Occupy movement goes global: 900 cities and counting

The social protest movement that started several weeks ago with Occupy Wall Street has gone global, as Esther Addley reports for Guardian newspaper (link here):

  • 60,000 protesters in Barcelona, Spain
  • 25,000 in Santiago, Chile
  • 5,000+ “massed outside the European Central Bank” in Frankfurt, Germany
  • 4,000 in London
  • 3,000 in Auckland, New Zealand

Addley adds:

The Occupy campaign may have hoped, at its launch, to inspire similar action elsewhere, but few can have foreseen that within four weeks, more than 900 cities around the world would host co-ordinated protests directly or loosely affiliated to the Occupy cause.

Testifying on the human costs: Occupy the Boardroom

As protests mount, others are finding ways to spread the message online. Joshua Holland, writing for AlterNet (link here) reports on Occupy the Boardroom, a project that allows members of the public to share personal stories of what the economic meltdown has done to them and their families. For example, here is what one woman from North Carolina wrote to fellow Tar Heel Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the President’s national debt commission:

Like you I’m from the Tar Heel state so I thought I’d tell you my story. A couple of years ago my father died waiting for a liver transplant. It was an ugly, horrible death and left me parentless while still in my 20s. My brother and I inherited the small ranch-style house my father worked his whole life to pay off. (Our mother died during our childhoods.) I wanted to take care of my father’s money so I invested it. Six months later I had lost over half of it when the crash happened. I lost half of my father’s life savings because of the corrupt practices of Wall Street. My father worked his whole life. He was the 11th child of a sharecropping family and was sent to the cotton fields before he was ten. He completed high school but there was no money for college so he went to work at blue-collar jobs which he used to support us his whole life.

When I think of the money I lost, I think of my father’s hands. I think of his broken, scarred hands that built a home and future for me. It wasn’t just money that Wall Street stole. Futures, trust, hard work and respect — those are the things Wall Street corruption has stolen from the American People, not just money. I don’t think everyone on Wall Street is corrupt, but the system is, and I want to do my part to correct it, even if it’s just writing a letter like this. I owe my father that. Mr. Bowles, I hope you do your part too. Because of your position, you are a powerful person in our society. So I ask you, how will you use your power? What will your legacy be?

***

Watch and listen to this catchy video and song above, “We Are the 99%,” posted on YouTube.

Related posts

Economics 101: Defining terms and saving capitalism from itself

From “punk-styled kids” to airline pilots, is Occupy Wall Street the start of something big?

Post-meltdown America: An economic recovery for the wealthy

Globalization and workers 101: A quick primer

Website of the Week: APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program

Especially given this week’s observance of Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2011 (October 16-22), it’s fitting to highlight the American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP).

The PHWP describes itself this way:

The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program (PHWP) is a collaborative effort between the American Psychological Association and the APA Practice Organization, designed to educate the employer community about the link between employee health and well-being and organizational performance. ThePHWP includes APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, a variety ofAPA Practice Organization resources, including PHWP Web content, e-newsletter, podcast and blog, and support of local programs….

The website contains a lot of useful, free content, and merits some time spent exploring. A few highlights:

Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards

Each year, the PHWP recognizes a small number of employers across the nation for creating psychologically healthy workplaces:

Nominees are selected from a pool of previous local winners and evaluated on their workplace practices in the areas of employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance and employee recognition.

You may go here for further descriptions of the 2011 Award winners:

  • Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus (Arkansas)
  • eXude Benefits Group (Pennsylvania)
  • San Jorge Children’s Hospital (Puerto Rico)
  • First Horizon (Tennessee)
  • Northeast Delta Dental (New Hampshire)
  • Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, Northwest (Oregon)
  • The MITRE Corporation (Virginia)
  • City of Grand Prairie (Texas)

Current Good Company newsletter highlights workplace bullying

At the website, you also can sign up for a free subscription to the PHWP’s online newsletter, Good Company.

The lead article in the October 19 issue is Dr. Donna M.L. Heretick’s “Recognizing and Confronting Workplace Bullying,” which gives a solid overview of the topic and concludes with a suggested model for organizational responses:

A step-wise model of mandated responses might be:

  • “Informal intervention” for single incidents of unprofessional behavior;
  • Level 1, “awareness intervention” where a pattern of behavior is being identified;
  • Level 2, “authority intervention” where the pattern continues; and,
  • Level 3, “disciplinary intervention” where there appears to be no improvement after previous interventions or the first offense is notably egregious (Hickson, Pichert, Webb, & Gabbe, 2007).

Personal kudos

I’m a fan of the PHWP for personal reasons as well as professional ones.

One of my earliest blog posts mentioned the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards. However, rather than crediting the APA for creating an awards program using important, relevant factors, I criticized them — in a somewhat snarky tone — for what they didn’t measure, then proceeded to announce what criteria I thought were important.

Yup, I had used a cheap straw man tool to make a point. But instead of taking this law-professor-turned-organizational-psychology-commentator to task, Drs. David Ballard and Matthew Grawitch of the PHWP left a collegial, even-handed comment, thanking me for my post and explaining why the APA used certain criteria in making the awards.

As someone new to blogging, their response was a gracious lesson to me in healthy online dialogue. Since then, on several occasions Dave Ballard and the PHWP have featured posts from Minding the Workplace on their Facebook and Twitter pages and blog. In short, they walk the talk, and I am very appreciative.

“On Limiting the Abusive Exercise of Employer Power”

For legal geeks like me, one of the starting places for understanding the modern state of workers’ rights is a classic 1967 Columbia Law Review article by University of Kansas law professor Lawrence Blades, “Employment at Will vs. Individual Freedom: On Limiting the Abusive Exercise of Employer Power.” He opened his article with these words:

It is a widely accepted proposition that large corporations now pose a threat to individual freedom comparable to that which would be posed if governmental power were unchecked. The proposition need not, however, be limited to the mammoth business corporation, for the freedom of the individual is threatened whenever he becomes dependent upon a private entity possessing greater power than himself. Foremost among the relationships of which this generality is true is that of employer and employee.

Blades noted that the underlying assumptions supporting the dominant rule of at-will employment — which allows an employer to terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all — were no longer applicable:

Such a philosophy of the employer’s dominion over his employee may have fit the rustic simplicity of the days when the farmer or small entrepreneur, who may or may not have employed others, was the epitome of American individualism. But the philosophy is incompatible with these days of large, impersonal, corporate employers; it does not comport with the need to preserve individual freedom in today’s job-oriented, industrial society.

He would go on to argue that at-will employment should be supplanted by legal rights that protect workers against wrongful discharge.

Fast forward

Blades’s article is considered a seminal commentary on the increasingly lopsided allocation of power in the modern employment relationship. Although he may not have fully anticipated the growth of the service sector and the non-profit sector and the significance of employment discrimination law, his success is in how he foresaw the expansion of private economic power and shaped the thinking of employment law scholars and other legal stakeholders.

Although courts and legislatures have fashioned myriad exceptions to at-will employment since then, most American workers remain employed on this basis and generally can be fired for any reason that doesn’t violate employment discrimination laws, a variety of whistleblower and anti-retaliation provisions, and a handful of other protections.

Workplace bullying

Among the more common forms of employee mistreatment, workplace bullying remains the most frequently neglected by American employment law. And because supervisors and bosses are the most frequent perpetrators of bullying behaviors (at least in the U.S.), Blades’s concerns about the imbalance of power in the American workforce are especially applicable.

When a worker is bullied by a boss, all too often the abuse falls outside of existing worker protections. However, if an employee complains about workplace bullying or attempts to stand up to an abusive supervisor, the rule of at-will employment permits the employer to discharge her in summary fashion.

This is why I wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill, which gives severely bullied workers a legal claim for damages, creates legal incentives for employers to act preventively and responsively toward bullying behaviors, and protect those who report or file a legal action in response to workplace bullying. It’s also why I wholeheartedly support Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week (Oct. 16-22), which serves to educate the public about workplace bullying and what we can do to stop it.

***

Full citation: Lawrence E. Blades, “Employment at Will vs. Individual Freedom: On Limiting the Abusive Exercise of Employer Power,” 67 Columbia Law Review 1404 (1967). (Although I am unable to provide copies to readers, the article is available via subscription databases such as JSTOR, Westlaw, and Lexis/Nexis.)

Cities, towns, and counties proclaim support for Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2011

Beverly Hills, California

LaCrosse, Wisconsin

Norfolk, Virginia

Over two dozen U.S. cities, towns, and counties have issued or are issuing proclamations supporting Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week (October 16-22). The proclamations are the result of outreach by grassroots activists from Healthy Workplace Advocates groups across the country.

These localities are endorsing Freedom Week (list as of Oct. 17, evening):

California:  Beverly Hills, South Lake Tahoe, Torrance, Burbank, Carson, El Dorado County, City of Placerville, Palo Alto

Connecticut:  New London, East Haven, Newtown, Milford, Torrington

Ohio:  Steubenville

Texas:  El Paso, San Antonio, Corsicana, Longview, Killeen, Galveston, San Marcos, Sante Fe, Arlington

Virginia:  Newport News, Portsmouth, Norfolk

West Virginia:  Weirton, Morgantown

Wisconsin:  LaCrosse

***

Okay, so it’s only a couple of dozen and change. But 10 years ago, this kind of public recognition would’ve been unthinkable. And look at the localities: This is not a blue state or red state cause. Workplace bullying hurts everyone.

***

(Note: I’m sorry the proclamations are so hard to read. We’re working on that. They sure do look good, though!)

Economics 101: Defining key terms and saving capitalism from itself

One of the most unfortunate by-products of today’s cheapened political dialogue is the way in which terms such as “socialism,” “communism,” and “capitalism” are misunderstood and/or misused.

Some on the far right toss allegations of socialism and communism at virtually any effort to provide a safety net to those in need, while trashing any call for labor and environmental safeguards. Some on the far left label profit-making enterprises as the root of all evil and call for the end of capitalism, without working through the alternatives.

Right now, we’re hearing a lot of this stuff surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement and its progeny. However, some may not know what these terms actually mean. Others may understand, but deliberately misuse them because they work as scare tactics with the uninformed. So…at least let’s get the definitions right:

Capitalism (from the Merriam Webster Dictionary)

an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market

Socialism (from the Merriam Webster Dictionary)

any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Communism (from the Merriam Webster Dictionary)

a theory advocating elimination of private property

Mixed economy

The vast majority of nations, including the United States, are not purely capitalist, socialist, or communist. Rather, they sport what is known as a mixed economy, and I’ll rely on Wikipedia for a more expansive definition and explanation:

an economic system in which both the state and private sector direct the economy, reflecting characteristics of both market economies and planned economies. Most mixed economies can be described as market economies with strong regulatory oversight, in addition to having a variety of government-sponsored aspects.

…Governments in mixed economies often provide environmental protection, maintenance of employment standards, a standardized welfare system, and maintenance of competition.

In the U.S., most policy debates involving business, social programs, and regulation take place within the parameters of a mixed economy.

To save capitalism, create a strong safety net

The mixed economy we’ve had — which some now want to dismantle — has its roots in the New Deal legislation promulgated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the heart of the Great Depression in the 1930s. FDR was a member of the patrician class, and he feared a communist-style takeover of the nation if the economy did not improve.

To save capitalism, he proposed a stronger social safety net and a series of ambitious publicly-funded jobs programs, labeled the New Deal. That’s how we got banking regulations, Social Security, the minimum wage, and the right to join unions. It’s also how we built many of the roads and bridges still in use today. Even some of the warships that helped to win World War II were public works projects funded by the New Deal.

Occupy Wall Street, then regulate it

I salute the Occupy movement for calling out major corporations and the government for joining together to favor the wealthy and powerful. Capitalism without brakes leads us to a growing gulf between the rich and everyone else, brutally hard times for those in need, and a polluted environment stripped of its resources.

On the other hand, I don’t want the government to be running the whole show, either. The thought of unchecked public bureaucracies scares me as much as unregulated private enterprises.

In sum, as important as these protests are to illuminating our current predicament, I don’t regard the solution as necessarily being a radical one. As I see it, a healthy and balanced mixed economy, featuring robust private, public, and non-profit sectors, will work better than any of the pure “isms.”

Boston Book Festival 2011: Celebrating the work of great writers

Boston is a pretty bookish town, what with all the universities, libraries, and bookstores around. But until the creation of the Boston Book Festival in 2009, it had been years since the city hosted an annual event celebrating books and the work of great writers.

In three short years, the Festival has become quite an event. To me it is a reminder of the best of city life and culture, a gathering of authors, readers, booksellers, publishers, and those who support them. This year’s Festival was held on Saturday, October 15, with a preview event the night before.

No grand editorial point here, just a celebration with some pictures and words:

The Art of the Wire

This year’s Festival kicked off on Friday night with a panel discussion featuring actors, writers, and consultants for The Wire, HBO’s deservedly acclaimed urban crime drama set in Baltimore. After the panel, cast members Tray Chaney (“Poot”), Robert Chew (“Prop Joe”), and Jamie Hector (“Marlo Stanfield”) were among those who stayed around for a book and poster signing. They couldn’t have been more friendly or gracious toward their fans.

(For a link to a podcast of the event, go to the Boston Phoenix newspaper site here.)

(For a related post, see Work on TV: HBO’s “The Wire.”)

Civil War panel authors

My favorite writers panel was on the Civil War. This was an all-star lineup of Civil War authors, and each one gave an excellent talk. They captured the heart of their work and brought it to life for the audience. I went home with copies of their books.

Inside the information tent, Copley Square

The events were inside various buildings surrounding Copley Square, with vendors’ booths lining the Square itself. At the center was this information booth, which also served as a signing place for some of the featured authors.

Vendors' booths

Most of the vendors were booksellers, literary journals, publishing companies, and colleges offering writing programs. Here’s the Brattle Book Shop booth, one of Boston’s legendary used bookstores, and a favorite of mine.

Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2011: October 16-22

“Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week,” an annual observance sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute, runs from October 16 through 22.  It is an important opportunity for supporters of the workplace anti-bullying movement to educate the public and rally others to the cause.

In the U.S., this movement is reaching the point where workplace bullying is a recognized phenomenon. Although there always are new audiences who haven’t named or labeled this hurtful and destructive behavior, these days we’re having to explain ourselves a little less than before. Within wider circles, the term “workplace bullying” is used and understood. Our educational work is far from over — the need will endure — but we’re seeing progress in terms of public comprehension.

For today, I want to center our attention on action. Toward that end, I’m re-posting my article “Ten ways to stop workplace bullying,” from December 2010:

Ten ways to stop workplace bullying

When people talk to me about workplace bullying, they often ask, what can I do to help? The following list is hardly exhaustive, but it’s a starting place:

1. Don’t — Don’t be a workplace bully. It starts with each of us.

2. Stand up — Stand up for someone who is being bullied. Silence equals permission.

3. Support — Similarly, support friends, colleagues, and family members who are experiencing bullying at work. Validate their concerns and, where appropriate, guide them to coaching, counseling, and legal assistance. (For some resources, go here.)

4. Ask — Ask your employer to educate employees about workplace bullying and to include an anti-bullying policy in the employee handbook.

5. Post — If you read an article on workplace bullying, post a comment to it online, voicing your support for taking this problem seriously. Help to generate momentum for the anti-bullying movement.

6. Talk — Yes, just talk about it with others. Without making a pest of yourself to your friends, family, and associates, discuss bullying as part of the workplace experience for many employees.

7. Law reform — Support anti-bullying legislation. For readers in the U.S., get active in the grassroots campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in states around the nation (link here). (Full disclosure: I’m the author of the Healthy Workplace Bill, so I do have an interest in seeing it enacted!)

8. Unions — If you are a member of a union, lobby your union leaders to educate members about workplace bullying and to negotiate an abusive supervision clause in the collective bargaining agreement, as discussed here.

9. Faith — If you are a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque, encourage your congregational leaders and fellow members to include workplace bullying among their social action concerns.

10. Connect — We must connect workplace bullying to other forms of interpersonal abuse, such as school bullying, cyber bullying, and domestic abuse. There are many unfortunate similarities between them, and helping others to understand this will serve as a powerful consciousness raising mechanism.

Words of caution

Some of these actions carry personal risks. There is something very threatening about this topic to certain individuals and organizations. Furthermore, when someone is suffering due to workplace bullying, they may be in a difficult place psychologically. Thus, please consider:

1. Those who stand up for bullying targets may find themselves next on the firing line. This is a very real possibility.

2. A bad employer may consider you a troublemaker simply for asking that the organization oppose these behaviors.

3. Posting a comment online about workplace bullying may lead to some people to ridicule your concerns.

4. Providing homebrewed psychological counseling or legal advice is not only unwise, but also illegal if you are not licensed to provide such assistance.

***

Related post

Cities, towns, and counties proclaim support for Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week 2011

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