Conflict & Justice

Labor Lowdown: This week in workers' rights


Professor Karen Rabelo (C) and other education workers chant during a protest calling for improved pay and working conditions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on October 9, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The past six weeks have seen a citywide stike by union teachers and education workers in Rio. Another protest for better public education ended in violence on October 7 following a largely peaceful protest.


Mario Tama

Recent, ongoing protests, boycotts and civil action have largely grown from a shared root: workers rights and labor abuse. Citizens and activists are demanding better working conditions, pay, and legal protections.

One of the largest US labor unions releases an ad against Tea Party members, a fire brings another tragedy to Bangladesh’s garment industry, and a Brazilian teacher’s strike becomes violent in Rio de Janeiro.

Here are some continuing issues to keep in mind:


This morning, the National Education Association, one of the largest US labor unions, released a new six-figure ad campaign aimed directly at the Tea Party.

The “Not a Game” campaign, which will include both television and Internet ads, features a 31-second campaign video accusing Congress Tea Party members of “facilitating the breakdown of government.”

The ad, National Education Association said in a statement, asks members of congress to “stop playing games and get its priorities straight.”

“Congressional Tea Party Republicans have chosen to play games with the lives of our most vulnerable in society to score ideological political points,” said NEA director of government relations Mary Kusler. “They have forced deep sequester cuts, shut down the government and are on the brink of bringing the nation’s economy to its knees. Students and senior citizens will pay the price for years to come as a result. It’s time for the games to end.”


Another garment factory tragedy hit near Dhaka, Bangladesh late Tuesday, when a fire erupted at a clothing factory, killing ten people and injuring about 50 more, CBS reported.

Local media said they feared the death toll from the fire at the Gazipur factory could continue to rise.

Safety standards and factory workers rights in Bangladesh's garment industry have been a source of major contention with a factory collapse outside Dhaka killing more than 1,100 people in April, a disaster in Ashulia killing another 2,500 people, and 112 dying after another factory fire last November.

The BBC reported that officials were quoted locally saying “water shortages and a lack of nearby fire stations had allowed the blaze to escalate and continue for several hours.”

Bangladesh earns $20 billion a year in garment exports, the majority of which go to the US and Europe. The garment sector employs four million people, mostly women.


Clashes broke out in Rio de Janeiro this week, when striking teachers and their supporters protested salary levels and a police crackdown on previous demonstrations.

Thousands rallied on Monday night to demand better pay and an “overhaul of the education system,” as protestors also called out against “what many considered to be an excessive use of police force on demonstrating teachers a week ago,” Al Jazeera said.

The strike continues even after the government proposed a 15 percent pay hike, which the teachers and organizers of the demonstrations rejected, and the “scene turned violent” when the crowd reached city hall.

The head of the military police was replaced following criticism of Rio’s police forces’ response to several other demonstrations, but “allegations of police brutality against demonstrators has persisted under his successor.”