Political Intelligence

JUNGLE OF DEMOCRACY.

The World Trade Organization is holding a Ministerial Summit in Seattle (November 29-December 3), where the industrialized nations will set the agenda for trade negotiations for the next decade. President Clinton will welcome the delegates and pump up enthusiasm for “free trade”: i.e., free access for international investors to unregulated markets, big profits, and quick getaways, without regard for human rights, labor rights, or the environment. Under discussion will be a revival of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment: the All-Power-to-Capital proposal which temporarily foundered in Paris but is still a very popular item among western bankers and politicians. But the W.T.O. will also be met by plenty of public opposition, brought together in the U.S. by Public Citizen, the AFL-CIO, the Alliance for Democracy, the Washington State Association of Churches, the Citizens Trade Campaign, and a host of other public interest groups.

The populist agitation has not gone unnoticed on high, where the authorities are growing nervous that democracy might break out on the ground and interfere with plans for an untroubled ratification of Government by Multinational Corporations. Washington Senator Patty Murray wrote to Clinton, asking him to take steps to maintain order and to promote the W.T.O. It seems the Seattle Host Organization complained that some businesses have been reluctant to seem too supportive of the Summit, for fear of popular outrage. Murray asked Clinton to take steps to prevent “disruption,” and to lend explicit support to the W.T.O.’s free trade agenda. “I believe you should give a major pro-trade address in the United States as soon as possible…,” Murray wrote. “The W.T.O. is the indispensable rule-making enforcement body that provides a foundation for economic growth for all countries, developing and developed alike. Without the W.T.O. and its rules, we would be reduced to having the law of the jungle.”

Murray went on to suggest that Clinton meet with representatives of the protesting groups and ask them not to complain too loudly, in return for the president’s reassurances. “It is important for these groups to understand,” Murray added, “that many of their concerns will be raised and in fact championed by your administration.” If Murray believes that, Clinton has a NAFTA deal he’d like to sell her. (Murray’s letter is available on the Jim Hightower website at www.jimhightower.com.)

Citizens interested in tweaking Murray’s nose and exercising their democratic rights (before they get free-traded away) should check out www.seattlewto.org for continuous updates on the organizing, or call (877) STOP-WTO (786-7986).

BYE-BYE DOLLAR BILL.

U.T. System Chancellor William Cunningham has announced his retirement in August, 2000, and the outpouring of lamentation on campus has been, well, inaudible. Cunningham is best known for emphasizing the university’s corporate fundraising and physical expansion at the expense of its presumably educational mission, and his high-handed ways of dismissing matters of faculty governance and student activism.

Cunningham’s memory is also highly selective. He took the opportunity of a September 2 interview with the student newspaper, The Daily Texan, to rewrite history and lash out at his critics and those of his good friend Jim Bob Moffett, C.E.O. of Freeport-McMoRan. As Cunningham tells it, if it hadn’t been for one recalcitrant professor, Steven Feld (a world-renowned anthropologist, musicologist, and MacArthur fellow who has since moved on to friendlier climes), nobody would have noticed Freeport’s notorious Grasberg Mine in Irian Jaya, nor the company’s institutional disregard of human rights and indifference to the environmental effects of its mine operations. Cunningham was forced to resign from Freeport’s board in the wake of Moffett’s threats to sue journalists (including Observer contributor Robert Bryce) as well as U.T. professors. Yet he can’t refrain from slandering the victims, some presumably his colleagues/employees. “The whole thing ended, really,” Cunningham said, “when Jim Bob Moffett said to a number of people who were being very critical, ‘If you libel me, I will sue you.’ And that ended it.” Cunningham has conveniently forgotten the international organizations and church groups which confirmed many of the charges against Freeport – not to mention the continuing opposition all over the world to Freeport’s corporate methods in Indonesia.

Much to their credit, the student journalists didn’t swallow Cunningham’s retrospective self-justifications. Wrote Texan editor Rob Addy, “If you were expecting a shred of remorse or an admission of wrongdoing – don’t hold your breath. Cunningham is clearly attempting to revise history, hoping that the U.T. community will forgive and forget his prior sins.

“Cunningham shouldn’t hold his breath, either.”

Addy’s editorial carefully recounted the real story of Moffett’s blandishments to Cunningham and his threats against local writers, teachers, and activists, and concluded, “The whole episode was nothing short of a disgrace for the University. Judging from his comments today, Cunningham seems more than ready to blame faculty members, the media and the government for the controversy.

“But his myopic rhetoric fails to allocate any of that responsibility to himself. And for that reason, history will judge his actions harshly.

“Forgive and forget? Not a chance.”

LIVE TURKEYS.

An August 31 fire at Sunday House Foods in Fredericksburg destroyed much of the turkey processing plant and left over 300 people out of work. Although the cause of the fire had not been established at press time, it destroyed most of the meat processing building, but was stopped before it reached the huge two-story meat freezer. The company is the world’s largest supplier of smoked turkeys.

Sunday House Foods, the largest private employer in Fredericksburg, is one of the Promised Land Food companies, owned by San Antonio medical-bed tycoon Dr. James Leininger, best known for his financial devotion to right-wing causes like tort reform and school vouchers. Last fall the Sunday House facility was the scene of a significant defeat for Leininger: the non-management workforce voted 120-95 to unionize, joining the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers. After lengthy and difficult negotiations eventually carried out with Leininger himself, on June 30 the new IUE Local 916 won a three-year contract. The non-management workforce, comprised entirely of Mexican Americans, won a 10 percent raise over three years, and significant new benefits, including health insurance, a pension plan, overtime concessions, and company provision of uniforms and tools (which workers formerly had to provide themselves). According to union sources, negotiations showed little progress until Leininger personally approved the cost of various contract provisions.

Although Sunday House is expected to rebuild, it’s not clear whether company insurance will provide support for employees in the meantime (average wages at the plant are currently $6.22 per hour). Initial company responses to the fire were focused on reassuring worldwide customers and arranging oversight for its nearby turkey farms. “When you’re in a live business,” a manager told the press, “your first concern is getting the live turkeys taken care of [before] personnel issues.”

IUE organizer Jaime Martínez told Political Intelligence that so far there is a spirit of positive cooperation between the company and the workers, and Sunday House has paid wages for the week of the fire. “The workers are very united, and we’re trying to get them all the help we can,” Martínez said. “This is a very strong workforce, and they contribute a lot to that community.” Martínez said that the Sunday House campaign was part of a larger effort by the AFL-CIO to organize Latino workers nationwide.

Readers interested in helping the Sunday House workers should call Martínez at the IUE in San Antonio: (800) 243-6771.

WHOSE BUTT?

Former drug czar William Bennett visited Austin earlier this year to join Governor Bush in promoting something they called “secondary virginity.” Bennett recalled that on his appointment by President Bush to his Cabinet post, young Dubya advised him, “Kick butt.” In the wake of the recent cocaine controversy, more than one reader has contacted the Observer asking about the state of drug laws and prisons in Texas, and whether the Governor’s admonition might once have applied to him.

Although Bush’s predecessors can take credit for much of the burgeoning Texas prison industry, the numbers remain impressive. According to the Wall Street Journal, partly in response to federal court mandates, the Ann Richards administration had begun the crash prison-building program that added 100,000 beds, and thereupon reduced parole approvals from 80 percent to 20 percent (the current percentage of approvals is virtually nil). In order to sustain his 1993 campaign charge that Richards was soft on crime, Bush attacked mandatory probation for certain non-violent crimes, and promised a crackdown on juvenile offenders. The newly elected Bush supported mandatory prison time for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs (including less than a gram of cocaine), and for many crimes, lowered the age that accused juveniles could be tried as adults, to fourteen.

There are now about 148,000 inmates in state prisons, according to Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson, who adds that this makes the Texas system third in the world, after Russia and China. Estimates are that one-quarter to one-third of those inmates were imprisoned for non- violent drug offenses.

The candidate’s receding denials of drug use in his past have officially stopped in 1974, when he was twenty-eight, although he insists that he has learned from mistakes that he “may or may not have made.” On the stump he is fond of reminding his listeners, “The bottom line is young people need to understand there’ll be severe consequences for bad behavior.” At least for some young people.

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