big Branch had three fatalities since 1998, a worse-than-average injury rate in the past 10 years and was cited for more than 100 safety violations this year. [Mine owners] Massey said Upper Big Branch’s violation rate was “consistent with national averages.

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Labor 2.0 – Digital Sweatshops, pt. 2

If Mechanical Turkers are paid at rates that must be the envy of exploitative bosses and sweatshop owners the world over, at least the turkers are paid something (most of the time). A huge amount of similar work is done for free, by people many of whom probably don’t even think of what they do as free labor for other people’s businesses.

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Labor 2.0 – The Digital Sweatshops, pt 1

Lately, I’ve tended to find myself well behind the curve in most things – a far cry from my former life on the bleeding edge – so it’s not really surprising that I only just discovered Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and the wonderful word of crowdsourcing. The term “crowdsourcing” derives from “outsourcing” and it refers to the process of farming out work, or outsourcing, to a crowd of people, most commonly over the internet. (See Wikipedia for a more detailed discussion.)

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