An un-Happy Labor Day: We've Come a Long Way, Have a Long Way to Go

According to this article from Penn's Wharton school, "If you look up the words "Labor Day" on the web site of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), you will learn that this holiday -- first celebrated on September 5, 1882, in New York City -- "is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers." The labor force, the site notes, "has added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known.... It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership -- the American worker."

But the article continues, "Unfortunately, for 9.1% of these lauded American workers, Labor Day 2011 finds them without a job and, in some cases, with little hope of finding one soon." Here's a round up of what's happening in the labor market today -- and bit of a wake-up call.

Workers' malaise foreshadows wider social issues -- This weekend's Labor Day celebrations in America mark a difficult time for workers. Having experienced a multi-year decline in their share of national income, they are now suffering the brunt of the current economic malaise; and there is little to suggest that the situation will improve any time soon. As a result, the country's economic hardships risk morphing from pressuring specific segments of the population to undermining more general aspects of social justice.

Stabbing at Foxconn Leaves Worker Dead -- A Foxconn worker named Ah Hao was stabbed to death by three other workers in a pool room near Foxconn's Guanlan factory on August 17. His crime? Reading the newspaper. It would be a ridiculous story if it weren't so tragic. On August 15, Ah Hao was sitting in a recreation room at the plant, reading a copy of Foxconn People, the company's internal newspaper. His coworker Wang Guang entered the room and asked him for the paper as no other copies were available. Ah Hao was still reading and refused. Wang then attempted to snatch the paper from him, and when that didn't work, Wang kicked Ah Hao, and the two then began wrestling. Eventually, they were pulled apart by a coworker.

Fast Fashion Retailer Zara Under Investigation For Using Slave Labor -- Zara is not having a good week. On Tuesday, Brazilian federal prosecutors launched an investigation into the Spanish brand after receiving a tip that its one of its suppliers uses slave labor. Women's Wear Daily reports that investigators for the Brazilian government recently raided a number of sweatshops in Sao Paolo State, where they confiscated garments bearing the Zara label. The same investigators are said to have found 16 people working in the shops for the equivalent of $130 to $150 a month. The workers performed 12-hour shifts in "unhygenic working conditions."

Disney factory faces probe into sweatshop suicide claims -- Disney's best-selling Cars toys are being made in a factory in China that uses child labour and forces staff to do three times the amount of overtime allowed by law, according to an investigation. One worker reportedly killed herself after being repeatedly shouted at by bosses. Others cited worries over poisonous chemicals. Disney has now launched its own investigation. It is claimed some of the 6,000 employees have to work an extra 120 hours every month to meet demand from western shops for the latest toys.

Job Growth at Halt in U.S.; Worst Showing in 11 Months -- The economy failed to add new jobs in August, the first time there has been no increase in net jobs in the United States in 11 months. The flat performance was down sharply from a revised 85,000 gain of jobs in July, the Labor Department said Friday, and was far below a consensus forecast by economists of 60,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate stayed constant at 9.1 percent in August.

Sheena Moore

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