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E-M:/ Alliance between Michigan Environmentalists, Workers and Farmers?
- Subject: E-M:/ Alliance between Michigan Environmentalists, Workers and Farmers?
- From: CSim592951@aol.com
- Date: Fri, 4 May 2001 09:07:35 EDT
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- List-Name: Enviro-Mich
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Enviro-Mich message from CSim592951@aol.com
Read this if you think it is important for Environmentalists to build bridges
to other groups.
Put Life and Love Before Profit and War
By Charles E. Simmons/ May Day, 2001
Detroit--May 1, 2001---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
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
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.
Charles Simmons teaches Journalism and Media Law at Eastern Michigan
University. He is also the Co-Chair of the Committee for the Political
Resurrection of Detroit
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