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An unexpected talk

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Today I went to a lecture from a friend about refugees, immigrants and labour rights in Iceland. A description of the lecture is here. She had organised for immigrants to talk after her lecture, but shortly before the lecture they had backed out because of time issues or because they were afraid to speak publicly as some were lacking documentation. She asked me if I want to talk about my (much less dramatic) experiences and I said sure why not, but we had not decided which topic I should speak about. I did not hear from her again, so I figured that one of the original speakers were going to speak. I went to the lecture and found out that she had planned for me to speak, so scribbled some thoughts down during her part.

This is more or less what I said (with a lot of "ums" and "ehms" taken out) :
As an immigrant from a European country I cannot talk a lot about my rights being abused, I can however talk about the inconveniences of being an immigrant. A lot of the inconveniences come from difficulties of finding information or finding someone who actually has the correct information. Even employers who employ a lot of immigrants often do not know. I was working in the hospital in Blönduós and after I had seen a lot of workers from the local slaughterhouse who had come to me, but were not insured I called their boss. He was unaware of the fact that according to Icelandic law people (Icelandic and immigrants alike) have to be registered for six months before they have health insurance coverage.
But not only employers, a lot of times people working in relevant institutions cannot answer questions relevant to immigrants.
For example, when I was working on a self-employed basis I had to pay into a private pension fund. As I already pay into a German private pension fund, I thought I might not have to pay into an Icelandic one as well. So I called everyone, from the Icelandic tax office to private pension funds to find the answer. No one could help me until I finally got a foreigner on the phone.
I also worked and lived in Iceland illegally by mistake for almost a year. When I registered in the town hall in Iceland they did not give me the correct registration form (I got the one for Icelandic citizens, not the one for citizens from the EEA/EFTA). Thus I never applied for a residence/work permit. I found out when I did my tax report and after a few calls to the þjóðskrá and directorate for immigration the matter was resolved. And this is where my experience is different from someone outside the EU. For me the reaction was basically "ups, my bad" while someone from outside the EU probably would have been deported.
The distinction between groups immigrants is not only made by institutions, but also by society. A lot of time I am told that I am the "good kind of foreigner". There is a kind of hierarchy on how foreigners are seen in Iceland, with western European on top, followed by eastern European and people from outside the EU, especially people from developing countries on bottom.

Chinese worker's strike update

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I got a reply from the Adidas Group concerning the situation in the Yue Yuen factory. It is a hilarious letter, some excerpts are below

We were closely monitoring the situation at the production site from the beginning. In order to minimise the impact on our operations, we reallocated some of the future orders originally allocated to Yue Yuen Dongguan to other suppliers. But we never intended to pull out of the Yue Yuen factory in Dongguan and we have no plans to do so.

And here is why we need an international labour movement, if companies can minimise the impact of a strike, what leverage do workers have to negotiate?

It is our understanding that the insurance contributions which YY had been providing, together with corresponding deductions from the workers, were in accordance with an agreement which they had reached with the Dongguan authorities and the local social insurance bureau.

Read corruption here. The letter fails to mention that the same local authorities used riot police against the protesting workers and incarcerated labour rights activists.

YY has now committed to achieve full compliance with the national requirements by May 1st 2014

Yay! The strike ended last week, additional to the contribution in the insurance funds, workers also got a pay raise and other benefits.

Some links:

A card carrying member

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Last week I became an official member of the IWW, red card and everything. Which is fitting because I really wanted to write about the workers' strike in China.

Since almost two weeks 50.000 workers of the shoe factory Yue-Yuen in Donguan, Guangdong have been on strike. They are fighting for the legally guaranteed employers contributions to social (health, retirement, housing funds) insurance funds.

The employer is required to contribute to these funds according to the Labor Contract Law, which was adopted by Standing Committee by the 10th National Congress in 2007. A copy of the law can be found here.

It is an astonishingly progressive piece of legislation, requiring every employer to provide a written contract, pay at least minimum wage, pay workers equally and regularly (wage default was very common), guarantee safety regulations, regulate work hours and pay into social insurance funds.

As a reaction to the law most of the biggest sport shoe companies announced that they are looking for alternative production sites, claiming production costs would rise too much, if they had to adhere to the law.

In reality the law has been mostly a paper tiger. The law is seldom enforced not only because of the widespread corruption.
The whole political/economic system is geared towards economic growth. GDP is the major outcome measure used for evaluation on local as well as national level. In the last two five year plans (11th: 2006-2011, 12th: 2011-2016) the main target was to grow the GDP by 7/8% .

These are also the criteria used by the CCP to evaluate the performance of local governments. These evaluations also concentrate on short time spans, half a year to a year, which means local governments main goals are rapid growth, rather than long term sustainable development and instead of cooperating they are pitched against one another.

Donguan is positioned right next the towns of Guangzhou and Shenzhen and is part of the Perl River Delta, one of the main hubs of China's industry based economic growth.It has experienced an immense population growth in the last ten years, due to the influx of migrant workers, in 2008 only every 5th resident did not have a migration background and population has grown from around 2 to 8 million in this time.

This demographic development requires an immense amount of infrastructure to be build, such as living space, which would not immediately show a big return as far as economic growth measured in GDP is concerned. Furthermore local governments become interested in production values of companies settling there.

Therefore, despite what the central committee decides in the five year plan (The 11th included the labour contract law, while the 12th had a whole section devoted to the issue of migrant workers.) local governments are more inclined to cater to the need of cooperations than the workers.

Workers are systematically misinformed about their rights. Independent workers rights organisations are... discouraged. Yet, in the last 7 years awareness among workers about their rights has increased and they have been fighting more and more for them, culminating in the strike of more then ten thousand workers.

A few days ago I read in "der Spiegel" that the Adidas Group (Adidas, Reebok, TaylorMade and Rockport) is pulling contracts from the shoe factory because of the strike. It does however keep the business relationship with the supplier company "Pou Chen Group" intact, showing a blatant disregard towards workers rights and local laws. I encourage people to write to them and ask them to adhere to local labour laws and regulations and to draw consequences if their suppliers don't.

Here is their contact page:

More info about the strike:

Why you should care about prism, even if you are not an activist

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Whenever I have conversations about privacy on the internets with people other than members of certain political parties (arrr!) the reaction is mostly pretty much the same: I don't care, I don't have anything to hide. The usual answer to this is: but what if the government turns evil? I think this is too small an answer. Here is mine.

When I lived in Iceland, in Blönduós to be precise, I seldom my locked my front door. I simply trusted that people would not come in, take things or go through my stuff and read my diary. And no one did. Partly of course, because my diary does not make a great read and there might be legal consequences as well, but mainly because they wanted to live in a society where they can leave their door unlocked and still have people respect their private space. Even the authorities.
In the internet it is extremely difficult to keep your door locked. Even if you host your own data and are extremely paranoid. In terms of gmail, facebook etc, there basically is no door. As we now learned, this means the government sits in your living room watching you make dinner. Maybe you don't care. You are probably not putting poison in it to kill your husband. But the question is: is this the society you want to live in?
I'm not on facebook, as you probably know. If you look around my little corner of the internet, however, you might see that I'm not particularly shy about being public. So why not make my live easier? I would lie to say that not being on facebook does not restrict my social life, hell in Iceland it was severly restricted. Partys, trips, social gatherings I was not invited to, because people were too lazy writing an email (or forgot). So why do I bother? Because I do not want to live in a society where my social live depends on the whims of a misanthropic company. Do you want to live in one in which you privacy is at the mercy of people who have no problem walking in and out of your private space without even asking?
Living in a democracy (what all these programs claim to protect) means having the possibility to decide on the kind of society one wants to live in.
Go ahead then, make a decision...

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