Information Digest – June 2024

This month’s we look at the British TUC pushing their agenda on regulation of AI; how the pandemic has impacted the so-called “lean production” systems established in the 1970s; inequality has skyrocketed over the pandemic too; how workers can deal with technology driven sexual harassment; casino workers and cigarette smoke in the US (same issues in Australia for many years); the way arts practitioners are starved in Australia; more on green economy transitions; progress to what was heralded as a Social Europe approach many years ago but has been drifting away; and solidarity: yes it is what workers really seek.

Resources

Launching the TUC’s “Ready to Go” AI Bill

Mary Towers

Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming our society and the world of work, yet there are no AI-related laws in place in the UK, nor any current plans to legislate soon.

AI is when computers carry out tasks you would usually expect to be carried out by a human. At work, this might include making important decisions about people, such as whether they are hired, where and how they do their work, and whether they are rewarded, disciplined or even made redundant.  

Urgent action is needed to ensure that people are protected from the risks and harms of AI-powered decision making in the workplace, and that everyone benefits from the opportunities associated with AI at work. Employers and businesses also need the certainty offered by regulation.  

To fill this gap the TUC has published the Artificial Intelligence (Regulation and Employment) Bill, in collaboration with the AI Law Consultancy at Cloisters Chambers, and the Cambridge University Minderoo Centre for Technology.

Read the full article here.

The TUC has online AI guides for union reps here.

And lots of stuff developed in the past few years at this page.

The End of Lean Production… and What’s Ahead

Kim Moody

In the wake of the pandemic supply-chain shocks that revealed the fragility of lean production, US businesses are emulating Amazon by developing sprawling, adaptable logistics networks. These networks contain key vulnerabilities that workers can target.

“any product that moves now, anybody who moves, goes through more connections in chains and networks than a generation ago.” Each of these points is vulnerable to worker action — disruption there will cost revenue and create costly pileups of inventory. Workers stationed at such points have what Womack calls “positional power.”  John Womack; Labor Power and Strategy (as quoted by Moody)

Read more on Labor Notes

Read more on Jacobin

Global Inequality Has Skyrocketed Since the Pandemic

Max Lawson

Global dividend payments to rich shareholders grew on average fourteen times faster than worker pay in thirty-one countries, which together account for 81 percent of global GDP, between 2020 and 2023. Global corporate dividends are on course to beat an all-time high of $1.66 trillion reached last year. Payouts to rich shareholders jumped by 45 percent in real terms between 2020 and 2023, while workers’ wages rose by just 3 percent. The richest 1 percent, simply by owning stock, pocketed on average $9,000 in dividends in 2023 — it would take the average worker eight months to earn this much in wages.

For the majority of people on our planet, the years since 2020 have been incredibly hard. The pandemic was a huge blow; the millions lost to the disease, and the millions more thrown into destitution as the world ground to a halt. The sharp increase in the cost of food and other essentials that followed in 2021 has become a grinding new reality for many families across the world as they try to buy oil, bread, or flour without knowing how many meals they will have to skip that day.

Read the full article here.

Workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment: Perpetration, responses and prevention

Asher Flynn, Anastasia Powell, Lisa Wheildon

 RESEARCH REPORT | APRIL 2024

The Human Rights Commission considers Workplace technology-facilitated sexual harassment (WTFSH) involves unwelcome and/or threatening sexual conduct using mobile, online and other digital technologies in a workplace context. It can include a wide range of behaviours including unwelcome sexual advances, comments and jokes, sexual requests, relational pursuit (including monitoring or stalking behaviours), threats of physical violence such as rape, sexually explicit and abusive communications, and non-consensually taking, sharing or threatening to share, nude or sexual images, all within and beyond the physical location of the workplace, and during or after business (working) hours.

This report is based around in-depth interviews with industry people, Australia wide surveys and focus groups with young Australians (18 to 25 year olds)

There are gendered elements to the perpetration of WTFSH, in that men are significantly more likely than women to report engaging in WTFSH, in-person workplace sexual harassment and engaging in both WTFSH and in-person workplace sexual harassment. We also found a significant link between high endorsement of sexist and gender discriminatory attitudes, as well as high endorsement of sexual harassment myths, and engaging in WTFSH perpetration. This suggests there is much work to be done to address problematic social attitudes and norms within the workplace and, more broadly, to prevent sexual harassment and promote equity and respect.

Digital platform providers must take up responsibility to enable better detection and deterrence, and a legal positive duty of care should be placed on employers in this area. Victim and survivor experiences need to be researched and used in developing policy and action.

Read the full report here.

How Workers Are Revolutionizing the South

Dave McCall

Donneta Williams, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1025 and a longtime optical fiber maker at the Corning plant in Wilmington, North Carolina, knows how important it is for workers intent on forming a union to speak directly with peers who walk in the same shoes.

So Williams agreed to send three of her colleagues to Corning’s Tarboro facility, about 145 miles away, when workers at that site approached the union with questions about organizing.

Local 1025 members shared firsthand accounts of how the union boosted their wages, gave them a voice, and kept them safe on the job. And in May 2024, the workers at Tarboro filed for an election to join the USW.

They’re among a growing number of workers across the South eager to leverage the power of solidarity and build brighter futures, even as CEOs and Republicans in this part of the country still conspire to hold them down.

Read the full article here.

Artists as Workers: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia

David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya

The work of artists is a rich resource that generates extensive public value – culturally, socially and economically. Our arts express our humanity, forming vital points of connection and understanding between Australia’s diverse communities, linking us to one another and to the world. Arts and cultural engagement impact our wellbeing, our ability to express ourselves, our cultural awareness, adaptability and resilience.

It is well known that artistic work can be precarious, and it is increasingly challenging for artists to make a living from their creative practice. Recently, the sector experienced unprecedented disruption due to the impacts of COVID-19. The pandemic exacerbated existing vulnerabilities and identified new challenges for artists and the arts and cultural sector at large. Throughout this turbulent time, artists lost income, markets and some contemplated giving up their artistic practice while many skilled professionals left the arts and cultural sector.

The insights published in Artists as workers are summarised in this companion report. The results are derived from a survey of 637 Australian artists undertaken in late 2022 and early 2023.

Questions asked include:

  • How can artists sustain and continue artistic practice alongside other commitments, constraints and/or the need to earn a living?
  • How does the artistic workforce represent broader Australian society and what barriers affect different groups?
  • How are artists’ skills, capabilities and ways of working aligned with the changing nature of work?
  • How is societal and technological change impacting Australian artists and their work? 
  • How can professional artists be supported, protected and remunerated into the future?

Some Key findings:

  • The growth of the artistic workforce has not kept pace with the growth of the overall labour force, suggesting there are barriers to creative work.
  • Artists struggle to earn a living from their creative work.
  • The face of artists in Australia is changing, however disparities remain for different groups.
  • Artists are resilient, flexible and adaptable and committed to lifelong learning, but lack confidence in some business skills.
  • Technological and digital change is influencing the way artists create art, conduct business, engage, and reach new audiences.
  • Technological innovation poses challenges for artists to protect their intellectual property

Read the full report here.

Casino Workers Are Fighting for the Air They Breathe

Kim Kelly

When New Jersey passed its Smoke-Free Air Act in 2006, casinos were a notable exemption. Now, Atlantic City’s casino workers, with help from the United Auto Workers, are fighting to close the loophole and clean up the air in their workplaces.

New Jersey allows casinos to permit smoking on 25% of their floors; often, the smoking and smoke-free areas are interspersed. Photo by Kim Kelly

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ​“there is no safe level of secondhand smoke exposure,” and even brief exposure can cause immediate harm to the respiratory and inflammatory systems.

Worker-led efforts to ban smoking in Atlantic City’s casinos have long struggled to gain ground against the casinos, whose executives insist that banning smoking will kill jobs, send patrons fleeing to other casinos where smoking is allowed and hurt the already fragile local gaming industry.

Unfortunately UNITE HERE, a union representing hospitality workers, is opposed to the ban.

Read the full article here.

Labour markets transitions in the greening economy: structural drivers and the role of policies

Orsetta Causa, Emilia Soldani, Maxime Nguyen, Tomomi Tanaka

OECD Publishing

Climate change mitigation policies affect the allocation of workers on the labour market: jobs in high-polluting industries will contract, while jobs in the ‘green’ sector will grow. A just transition in the labour market requires policies to improve the allocation of workers and their deployability, for instance towards performing green tasks; as well as to manage and minimise scarring effects associated with job losses in polluting industries.

Education is the most important individual-level driver of transitions from non-employment to green jobs, with a particularly strong effect from graduating in scientific fields for young people entering the labour market. Women are significantly less likely than men to move into green jobs out of non-employment. Workers employed in high-polluting occupations face higher displacement risks than other workers, but this does not translate into higher long-term unemployment risks.

Read the full report here.

Longing of the new working class for a solidarity ‘we’

Catrina Schläger, Jan Niklas Engels and Annika Arnold

A German study finds the new working class lacking in class consciousness yet strongly aware of social inequalities.

The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung commissioned an empirical study https://www.fes.de/sozial-und-trendforschung/arbeiterklasse last year in which more than 5,000 people in Germany were surveyed. We accompanied this quantitative survey with focus groups, in which mainly production workers and service workers participated but also employees from socio-cultural professions, such as nurses or teachers.

Social belonging

Members of the contemporary working class show the highest consent to the question as to whether they feel they belong to the working class: 83 per cent of production workers and 70 per cent of service workers identify themselves as such.

Class consciousness?

In the focus groups a lack of solidarity within the working class or one’s own occupational group was often alluded to: ‘I don’t think solidarity really exists anymore … Yes, it’s somehow all against all. Everyone tries to just get through like that.’ Although union membership in Germany as a whole has fallen by almost 50 per cent in the last 20 years, in the service union Ver.di it has risen significantly in recent years. This is consistent with the finding of higher class consciousness in the occupational classes of socio-cultural (semi-)professionals and service workers.

Inequality

Although in the focus groups the role of the unions was discussed critically in some cases—there was talk, among other things, of too close proximity to politics and employers—the participants would like to see more solidarity-based and organised representation of interests. For trade unions and a political drive for this class of the ‘working middle’, this should be an incentive to win back trust in the organisations through good political work. In any case, the desire for a collective representation of interests is deeply rooted in the new working class.

Read the full article here.

Benchmarking Working Europe 2024

The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have provided a new edition of the yearly Benchmarking Working Europe report. It  demonstrates that the new impetus for Social Europe of the past five years has led to important policy initiatives, including on minimum wages, platform work and corporate due diligence. However, progress in this field remains both fragile and fragmented.

The ‘revival’ of Social Europe has been driven by three factors: the European Pillar of Social Rights; a novel approach to EU spending and temporary relaxing of the EU fiscal framework; and the commitment of the European Green Deal to just transition. Social progress has also been fragmented and its fruits therefore unevenly distributed, the report flags: the unequal development between ‘old’ and relatively ‘new’ Member States), runs as a red thread throughout this publication.

Among the key legislative initiatives the report discusses:

  • the Adequate Minimum Wages Directive
  • the Platform Work Directive
  • the Pay Transparency Directive
  • the Women on Corporate Boards Directive
  • the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive
  • and several Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Directives, including the revision of the Asbestos Directive.

Report is free online here.

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