Penny and nicked in LA. A car wash story.

Barbara Ehrenreich speaking at Mama\'s Hot Tamales

“Tesco is to stop importing about £1m ($2m) of fresh vegetables from Zimbabwe, reversing its previous stance that the trade was essential to support the families of the farm workers who grow crops such as mange tout and baby corn.” By John Willman in London and Tony Hawkins in Harare at the Financial Times.

Tesco owns the recent upstart in the organic food game, Fresh & Easy (which for some odd reason the blogosphere is obsessed with.)

Not that I believe that Tesco was only trying to help, but how far is too far in regards to “helping” and what’s not far enough?

On Friday I went to a get together at MacArthur Park’s Mama’s Hot Tamales in support of the ongoing carwash boycott that first came to the attention of the media with the boycotting of the Pirian-owned Vermont Hand Wash in Los Feliz.

At the event Barbara Ehrenreicht (author of Nickle and Dimed and the new book This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation) gave the boycott organizers and their supporters her encouragement.

“America has forgotten it’s own history of organized collective action and outright rebellion…” Barbara Ehrenreicht.

That to me is the key. You can’t go too far, but you can screw yourself if you don’t go far enough.

I think the US worker has battled wife syndrome.

In general I think unions these days are way too polite and not far-reaching enough in their tactics.

I think we as a nation have become way too complacent. Why would you need a boycott publicized to know that the working conditions of these workers are horrendous? Who would think it was ok to pay ten dollars to have someone hand wash their car in the hot sun? What kind of human beings exactly are we building in this country where we only realize things are wrong when people (who are on our team) tell us that they are wrong.

One of the speakers actually said, to paraphrase, that people take their cars to the car wash because they are environmentalists. And I thought, “Really? I mean are you completely serious?” I don’t own a car, but people take their new cars to the car wash for some higher consciousness reason, but didn’t notice this human being working like a slave for what we all know is nothing.


Why aren’t we boycotting restaurants that don’t let disabled homeless people go to the bathroom (which is against the law.) Why aren’t we boycotting businesses that have workers brushing up leaves for less than minimum wage? Why are we stopping at just this?

Do we really want to change the work environment for people or do we want to get notches on our belt of accomplishes, so that people can get we’re truly political.

Is this truly about morality or about some game?

I have to admit I am bit jaded, I’ve seen too many political organizer types become “the man.” A critical eye and self reflection is something that’s always needed in any cause or movement.

You could potentially ruin someone’s life if you don’t follow through all of the way on these kinds of actions. Jose Torres lost his job owing to speaking out, so this is very real not something you do on the weekends or even for a paycheck.

This needs to be a movement that can’t just stop here.

I spoke to the Amy Massciola from International Campaigns Coordinator from the AFL-CIO out of Washington DC. I spoke about possibly of encouraging people to not driving at all, because in my opinion this obsession with stuff is the reason we’ve built a country of people in almost slave conditions. Her response was “We don’t want them to be out of work we just want them to have just working conditions.”

That’s true. Short term job lost is a bad thing, but on the other hand long term acceptance of a little bit of evil in an exchange for a little bit of good doesn’t seems like a good deal for the working man or woman.

My opinion is that as long as people are buying new cars, buying new clothes, buying new stuff that there will never be just working conditions.

The system of capitalism isn’t a fair system. At least not in the way it is carried out in this country. What will happen once these workers are unionized is that another group of people who will work for nothing will be brought in.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Why do we continue to play this narrow view game?

To me there needs to be a global action in boycotts and working conditions across the entire world, not just in one section of the world.

And why exactly aren’t owners of businesses that don’t pay people getting jail time? Not a fine, but jail time. Who do you think causes more harm to our society? A tagger or a business owner who doesn’t pay minimum wage.

Business owners don’t care about fines. Business owners don’t care much about boycotts, though people know about Walmart I don’t think they are doing badly at all owing to the press about them being evil, in fact Wal-Mart is one of the few companies that are making money. They do calculations in their head and if the fine is less than the amount it would cost them to not pay people they won’t pay people (or let people die, remember the Ford’s Pinto.)

How about fighting to put business owners who pay people less than minimum wage jail time? How about cutting off relations with countries that have slave working conditions?

This is not to say that the carwash boycott isn’t a good idea. The carwash boycott is a great idea, but there needs to be a closer and more critical look at how the US economy works on a larger scale. There needs to be a more hard line taken by the US government and organizers in how we deal with these problems.

You can’t compartmentalize a struggle.

By Browne Molyneux
Carwash facts from the report Cleaning Up the Carwash Industry by the Carwash Workers Organizing Committee of the United Steelworkers

  • 2002 Carwash owners had a reported revenue of $872 million.
  • Carwashes have an average industry wide profit margin of 29%.
  • People in Los Angeles spend $10,376 per year to maintain their cars.
  • The current living wage in Los Angeles is $10.33 per hour.
  • A LA Times reported that some workers make as little as $1.63 per hour.
  • The average car washer makes $12,932 per year.

More info on the boycott go HERE.

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