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The Week In Review, Sunday, December 14, 2003      

Viceroy Announces Tyrant In Custody
My partner keeps her alarm clock radio tuned to NPR (which many believe stands for National Pentagon Radio.) She was thus able to awaken this morning to the voice of America’s viceroy in Iraq proudly announcing the capture of the tyrant, Saddam Hussein. Correspondents, mainly holed up in Baghdad’s Green Zone, immediately filed reports about spontaneous demonstrations of joy across Iraq. Germany’s "antiwar," and "socialist" chancellor could hardly wait to call President Bush to congratulate him on this magnificent victory.

There is no doubt that the big majority of Iraq’s population hates Saddam Hussein for good reason. But their joy about his apprehension is sure to be dampened by the continuing rule of even better armed tyrants of the American occupation.

The occupiers have kept in place Saddam Hussein’s labor laws—which effectively prohibit legitimate trade unions. Last Saturday the occupiers moved to enforce this ban on unions by sending ten armored cars to the temporary headquarters of the Iraqi Federation of Workers Trade Unions (IFTU) in the Karkh District of Baghdad. They arrested eight leaders and trashed the offices. After protests started coming in from unionists around the world (including many on the KC Labor list) the arrested officials were released. But you can bet they are being watched like hawks and there will be further raids as Iraqi workers attempt to organize. (LabourStart’s Iraq page is a good source of information about these struggles. And USLAW is putting together an effective solidarity campaign in the U.S. in support of Iraq labor rights.)

Only the peoples of Iraq can truly free themselves from tyrants, domestic and foreign. Americans in uniform didn’t sign up to repress workers trying to organize, or to make Iraq safe for U.S. corporations such as the swindlers of Halliburton. Saddam’s capture means nothing to us. We say more emphatically than ever—end the occupation, bring the GIs home now!

Campaign Finance ‘Reform’ a Fraudulent Step Backward
Many liberals were celebrating the court upholding the key provisions of McCain-Feingold restrictions on corporations and unions providing "soft" money. Of course the idea of restrictions on corporate domination of politics is pretty hilarious. They have ways to get around any legislative obstacles. The losers in this "reform" are unions, civil rights organizations, environmental groups, the feminist movement, and the fledgling Labor Party. Already far behind the bosses’ forces in political spending they are now excluded from most of the issue campaigns they have relied upon in the past. McCain-Feingold is simply an attempt to make the domination of the Republican/New Democrat establishment a little cheaper to buy.

BC Ferry Workers Hang Tough
BC Ferries is one of the public services recently privatized by the Liberal government in British Columbia. The new owners have been demanding big take-aways at the bargaining table and forced
the union to call a strike. A ferry strike in B.C. impacts a lot of people. The government ordered the strikers back to work but they held firm. Our friend Rod, a Vancouver bus driver, summed up the outcome succinctly in an e-mail message:

"THEY PULLED IT OFF! The union defied the fascist right wing government. And lost almost NOTHING. The union retains the right to strike, and free collective bargaining. There will be a big party in BC today. LABOUR has stared into the lions mouth and came out smiling. My brothers at work who said that they would loose all owe me coffee!! Pickets coming down @ 10:00 pst. Highlights: Both sides agree to binding arbitration No discipline or reprisals for union members actions. BC Ferries will drop all legal action except for LRB contempt order to return to work."

I hope to get with Rod and Gordon, and possibly others, to get some material about Canadian labor law and traditions of struggle posted on kclabor.org.

Where Is Dickens When We Really Need Him?
An AP story we posted on the Daily Labor News Digest began " Citing the improving economy, Republicans decided Monday against extending federal unemployment benefits before Congress leaves for the year... Federal unemployment benefits, which supplement state payments to the jobless, have been extended three times since March 2002. Without legislative action, they will be phased out beginning Dec. 21.... House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said extending the benefits was unjustified when unemployment is going down in the country. "It's a question of whether we continue to be in an extraordinary unemployment environment, and we are not," Blunt said." Some two million who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks will be immediately affected by the termination. Some Geico good news though. Those two million will soon no longer be unemployed—instead they will be labeled "discouraged" workers.

In Brief...
Charlie StarKist Goes Heavy Metal. Remember that report from last week about the EPA relaxing restrictions on mercury emissions? Well this week we heard warnings from another government agency that pregnant women and children should abstain from eating tuna and the rest of us should limit our consumption to no more than one serving a week. The reason? You guessed it, increased mercury levels in America’s favorite sea food.
Ungrateful Guests. Jeffrey L. Jones, owner and operator of Lawn Restoration Service Inc., brought 23 Mexican workers into Maryland under the Guest Worker program. He provided them housing—at least he put all of them up in one house—charging them rent totaling $7,350 for a structure he rented for $2,866. He also cheated them outright on their wages. He wasn’t prejudiced though. He also ripped off 33 local workers as well. All in all he shortchanged his workers $91,173.This proved to be a bit much even for the DoL. An administrative law judge ordered the boss to pay up.
Remembering Our Own House. It’s good that many Americans speak out against lack of labor rights in Iraq, Burma, Mexico, China and elsewhere. International solidarity is vital to the world’s workers. But we can’t neglect this issue at home either. American workers essentially have no labor rights. That’s one reason why trade union membership has declined from thirty percent of the workforce in the 1960s to thirteen percent today. In the private sector it’s less than ten percent. Last Wednesday there were protests about this issue in conjunction with International Human Rights Day. That’s good but we need more than an annual commemoration. We need an urgent discussion about what it will take to claim our basic human rights—also guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution—in the work place. We’ll be having more to say on this question over the next few months.

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