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Call me immigrant.

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A few weeks ago someone started an Icelandic Pegida Facebook group. I was not surprised. There is an astonishing amount of Xenophobia in Iceland.

It is not usually not directed at me. I’m German. And as such I struggle to remember incidences where any Icelandic person openly opposed my presence in this country.
I have, however, experienced quite a few incidences of what we German call Fremdschämen (which auto corrects to Frenchwomen). An embarrassment caused by the embarrassing action of others. Sometimes this is due to (stubborn) ignorance about living in a multicultural society.
There was not a lot of understanding why this figure might be problematic. There was also a cocktail called apartheid, because the person naming it looked up the word "separation" in an Icelandic dictionary and everyone around them seemed also to be blissfully unaware of events outside of Iceland. Something like this is still considered funny, rather than embarrassing or offensive, kind of like the depiction of Asian people in the 1960s in USA. Most of the time my reaction these incidences is nothing more than a facepalm. After all, this is a country where children might edge curiously towards the black person in the hot pot trying to touch their skin, because they have never seen one before.

But then there are Icelandic people, who feel obliged to tell me, that they consider me ok, but are opposed to (too much) immigration from other “more foreign” countries, meaning people from countries who just aren't Aryan and rich enough. Expecting me to agree. I fucking don't!

This is why I have some issues with self-identifying as an expat. It is in many way a random classification, a lose stratification of migrants by higher or lower social status.

Migrants, apart from Nationality, are actually quite an homogeneous group. We are mostly young people, with some form of higher education, come from a higher income group in our home country, as travel, especially to Iceland is expensive and we are less risk adverse than the general population. Young, smart, rich and daring people in other words. We all come to seek opportunity (thank you UN report on migration).
Yes, I did come here, because the income I could receive here is higher than in my home country (I came in 2005), working conditions were and still are favourable as well and the Icelandic education system offers opportunities (I am doing my masters in public health in the university of Iceland, taking advantage of paid leave for study). Why else move? I have no Icelandic boyfriend or husband, nor could I ride a horse when I came here and I certainly did not come because of the weather.

The idea that I am more worthwhile to the Icelandic society, culturally ore economically based on my country of origin is deeply insulting to me. If someone sees me as less of a threat to the good old Icelandic way of life, because my skin is lighter, I encourage them to have a look at the categories "Politics" and "IWW" to your right. I am actively trying to change it, if at any point I can say that Iceland is different now because of me, I would list this as one of my proudest achievements. And I'd still call myself immigrant.

Awesome Iceland fact: shortly after the Icelandic Pegida Facebook group was established the group
"United Against Racism and Xenophobia in Iceland" was founded. It now has 3270 "likes", 1000 more than Pegida Iceland and 1% of the total population.

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:

An active day in bed (not what you think! really, there are children reading this blog!)

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Today was surprisingly productive, considering I spent most of it in bed. I should really get a heater.
I started on Version 2 of my blog and might even provide an Icelandic translation, if I feel like having my head explode. But at the moment a plug in system is in place, so one can chose which features to add and a "contact form" and "creating a gallery" plugin exists. I also re-posted some pictures on my travel blog while testing the gallery script.
Most of the day was spent hunting articles for my thesis though. And a hunt it was! I do need to get access to Science Direct, anyone out there affiliated with a university, who feels like downloading some articles for me?
The interesting thing about public health related articles about China is the diversity. One can find articles on the health effects of poverty and life-style induced diabetes with data from the same city. What a sad comment on wealth distribution in Chinese society...

data dilemmas

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I decided today to finally start looking into going on writing my thesis. I thought the China Health and Nutrition Survey had published the 2011 dataset, but no such luck for income (which is kind of crucial for what I want to do). The newest is the 2009 one, which I had decided against last year, as it does not have the self-assessed health indicator.
Before I found all of that out, I first had to find a way to access the data, which is in a SAS file format, which R can't open (proprietary software formats and all that). The woes of people without University resources. Anyway, with the help of wine and some windows command line program I managed to open the file. This converter does not mess up the . and , , which is nice, because I had to check all the dataset with the converter actually developed by SAS last time as it did not always read the , making some of my Chinese workers trillionaires.
Anyway, the question remains, find a new health indicator or use old data? Fortunately by now more research on the 2009 data has been published by now so I can do some reading, if (and this might be my next frustration) I can access the articles.
Life was easier when I had access to University libraries and computers.
Posted on - Categories: Research

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