Oscar Wilde once wrote, “In war, the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich makes slaves of the poor.” I was thinking of that prophetic phrase yesterday reading the front page New York Times story about the slave-like working conditions for construction workers at NYU’s brand new, highly controversial Abu Dhabi campus. NYU set national fundraising records last year, raising $3 billion. Guess where none of that money went? Writes the paper:
Facing criticism for venturing into a country where dissent is not tolerated and labor can resemble indentured servitude, N.Y.U. in 2009 issued a “statement of labor values” that it said would guarantee fair treatment of workers. But interviews by The New York Times with dozens of workers who built N.Y.U.’s recently completed campus found that conditions on the project were often starkly different from the ideal.
Virtually every one said he had to pay recruitment fees of up to a year’s wages to get his job and had never been reimbursed. N.Y.U.’s list of labor values said that contractors are supposed to pay back all such fees. Most of the men described having to work 11 or 12 hours a day, six or seven days a week, just to earn close to what they had originally been promised, despite a provision in the labor statement that overtime should be voluntary.
The men said they were not allowed to hold onto their passports, in spite of promises to the contrary. And the experiences of the BK Gulf strikers, a half dozen of whom were reached by The Times in their home countries, stand in contrast to the standard that all workers should have the right to redress labor disputes without “harassment, intimidation, or retaliation.”
Some men lived in squalor, 15 men to a room. The university said there should be no more than four.
Oscar Wilde had his share of difficult living conditions while alive, that’s for sure. But he’s got an awesome resting place in Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery, complete with modern angels donning “unmentionables.” Which brings me to our second story today: internment unmentionables.
You may have already heard about General Motor’s consent decree with NHTSA last Friday and the accompanying release of a confidential 2008 PowerPoint presentation given to GM workers by management. The slide warns employees “not to describe vehicles in ways that invoke emotion or that are speculative, opinionated, or vague” and “instructs them to think how it would look if everything they say or email wound up as a front-page headline.” (Better late than never!)
Here’s Buzzfeed’s list. The 69 unmentionable words could be put into several categories, such as: admissions of defects (“defect”), horrendous injuries (“decapitating”), catastrophic disasters (“Challenger”), suicide (“Cobain”), and internment (“rolling sarcophagus”). (However, GM went way over the line with “You’re toast”. No, we're toast!)
Anyway, can’t imagine what Oscar Wilde would have done with this. But we’ll settle for HBO’s John Oliver.