BIG MOUTH MORRY.
Workers for Titan International, the tire and wheel manufacturer that recently built a plant in Brownsville, and received $30 million in Texas subsidies to do so (see “Titanism Comes To Texas,” by Karen Olsson, October 9, 1998) are still striking in Des Moines, Iowa, and Natchez, Mississippi. The price of Titan stock has fallen from $23 to $9, and replacement workers at the Des Moines plant are still producing well under half of what the plant put out before members of United Steelworkers of America Local 164 went on strike last May – yet Titan C.E.O. Morry Taylor just can’t seem to get the hang of good-faith negotiation.
According to workers in Iowa, Taylor paid a couple of personal visits to the picket line last fall, just to badmouth the union. “He went directly to the members and basically said, ‘Your leaders are full of shit,'” says the Steelworkers’ Tom Johnson. The U.S.W.A. has since filed additional unfair labor practices charges with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the company of bad-faith bargaining. (The N.L.R.B. has already issued a formal complaint against Titan based on charges the union submitted last year.)
“We don’t quite understand how he [Taylor] keeps going,” says Johnson. This month, the Steelworkers will hold rallies in Mississippi and at the company’s Quincy, Illinois headquarters; in the spring it will send members to Titan plants in Uruguay and Europe. Meanwhile the Brownsville plant, which was supposed to open last October, is not yet operational. “That plant was put there essentially to de-unionize the entire operation,” Johnson said. “We’ve certainly slowed that down.”
Public-minded citizens are already complaining about Rick Perry, our spanking-new Lieutenant Governor, but at Political Intelligence Central he looks to be a godsend. When every politician has a team of spinmeisters explaining why his latest bit of public brigandry is in fact an exemplary instance of civic mindedness, Perry is refreshingly frank in telling the voters what’s really important.
Following the election, Perry toured the state demanding contributions from lobbyists and PACS to retire his campaign debt – hitting particularly hard those short-sighted groups who had given money to his opponent, John Sharp. If they expected to have an ear at the Lege, Perry’s operatives told the public (or rather, that small part of it with access to serious cash), they had better ante up. (Meanwhile, a story circulated the capital in January that so few football fans wanted to share Perry’s three luxury suites at the Sugar Bowl, he was reduced to calling around the state begging for company. Even among lobbyists, there’s a difference between Money and Love.)
Now the Very Lite Guv has announced his legislative priority: Tax Cuts for Business. In a state choking on corporate-generated, state-subsidized pollution, with schools desperately overcrowded and underfunded, full-time workers unable to afford health care or insurance, and a host of social problems directly related to the state’s inadequate revenue system (based on thoroughly regressive sales taxes), Perry told the Austin American-Statesman, “I expect to have a substantial reduction in the tax burden on Texans. A lot of that will be focused on the business community.”
The Statesman editorially took Perry to task, asking, “Come on, Rick Perry, at least give some lip service to the needs of the people.” But why? If Perry hasn’t learned the essential political hypocrisy of our time – under bi-partisan pseudonyms like “compassionate conservatism” or “practical idealism” – the rest of us should give thanks. Until the Gov’s handlers reign him in, Perry’s clumsy honesty should at least make it easier to defend ourselves from government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
The San Antonio Current, an independent newsweekly gobbled up last year by the Detroit-based chain Alternative Media Inc., then sold with A.M.I. six weeks ago to Art Howe, the owner of a Pennsylvania-based chain, has been sold again – sort of. Howe, who owns the Philadelphia City Paper and other properties, could not arrange financing for the $21 million deal. A.M.I. turned to another Pennsylvania-based chain, the Times Shamrock Group – owner of the Baltimore City Paper, nine radio stations, and four daily newspapers. Times Shamrock reportedly was able to ante the cash immediately for a deal to include the Detroit Metro Times and the Orlando Weekly as well as the Current.
Times Shamrock is a publishing and broadcasting company owned by the Lynett family. The papers will join the “alternative newsweekly division,” managed from Baltimore.
A.M.I. head Ron Williams said he couldn’t wait on Howe to find the cash because “the uncertainty … could potentially be damaging and hurtful to the properties and to our employees.” However, the employees who have made Williams a very rich man had not been consulted on whether they appreciated being bought and sold like cattle. That would be way too alternative.
Current editor James Garcia said, “To be honest, this whole process pissed me off…. Maybe at least now it’s over.” Garcia said he and his staff have heard good things about the Baltimore City Paper and its management, and are reserving judgment about Times Shamrock. They hope their new owners will recognize the unique flavor of San Antonio and the Current. “This is a paper that needs strong local direction,” Garcia said. “Taking a cookie-cutter approach … would fall flat in this town.
“For now, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, as I expect they’ll do with me. Let’s see how we like each other.”
NAFTA BITES MAN.
You won’t find the news highlighted in the daily business section, but after five years the North American Free Trade Agreement has delivered just about everything promised – by its opponents. According to a new report by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, the central promises of the “free traders” – job creation, higher wages, trade surpluses, environmental cleanup, lower prices – have all been broken. Just a sample, since 1993: in December, the Department of Labor certified 215,000 jobs lost to NAFTA thus far under a single program; the 1993 U.S. $1.7 billion trade surplus with Mexico is now an $11.5 billion deficit; the 62 percent decline in hog prices for producers has not lowered the consumer’s cost for pork; Mexican tomato imports increased 63 percent while U.S. producers went bust and tomato prices rose 16 percent (see “NAFTA At 5: A Citizen’s Report Card,” www.tradewatch.org).