Friday, October 03, 2003
Selling Out: How Big Corporate Money Buys Elections, Rams Through Legislation and Betrays Our Democracy
By Mark Green, Regan Books, 352 pages, $24.95
Campaign Finance Reform and the Future of the Democratic Party
By Jerrold E. Schneider, Routledge, 208 pages, $19.95
In The American Prospect:
Thus far, however, the consequences of McCain-Feingold have been strongly in favor of the Republican Party and particularly beneficial for the presidential campaign of George W. Bush. The major thrust of McCain-Feingold was to prohibit the national, senatorial and congressional parties from raising and spending "soft money" -- the large contributions, often in excess of $1 million, from corporations, unions and rich people. In theory, the soft-money prohibition would work against the interests of the GOP, the party of the wealthy and of corporate America.
In fact, the single area of campaign finance where the Democratic Party has achieved parity with the GOP has been in the now-banned mega-dollar, soft-money competition. In 2000 and 2002, the Democratic Party organizations raised, respectively, $245.2 million and $245.9 million in soft money, almost exactly what the Republican Party raised ($249.9 million and $250 million). In terms of smaller and still-legal "hard money" contributions, by contrast, the Republicans crushed the Democrats, raising a combined total of $867.8 million to the Democrats' $495.4 million during 2000 and 2002. So far this year, with Republicans in full control of the federal government and with soft money banned, the disparity has grown even larger. Through June, the Republican National Committee had reported raising $54.6 million, compared with the Democratic National Committee's $18 million, a ratio of 3.3-to-1.
Schneider argues for a sharp reduction in the maximum an individual can contribute, from the current $2,000 to a candidate and $25,000 to a political party down to $50 -- again, in theory, a cut that would be more painful to the GOP than to the Democrats. In practice, however, that is not the case. While the Federal Election Commission does not require separate reporting of $50 and smaller contributions, it does provide a measure of donations under $200, listed in the party reports as an unitemized lump sum. At this relatively low level, the Republican advantage is even greater, 3.7-to-1 in the case of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee, which, through May this year, had received $31 million and $8.4 million, respectively, in donations of less than $200.
The Center for Responsive Politics in June of this year conducted a study of the partisan split of campaign contributions of all sizes in the 2001-2002 election cycle. There was one clear finding: The lower the level of contribution studied, the better the Republicans did. Among donors of $1 million or more, the Democrats had a 12-to-1 advantage, $48 million raised compared with $4 million by the GOP. Among those giving between $100,000 to $999,999, the parties were virtually even, the Democrats raising $40 million, the Republicans $39 million. At all levels below $100,000, the Republican Party had the edge, and that edge grew steadily as the contribution level declined. In other words, the large soft-money contributions now banned by McCain-Feingold had, in fact, functioned to lessen the Republican financial advantage.
Both Schneider and Green view McCain-Feingold as a first step toward reform, lacking the crucial element of substantial public financing. But this begs the question that must be addressed by proponents of campaign reform: If a little reform tilts politics to the right, what would a big reform do? In fact, the political consequences of tinkering with the campaign-finance regime are difficult to predict.
More importantly, the idea that campaign-finance reform will solve the problems of the Democratic Party and of liberalism avoids addressing the much more substantial problems facing Democrats today. These issues include dealing with the aftermath of the civil-, women's- and sexual-rights revolutions that together have fundamentally changed the meaning of liberalism and conservatism. In addition, Democrats must face the challenge of developing social policies that are effective and do not have negative repercussions in a global economy. Most Democratic and liberal initiatives on the domestic front -- welfare spending, pro-union laws, environmental and workplace regulation -- are premised on national, not global, economics. Global competition has imposed substantial competitive costs on these policies.
Finally, there has been a profound shift in the character of the money used to finance political campaigns. Driven in large part by an aggressive conservative movement and its allies in Congress, the major institutional sources of campaign money have increasingly abandoned what many liberal reformers view as a primary source of legalized corruption: the giving of money to everyone in office to win votes and loyalty regardless of party. At the core of both Schneider's and Green's arguments is the conviction that the seeking of support from corporate America has distorted the Democratic Party and its candidates. But the most important trend in campaign finance, especially in House and Senate elections, has been the steady abandonment of the Democratic Party and its candidates by major segments of corporate America.
Part of this trend results from the fact that the Democrats are out of power. But just as important is the reality that the Republican Party has become aggressively and unashamedly pro-business, welcoming votes on workplace deregulation, tort reform, energy policy and a host of other issues that demonstrate virtual unanimity on the Republican side of the aisle. These trends have been accelerated by the intense pressure on business contributors exercised by top Republican leaders of the House, especially Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas), and by conservative strategist Grover Norquist, whose "K Street Project" has sought to force the hiring of Republicans to run the major trade associations and lobbying offices and to persuade these interests to give the lion's share of their contributions to Republican candidates.
As a result, the trend in campaign contributions has been distinctly away from the "buying access" strategies of the 1970s, '80s and through much of the '90s to a clearer and more consistent ideological and partisan division of the special-interest community. Major segments of business -- especially pharmaceuticals, mining, oil and gas, defense, commercial banking and accounting -- have basically made a decision to back the GOP, with many other industries moving in that direction. The Democratic Party and its candidates are increasingly dependent on three core sources of money: unions, especially public-sector unions; trial lawyers; and Hollywood and the entertainment industry generally.
I would add that stifling soft money contributions to parties, in reducing the resources that parties can offer to candidates erodes party discipline and accelerates that entrepenueralism by candidates. This makes it more difficult for a party to craft a coherent agenda and message. This less true if your party is run by highly competent people like Tom Delay and Grover Norquist and more true if your party is run by incompetent hacks like Terry McAuliffe, Nancy Pelossi and Dick Gephardt. Although, Edsall argues that Delay and Norquist's success in monopolizing business support has left the Dems with only their core supporters to rely on, removing the strings that diluted their agenda even more than their message. This won't matter if our side doesn't have players that are tough, effective and whip smart.
Thursday, October 02, 2003
Ivory Coast Protest
Colombia Police Arrest Rebels In Kidnapped Tourist Search
War, ethnic conflict, and the greed of neighboring countries have turned the eastern part of Democratic Republic of Congo into an utterly lawless place. And as if massacres and systematic plundering by armed bands weren’t bad enough, the horror of rape is everywhere, too.
“She came in last evening. Five armed men had raped her the night before, a few kilometers from here,” explains Mathilde Muhindo, director of a social assistance agency of the Roman Catholic diocese of Bukavu, on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. “This morning, she was still crying. I cried with her,” says Muhindo, in whose eyes traces of tears are visible.
A reality check for Afghanistan's reconstruction
Two years ago tomorrow, the U.S. launched a military campaign to push the Taliban out of Afghanistan. After the U.S. bombing ended, some locals hoped for a silver lining -- but it looks like many of the changes are purely cosmetic: While the sound of construction can be heard all over the capital, the sewage system is archaic, people live in mud huts, and there's still no constitution or law and order. Many Afghans are angry that any reconstruction that is being attempted is being done by foreign hands. And, while $4.5 billion was pledged by donor countries last year, less than half of that money has come through, and only a fraction of that was spent on actual reconstruction.
Reporter: Ilana Ozernoy
From the World Press Review:
Amidst a renewed focus on Afghanistan, the Bush administration has mobilized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to take charge of Kabul’s security from tomorrow and is expected to announce shortly a major package of economic assistance for the reconstruction of the war-torn nation. The belated American moves reflect a new sense of urgency that, nearly two years after the ouster of the Taliban, progress toward peace and stability in Afghanistan has been painfully slow.
Former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill is expected to be nominated to take charge of Afghan policy at the National Security Council and give it more purposefulness. Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who is the presidential envoy to Afghanistan, will have the mandate to shape developments on the ground when he is appointed in the next few weeks as ambassador to Kabul.
But the Bush administration appears far away from reconciling the deeper tension between its interests in Afghanistan and those in Pakistan.
The United States is clearly interested in bringing about a rapid normalization of the situation in Afghanistan, but is unwilling to confront the sources of regional instability in Pakistan. Until the United States comes to terms with this core contradiction in its policy toward Southwest Asia, strengthening the military stabilization effort and committing more economic resources for development in Afghanistan are unlikely to bear fruit.
Joan d'Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage
Have you ever seen it at the MET? I used to go. Look at it. And leave.
Magnatune works off the idea that all music is essentially Shareware; Listen to their MP3's albums, or try their genre-based streaming radio station. “Preview, evaluate, and pass along good music to others.” I picked a genre, set an internet streaming radio station, and BOOM! nearly 800 songs showed up in my iTunes. As I am writing this, I'm listening to James Edwards' Chaconne on classical baroque guitar (very nice stuff) from MagnaTune's site.
Like what you hear? Buy their music online (as little as $5 an album). MagnaTune was “founded by musicians, for musicians.” Artists keep full 50% of the revenues of what gets sold (music, mugs, t-shirts, etc.) And, unlike most labels, the artists keep the rights to their music. Pretty neat set up.
...Hands down, the firm wins the competition for best slogan: “We Are Not Evil.”
Speaking of evil:
A research paper highlighting security weaknesses in a popular internet file-sharing network has raised concerns that innocent users could in theory be wrongly accused of sharing copyrighted music.
President Ãlvaro Uribe, riding a wave of strong public approval ratings at the end of the first year of his administration, has embarked on a bold campaign to bring the leaders of Colombia's rightist paramilitary movements to the bargaining table even as the army maintains pressure on the nation's leftist guerrilla forces. Most Colombian commentators credit Uribe with considerable success in restoring some security and confidence to a nation that has been physically and psychologically devastated by decades of civil conflict. But they also question whether he can pull off this delicate political balance - waging war and peace simultaneously.
BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Colombia's lower house of Congress approved late on Wednesday a supplemental 2003 budget request for 4.6 trillion pesos ($1.58 billion), leaving only a final vote by the Senate for its passage. The request covers higher debt servicing costs and defense spending. It also allows for subsidies to coffee farmers, hospital expenditures and transfers to municipal governments.
BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The Panamanian branch of Colombia's biggest bank, Bancolombia (nyse: CIB - news - people)
The six-year loan will cost Colombia 3.93 percent above the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate (LIBOR), the Finance Ministry said in a resolution published in Colombia's Official Registry.
Bancolombia is controlled by Colombia's largest conglomerate, the Grupo Empresarial Antioqueno. It is unusual, but not unprecedented, for private banks to lend the Colombian government funds.
Colombia's foreign public debt load grew 7.5 percent in the first five months of the year to $24.14 billion by the end of May. The Finance Ministry has estimated that debt servicing costs will edge up slightly next year to 28.9 trillion pesos from 28.5 trillion pesos in 2003. ($1 = 2,904 pesos)
BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia's Roman Catholic Church said on Tuesday it accepted a government request to try to persuade leftist ELN rebels to free seven foreign tourists they kidnapped from a jungle ruin.
The National Liberation Army, a Marxist group known as ELN and once led by radical Catholic priests, is holding four Israelis, a Briton, a Spaniard and a German. The backpackers were kidnapped on Sept. 12 in the Sierra Nevada mountains near the ancient Indian "Lost City" in northern Colombia.
The ELN, which has been fighting the state for 39 years, on Monday claimed responsibility for seizing the foreigners. The rebels said they abducted the young backpackers to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the military coup that overthrew socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende.
BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - The Colombian government's peace envoy met on Wednesday with jailed leaders of a leftist rebel group holding seven foreign tourists they kidnapped at a jungle ruin three weeks ago, an official said.
The meeting in the high security Itagui prison near the city of Medellin came after President Alvaro Uribe urged the guerrillas last week to free the foreigners -- four Israelis, a Briton, a Spaniard and a German -- and start peace talks.
From the BBC:
The country now has one of the highest numbers of child soldiers anywhere in the world, some of whom are recruited as young as eight years old. Those children who are captured or who manage to desert the rebels are taken to government safe houses such as the one I am visiting in Chia, near Bogota.
BOGOTA, Colombia, Oct. 1 - Thousands of abandoned and abused young people who have turned to prostitution in the streets of Colombia's capital may never receive help from child care workers because of a government cut in funding for outreach programs, activists said. The state family welfare institute said Tuesday it was eliminating about $60,000 a year in funds used by the Renacer foundation to locate, assess and refer exploited children. The decision outraged workers who said it halts aid for those who most need it.
''They will be left completely in the hands of the pimps, without any attention,'' Timothy Ross, a Renacer volunteer, said of the estimated 5,000 children working in prostitution in Bogota.
The government decision was made during a recent review in which a panel decided Renacer failed to meet all the requirements necessary for a contract renewal, said Alexandra Rodriguez, a Bogota-based regional director for the state family institute.
Driving along the so-called “coffee highway” south of São Paulo state on Route 277, one sees acres and acres of soy plantations and cattle farms. Sunsets are red and purple here; the soil is burgundy. Chickens and children walk along the highway. The rural poor who live in the area between the cities of Curitiba and Londrina can be seen working the land on either side of the road: If they can’t make a living off their own land, they work farms owned by the urban middle class or sell hand-made goods and honey to passersby. But few people stop. Because of the heat, fires often destroy crops and kill cattle, and smoke can block visibility along the road. Charred wrecks of crashed cars line the road.
Cattle rancher Bernardo Demeterco calls this region home. A middle-class Brazilian from the wealthy south, Demeterco receives no aid from the government, and says that this puts him at a disadvantage compared to ranchers in the United States and Europe. “We face higher prices every year, especially because of vaccines for the animals. Everything is priced in dollars,” he complains.
According to figures published in Londrina’s primary daily, Folha de Londrina, on Sept. 20, Brazil exports more beef than any other country—706.2 million tons annually, a figure that represents only 15 percent of the country’s total beef production. “We’ve never even received a loan,” Demeterco says. “Brazil is a poor country. We don’t have the resources to run massive loan programs.”
After the Sept. 14 collapse of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Cancun, Brazil’s farmers are likely to be echoing Demeterco’s complaints for years to come. The Brazilian press is putting the blame squarely on the richer member states, saying they can’t stand competition, especially if it seems as though they might lose...
Wednesday, October 01, 2003
My Favorite Name: 'Say My Name' over 'Favorite Game'
As suspected General Clark is not doing well, so it pains me to see that one of the reasons that SEIU put off endorsing, and it most likely would have been Dean, was that they were waitining to see who Clark would pan out. I think my endorsing essay on Dean on Monday shows why Dean's campaign, augmented by working class support from the labor movement and America Coming Together and middle class support from Dean.MeetUp.com and MoveOn.org could profoundly shift power in this country to the grassroots.
Highlights this week include:
An article from Labor Notes that is critical of the new partnership forged by HERE, SEIU, UNITE, the Carpenters and the Teamsters and my response.
An analysis of recent UAW bargaining and challenges.
News of the AFL-CIO's Immigrant Worker Freedom Rides including an open letter to John Sweeney criticizing the rides from a local AFSCME president. The rides inspired this weeks photos.
I should mention that two websites were added to the blogroll last week in a new labor section:
The Joe Kenehan Center edited by Carter Wright it's a labor blog
DenverBrown.com A site dedicated to UPS drivers in the Denver area.
Also of interest to labor folks are two recent forums hosted in these pages:
Executive Pay and the Minimum Wage and What's Next For The G21
email me if you'd like to be notified of future labor roundups.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O. announced yesterday that it would not endorse a Democratic presidential candidate this month, dealing a sharp setback to the campaign of Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.
After meeting with other union leaders in Washington, John J. Sweeney, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, said he was canceling an endorsement meeting planned for Oct. 14 because he could not muster the two-thirds support Mr. Gephardt needed to obtain the federation's coveted backing. Nor was there a consensus on anyone else in the crowded Democratic field.
Good. Now get back to work and stop taking up our time in debates.
From the Boston Globe:
American workers, facing record layoffs, look with worry at rising Third World economies, where wages and working conditions seem inhumanely low. How to compete? It's a burning question for trade unions, liberals, and working-class neighborhoods. It comes as no surprise, then, that the issue has been sharply debated by the Democratic presidential contenders.
John F. Kerry took the offensive last week in the New York debate. ''Governor Dean, on a number of occasions across the country, has said very specifically that we should not trade with countries until they have labor and environment standards that are equal to the United States,'' the Massachusetts senator said. ''That means we would trade with no countries.''
Dean clarified his position: ''I think the place to start is International Labor Organization standards adhered to and enforced by every one of our trading partners.''
Officers of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists campaigned hard among their respective memberships for a merger of the two unions. AFTRA members approved the merger three to one. But despite a lopsided and heavy-handed campaign by the SAG leadership, when the count was in on July 2, approval of the merger fell 2% short of the 60% required by the SAG constitution. And so, although 33,626 voted for and 24,550 against, the merger went down to defeat.
That's so weird. I had no idea they were voting but just last week, for no good reason I was thinking to myself,"All the entertainment unions should merge into one big union. That's a damn shame. I don't understand why Labor Notes and the AUD sees all this myopic bullshit as good for unions.
Can the IBT police itself?
Teamster President James Hoffa says that federal prosecutors have come up with a proposal that would end the consent decree of 1989 under which the union agreed to submit to close government oversight. During the last 14 years, federal monitors have supervised international union elections; a court-appointed Independent Review Board has driven corrupt officials out of the union, including associates of organized crime.
It's been a long time. But before the current setup can be eliminated, one massive problem, among many, remains-for both Hoffa and the feds: Despite the union's own highly touted RISE program, without the IRB and without the constant pressure of government, the union, under Hoffa, has displayed a total incapacity to deal adequately with corruption. Here, among many, are two recent examples:
On August 22, Federal Judge Loretta Preska, upheld the IRB's expulsion of William Hogan and Dane Passo from the union. Hogan, a Teamster powerhouse, was one of Hoffa's most important supporters. Passo was a top Hoffa aide whom he had appointed as international representative. They were expelled because they had colluded with a non-union company to undercut the contractual standards enforced by a Teamster local. The non-union company had a suspect background of racketeer connections; and Hogan's brother was one of the its officers.
The Hoffa administration could not or would not deal with this scandalous affair. When the IRB gave the union a chance to process the charges itself, it failed; it turned the case back to the IRB. The question is inevitable: suppose there were no IRB?
On January 27, in a second case, the IRB recommended that Hoffa impose a trusteeship over Local 522, a catchall 1,800-member local in Jamaica NY. The chief local official at the time was the son of a former Luchese crime family underboss. Earlier, the IRB had removed a previous local president for association with organized crime. "Local 522," the IRB reported, "has a long history of ties to organized crime." This time, the union agreed to act. Still it was only on March 10 that Hoffa appointed a trustee. And still there was work to do for the IRB. On March 14, the IRB wrote to Hoffa proposing charges against two of the local's incumbent benefit trustees and one former trustee. They were accused of improperly funneling about $1,500,000 from the benefit funds into the union treasury. (These people deal with more than small change!)
Now that's worth setting your sites on.
Angela Aponte’s job at Yale University was to help break a strike. Instead, she and 12 other Latino replacement workers walked off their jobs on September 12, and helped members of Locals 34 and 35 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) win their struggle for higher wages, improved job security and decent pensions. These locals represent Yale’s 3,000 clerical and technical workers and 1,100 dining hall and maintenance workers.
Seeking to reverse the declining fortunes of American unions, the presidents of five unions have initiated a plan for sweeping changes in the labor movement. This initiative, dubbed the New Unity Partnership (NUP), focuses on organizing strategies and centralizing the governing bodies inside the federation.
The ideas driving this new plan stem from ongoing discussions and debates around how best to jump-start unions in the United States.
THE DENSITY DEBATE
Late last year, SEIU Director of Building Services Stephen Lerner drafted a document titled "Three Steps to Reorganizing and Rebuilding the Labor Movement."
Lerner argued that declining union density is the key problem facing the U.S. labor movement today. "Density, the percentage of the total workforce, sector of the economy, industry or labor market that is unionized," wrote Lerner, "is critical to labor's ability not just to bargain effectively but also to organize on scale in the private sector."
How could this problem be solved? Lerner proposed that organized labor "consolidate into large sectoral/industry unions that have the resources and focus to unite millions of workers."
But carving up new jurisdictions of existing members and unorganized workers seemed possibly undemocratic and certainly unworkable. Who would decide where to draw the new lines? And would members be given any say in the matter?
...Internal NUP documents written before the August 6 AFL-CIO executive council AFL-CIO meeting, titled "AFL-CIO Agenda for Change" and "Union Growth Partnership," reveal that the architects of the NUP have already begun redrawing jurisdictional lines for organizing the unorganized, presumably without the input of the AFL-CIO and other unions.
Some of the proposals are logical: the Carpenters and Laborers, for instance, would focus on organizing within the construction sector. Similarly, proposed alliances that would unite participating unions in bargaining and organizing efforts with common employers or industries are welcome and needed.
Other proposals, however-such as assigning non-food retail workers to UNITE-seem problematic. Since retail has traditionally been seen as the United Food and Commercial Worker's jurisdiction, one wonders how and why the NUP has chosen UNITE, the garment and needletrades union, to take over organizing much of the retail sector.
A) Because UNITE president Bruce Raynor is one of the architects. B) UNITE organizes new workers and bargains hard. The UFCW has been presiding over nothing but it's own decline. This a real issue though. One of the main turf battle will be over public employees. Public employees are easier to organize and it's notoriously difficult to export those positions overseas. Unions like the UAW, which represents thousands of public employees, especially in the Midwest where they were simply "The Union", are going to be loathe to turn those members over to SEIU and AFSCME. UNITE likewise represented at one time (and most likely still) more auto parts workers than the UAW. Before the merger with the ILGWU, ACTWU represented workers who sewed interiors. In the 90's, facing shrinking membership, they found they had bargaining power in the industry and began organizing anything that moved in auto parts. Is Bruce ready to hand over non-upholstery workers to the UAW?
This is important because union's need to have expertise and industry leverage to represent their members effectively.
The NUP's plans for local labor bodies look equally problematic. According to internal documents, the partnership has discussed plans to "drastically consolidate" central labor councils, or "make them a part of State Fed[erations]."
The AFL-CIO would appoint full-time Chief Operating Officers for CLC's, while the labor council president's position would be reduced to part-time. Further, state federations and CLC's would no longer be funded directly by local unions, but would instead rely on per capita funds from the AFL-CIO.
What's problematic is that most CLC presidents couldn't organize a prayer breakfast to pray for organized continued existence. Union members dues goes to pay for someone who dodders around eating all the donuts and drinking all the coffee when they happen to show up for a picket.
Another signal that the NUP may push for more centralized authority within the AFL-CIO is an item from the "Agenda for Change" entitled "Review All AFL-CIO Charters": "Evaluate all affiliates charters to determine performance in their assigned jurisdiction, and their ability to grow/represent workers in their AFL-CIO granted charter."
In his original article, Lerner asserted that "the majority of unions are too weak to organize and win." Another item on the NUP's agenda is increasing the "approval of mergers."
What would happen to unions that don't meet the NUP's standards when their charters were reviewed? Similarly, how would the NUP plan deal with smaller independent unions that the NUP sees as "external threats?"
Of the 65 unions that constitute the AFL-CIO, at least 50 primarily serve to insulate the workers they "represent" from ever becoming organized and bargaining for better wages, hours and working conditions.
The NUP plan also includes replacing the AFL-CIO's Organizing Department with a "Strategic Growth Department," and reducing or eliminating the AFL-CIO's Education, Field Mobilization, Health and Safety, and Civil and Human Rights Departments.
I fail to see what's so alarming about eliminating departments that don't do anything. No matter how shiny their titles are.
Labor Notes unequivocally supports thoughtful, impassioned, inclusive debate about organizing strategies. That leaders of the five unions behind the NUP are thinking long and hard about how best to organize the unorganized is a positive sign. They need now, however, to think about the best way for this strategizing to take place. Five men sitting around a table cannot determine the future of the labor movement, nor decide who will and won't be included in this future.
"Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
These are the heads of some of the only unions that have made any headway in the last 15 years. The track record of the handful of labor unions that has bravely made a fetish of process is a record of retreat (but with plaudits by Labor Notes).
PHILADELPHIA -- Mayor John Street lost his cool at a union meeting last weekend, shouting at a roomful of blue-collar municipal workers whose endorsement he is trying to win that he would "win this election without you if I have to!"
The comment infuriated union workers, who booed and shouted for several minutes as union president Herman "Pete" Matthews said into a microphone, "I wouldn't come to your office and insult you."
The raucous meeting, an audiotape of which was provided to The Associated Press on Thursday, underscored continuing tensions between Street and District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The city's largest municipal union represents thousands of trash-haulers, school crossing guards, City Hall clerks and other blue-collar employee groups.
As City Council president 11 years ago, Street partnered with then-Mayor Ed Rendell to force District Council 33 and the city's white-collar union to accept major contract concessions as part of a plan that saved Philadelphia from financial collapse.
UAW president Walter Ruether and UFW president Caesar Chavez
DETROIT - United Auto Workers members at Ford Motor and supplier Visteon have ratified their new four-year labor contract, the union said Tuesday, leaving General Motors as the only Big Three automaker yet to finish the ratification process. The union and Ford, the world's No. 2 automaker, announced a tentative deal Sept. 15, nearly 24 hours after the initial deadline for talks. The pact covers about 93,000 active workers and 105,000 retirees and their spouses.
From the UPI:
CHICAGO, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- Tentative contracts reached between the UAW, the Big Three automakers and their largest suppliers protect workers healthcare and pension benefits but could cost the United Auto Workers as many as 50,000 jobs by 2007.
The tradeoff was key to deals that nearly allowed UAW President Ron Gettelfinger to pull off an unprecedented simultaneous national agreement with General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Corp. and the Chrysler unit of German-American DaimlerChrysler AG before the clock ran out on the latest four-year contract. A history-making three-company agreement reportedly was very close when Gettelfinger unexpectedly pushed automakers to commit to purchase a set percentage of their parts from UAW-covered suppliers. Ford and GM balked.
In its tentative contract reached last Thursday, GM pledged to give Delphi Corp., the parts division spun off in 1999, $1 billion in new contracts. GM accounts for more than two-thirds of Delphi's annual sales.
The pattern was set when the union gave ground on job security to reach agreement with Chrysler. Union members will receive a lump-sum contract settlement bonus of $3,000 but no wage increase in the first year, a 3-percent performance bonus in the second year and raises of 2 percent and 3 percent in 2005 and 2006. Co-payments for generic prescription drugs will remain at $5 but double to $10 for name-brand drugs.
...Sean McAlinden, labor economist at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., estimates the UAW will shrink by 49,000 members over the life of the contracts. The Detroit Free Press said the UAW lost 44,500 jobs during the last contract, dropping active membership to under 307,000.
From the Detroit Free Press:
General Motors Corp. and its former parts operation Delphi Corp. apparently owe the UAW a lot of new jobs -- potentially thousands of them.
It's not clear whether the union will actually force the auto companies to pay up with new jobs in the new 4-year UAW national contract that members are voting on -- but if nothing else, it's a huge UAW bargaining chip. During the previous 4-year deal, GM and Delphi did not fulfill contractual requirements to replace a certain percentage of UAW workers who retired, quit or were fired, according to several UAW and GM sources.
From the Kansas City Star:
MOLINE, Ill. - Deere & Co. and negotiators for 7,000 union workers reached a tentative contract agreement mere hours before a current six-year contract was to expire. The Moline, Ill.-based company and the United Auto Workers union did not release terms of Tuesday's deal, pending ratification by union members.
I think UAW president Ron Gettelfinger is the US labor leader sitting in the hottest hot seat these days. In the last three months the union has negotiated major accords with parts suppliers, the Big Three and now John Deere. Gettelfinger made some serious concessions to get neutrality and card check agreements for new organizing.
New Directions, the dissident group within the UAW had several valid points in opposing ratification of the Big Three deals. There were thorny issues left open to be bargained after ratification, when the union's leverage was gone. Bonuses are disastrous over the long haul because they don't compound. The issue of temporary workers was not addressed. Important ground was given on pensions and COLA. However, I've never known New Directions to advocate for the International to put resources into new organizing. There is nothing on the website now. New Directions has always done a yeoman's job of building shopfloor militancy, advocating for democracy within the union and holding the International's feet to the fire on bargaining. But the drumbeat of no concessions without calls for new organizing is ultimately pointless.
Gettelfinger has made nice lately in order to seize opportunities to grow the union. Time will tell if he chose wisely. If he follows up with resources for organizing, he is on the right track. Let's hope that New Directions doesn't complain that the resources for new organizing aren't being used to service existing locals.
We'll see what Gettelfinger is made of in the months ahead as Caterpillar talks begin. Making nice won't be an option. That contract comes up in March and already Cat has launched a court challenge to a new Illinois law than bars companies from using day laborers to replace striking workers. The company has already made clear its intention to defeat the union if workers strike when their contract expires.
NEW YORK (AP) — Verizon Communications (VZ) has offered a voluntary severance package to all 74,000 non-union management employees, part of a bid to slash costs as rivals and rival technologies nibble away at the company's core telephone business.
The buyout package, offered to managers two weeks ago and confirmed on Tuesday, comes less than a month after Verizon averted a strike by its 78,000 union employees with a five-year contract that failed to produce many of the cost-saving provisions the company sought.
Tuesday September 23
The Blue Ribbon Panel's report is in - and it's a biting reprimand of Northern Michigan Hospital officials' actions and an insistence that they return to the bargaining table to end the 10-month-long nurses' strike.
"The panel found indicators that the failure to (further bargain), to date, due in large part to the intransigent and ideological position of the NMH Board, has had serious and deleterious effects on NMH and the community," the report reads. It continues its criticism: "Since Nov. 14, 2002 (the date of the strike), rather than acting as prudent stewards of this community asset, the NMH Board has authorized large additional expenditures to pay temporary nurses at premium rates, jeopardizing the hospital's already precarious fiscal stability prior to the strike - an expenditure amount that the board and administration have refused to release to the community or to the panel."
The Blue Ribbon Panel, convened by Gov. Jennifer Granholm earlier this summer to help end the bitter impasse at this area's largest employer, issued its report to the public this morning, Tuesday.
From the Petoskey News Review:
Monday September 29
Northern Michigan Hospital officials won't return to the bargaining table with the Teamsters Union following an appeal to do so from the governor-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel.
Wal-Mart Stores was in court Wednesday for a hearing to determine whether a sexual discrimination lawsuit against the retail giant will be certified as a class action covering more than 1.5 million current and former female employees.
The lawsuit filed in June 2001 alleges that the world's biggest retailer discriminated against women in pay and promotions. If the case is allowed to proceed with class certification, lawyers say it would become the largest civil rights lawsuit ever, covering a class of workers as large as the population of Philadelphia.
"Women have been paid less than men at Wal-Mart every year since 1976, in every managerial position," Brad Seligman, an attorney for the Impact Fund, part of the team representing the Wal-Mart workers, told U.S. District Court Judge Martin Jenkins.
The lawsuit could have sweeping ramifications. If Wal-Mart is forced to change its pay structure, it could cause other retailers to follow. The lawsuit could cover all female employees since December 1998.
"The potential damages are huge," says Perry Binder, a legal studies professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "Other businesses will watch this very closely."
From the Denver Post:
Let me make sure I understand this correctly: Here in Colorado, a state that largely deplores welfare, affordable housing assistance and other entitlement programs, the city of Denver wants to give $10 million in welfare benefits to Wal- Mart?
To give you some perspective, in fiscal year 2001, the state of Colorado spent $94.4 million on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (welfare). This $10 million gift to Wal-Mart would be just one of many similar deals that corporations in the state receive every year. (Note: the federal government provides another $115 million for Colorado's welfare programs).
...Here's the deal: Khanh Vu, the owner of the Alameda Square shopping center, has agreed to sell the property to Wal-Mart for about $12.5 million. That sounds perfectly fine. Good for him. Good for Wal-Mart. However, the supermarket giant said it won't buy the property unless the city offers $10 million in tax breaks.
REMEMBER the minimum wage? It used to go up regularly, but that stopped happening 20 years ago. We are now in the seventh year of the latest drought, and increasingly the states and lately a few cities are constructing their own ad hoc network of minimum wages.
Over the last 20 months, eight states have either instituted a minimum wage higher than the minuscule federal minimum of $5.15 an hour, or they have taken an existing minimum wage that is already higher than the federal one and raised it even more. Not satisfied, four cities have gotten into the act, the largest being San Francisco, which has a proposition on the November ballot asking voters for approval of an $8.50-an-hour minimum.
Labor unions and activists for the poor gathered the signatures to put the proposition on the ballot. The cost of living is high in San Francisco, even by California standards, and while a voter initiative increased the state minimum to $6.75 last year from $6.25, the extra 50 cents is not enough to put bread on the table in that city...
For those who missed it, I hosted a forum with economics bloggers last week on executive compensation that degenerated into a nasty fight about the minimum wage.
Negotiators reached a tentative contract deal this morning to end the month-long bus workers' strike that has clogged Oahu's roads, infuriated commuters and spurred a bus fare increase.
Buses will not be running, however, until the deal is ratified by the 1,336 striking Teamsters.
Union officials said they planned a ratification vote for this Saturday. Oahu Transit Services Inc. officials said that if the deal is ratified, buses could be back on the roads by Monday, and possibly even Sunday. Details of the pact were not immediately available, but includes some pay and pension increases, and no layoffs or cutbacks.
The deal was reached after hours of talks between negotiators for Teamsters Local 996 and OTS, the private company that runs TheBus system for the city.
Damn. That was my favorite strike.
Rick Giboney received $800 from the Bush tax cuts. "But I wouldn't have wanted it if I'd known it would have come back to bite me in the butt."
If the economy is on its way to recovery, it is not evident to Roger Giboney in Mexico, Mo.
"I don't see nothing getting any better around here," Mr. Giboney, 59, a former union worker, said. "It might be getting better for the rich people. They might be trying to make like they are helping us. But round here, seems nobody has a chance left."
In April 2002, after 38 years of moving and fixing heavy machine equipment in a firebrick factory in this tranquil town of 11,321 people, Mr. Giboney lost his job. The factory, the old A. P. Green Industries plant, once a leader in the refractory industry, had been cutting back for years. In 2002, the factory, a division of RHI A.G. of Austria that made heat-resistant linings for industrial furnaces, closed completely, displacing the last blue- and white-collar employees in the plant.
Mr. Giboney's fortune mirrored those of tens of thousands in this region. A new Census Bureau report shows that the Midwest suffered a greater increase in poverty and reduced income last year than any other area. Missouri led the nation in job losses, shedding 77,700 positions. Many of the losses were factory jobs like those at A. P. Green.
Washington -- About 40,000 Bay Area passengers could face commuting headaches Friday if railroad unions carry out their threatened one-day walkout on Amtrak lines across the country.
Amtrak went to U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday to seek an order blocking the six-union walkout, which is directed at Congress and the Bush administration for slashing the national passenger rail corporation's $1.8 billion annual budget request. A court hearing could come Wednesday.
...Bush has proposed a national Amtrak budget of $900 million, the amount the House voted this month. The Senate has approved $1.36 billion. Amtrak wants $1. 8 billion.
The White House has sided with those who favor breaking up the national system, which carries about 23 million passengers a year in 46 states. Most of the line's 23,000 miles of track are owned by private railroads. The Bush plan calls for a greater role for the states, which might favor California because it already spends more than any other state on Amtrak service.
Amtrak President David Gunn, a transit industry veteran who has headed the passenger rail service since April 2002, warns that without the full $1.8 billion budget, the system will break down and intercity train service could die. Moneypenny said he rarely sides with Gunn, but on this issue he said the president was correct. "I agree with him that Amtrak is in dire condition," he said, adding the strike should serve as a wake-up call to the public that Amtrak equipment is aging and potentially dangerous.
From the Southern Illinoisan:
CARBONDALE -- Amtrak employees at the Carbondale station are not among the 8,000 union workers threatening to strike Friday, but train service between Carbondale and Chicago could still be affected if conductors and engineers join a one-day walkout in protest of the federal government's lack of funding.
Gus Blumenberg, an assistant conductor for Amtrak who works on trains that frequent Carbondale, has not heard whether his union, the United Transportation Union, will strike. "I'd support it, but I don't want to strike," Blumenberg said. "I don't know if it will do any good, but I'm in the union."
From the Washington Post:
by John Lewis
It seems only yesterday I was boarding a Greyhound bus in Washington to ride with a group of brave men and women into the Deep South, a part of America where decades-old Jim Crow laws still prohibited blacks and whites from sharing accommodations in bus stations and other public places. We called our journey a Freedom Ride, drawing on a tradition with roots in earlier 19th and 20th century moving protests against segregation.
The Deep South did not receive us gently. We were beaten and firebombed, reviled and incarcerated. Yet we persisted. The civil rights movement continued to grow. The nation, and the world, understood that good people were being victimized by bad laws. And we changed those laws.
...Which brings me to the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a movement that carries the struggle for civil rights for all forward into the new century.
Last week, in 10 cities around America, some 800 immigrant workers boarded long-distance buses and set off for New York and Washington, where they are to arrive today. On their way, they have covered 20,000 miles of American roads, stopped in more than 100 places where local communities are engaged in struggles around immigrant and worker and civil rights, and carried a message that ought to resonate with every American.
From the NY Times:
EL PASO, Sept. 26 — As the bus sped through the New Mexico desert and into West Texas, Federico González talked of his dream, an odd dream for an immigrant from Colombia. He wants to be an F.B.I. agent. Back home, he had been studying to be a police investigator, but he dropped out of college because he was too poor to pay all the expenses.
Eager to support his girlfriend and infant son, he moved to Arizona and took a job as a roofer, attracted to the relatively high pay by immigrant standards: $9.50 an hour. But the work was grueling, 10-hour days in 100-degree heat. He soon learned there could be a price for protesting harsh conditions.
"They tell me this is the country of freedom," said Mr. González, a passenger in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a caravan of buses heading to Washington from 10 cities nationwide to campaign for immigrants' rights. "You're supposed to have the right to speak. But immigrants don't have the right to speak out on the job because they get fired."
Sitting alongside immigrants from Mexico, China, Sudan, the Philippines and elsewhere, Mr. González, 26, helped keep spirits from flagging, banging out Latin rhythms on a drum and bantering nonstop about soccer, salsa and discrimination.
"I can't wait until we get to Washington," he said. "I'm going to be screaming loud. I just want to make sure they listen to us."
From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
A Mexican woman earning $125 a week cleaning suburban office parks wanted to help lead a bus rally today at a Malvern corporate complex calling for better wages and hours. But she was afraid she would lose her job.
Union organizers encounter this fear every day as they try to turn the labor movement's new target audience - immigrants - into card-carrying members. With membership steadily declining, unions are soliciting a burgeoning group long blamed for undercutting wages. They are doing so largely on labor's new frontier: suburban office complexes, hotels, and industrial parks that have drawn jobs over the last decade - and mass migrations of immigrant workers to fill them.
From the AFL-CIO:
In the late 1970s, Remy Endona Halaby was working at the Hyatt Regency Chicago Hotel cafeteria when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now known as the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services [BCIS]) descended upon the hotel, looking for undocumented workers. One man so feared being deported, Halaby says, he risked his life by hiding in a freezer. “I could feel his fear. I promised myself that if there was a movement to help immigrants become citizens, I would join,” says Halaby, a 24-year Hyatt hotel employee and member of Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 1.
Halaby, who became a U.S. citizen in 1984, is making good on that promise this week as she joins nearly 1,000 immigrant workers from 10 cities around the nation who boarded buses and headed to Washington, D.C., and New York City as part of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.
From the South Carolina Times and Democrat:
"Orangeburg has a rich history of protests and demonstrations for civil rights, for human rights," says Dr. Bill Hine, professor of political science and history at South Carolina State University.
Continuing to write that history, participants in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride led an hour-long rally Monday in SCSU's Student Union Plaza. The ride is a national mobilization to focus public attention on immigrant rights issues and to press for reform of what the participants insist are unjust immigration policies.
Of particular concern is the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride participants say "is NAFTA all over again -- but 10 times bigger." FTAA would "affect the lives of every worker in the hemisphere," they say.
The trip has not been without incident. According to The Associated Press, passengers of the two buses from Los Angeles were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol near El Paso, Texas, for nearly four hours Friday.
A group of "neo-Nazi protesters" met the bus from Miami at its first stop, in Immokalee, Fla., on Saturday, said David Skovholt, a trip organizer. Because of that incident and other threats, state troopers accompanied the bus across Florida and Georgia, he said.
September 18, 2003
Dear Brother Sweeney:
On August 21, 2003, AFSCME Local 444 received a guest speaker from the AFL-CIO. This brother made an appeal to our local that we support the "Freedom Ride" for the rights of undocumented immigrant workers. After considerable debate we voted not to make a donation. Our reasons had nothing to do with any reluctance to support the rights and interests of these workers.
We understand that the substandard rights and wages of undocumented workers is used to drive down the wages of all workers here in the US. If they are prevented from coming here, this means an even larger pool of cheap labor in those countries and even more companies leaving here to take advantage of that situation. We also understand the hardship and suffering these brothers and sisters must feel, being unable to return home to visit their families and friends there, for fear of being unable to return back to this country.
However, we are very skeptical of what this "Freedom Ride" is really all about. The original Freedom Rides were part of a mass mobilization of hundreds of thousands of young people and others to fight against a vicious racism in the South. They openly defied the law and they had no real support from the Democrats or Republicans. We must say that the present "Freedom Ride" does not do justice to that name or the heritage of that struggle.
We are profoundly critical of the refusal of the AFL-CIO to seriously mobilize any sector of its membership to fight against the attacks American workers have faced in recent years...
The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed an unfair labor practices charge filed by Al Phillips the Cleaner Inc. against the Union of Needletrades, Textile and Industrial Employees, while another unfair labor practice charge filed by the Las Vegas company remains under investigation. The NLRB has also dismissed a petition filed by Al Phillips to have the workers decide if they want UNITE to represent them through a secret-ballot election instead of the union-preferred public card-check method. Under a card-check, workers are openly solicited to sign cards advocating union representation.
The two dismissals were explained by NLRB Region 28 Acting Regional Director Jerome Schmidt in two Sept. 18 letters addressed to Joshua Harmon, an attorney representing Al Phillips.
In one letter, Schmidt said an election was unnecessary because Al Phillips had promised that it would recognize the validity of the union if a majority of workers accepted UNITE as their representative. He said the company did that through a voluntary recognition agreement but then reneged on the agreement.
"On July 3, 2003, the employer signed an agreement to recognize the union in the petitioned-for unit upon receipt of the evidence of majority status of the union. However, on July 8, the employer reneged on the agreement and refused to proceed with an authorization card-check," Schmidt said in the letter.
Schmidt also used the same rationalization to dismiss the one charge Al Phillips filed against UNITE. That charge alleges that the union violated the National Labor Relations Act by picketing in order to force the company to recognize and bargain with the union.
These are significant and hopeful decisions from the NLRB as progressive unions try to shift to the more agile method of gaining recognition.
LANSING -- A union representing 4,000 state employees gave approval Tuesday to a deal that would require state workers to defer some of their wages and take 32 hours of unpaid time off. The Michigan State Employees Association is the first of several unions to reach a tentative agreement on ways to save money on state workers, said David Fink, director of the Office of the State Employer.
John Denniston, president of the Michigan State Employees Association, said the agreement would require members to work 40 hours a week but get paid for 38. The unpaid hours would go into a bank of leave time and would be treated similar to vacation hours. If an employee leaves a state job with hours still in the bank, the money for that time would go into the worker's 401(k) retirement account. Denniston said the banked leave time proposal was a better deal for state employees than having the state cut the 40-hour workweek down to 37.5 hours.
"Both pills are bitter," he said. "We took what we believed what was the best benefit for our members."
MSEA members must ratify the deal. Ballots to vote on the agreement will go out by Friday and will be due back by Oct. 20, Denniston said.
From the Mansfield News Journal in central Ohio:
MANSFIELD -- Union members at both area Crane Plumbing facilities voted to strike not just because they were unhappy with the company's contract offer. It was also a question of fairness, said Sonny Worden, president of IUE-CWA Local 719...All 375 production workers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Sunday when their contract expired. The vote was 310-18. Until now, the last union strike against Crane Plumbing was in 1995. It lasted about one month. Worden said he had no idea when this one might end.
From Workday Minnesota of the Carlton County Central Labor Body:
SOUTH ST. PAUL — “It’s simply wrong to make me choose between feeding my children and providing health care for them.”
With that stark statement, AFSCME member Kim Mueller explained why she joined thousands of other state employees in rejecting the State of Minnesota’s contract offer. On Monday, the two largest state employee unions, AFSCME and MAPE, announced members had overwhelming voted down the proposal. The vote means the unions can call a strike after a 10-day notice, but both organizations said a walkout was not imminent and they hoped to go back to the bargaining table.
The state had offered to freeze wages for two years and impose increases in health care costs that the unions said would amount to thousands of dollars per family. Workers attending the contract vote announcement wore bright green t-shirts and buttons that read, “Simply Wrong.”
Press release: IBT
NEW YORK, Sept. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- By a 9-1 margin, Teamsters who work at Costco Wholesale Corp. warehouses in four East Coast states approved a three- year contract that provides increased wages, bonuses, a strengthened grievance procedure and other improvements.
"This contract maintains the Costco workers' status as the best paid workers in the retail industry," said Rome Aloise, an International Union Representative. "The contract also provides for a streamlined and improved grievance procedure, which is a big issue for workers who have disputes with the company. Also, Costco agrees to provide full-time jobs to 50 percent of the workforce, which is the best full-time worker ratio in retail."
The Teamsters Negotiating Committee, which included 26 shop stewards, reached a tentative agreement in late August, and a vote was held in recent weeks. The votes were counted today. The contract affects 3,500 workers at 16 warehouses in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
OXFORD, Ohio - Maintenance, grounds and cafeteria workers at Miami University went on strike Friday, marking the school's first labor walkout.
...The union represents about 860 employees at the state school. The union says the workers' wages — more than half get less than $10 per hour — are lower than those at other state universities in Ohio, a contention school officials dispute.
From the NY Times:
he New York Times and its largest union, the Newspaper Guild of New York, said yesterday that they had reached a tentative agreement on an eight-year contract that would raise wages a total of 23 percent.
The agreement calls for increases of 3 percent in each of the first five years and 2 percent in each of the last three years. Unlike the previous contract between the guild and The Times, the new deal does not include a no-layoff guarantee for current employees.
Barry Lipton, the president of the guild, said the contract would provide "job security and salary protection for the vast majority of our membership in the event of layoffs," but neither he nor The Times would elaborate.
The guild represents 1,500 Times employees, including reporters, copy editors, advertising and classified salespeople, and cafeteria workers.
OXFORD, Ohio - Maintenance, grounds and cafeteria workers at Miami University went on strike Friday, marking the school's first labor walkout.
No new talks were scheduled between university and union negotiators at the main campus in Oxford, about 30 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Union members rallied outside the student center as Miami's board of trustees held its regularly scheduled meeting. The contract expired shortly after midnight Friday.
"I'm hoping Miami has compassion and starts paying these people what they're worth," said Randy Marcum, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 209.
The union represents about 860 employees at the state school. The union says the workers' wages — more than half get less than $10 per hour — are lower than those at other state universities in Ohio, a contention school officials dispute.
Tense labor negotiations between three of California's biggest grocery chains and about 70,000 grocery workers could lead to a strike as early as this weekend, a union spokeswoman said Monday. Barbara Maynard, speaking for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, said the workers' current contract with Albertson's Inc., Ralphs, Vons and Pavilions is set to expire at midnight Sunday -- and things aren't looking good.
"This year, our negotiations started right after Labor Day, but historically they would have started long before then and a deal would have been struck," she said. "This time around, the employees knew something was up."
The proposal currently on the table would require workers to pay $1,300 a year for family insurance premiums. The plan also includes big increases in deductibles and co-pays for doctor visits, hospital visits and prescription drugs. "If they are in an HMO now they have no co-pay for a doctor visit," Maynard said. "But that goes up to $20 per visit under this proposal if they visit their primary care doctor and $40 a visit for a specialist."
...Vons spokeswoman Sandra Calderon (said) "We have a lot of nonunion competition and we have to be able to compete with that," she said. "It affects a number of things, including labor costs, health and welfare issues ... pensions. We're looking at all of it." Vons has always offered its workers a generous compensation package, about double what the nonunion competition is paying, according to Calderon. And therein lies part of the problem. "Because the nonunion companies aren't offering even half of what we're paying, they can lower the price on their merchandise," she said. "They can outcompete us."
The UFCW should have been organizing their asses off for the last ten years. Not organizing boycotts of non-union chains, whining about Walmart and Food Lion and Publix. Then they wouldn't be in this position.
Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot, France, 1948
photographed by Robert Capa
Given the collapse of the WTO talks in Cancun, what do you feel is the most strategic next step for the G21 countries? I should note that sadly invitations to European bloggers of a more conservative stripe were declined or ignored, which I think is a shame. (Odd that. Last week it was the left that was underrepresented. I ended up overcompensating. It wasn't very dignified to say the least.)
This what came in over the transom:
Cancun was significant in that it showed the WTO as weaker and much more fragmented than anyone had imagined. But, in spite of the G21's success, there are signs that the G21 alliance is weak. The G21 claims to speak for half the world's population and at least two-thirds of all existing farmers. Cancun would seem to demonstrate that at last, the voice of the majority of the world's farmers was heard. At the very least, the rich world has been shamed as its obscene subsidies to it's farmers has been brought plainly to light.
For example, the US cotton subsidies amount to roughly $3.8 billion a year to 25,000 farmers, which is about 200 times more than the earning capability of the world's poorest billion people, more than the US spends on aid to Africa. The EU also pays it's farmers to grow food thus supporting many of it's farmers in selling expensive food to their consumers while dumping surpluses on the world's markets. Do we expect the US and the EU to do anything about this anytime soon? It is highly doubtful.
But while succesful in bringing this inequity to the center of the world stage, the G21 agenda remains unclear. As pointed out by Jonathan Eyal - "the G21 does not stand for either free trade or the elimination of inequities; it advocates the abolition of one set of trade-distorting arrangements, while insisting on the maintenance of many others...The idea that the G21 talks for the world's poor is nonsense, and this applies even to agriculture."
Some evidence is that while rallying behind the elimination of agricultural subsidies, the group refused to accept progress on the so-called Singapore-issues which promote the "liberalization of investment procedures, safeguards for intellectual properties and patents, the promotion of competitive policies and greater transparency in government procurement procedures." Isn't free trade precisely what will most benefit LDCs?
Since QM launched we have been looking at the issue of globalization and one thing that continues to emerge is the conflict between the realities of emerging nations and what organizations like the IMF & the WTO think the countries economic policies should be. It has been demonstrated time and again that what is best for a country is not always what the IMF thinks is best. This point of view has been made by Joseph Stiglitz a number of times in his papers and books as well as by others. The G21 is no different from the IMF and the WTO in this respect.
A larger looming question is what will happen to "World Organizations"? The IMF, WTO and such are weaker. The IMF recently rolled over a loan to Argentina with merely a concession from the Argentine government. The WTO is in disarray. So what is the most strategic next step for the G21?
The G21 has a difficult road ahead and the first step is to manage it's own house before it can pretend that it has the answers to the problems of other nations. The interests of many of its member states are in direct conflict with freer trade and some nations like India would oppose freer trade directly. While certainly the G21 has proved itself to be well organized and professional, it must still prove that it can survive -- that it is indeed viable. To do so it must demonstrate to the world that it does represent the policies that will help to bring about better living conditions for the poor, including free trade and elimination of corruption. In our opinion, this is the G21's greatest challenge after Cancun and will be its best strategic next step.
Jikon Lai, blogs from Malaysia. He had this to say:
The outcome of the WTO talks in Cancun recently demonstrated what could be achieved when developing countries were united under one voice. It also demonstrated the limitations of multilateral discussions at the global level. As a result, early indications are that richer nations will put more effort into bilateral discussions. Some countries, both rich and developing ones, will probably choose to concentrate more on multilateral talks at the regional level.
This "divide and conquer" approach would not bode well for developing countries, most certainly not for the poorer ones. Some of the more advanced developing countries might be able to stand their ground. But even then, I have my reservations. Given the diversity of countries, and the very self-interested nature of sovereign states, this "unity" of voice would not carry forward for long, least of all across a range of issues. And when negotations are conducted on a bilateral basis, the possibility of banding together will not be there. More importantly, developing countries are not yet at the stage where they can discuss exclusively among themselves, excluding the rich developed ones. At some point, they will have to face their "enemies" and the "demands" being made on them. Cancun, in my view, only deferred this process.
Joseph at Infidelworld really got rolling. I've edited for space. You can catch the full text here:
September 14, 2003 is a day eggheads, too obtuse to realize the world's problem are not solved on paper, need to remember. No editor would have erred on September 10, 2003, if he had called the WTO talks in Cancun dead on arrival, and even the WTO Director-General downplayed the significance of the conference. No one now believes, that the WTO membership will produce agreements by the end of 2004. At the risk of sounding too optimistic, though, Cancun proves that the world economy has indeed changed since 1945. The world economy is no longer a single economic imperium nor a jigsaw puzzle of ever-changing pawns and capitals. It has devolved back into the warring fiefdoms of a more innocent age before two world wars mollified a generation into the smoothest transition from theory to policy possible for humans, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)..
Saying free trade is a divisive issue is not simplistic enough. Free trade is a pipedream, an eschatological vision ready-made for bureaucrats searching for a church open after Starbucks closes...
... Farm subsidies were the main news item of the five-day bout, but actually no negotiations saw progress. The main culprit for this discouraging performance is structural: a cacophony of voices, any one of which can drown out the other. Ironically, any given WTO member-state has more power at a WTO negotiation than even in its national legislature, because the WTO is consensus-oriented organization. Although there are working committees, there is no streamlining structure, such as a General Assembly or a Security Council. Adding even more drag is the fact, that the Doha Round represents just one under-developed committee of the entire underdeveloped WTO structure, with its open committees and plurilateral linkages. Its slow, but obviously the world likes it that way. Bearing in mind that no previous round of negotiations finished on schedule, then the Doha Round is still doing well.
... Roughly, though, I would divide the world three-ways: the big sellers, the small-time local and region players, and the buyers. Most of the bad press centered around the buyers and the big sellers, but only recently have pundits awakened to the fact, that the play is in the middle, among the small-time players. These are the parts of the world, where the predictions of 500 billion dollar improvements will manifest themselves. These countries are where the gross quanitative improvements in economic performance will first register as political changes, too. For instance, few people other than stock investors can tell the difference between India and China, but India is already making democratically-reached decisions on privatization, while China is still trying to keep economic growth in a comfort zone, lest dissent bring down the mandarins. When NGOs and the buyers talk about the rich-poor divide, they ignore this middle echelon, and their own best strategy. The key is to expand the number of middle players, so that there is enough surplus in the world system to keep even the buyers rich. Right now, though, every member-state just wants to keep its stake in the system, both economically and politically within the WTO.
...National leaders dread the prospect of overheated food prices, and embargoes and blockades are an acceptable alternative to physical war. Brussels and Washington might haggle over profits in bananas and GM crops, but neither really fears war will result, or even that each could not feed its own during a limited campaign. But middle players lack that trusting confidence, especially if the disputed territory is also prime farmland. The big guys have the confidence to bargain, but the middle players don't have anything but historical memories of physical war and the real consequences of oil shocks, inflation, and invasions.
... Undeveloped countries just closed their ears at the mention of any talk of capital movement, which Malaysia has now made fashionable with its use of capital controls during the 1997 Asian currency crisis. The world economy has become so sophisticated now that the current WTO structure is too simple. Consensus might be nice for the finished product, but the dynamics of committee work, membership, and voting has to change, to accommodate theoretical innovations, like Malaysia's use of capital controls. The WTO has its own version of Beltway lobbyists, the NGOs. Organizations like Oxfam came to Cancun, like defense attorneys representing O.J. No problem if a small African tyranny can't trust a roomful of bureaucrats, because Oxfam will do in a pinch.
Zombyboy at AfricaBlog sent this summation of the AfricaBlog Team's response which can be found on their site:
The end of these talks should surprise no one. Of course, these first steps will be contentious; will have some air of battle about them. A short-term loss does not always mean a long-term failure, though. If the nations can maintain a united front and continue to press their case, they will be successful in the long run.
G21 nations understand that tariffs imposed on agricultural goods by the US and the EU in particular are detriments not only to that industry in developing nations, but to the economic growth of those nations as a whole. While a small African nation cannot compete in manufacturing, consultation, or high-tech, local farmers could sell within their own nations at competitive prices if farmers from developed nations weren't receiving artificial subsidies that made it possible to dump products on third-world countries.
In essence, the trade complaint that the US has against China -- that artificial price controls and monetary manipulation make it possible for Chinese manufacturers to dump goods on the US at reduced costs, hurting domestic manufacturing -- is the same complaint that G21 has about the EU and the US.
And they are right.
The tariffs that keep competitive products out of the US and EU, and the subsidies paid to farmers, amount to trade barriers that developing nations have no hope of overcoming.
For G21 nations, there are three things that must happen:
1. Continue the course with appeals to the WTO.
2. Appeal to the US and EU directly.
Steven Sherman at Three Hegemons:
The G21 consists of a group of states with little in common except a desire to not be bullied by the wealthy states at the WTO negotiations. Even on the issue of agricultural subsidies, some of the G21 want them all removed, while others have their own subsidies to defend. So I wouldn't expect too much out of it. But we can dream...
If they were to act together, I would hope that a. they would create an agreement for their members to not unilaterally negotiate trade treaties with the US or the EU (the strategy the wealthy countries will now pursue as a way to divide the G21), b. demand that the agreement of pharmaceuticals (negotiated before Cancun, but not formalized since the
WTO ended without an agreement) be revised, given the reservations expressed about it by Oxfam and others, c. pool resources as a buffer against the IMF/World Bank. The obvious reservation about c. is that none of these countries have that much money; then again, poor people the world over pool their resources to defend against corporate and mafioso loan sharks, and they don't have much money either.
Edward Hugh and Kaushik Banerjee at India Economy Watch 's full response can be found here. I've edited for length here:
I am happy that the G-21 nations are willing to take unified, structured and long-term approach to trade negotiations. But I dont share the view of some observers that the breakdown of Cancun trade talks was a good thing. From all that I have heard or read, there was more on the table from the developing countries perspective, than there ever was before..And multilateral negotiations work much better for developing nations with less economic muscle than does bilateral negotiations which is what the Western countries may prefer.
The widespread discomfort in G21 countries about the Singapore issues are uncalled for. Singapore issues are about negotiation in four different areas- Transparencies in Government Procurement, Competition Policy, Trade Facilitation and Foreign investment. Does anyone really think that greater transparency in government procurement in any country is not in the best interests of its citizens?
The massive bureaucracy associated with the complex government procurement in India had spawned even bigger corruption, shoddy quality of goods and greasy family owned firms that are doing all they can to subvert trade reform. Similarly, as the numbers will testify, facilitation of trade and increasing foreign investment have been serving both India and China increasingly well and have been serving them much better than the earlier era of protectionism did. We are benefiting from foreign direct investment while our bureaucrats and politicians are still mouthing the shibboleths from a previous era.
...What everyone is really scared about is competition, i.e. market access. And to a certain extent it might even be justified in certain scenarios. But the real cost of subsidies and / or high tariff to protect domestic industry are really paid for by common men who bear the brunt of higher cost of delivered goods. It is not fair. As we are finding out in Asia, if the governments can unshackle themselves from the influences of the subsidized, then a policy of incremental/gradual market access works reasonably well.
This course of action is especially important because I am convinced that the breakdown of trade talks will harm the developing economies much more than it will harm the developed economies in the West and Japan.
Which brings us to the subject of agricultural subsidies in Western economies. Agricultural subsidies are really a complex, greasy tale of entrenched political influence and votes rather than that of genuine good will; it is as true of USA as it is of Japan or India.
...G21 is right now, a highly disparate group of nations with very different needs, political systems and priorities. Using the next two years to find common points of interest and building a strategy around them is important.
...But the G21 also needs to get rid of its hang up over Singapore issues. We can use the intervening few years to make our markets more competitive, procurement more transparent and foreign investment much easier. There is no reason why we can not approach the two things together. If we do, we may find that by the time the next round of trade talks comes up, we are in a much stronger position to negotiate than we now are.
Sam Wilkinson of Africa@Opekiska.org:
The next move for the G21? Establishing some sort of real unity between the countries in question - afterall, one must ask, does India have established free trade with Brazil? Does Brazil have free trade with Nigeria? Do the smaller countries in the G21 have access to the far larger markets of their larger brothers within the newly established group? If this body is so intent on its mission, and it certainly should be, then there must be a unity between the groups. None of these countries will get the sorts of concessions they seek if they don't stand together; ie Brazil can't jump at a chance that any of the groups smaller countries won't get, simply because it benefits Brazil.
Free trade is the future and the hope of the struggling third world economy(that term used loosely) - access to the huge EuroAmerican market is the sort of thing that will benefit everyone. Smaller market nations can't survive or expand without this access. The G21 must also seek to expand its number - Africa is hardly represented in the body and other parts of the struggling world are similarly left out; the body is very South American-centric. A global unity of countries seeking the same sort of unified access is a must for the body's future. Finally, these countries must stick to their message. The G21 absolutely cannot continue to add all sorts of demands to its simple list: reduced subsidies and access to markets. These are the important messages and if they are forgotten, or worse, if the group is hijacked into making outlandish demands, the group will crumble into obscurity.
Finally, here is a brief summary of the response from the crew at the Agonist. I have to say that these guys really went all out. I highly recommend reading their full report:
The Agonist's Recommendation: Mandate and Consolidate
The essential step for the G2X is to define a concrete agenda, which all states involved are committed to. Without this the group is too nebulous to be effective - in a compromise-based negotiation dissimilar interests will be fatal. Eliminating dissimilar states from the group would be difficult, even more so when they bring added prestige and weight to the group. For example, China is a major economic power, as it has a massive GDP and impressive growth. However, China's relative economic strength makes it less likely to conform to the interests of the group.
Eliminating liability states will also be extremely beneficial. For example, Turkey's desire to join the EU and its markets will overshadow any possible WTO negotiation. We cannot expect states like Turkey who are politically dependant on the EU, US or Japan to stand firm to the end. The attrition or sudden loss of states from the G2X will deprive the bloc of the necessary momentum to make real gains.
Much more research and analysis by the team is here.
Here is what I wrote on Tuesday September 16:
"In thinking about the collapse of the WTO I'm finding a sliver of hope in the debacle. The poor countries were happy that they hung together and didn't give in to more concessions to the West. When even the progressive press was dutifully reporting the pronouncements by Western negotiators and World Bank types that they would be hurt most of all by the collapse, I had to stop and wonder: Do they really misunderstand their own self interest? No, they know damn well what's best for themselves.
I think the key thing that resulted from the Cancun breakdown is that the G21 held together. They will bargain with more clout next time. What I would suggest they propose is that they will agree to language on the Singapore issues that phases in say 5 years after the West completes phasing out their ag subsidies. This has the double benefit of giving them time to pull their economies together, ready their financial markets and giving built in motivation to the West to meet deadlines on ag subsidies.
Three cheers for the G21."
I still stand behind that.
I'd like to thank everyone for their hard work. And look forward to working with everyone who participated on future forums.
The next forum? It's a suprise. Invitations go out tonight.
The comment section is open y'all.
Monday, September 29, 2003
There are several obvious reason to support Howard Dean's candidacy for President. The number one reason until recently was that he was the only candidate who stood a chance of defeating Bush. I think that General Wesley Clark's entry into the field has most likely destroyed both Dean's chances of winning the nomination and the party's chances of gaining the White House. I will address those issues in a moment. Let's soldier on in support of Dean.
Dean makes Democrats proud to be Democrats. It's been a long time. Thirty years.
Dean's opposition to an illegal, unilateral, preventive war in Iraq was certainly the first reason that Democrats in a large numbers began to support him. His fiscal conservatism, evidenced by Vermont's rainy day fund drew others, especially from states like Oregon where we are in the midst of an intractable budget crisis. His ability to balance business interests with the public interest speaks well of his leadership ability. He has a 100% AFL-CIO record, while maintaining a friendly relationship with the folks at the pro-business libertarian Cato Institute. His courage in supporting civil unions is laudable.
His proposals on health care, modeled on Vermont's success, to simply extended national coverage to more vulnerable Americans stand out from those of the rest of the field for a number of reasons. The piece meal tax breaks and rebates approach of Gephardt, Kerry and others that try to game the market and doesn't move us any closer to universal single payer invites corruption by the health care industry. Markets are notoriously tough to game. Tax breaks and rebates attract corporate lobbyist like flies to... Dean's proposal is a straight forward extension of coverage and along with the buy-in option for those over 25 creates further economies of scale in administrative costs and purchasing power.
Dean has a reputation as a tough and wily campaigner who figures out what he needs to do to win elections. That is a strength in a candidate in my book not a moral flaw.
AVERAGE DONATION: $84
These are all excellent reasons to support Howard Dean. They do not go to the core of why progressives should get behind his candidacy. The thing about Dean's campaign that will have the most transforming effect on this country if he should prevail is Dean's campaign. The grassroots nature of this campaign is perhaps unprecedented in serious presidential politics. Dean and Trippi's success at internet fund raising and developing legions of activists through www.deanforamerica.com and www.dean2004.meetup.com has a number of implications. None of them good for the Democratic party leadership.
Foremost is Dean's grassroots fund raising. As of this writing the campaign has raised $12,959,254 in this quarter from 153,645 donors for an average donation of $84. As most of us are aware all to often Democratic politicians are hamstrung on governing from their convictions by their fund raising needs. Given a choice between a candidate whose politics exactly matched my own with an equal shot at success whose fund raising was more reliant on corporate PAC's and big donors and Dean; I would chose Dean in a heartbeat. My politics were well to the left of Clinton's but I think his heart was in the right place and could have been more effective on issues that he sincerely cared about had he not had the fund raising iou's he had. I think that this point should give pause to the supporters of Kucinich and others who are holding out for moral purity.
For years Republican's have not only cornered the market on big donors, through relentless and strategic direct mail and data management they have had lower average donations than the Democrats. Think about that. With more $5000 donations their average is still lower. That's a lot of $25 donations from the grassroots. Dean's campaign has provided a challenge and a blueprint for Democrats to free themselves from corporate purse strings.
As President the infrastructure that his campaign has built (both directly and through Meetup.com) will be a significant grassroots resource that he can put at the service of Democratic candidates who need it. This will help Democrats win elections and give a Democratic president some much needed leverage to bring discipline to a party that has resembled nothing so much as the Bad News Bears without the part about winning baseball games. The party desperately needs a Buttermaker.
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. - Albert Einstein
A Buttermaker is exactly what the party insiders do not want. If the worthies behind the Draft Clark movement were concerned that Dean would drive the party off a cliff (instead of into a ditch as Lieberman has volunteered to do) they would not have drafted another strong critic of the war. I think they were afraid that he would drive off with the party. If the party leadership thinks that Clark is the answer, that's reason number one to doubt Clark's chances for success. These people have the same feel for beating the Republicans as Madonna has for acting. Watching the Democratic leadership operate is painful in the same way that it's painful to watch Pam Anderson pick boyfriends. Every past decision has been worse than the one before but goddammit this time they know what they are doing. They could have said, "Well we've made a hash of everything so far, this guy has momentum, a great operation, he's making people proud to be Democrats again, let's get behind him and see where this goes." Instead they recruited someone from outside of the party.
WHERE IT'S AT
I didn't see the last debate, but I did just spend over an hour watching Clark at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on CSpan today. He can't beat Bush. In a forum that should be the most natural for him, (stump speeches and debates take practice) he never fired up the crowd, which was there to see him. He could not convey real conviction about wanting to lead this country. He never was able to transform a discussion of policy into a moment of moral gravity, where you start to get that lump in your throat and think, "Yes, we must do better and we can do better." As someone who's background is not in governance but in leading troops, if he can't do that at will then he's dead in the water. And this was a forum where that should have been a piece of cake. He had a few questions where the person asking the question was on the verge of tears and people in the room were getting choked up. He should have been able to seize on those moments. He should have had the room in the palm of his hand. They were applauding politely and checking their watches.
Here's the tragedy. I think Howard Dean could beat George Bush. I think Wesley Clark will beat Howard Dean. And I think George Bush will beat Wesley Clark. A glance at the Iowa Electronic Markets 2004 General Election Market shows that trading on ODEMs Vs. Bush has not really recoverd since Clark's third day with is hat in the ring.
The trap we are in right now is that it will be almost impossible to get the media off the Clark front runner last best hope meme. As he falters the story will not become Dean front runner. It will become Clark front runner last best hope flawed.
REASON FOR HOPE
I hope I'm wrong. I desperately hope that I'm wrong. Dean has relatively large amount of money to spend in New Hampshire and Iowa. The latest polls show him with 30% of the vote in New Hampshire, ahead of Kerry with 20% and Clark at 10%. "Clark is way down the list in Iowa, in the same poll that has him ahead nationally." Dean is neck and neck with Gephardt in Iowa. These are more important than the polls that show Clark shooting to the head of the pack nationally. Dean plans on hiring statewide coordinators in key states right after this round of fund raising and already has television spots and money for more. The dream is that Clark will falter early in NH and Iowa and have to bow out. Then Dean can get on with running against Bush through the primary season leaving everyone else eating his dust. The nightmare scenario is Clark limping through the primaries with the media reporting on him as the closest thing the Dems have to a shot at the White House but sadly flawed/the party is too dumb to go with a winner.
Conservative and middle of the road pundits are touting Dean's success as evidence that the Democratic Party refuses to be saved. I would say that Clark's candidacy is proof that we have to save it from the leadership who has done nothing but kept us on the defensive since Carter's 'malaise speech' was purposely misrepresented.
If you find all this depressing you should watch this.