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from The Great Debate UK:

The Consumer Student

--Priyamvada Gopal is a University Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of English and Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge. The opinions expressed are her own.--

The once highly-regarded British public university is not quite dead but it is in terminal care. After half a century of global success on public funding that amounted to less than 1.5% of Britain’s GDP, in the space of two years we’ve seen the partial withdrawal of the state from the sector, and it is expected that this is a precursor to full withdrawal followed by extensive privatisation.

With the overnight tripling of tuition fees in 2010 (in the face of widespread protests) and with further rises in the offing, the student has been reframed as a consumer buying private goods in the form of a degree. Combine this with a mortgage and you have a large number of citizens who are unlikely to be debt-free at any point in their life.

Formerly known as a university, the service provider of higher education is now to sink or swim in response to the pressures of competition, as degree-awarding corporations rather than sites of inquiry and learning. Ironically, however, it turns out that the new fees regime which David Willetts, the Universities Minister, keeps bizarrely insisting is fairer than the previous one, is actually costing the exchequer more, through the rising costs of subsidising student loans.

from The Great Debate:

The college football assembly line

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Here’s a tale of two factories and the way the public feels about those who labor there. Nothing could be more iconic than an automobile factory where workers put in eight or more hours a day on the assembly line. The work is boring, the pace unrelenting and injuries are not uncommon, but the pay is better than working in fast food or at Wal-Mart. Volkswagen’s modern, efficient Chattanooga factory is such a place.

Then there are the “football factories.” A good one is at Northwestern University, where players are formally enrolled as students, but they spend the bulk of their time in practice for several months of the year. Their tuition and living expenses are paid through an athletic scholarship, the value of which is often more than an autoworker earns in a year. At Northwestern, 97 percent of these players are said to graduate.

from The Great Debate:

FDR set the terms for labor executive orders

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Many critics have called President Barack Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federally contracted workers an unprecedented bold action. The president bypassed a gridlocked Congress to increase pay to $10.10 an hour -- and raise labor standards for the only federal workers directly within his authority.

This move is a significant step in combating income inequality. The federal government is the largest low-wage job creator -- with more than 2 million low-wage workers. That’s more than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined.

from The Great Debate:

Pennsylvania as the new Wisconsin in union fights

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The Wisconsin state capitol was the site of massive protests in 2011 during the fight to pass Republican Governor Scott Walker’s labor reforms. The following year Big Labor staged demonstrations in Michigan against Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s right-to-work bill, which ultimately passed. Now Pennsylvania’s state capitol is set to reach fever pitch, as unions plan to bus in hundreds of protestors this week to fight legislation that, if bad for union bosses, could be a boon to rank-and-file workers.

Pennsylvania is a longtime labor stronghold. Consider that a plaque directly across from the state capitol commemorates the unionization of government workers. But Pennsylvania lawmakers are now poised to pass a law to end automatic deduction of union dues from government employee paychecks.

from The Great Debate:

Why U.S. angst over Chinese buyouts is warranted

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For some people, Jim Beam may be more American than apple pie. Yet the U.S. public took it in stride earlier this month when Suntory, a Japanese conglomerate, bought the bourbon distillery for $13.6 billion.

This was a sharp contrast to U.S. reaction when a Chinese meat producer sought to buy the ham producer Smithfield Foods last year. The deal came under heavy attack. Shuanghui International Holdings faced formidable opposition on Capitol Hill last summer. Union workers and consumer advocates voiced well-publicized concerns about food safety and security.

from The Great Debate:

Democrats: It’s the states, stupid (Part 2)

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ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

Since the government shutdown, public opinion of the Republican Party has hit a new low. Yet the Democrats might not be able to gain from it. Despite the GOP’s fall from grace -- and even if they suffer a lower vote count in the 2014 midterm elections -- the Republicans might still control the House of Representatives and many state legislatures after the polls close.

Our Constitution is unique in that it gives state legislatures virtually complete control over how we elect the president and Congress. In other democracies, the national government runs elections, usually through an impartial commission. Our system, however, lets the party that controls the state legislatures manipulate election rules to help itself and harm its opponents in both the state and House races.

from The Great Debate:

With unemployment high, France forces stores to close early

The French like to refer to the Champs Elysées in Paris as “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” and 300,000 people stroll up and down it every day to see for themselves, many of them tourists looking to shop. No surprise, then, to find that retailers from Nike to LVMH are willing to pay premium rents for space on the avenue, which runs in a straight line from the Place de la Concorde up to the triumphal arch at Etoile.

Just don’t try to buy anything in the evening. This week a Paris court of appeal ordered the cosmetics chain Sephora to close its flagship store on the avenue at 9 p.m., rather than staying open until midnight during the week and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It was the latest ruling over store-closing hours that has already forced several other big name retailers in Paris both on and off the avenue to close early, including Apple, France’s Monoprix and the Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo. Two other stores on the Champs Elysées, Abercrombie and Fitch and perfumer Marionnaud, are also facing legal action.

from The Great Debate:

Rebuilding America’s high-wage economy

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Good for President Barack Obama for emphasizing the need to restore America’s middle class. However, the actual proposals in his new summer offensive would not go very far toward that worthy goal.

America is moving, at an accelerating pace, toward an economy with tens of millions of poorly paid service jobs at one end, and a relatively small number of astronomically compensated financial jobs at the other. In between the fast food workers, who demonstrated this week for a living wage, and the hedge fund billionaires is a new creative class heavily based on the Internet. But the web entrepreneurs are too narrow a segment on which to rebuild a broad middle class.

from The Great Debate:

Death in Bangladesh: Triangle fire redux

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ILLUSTRATION: Matt Mahurin

So now we are to have Senate hearings on the deadly conditions in Bangladeshi garment factories, and so must pretend to discover what we have known all along — in seeking to save a few dollars on our next trip to the mall, we are willing to let other people suffer the worst horrors of our own past.

More than a hundred years ago, we were willing to ignore the awful conditions that prevailed in factories and sweatshops here in America. Then came the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, in New York’s Greenwich Village, on Mar. 25, 1911, when 146 garment workers died in the space of 15 minutes. Many of them perished by falling or leaping from the ninth floor of the factory building, crashing through a glass roof, impaling on the spikes of an iron fence, smashing on the paving stones below.

from The Great Debate:

A cry for worker fairness

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People rescue a garment worker trapped under rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Bira

The tragedy at the Rana Plaza clothing factory was a sober reminder that Bangladeshi garment workers still lack basic rights and protections. My mother was a seamstress. She worked in the textile factories of northern New Jersey. I saw how hard and tiring her work was. But it was never lethal. And it shouldn’t be.

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