Imagine the situation of the hotel worker had she not been protected by a union contract. She is a young immigrant mother who needs this job to support her family. According to reports, she likely did not know Strauss-Kahn's identity at the time she reported the assault, but she undoubtedly understood that the person staying in the $3,000-a-night suite was a wealthy and important person. In these circumstances, how likely would it be that she would make an issue of a sexual assault to her supervisors?
Housekeepers are generally among the lowest-paid workers at hotels, often earning little more than the minimum wage. It is a high turnover job, meaning that any individual housekeeper is likely to be viewed as easily replaceable by the management. If this housekeeper did not enjoy the protection of a union contract, is it likely that she would have counted on her supervisors taking her side against an important guest at the hotel? Would she have been prepared to risk her job to pursue the case?
We can never know how this particular woman would have responded otherwise – as, fortunately, she did have the protection of a union. However, it is likely that many similar assaults go unreported because the victims do not feel they can risk their jobs to pursue the case. They simply have to accept sexual harassment and even sexual assault as "part of the job".
There is a special irony to this situation given Dominique Strauss-Kahn's prior position. The IMF, along with other pillars of the economic establishment, has long pushed for reducing the rights of workers at their workplace. Specifically, they have pushed countries around the world to adopt measures that weaken the power of unions. The IMF has also urged western European countries to eliminate or weaken laws that prevent employers from firing workers at will. These laws, along with unions, are seen as "labour market rigidities" that prevent labour markets from operating efficiently.
In the dream world of the economists' textbook policies, all employers would have the ability to fire employees at will. There would be no protective legislation and no unions to get in the way. In that economist's dream world, then, powerful executives could be fairly certain that they would have licence to molest hotel workers with impunity.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
From The Guardian::