It’s May 1st and to many that means a day of Spring flowers and Maypoles, but today stands for so much more. May 1st is also International Worker’s Day and while that may sound like a far cry from an American holiday, the history and meaning of May Day is just that: American.  The origins of this day date back to 1886 in Chicago, IL.  During this time, there were no laws regulating the work day, meaning employers could force their employees to work long hours and there was little employees could do. No 8-hour comforts existed as we have in this century.  But the labor movement was making motions.  They had set May 1st, 1886 as the day in which the 8-hour work day would be set by law.

Tensions ran high as a general strike was called in Chicago. Tens of thousands of workers took to the streets in a mostly peaceful protest. But like many protests, police were quickly on the scene and an unidentified person through a bomb into the chaos. The blast and resulting police gunfire ended the lives of eleven and wounded countless others. What followed was a Nineteenth Century witch hunt where eight labor organizers and labeled “anarchists” were convicted, seven sentenced to death.  In the years that followed, they were pardoned as there was not enough evidence to connect them and the investigation and trials were seen as questionable.

You may recall this historic event as the Haymarket Affair. Not only was it a historical moment in labor rights history but it directly affects your personal every day life, as you enjoy the perks of an eight-hour work day without the threat of loss of life. In 1890, demonstrations were called to commemorate the lives lost that fateful day in Chicago. It is a way to remember the struggles workers have endured over the years.  For over a hundred years, May Day has become the official holiday in many countries around the world.  In the US, it is an unofficial holiday but is still of top importance for workers around the country.

About six years ago, I participated in my first May Day protest in Sacramento, CA (capital of California).  There were hundreds of thousands, largely farm workers, marching for Immigrant Rights. For far too long, slavery has existed in our country under the guise of cheap food. I was there, in the thick of it. Seeing first-hand how organizing can make a difference and that May Day can still have an impact. Although we are still struggling to protect farm workers under the same laws that many of us take for granted: eight-hour work days, five-day work weeks, and basic needs, the demonstration shone light on the issue.

And now as I write this from Oakland, CA, I can hear the helicopters circling hundreds of Occupy and labor union strikers standing up for financial and social reform in our country.  It doesn’t take much to see that a growing disparity is happening in the US. As the economy continues to tank, the people who are baring the weight are the workers.  The struggle still continues for farm workers, for factory workers, for nurses, teachers, police officers, and others carrying the load.  So while purchasing union-made, Fair Trade, and supporting UFW and the likes is important in our day-to-day lives, don’t forget the struggles the existed before and still continue to this day. Use May Day as a platform for your voice to be heard. Thousands of workers and students are going on strike and marching through the streets to demand reform today. Will you join them?

About a year ago to the day, the AP blog posted an article concerning California farmworkers and the hellish conditions in which they are made to work.  The very fact that the body of the population is largely composed of migrant and/or immigrant labor, including many who do not speak English and are undocumented, means it is at a supreme disadvantage when attempting to establish the right to a safe working environment, as a whole or individually.  There is little these people can do, and the neglect they suffer can at times lead to a tragic death.

Such was the case in 2008 with Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, a 17-year-old woman, two months pregnant, who was made to prune grapes in San Joaquin County for nine hours in triple-digit heat without adequate shade, water or rest breaks.

A few weeks ago, Maria De Los Angeles Colunga and Elias Armenta, the two farm supervisors most-directly responsible for this gross abuse of labor decency and originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, reached a softened plea bargain.  Colunga was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, three years of probation and a fine of $370, and Armenta to 480 hours of community service, five years of probation and a $1,000 fine.  Both were also banned from engaging in farm worker contracting.

Some might argue this outcome to be bittersweet, but easy on the sugar.  While this prosecution is a small but progressive step toward justice in an industry that, until recently, was left to set it’s own rules and labor standards with miniscule regulation or consequence, common sense suggests that the death of this young woman and her unborn child in such an environment would call for much harsher punishment, including serious jail time, something that might scare other labor companies into doing right by their workforce.  Hopefully such changes won’t require more innocent deaths.
You can read more about this issue here, and review last year’s AP farm labor article hereStay informed and stay active!
-Jeremy Pearson

Often, we discuss labor issues and fair working practices around the world on this blog, as well as providing products that meet these high standards. But we take for granted the work that labor unions did within the US and the issues that still exist here.  As you may remember, labor unions formed in the face of poor and low paying working conditions within the US in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Labor unions have been a huge force in the United States, protecting workers in factories to farms, and even school teachers.  However, we must not forget there are always going to be struggles.

With the US economy struggling, many people are calling for a cut back in government spending. Obviously, when you want to save money, cutting back will help do the trick but where do you cut from and at what cost?  Much like balancing your personal finances, you must figure out where you have to cut back.  Unfortunately, cuts are often made from crucial social programs such as education and healthcare.

One huge blow to American worker’s rights happened this week.  Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker purposed a budget which would eliminate government employee unions.  According to Change.org this would  “dismantle the collective bargaining rights of state employees and to force state employees to take a sharp pay cut to help pay for benefits.” He also stated he would call in the National Guard to “bust” any workers protesting, in true union busting form taken straight out of a history book.

Attempting to dismantle unions as well as threatening people who are using their democratic right to voice their opinions with an army is dangerous ground to walk on. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents have been protesting at the Capitol for three days to push lawmakers to vote against the new budget. In true grassroots form, people from all over the state came to show their support of unions including members of other unions. The vote was scheduled to take place today, but the Democratic members avoided the meeting in hopes of persuading the Republicans to discuss a different budget plan. However, many people around the country are showing their support by writing Wisconsin state senators to vote no on this bill.

We understand there must be budget cuts during a time like this, however, there are other places to slash the budget than employee rights and benefits. The scariest part of this move is that it could influence other states to cut worker’s rights. So please take a moment to support your Wisconsin brothers and sisters and sign Change.org’s petition today.

World Cup Fever is spreading fast throughout the planet, as we get closer to the next stage. Even though the world is celebrating and enjoying this tournament, there is a dark side that few are talking about. For over a year, there has been labor issues plaguing the cup in an economically struggling nation. Many South Africans have questioned their government’s lavish spending on “improvements” such as brand new stadiums, new hotels, and a new transit system. Although, seemingly nice upgrades, the people are disappointed millions have been spent on stadiums which will be used for one month, while 40% of South Africans live on just $2 a day.

On top of this issue, the people working the World Cup and making sure the tourists and football lovers are taken care of, are not being paid as promised. In particular the security guards and stewards. At the culmination of Sunday’s match between Australia and Germany, already an exciting game, hundreds marched into the streets of Durban to demand pay. Apparently, the security staff was promised 500 South African Rand ($65) to work the match, but only received 205 Rand ($26). Obviously, a huge difference and would upset anyone! One of the protesters discussed how much they have been working for so little:

We started at 12 noon and worked until midnight, and they want to give us 205 rand($26). Different things have been said to people, but we were promised 1,500 rand per day. We started to protest because we wanted to negotiate.

The protests may have begun as a negotiation, but Durban police were quickly called to break them up. No injuries or arrests have been reported, however, the strategy has spread to several stadiums in the many cities including: Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Johannesburg. More and more workers are going on strike, including 700 guards at the end of the North Korea and Brazil match. Many feel this is completely unfair and no “trickle down” is occurring in the country. Corporations and the government are making millions from the games, yet the workers on the ground are being paid so little.

Not surprisingly, the issue is trying to be kept quiet and FIFA, the organization responsible for directing the World Cup, refuses to comment. This is obviously an “embarrassment” to FIFA and would much better be brushed under a rug, than dealt with fairly. In fact, the chief executive of the local organizing committee for the cup stated, “This is an employer/employee wage dispute. Although we have respect for workers’ rights, we find it unacceptable for them to disrupt match-day proceedings and will not hesitate to take action in such instances.” This sort of attitude could be detrimental to the employees affected by this dispute.

Personally, I love the World Cup more than I can write into words, but when I read stories like this, it makes me sad.  It seems both FIFA and the South African government, as well as the companies profiting off the games, aren’t thinking with the people in mind. Making it worse, they want it kept quiet, so tourists, players, and the world media won’t notice their dirty little secret. Now, I am not calling for a boycott of the games (I don’t think I could do that to my heart), but try to keep the hard workers and their struggles in mind while watching the matches. And if you are really feeling empowered, contact FIFA and tell them just how you feel.

-Gina Williams

Today, it was unseasonably warm in our city of Boston.  70 degrees, on March 18th.  I am told that this time last year daffodils were struggling to push their buds up through heavy layers of snow.  But it feels great, and brings to mind all the awesome produce that will soon be grown around us, and heading our way from points beyond.  Yes, it is always preferable to grow your own food and purchase  from local farmers.  But here in Massachusetts, not all edibles are grown, even in spring and summer. Like most parts of the country, much of the produce we consume comes from the breadbasket of California, where wide fertile lands and appropriate climate conditions allow the wealth of farm activity we know it to have.

But as the days warm into Summer and the produce begins flowing in, keep California in mind, specifically the conditions on the ground, as it were.  For, year after year, farm workers have been suffering unbearable conditions under the hot sun, some of them dying, mostly due to a complete lack of competence and care for safety on the part of companies and the State.

The regulations which ensure the safe working conditions of farm-workers in California are enforced by its Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA), which has recently been taken to trial by the ACLU for failing to live up to its standards.  The workers in question provide 90 percent of the labor in California’s multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry, and are routinely deprived of water, shade and rest, having to work outdoors in temperatures that commonly top 100 degrees F! This lawsuit is considered a landmark in that it is focused and comprehensive; California passed a law in 2005 to protect farm-workers from heat illness and death, and yet, according to the LA Times, at least ten individuals have lost their lives since, harvesting the produce that conveniently appears on our cool, climate-controlled grocery shelves.

The situations in which these people die are sad and, due to the need of income for often impoverished families, desperate.  In 2008, one man, Audon Felix Garcia of Bakersfield was found slumped over in his truck with a core body temperature of 108 degrees.  It is elsewhere reported that Garcia had been working on a day with a high of 112 degrees F, and had 15 years of fieldwork experience.  Even more tragic was the death of Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, only 17 at the time, who according to Time magazine, died after picking grapes for nine hours straight in 95-degree heat.    Perhaps one of the most surprising numbers is the staggering fact that out of roughly 35,000 farms in California, only 750 inspections were conducted by Cal/OSHA in a year, as of two summers ago.  There is no real way of telling how may abuses, both lethal and non, have occurred on farms statewide in the grueling summer months; only the stories of the workers themselves would do justice, if they had more means to be heard.

There is more that you can do beyond paying attention to your consumer habits at the market.  A good place to start would be with the United Farm Workers.  One of the main campaign focuses of the UFW, America’s largest farm worker union, founded by Cesar Chavez (whose birthday and California State holiday in his name is celebrated in a few weeks on March 31st) in 1962, is promoting the awareness of heat-related injuries and deaths of employees on company-owned farms.  They stand behind the ACLU lawsuit and are a strong voice of testimony and non-violent action in establishing the right to a safe agricultural workplace. You can easily sign petitions for the movement on their site which get sent to relevant politicians and manufacturers, as well as keep abreast of the issue and see how your own voice of protest affects the lives of those who work extremely hard hand-selecting the fruits and veggies that end up on your plate.

-Jeremy Pearson

With the economic collapse and major corporations declaring bankruptcy this year’s May Day is of utmost importance. This day is meant to celebrate the Workers Rights that have been gained in the past as well as to promote current rights. For a history of May Day, check out our post from last year. Of course with all the transition occurring in our economic system, today should be celebrated with all seriousness. We need to be cautious, to not forget the workers in this upheaval. And as we speak the Chrysler corporation has filed for bankruptcy, causing alarm to union workers and their rights they have worked so hard to gain. But workers are continuing to fight back! For instance Rite Aid recently was shown to have violated several labor laws including union busting and the workers along with Jobs with Justice are currently trying to end this fight. And as we deal with immigration issues, let us not ignore the struggles of the farm workers, especially in California.

But as we ponder our own economic collapse and workers strife, many workers off our shores are struggling just as much if not more. Workers across Canada, France, and Eastern Europe are demanding protection from these economic woes.  Outsourced sweatshops and poor working conditions still plague many developing countries. And the workers in these situations continue to fight against the abuses. So today, as we celebrate, what should be our Labor Day (we all know how Americans love to turn every holiday into a drinkfest) keep these movements in mind. Because although we have come a long way, there is still plenty more to accomplish!

And if you want to get involved in such movements, consider joining or donating to some of the Workers movement groups such as United Farm Workers, Immigrant Solidarity, Transfair and Jobs with Justice. Also put your money where your ideals are, make sure you either Shop Union or Fair Trade.  Also, check out  Green America’s Guide to Ending Sweatshops. And most of all, be up to date on the movement. Currently Jobs with Justice and other labor groups are backing the Employee Free Choice Act and do not forget to sign the petition to have this act officially passed.

Today as we enjoy the warmth of spring and the beautiful flowers, do not forget our laborers and workers. Because this is their day and they are the foundation of any society. So we say thank you to all workers and solidarity!

obamaIn just a few more days, we will welcome a new president and hopefully we will see the change we voted for! This weekend in the DC area there is all kinds of parties, events, and parades going on in celebration for the inauguration. If you are down in the are we highly suggest you check out DC Manifest Hope Gallery. Sponsored by MoveOn.org, SEIU, and Obey, the gallery is featuring political and inspired art work by a number of artists who exude the message that Obama carried through his campaign. 

The art is supposed to push into action three main areas of reforms, and all three are important to us here at AP: Worker’s Rights, Healthcare Reform, and the Green Economy. The gallery will be open Friday January 17th through Monday January 19th from 10am-6pm to lead up to the inauguration. 

So if you are in the DC area, please come by the gallery!: meet some people (Gina from AP included), check out the art, and maybe even get inspired. Hope to see you soon! It’s going to be an interesting weekend to say the least.

MANIFESTHOPE: DC

January 17th-19th, 2009
10:00am – 6:00pm

3333 M Street NW, Washington DC 20007

Although in earlier posts we mentioned that our company has not openly supported a specific candidate over another, upon many nights of research, we have decided to officially endorse the Obama campaign!! After looking over countless articles and reading Obama and Biden’s beliefs, choices, and plans for our country, it has become clear that their views are very much in line with the views and vision of Autonomie Project.

We feel that this election is too close for comfort and is of such historical significance that we must do everything we can, as individuals and as a company, to support our chosen candidate.  That includes educating you, beloved readers, on the issues that matter most to us and how Obama and Joe Biden plan to help.  So read away, and let us know if you agree!

  1. Investment and Creation of 5 Million Green Jobs: AP applauds Obama’s support of the Green economy. Obama believes that one of the keys to boosting the economy and improving the environment is the development of a robust Green Market sector that would provide millions of jobs to replace the millions we are losing due to volatile capital markets, all while making our planet a healthier place.
  2. Support for Small Business and Start Ups: This one hits especially close to home, as AP is barely a year old and needs all the start-up help we can get!  We are just a few friends on a mission to spread the word of Fair Trade through organic fashions. Obama’s plan provides tax relief to small businesses so that innovation (like ours!) can be encouraged and new jobs created.  He also supports funding for incubators of start ups in disadvantaged communities.
  3. Worker’s Rights: Obviously labor and worker’s rights are very important to us at Autonomie. Obama has called to raise the minimum wage and to end the use of replacement workers when a union is on strike.  He also wants to push forth the Employee Free Choice Act protecting workers’ rights to organize.
  4. New Energy for America: This is the phrase Obama has used to describe his energy and environmental plan. Highlights of the plan include a move to reduce green house gases by 80%; develop an American-made, plug-in hybrid car market that will put 1 million hybrid cars on the road by 2015; end our addiction to foreign oil; and to push forth a plan to implement alternative energy as a source for electricity in American homes.
  5. A Responsible End to the Iraq War: It’s no question at this point that the Iraq War was a mistake and is eating up billions of American taxpayer money. Obama is calling for a responsible withdrawal of troops and plans to focus on finding the real people behind the 9-11 attacks.

These are just a few of the key issues we see eye-to-eye with Obama and are the reasons why we have chosen to not only vote for him as individuals, but to endorse him as a company!  Please stay informed, volunteer for the campaign, and realize this is the most important election for our generation. The choices we make on November 4th will affect our country and the world for us and our future generations.

The choice is ours. Let’s make real change together! OBAMA-BIDEN 2008!

The 2nd Annual Fair Trade LA Festival is taking place this weekend on Sunday September 28th at 1500 Vine St, Hollywood, CA from 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM. So for all you Los Angeles area folks, come check out a festival of Fair Trade companies including, Autonomie Project. Not only can you shop for Fair Trade and Sweatshop Free products, but you can learn about Fair Trade and worker support from numerous organizations, including Oxfam. For a full list of sponsors, check out Fair Trade LA’s blog.

So please if you are in the LA area stop by and chat with us and the many other Fair Trade supporters! See you there.

So now that you’ve devoured your scrumptious vegan cheesecake from yesterday’s post, you’re probably wondering if there is anything cool happening today. Well, you’re in luck. Today is May Day! Probably half of you are saying, “what is May Day”, so read on my friends.

May Day, otherwise known as International Workers Day, was the original Labor Day that even today most of the world celebrates. Yes, that means, that if we were sipping espresso in Europe right now, we’d have the day off from work!! Seriously though, May Day is a global celebration commemorating the social and economic achievements of the labor movement with worldwide parades, speeches and demonstrations (what our labor day should be rather than a national day to BBQ).

The May Day holiday was inspired by an infamous workers’ strike in 1886 that started in Chicago, spread to other major industrial cities across the country, and eventually led to the establishment of an 8 hour work day. The Knights of Labor, though, one of the most important labor groups at that time, had already organized a labor parade 4 years earlier in 1882 that was held in early September.

While the rest of the world admired the Chicago riots and were inspired to move towards making May Day a holiday, President Grover Cleveland feared the day and thought that commemorating it would not only spark more riots but strengthen the threatening socialist movement. Therefore, he favored the Knights of Labor, encouraged their annual September parade, which in 1894 became the federal holiday known as Labor Day! So even in our history, our presidents have isolated us from the rest of the globe out of fear…..hmmm…..

Another random but fun fact about May Day: it falls halfway between the equinox and the solstice – so we’re almost into summer!

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