Jaz Brisack: January 2016 Archives

Say No to Labor Losses

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TPP world.pngIt's a well-established fact that neoliberal trade deals weaken labor safety standards, dispense with the right to unionize, evade and disregard minimum wage standards and exploit child labor.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership further demonstrates this idea.

NAFTA meant that we lost jobs to Canada and Mexico -- Canada to dodge paying U.S. taxes, Mexico to avoid anything close to decent wages. (This year, the minimum wage was raised to $4.30 (in U.S. dollars) per day; the average wage in the country is $5.06 per day).

In Vietnam, the minimum wage varies by region and can be less than four U.S. dollars a day. In 2012, Nike factories paid $0.27 an hour -- this has since been raised to $0.48 cents. With wages like these, customs barriers -- already low -- are no obstacle to outsourcing; the U.S. has trade deficits with Vietnam, Mexico, Malaysia, Canada and Japan already. (In fact, companies with Chinese factories keep re-outsourcing to Vietnam.) Clearly, we need to work on bringing these jobs back stateside, not sending more away.

In an attempt to deflect from the main issue, the Office of the United States Trade Representative has released a lot of gobbledygook on the subject. It contends that the TPP will promote the following goals:

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
  • Elimination of forced labor;
  • Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor; and
  • The elimination of employment discrimination.
Of course, there are some obvious issues with these specious claims.

The right to join a union -- implied in the first statement -- is highly unlikely to actually be protected. For example, according to Human Rights Watch, "Vietnam bans all independent political parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations. Authorities require official approval for public gatherings and refuse to grant permission for meetings, marches, or protests they deem politically or otherwise unacceptable." In this country, workers often have difficulty exercising their rights when the NLRB and court system is supposed to defend them -- will a panel of corporate lawyers (per the ISDS system) really do better? No, so there goes your "freedom of association and right to collective bargaining."

Second, "forced labor" is not defined. Does it mean blatant slavery, or could it refer to the necessity to work at a job that puts one's life, health and well-being at risk, for paltry wages and (in some, "lucky" cases) accommodations in a huge, crowded, dirty company dormitory? The workers whose deaths caused Apple to put up its famous suicide nets certainly didn't seem to be employed there by their own volition. Wage slavery can be almost as repressive as the unadulterated article, but it's hardly probable that our governments -- or the ISDS courts -- will actually work to abolish the system.

The third provision contradicts itself. How can you promise the "Abolition of child labor and a prohibition on the worst forms of child labor." If you're really abolishing all child labor, why would you need to specifically ban "the worst forms" of it? This is just a taste of the duplicity involved in this deal.

Finally, just exactly how does the Trade Representative define "the elimination of employment discrimination?" We don't have that here. When women make 77 cents for every dollar men are paid, that's employment discrimination. When U.S. jobs are outsourced overseas because American workers tried to form a union, that's employment discrimination. When companies like Smithfield and Holiday Inn preferentially hire illegal immigrants over American citizens -- then intimidate and selectively deport those who agitate for better working and living conditions -- that's employment discrimination on a lot of levels. Companies are getting away with all of this right here in the U.S.A. -- why in the world would we expect America-as-global-policeman to be better at controlling even more flagrant abuses worldwide?

Uzbek Cotton.pngSupposedly, the U.S. will implement "consistency plans" with some of the other TPP countries (notably, not with Mexico) to enforce compliance. This begs the question -- compliance with what? The Atlantic states that "The minimum wage" required by the deal "could be set at a penny an hour--which wouldn't do much to help workers." The Office of the Trade Representative promises to "Establish rules that wil ensure that TPP countries do not waive or derogate from fundamental labor laws in a manner that affects trade or investment" -- because having sanctions instated wouldn't be fun for fat cat stockholders. But we turn blind eyes on some of the most flagrant labor violations occurring today -- for example, no government has applied sanctions to Uzbekistan over their use of child slave labor to harvest cotton. While companies from Walmart to Fruit of the Loom to IKEA to Tesco have banned the use of Uzbek cotton in products they sell, the United States has refused to do anything, since much of Uzbekistan has functioned as a giant military base during our war in Afghanistan. When "national security" -- or profit margins -- enter the picture, labor is ignored.

In conclusion, the United States needs to implement a "consistency plan" with itself, not give lip-service to labor while exploiting all the workers of the world.

Workers' Rights to Unionize, Strike Defended

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OUR Walmart.jpgOver the years, countless numbers of men, women and children have suffered and died for the right to strike, from Ludlow to Lattimer; the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to Loray Mill; New Zealand to the Netherlands; Colorado to Colombia; South Africa to Sri Lanka; Hilo, Hawaii to Harlan County, Kentucky.

This right, however, is still not assured to millions of people around the world, including here in the USA. Too often, our corporate giants are still able to browbeat workers into submission -- or fire those who won't be cowed.

Geoffrey Carter.pngThanks to Judge Geoffrey Carter of the National Labor Relations Board, however, one such megabusiness -- Walmart -- has been rebuked for its behavior toward the "OUR Walmart" advocacy group, allied with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Judge Carter, who has previously defended workers' rights to display union pins or logos on the job,  declared that Walmart unfairly and illegally fired employees who went on strike. He has ordered the company to offer to re-hire its sacked workers -- with back pay -- and to hold meetings in 29 stores emphasizing employees' rights to unionize and strike.

Frank Little.pngJudge Carter's decision comes just a month after Walmart's top executives (including former board member and shareholder Hillary?) were celebrating the fact that no court had held them accountable for their intimidation of OUR Walmart, which had organized protests for better wages, full-time jobs and the cessation of corporate bullying.

According to the NY Times, one manager had expressed his desire to "shoot the union," while another threatened an OUR Walmart member who was pulling a load with a rope around his waist, "If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck." Makes you wonder how far we've come from 1917, when Montana labor leader Frank Little (a member of the Industrial Workers of the World) was hung by vigilantes who opposed his fight against the Anaconda Copper Co...

Say No to GMO

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cornfield.pngAmerican produce is saturated in GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. 88% of corn and 93% of soybeans grown in the country are labratory-engineered; eighty percent of processed foods contain genetically altered ingredients.

However, 19 European countries have banned the production of GMO crops or foods, and all E.U. member countries have strict labeling laws. It's much easier to avoid eating GMO food.

If our financial oligarchs get their way, however, all that is about to end.

The proposed TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) with the European Union is the TPP's twin. It's equally secretive and confusing. It grants the same immense authority to corporations. Europeans are scared of it for the same reasons we're scared of the TPP: lower regulations in new "trading partners" will result in strict guidelines being struck down by panels of corporate lawyers, since constitutional court systems are being thrown out the window around the world. (Not that our constitutional court system is always on our side. In the 2013 case Bowman v. Monsanto Co, a unanimous Supreme Court -- including the infamous former Monsanto lawyer, Clarence Thomas -- said that a 75-year-old Indiana farmer who replanted some of his seeds from the previous year's crop had violated the company's patent.)

corporate court.pngAs a result, while we Americans worry about food safety standards in Asian and other Pacific Rim countries, many Europeans are worrying about American produce. The side effects of consuming genetically modified food are disturbing, regardless of the "findings" of agribusinesses and their government allies. According to the Washington, D.C. based, nonprofit Center for Food Safety, toxicity, allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immuno-suppression, cancer and loss of nutrition are all proven results of meddling with the genome. A recent study by an Australian researcher compared the health of pigs fed genetically modified corn and soy versus those who were given a non-GMO diet, following them from weaning to slaughter (a 23-week period). Every single pig eating GMOs had health problems, ranging from cancer to reproductive defects to intestinal problems to stomach ulcers. The other pigs were fine. Of course, none of these results had been documented in tests conducted by agribusiness giants!

The lesson we should take from this is that Americans need to stop eating these poisons, instead of letting Monsanto, DuPont and co destroy the rest of the world as well. We need an outright ban, or at least GMO labeling laws (that don't require the use of smartphones or other technology to figure out what's in your food!). And we need to Say No to trade deals that will destroy the health of billions of people.

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Say No to Signing a Sellout

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Founding Fathers.pngA date has been set for the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's scheduled for February 4th, in New Zealand. Representatives from all twelve countries involved -- the United States, Canada,  Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia -- are expected to attend.

Amidst much fanfare, the United States government -- along with the administrations of eleven other countries -- will sign a document surrendering our liberty, safety, economy, and national sovereignty to a handful of multinational corporations. This treaty will make it even easier for big businesses to dismiss our laws, mistreat our workers, poison our food, outsource our jobs, wreck our environment and dodge our taxes. It will enable them to dismiss our government, from the Supreme Court to Congress, by declaring our rules and regulations "barriers to trade." It will also create instability, increase poverty, and ruin lives worldwide.

Luckily, this will not be the final test the TPP must pass. Congress has a chance to stop it, and many prominent politicians don't support the deal. All three Democratic candidates for president have come out against it, as have Congressional luminaries including Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. On the other side of the aisle, even some Republican candidates -- including the unlikely duo of Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina -- have condemned it. Others, while endorsing so-called "free trade," deplore the shady manner in which it was negotiated. Republicans in Congress are not entirely on board, either; Senator Orrin Hatch, the oldest member of the Senate, has objected to some of the pact's provisions, while some Tea Party members oppose it. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan faces pressure from Wisconsin's dairy industry to disapprove the deal, and senators like Mitch McConnell and Thom Tillis, conservatives from tobacco-producing states, object to the bill on the basis that tobacco is not included as an ISDS-approved industry (meaning it can't bypass our court system to obtain a favorable settlement).

Just 16% of Americans approve of how our elected officials are running the country. Only 30% favor free trade even in theory, while 63% say that trade restrictions are necessary (and 84 percent prioritize "protecting jobs" over gaining access to more products). Our elected officials need to listen to us. In fact, Congress should be delighted at this opportunity to defend our interests -- and, thereby, increase its own favorability...

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Say No to Giant Sucking Sounds

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In its disregard for the environment, workers, consumers, small businesses, elected governments and human rights, the Trans-Pacific Partnership outdoes NAFTA.

Perot.jpgLike all free-trade agreements that give unfathomable power to wealthy corporations at the cost of injuring humanity, NAFTA went in direct opposition to the principles of utilitarianism by attempting to achieve the greatest good for the smallest number. It did not help the United States; it simply made it easier for American businesses to move their factories to locations where they could operate free of government oversight. As Ross Perot, an Independent candidate for president in 1992 and one of NAFTA's most prominent critics, observed during the second presidential debate,

If you're paying $12... an hour for factory workers and you can move your factory South of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor,... have no health care[,]... no environmental controls, no pollution controls and no retirement [benefits], and you don't care about anything but making money, there will be a giant sucking sound going south.

Perot's unpretentious phrasing was ridiculed and his logic belittled by many intellectuals and prominent economists, but his predictions were unquestionably accurate.

NAFTA wreaked havoc in Mexico, as well. Devastatingly, the abolition of tariffs flooded the nation's markets with U.S. government-subsidized, GMO, Monsanto-patented corn. Consequently, small farmers lost their land and, with it, their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Much of the region's manufacturing was destroyed when Walmart and other retailers began selling Chinese-made goods. As a direct result of the deal, immigration from Mexico increased to half a million a year after NAFTA's implementation, which, of course, exacerbated the illegal immigration issues we're still facing today. The extension of this treaty to other countries (in a pact known as CAFTA-DR, which stands for the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement) has spread the problems even farther.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is even more alarming. Even now, Vietnam is beginning to replace China as a target for outsourcing, because its factories are less regulated and its workers receive even smaller pittances. This trade deal would only encourage this trend. If allowed to take effect, the TPP will create an enormous, Trans-Pacific Sucking Sound, with devastating affects on the entire world.

Alson Streeter: Forgotten Populist

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campaign poster.pngOn this Martin Luther King Day, we should also remember the birthday of another, far more obscure, campaigner for social justice: Alson Streeter, born January 18th, 1823.

The eldest of eight children, Alson Streeter and his family moved from New York to a farm on the Illinois frontier when he was thirteen. Their blacksmith was another New England transplant named John Deere, whom they paid in wagonloads of charcoal. The Streeters would become the owners of one of the first steel plows in the world... the invention that would make John Deere famous.

At 23, with thirteen dollars to his name, Alson attended the newly-formed Knox College, where he supported himself by working odd jobs and carving shingles. Alson's education ended after three years, since college regulations prohibited students from marrying and Alson had fallen in love with Deborah Boone, a direct descendant of Daniel. Together, they set out for the California gold mines, arriving one year too late to qualify as 49'ers.

After two years, Alson learned that mining was neither fun nor profitable. So he went back to Illinois, where he farmed livestock; he led two cattle drives back to California, having discovered a more promising way of obtaining the region's gold. During the Civil War, Alson signed up as a veterinarian, but was later transferred into a regular regiment.

Alson Streeter entered politics as a Democrat and a Granger, serving as a county supervisor before running for the state legislature. In its House, he attempted to curb the railroads' power, favored protective tariffs, and voted against a bill to distribute the governor's annual message in foreign languages. During this time, Alson -- formerly a supporter of the traditional gold standard -- morphed into a Greenbacker, a supporter of inflationary policies designed to reduce debt by lowering the dollar's value.

Streeter ran for reelection with the Greenback-Labor Party, losing by wide margins. Two years later, he was the party's nominee for Governor of Illinois. Soon after this campaign, the Greenbackers dissolved into the Anti-Monopoly Party; Alson served as chairman at its first convention, when it nominated the former Union general Benjamin Butler (renowned for freeing slaves -- and stealing spoons -- during his service in the South during the war) for president. This party was committed to fighting monopolies, gaining an eight-hour workday, regulating corporations, and obtaining a graduated income tax and direct election of Senators.

Later that year, Alson went to the State Senate on a Greenback-Democratic ticket, winning by 61 votes. A prolific legislator, Alson joined seven committees and sponsored eighteen bills, on issues ranging from curbing the railroads' power, to making it easier to apprehend horse thieves, to prohibiting the sale of tobacco to kids. Only one of his measures passed -- a bill reforming the manner in which school district elections were conducted. During his second term, he was able to raise the age of consent for girls from ten to fourteen years, but didn't make any headway with the rest of his regulatory agenda.

During the 1870s, following the end of his term, Alson became involved with the fledgling Farmer's Alliance, quickly becoming president of the Northwestern Farmer's Alliance. He urged for a merger with the powerful Southern Alliance, but other members of the movement were less willing to acknowledge the end of the Civil War.

In 1888, Alson was nominated for president by the new Union Labor Party. He attempted to negotiate a merger with the United Labor Party, but the parties differed on the issue of taxation: Streeter's group wanted a graduated income tax, while the United Labor Party wanted a heavy tax on land. In early September, the region's Democrats -- together with the Ku Klux Klan -- resorted to violence and intimidation to prevent the Union Labor candidate for governor (Charles M. Norwood, a one-legged Confederate veteran who was supported by an enormous, racially diverse electorate that included most of the region's Republicans) from being elected. Other Union Labor candidates in the state -- and those who alleged fraud and corruption -- were murdered.

Despite the risks, Streeter actively campaigned for other Union Labor candidates -- including the unfortunate Arkansans -- and for himself, taking to the stump in ten states. On Election Day, Alson polled well in Kansas and Texas; nationwide, he received 1.3 percent of the popular vote. (In part, this was due to the fact that ballots for the Union Labor ticket were only given out in 23 states; voters in other parts of the country had to write to party headquarters to obtain a ballot).

Later, Alson would come five votes away from winning a seat in the United States Senate (then appointed by the state legislature). But he would never again attain political prominence; instead, he focused on his farm, home of an enormous crow's roost, and the enormous ranch house he'd built. Known as the "Sage of New Windsor," Alson Streeter was well-liked by those in his community -- and never lost faith in the third-party movement.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Jaz Brisack in January 2016.

Jaz Brisack: December 2015 is the previous archive.

Jaz Brisack: February 2016 is the next archive.

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