From Tue May 8 07:35:10 2001
From: Charles Simmons <>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Life and Love Before Profit and War
Precedence: bulk
Date: Tue, 8 May 2001 00:19:24 -0500 (EST)

Put Life and Love Before Profit and War

By Charles E. Simmons <>, 1 May 2001

DETROIT—We can predict that there will be or at least ought to be lots of outrage and protest about the expansion of the economic globalization throughout the Americas. That is what the march was about recently when labor and social justice activists marched near the Detroit River and faced Canadian border with signs of support for fellow workers and environmentalists on the other side. Since the term, Free Trade, implies freedom, which everyone loves, we must ask how this new concept differs from the present trade between nations, and who will benefit from this new plan so strongly advocated by George Bush?

Prior to the current ideas about international trade, each nation decided how much and what type of goods or services to include or exclude or to tax in order to protect their own labor force or their businesses. Under that system, the relative rich nations had more difficulty ripping off the business and labor of the small agricultural nations. Consequently, the exploitation took place by circumventing the law, bribing officials, or paying the workers dirt cheap wages. Since the establishment of Free Trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico under the banner of the North American Free Trade Assn NAFTA)., large U.S. businesses now have the freedom to ignore the local customs and laws, take over the local commerce once enjoyed by small and medium sized businesses, and reduce the wages of workers and farmers even more than before. This time even the middle classes are feeling the heavy economic blows. Already, one forth of the Mexican workers and much of the middle classes are now unemployed and more are underemployed. This explains, in part, the rapid increase in the immigration of Mexican farmers, workers and many professionals into the U.S.

This Freedom of Trade also explains the increasingly hostile attitude of Big Business within the U.S. which are telling American workers point blank to either take severe cuts in wages and benefits or run the risk that those companies will head across the border. Never mind that the company executives are getting multimillion-dollar salaries, stock options and hefty bonuses. But those are the benefits of Free Trade for the wealthy.

How do Detroit workers benefit from this intensification of globalization or the expansion of Free Trade? A waitress in a small restaurant who had watched the news about the Quebec demonstrations of those attending the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit asked me, and I asked a union representative: How much am I supposed to be paid? I was embarrassed to report that her employer only had to pay her $2.25 per hour and no benefits. Waitresses are not covered by the minimum wage law because the big restaurant industry lobby led by the billion dollar fast food industry, exercising their Freedom of Trade, has paid off U.S. politicians enough to keep the wages of their workers, mostly women and teenagers, dirt cheap.

Recall the picket line on the corner of Michigan Ave and Cass last year of restaurant workers at the Billion dollar Aramark Corporation. There the workers, mostly African American women, were being paid just above minimum wages with no contract and no benefits even for those who had been with the company over 25 years. Fortunately, because of the support of fellow rank and file workers from other locals, retired workers, and some church members who came out to picket the company in the snow and ice, those women now have a contract and better wages. That was an important victory and a significant lesson for all of us in these times of outright theft by the corporations: In unity there is strength! Such a demonstration ought not to have been necessary, but that is where we find ourselves on this May Day, 2001.

This is a policy, which has already led to the unemployment of a third of the African American workers in American inner cities and the cheapening of labor in the rest of the hemisphere including Canada and the U.S. That policy is leading to the elimination of family farmers and ranchers in rural America.

Due to the efforts of a growing movement of young people around the world, we now know that many of the hundreds of thousands of jobs downsized from Detroit have moved to Indonesia or Brazil and throughout the so-called Third World. In many of the agricultural nations, the workers are paid less than ten per cent of what they make in the U.S. In case the more affluent workers in heavy industry think they are safe, better think again. The auto and steel industries are continuing to downsize and outsource, making claims that they are suffering on their way to the bank.

And there are many other results of this globalization of the economy or Freedom of Trade policies. A recent hearing of the Detroit City Council witnessed an audience packed with retired workers from the industrial and transportation sector. These retirees ranged from their 60s to their 90s. Some of them had witnessed the great sit down strikes, which led to the empowerment of organized labor. There was testimony about seniors being thrown out of subsidized housing. One retiree, over 70, was set out in the alley with all of his belongings. Because of rising medical costs, he had to choose between his rent and prescriptions.

Another person testified about a double amputee who had been set out on the sidewalk and his wheelchair actually thrown out in the street with such force that the wheels broke off. Another witness described the practice by landlords who demand their rent payments in cash, refuse to give receipts, and later tell the tenant to make the same payment again because there is no proof of payment. The audience listened to stories of seniors living with no utilities, plaster falling down on them, and infestation with rats and roaches. We have long known about these conditions among the unemployed, now we are hearing it about those who have worked all their lives in the best of industrial blue collar jobs.

At the local level, in every U.S. city, we must be clear about this: The Mayor, the City Council and the School board, to the extent that they support privatization, weakening of the Living Wage ordinance or movements are a part of the problem. To the extent that the governor and other politicians allow the continuation of police brutality, or make no effort to empower the neighborhoods; to the degree that they cut or take control of local budgets and programs for education and health, they are also contributing to this criminal policy of globalization.

In the name of Free Trade, The Bush administration—as did Bill Clinton before him—is now leading the charge on behalf of the big corporations to wipe out the gains of the past half-century of struggle for better working and living conditions in the U.S. In Quebec, surrounded by an army of police to protect them from the people, Bush and the various presidents of the American nations, led the pack to broaden and deepen this rape of the Americas. Only Cuba was lucky enough not to be invited to this feast on humanity.

The Free Trade and globalization movement is butchering the laws we had fought for and won to protect the safety and health of workers where they work, live and play, or to monitor what they eat and drink and breathe. All those regulations are now up for grabs, along with civil rights victories of the past. During the Reagan administration, we saw the beginning of this movement to eliminate the gains made by organized labor in its days of a stronger militancy and rank-and-file solidarity during the New Deal administration of President Roosevelt.

The theme of the recent Labor Notes conference was: Can Workers Change the World? We have to respond that we have no choice but to make changes and to empower our communities from the ground up. Our mission must no longer be limited to the present workplace but must extend to where our grandchildren will live and study and play. We can no longer expect this to be done from the top down by governments or corporations. Workers’ local unions and community organizations are going to have to adopt communities and help them find resources to help themselves. Trade unionists have to decide that they must organize the unemployed as well as the employed. Workers must find new ways to extend social help to the retired, the underemployed and to the homeless. Workers must begin to see themselves as environmentalists and students, and environmentalists and students must begin to see themselves as workers.

The old barriers and biases held by workers between rural, suburban and urban America are going to have to come to an end. We are going to have to educate the police that they are also workers and should not allow themselves to be the guardians of injustice. Male workers must fight for the rights of their sisters and daughters, and white workers must fight to uproot racism at its roots. City workers must fight for the interests of family farmers and ranchers, and all of us are going to have to think about ways to establish serious positive relationships with workers and farmers around the world so that we can stop this rat race to the bottom and towards war.

It was fitting that the rally in downtown Detroit retraced the steps of former runaway slaves escaping to Canada to get away from the Free Trade in humans in the early days of globalization. It is also fitting that downtown near the river was also the home of the early Fort Detroit, where settlers fought the Native Americans to take their land. It is fitting that three centuries later, workers gathered from across the Americas to demand justice for everyone. Yes, workers, farmers and students can and must change the world.

Let’s change our thinking from being dependent to taking charge, from being victims to becoming leaders. Let’s live and grow and work in harmony with Mother Nature, and let’s put life and love before profit and War.