Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 6, 2005

Bush A Wall Flower At Argentine Tango
Latin American summits aren’t what they used to be. There was a time when Washington’s every wish was anticipated by the heads of state in the Americas. Not so at the recent gathering in Mar del Plata.

Bush’s sole objective in chatting with his counterparts was to get movement on realizing the dream of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA.) FTAA would essentially create NAFTA-like trade and investment opportunities for global capital. While some, such as Mexico’s Fox, remained deferential to Numero Uno the presidents of five counties (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela), representing more than half of the economic activity in Latin America, flat out rejected this accelerated spread of what’s come to be known as globalization.

Many Latin American countries have already had some experience with "neoliberal" policies of privatization and accompanying cut backs in social services–with universally disastrous results. There could be no more dramatic example of these ruinous policies than the site of the summit–Argentina.

As recently as a decade ago Argentina was a reasonably prosperous country. Industrial workers enjoyed European level living standards. The agricultural sector not only fed their own country but were major exporters of beef and grain.

Today there is massive unemployment, life savings have been wiped out, the welfare state first established under Peron has shrunk beyond recognition, homelessness and street crime have appeared on a major scale for the first time, agriculture has been restructured for exports to Asia, and the country is saddled with debts to foreign banks that can never be repaid.

The working class in Argentina is fighting back. Sit-down strikes and mass demonstrations are common occurrences. And they are not alone. Mass mobilizations by workers and indigenous peoples have toppled governments in Bolivia. In fact, in nearly every Latin American country class struggle is on the upsurge.

In Venezuela, the situation is even more advanced. There the government has supported not only fight-backs by the workers and the poor in their own country; it is actively promoting solidarity with worker movements throughout Latin America as well.

The Chavez regime was a major supporter of an alternative People’s Summit, involving representatives from several hundred Latin American unions and civic organizations, that met on the eve of the heads of state conclave. That gathering was the launching pad for a massive march and rally–estimated to be 50,000 strong in a resort town–denouncing the FTAA.

The union and political radicalization sweeping through Latin America is what stopped the Summit from doing business as usual. It has struck a powerful–perhaps fatal–blow against FTAA. That’s a good thing not only for Latin American working people but for North American workers as well.

U.S. capital didn’t want FTAA so that they could export goods made by workers in the U.S. and Canada southward. Just as with NAFTA, their goal is to export more unrestricted capital investment to Latin America. That would cost jobs, and drive wages down, in North America. It’s in our interest to mobilize solidarity with the efforts of our sisters and brothers throughout the hemisphere–and every where else in the global economy.

And, clearly, the North American movement can learn some valuable lessons from the strategy and tactics emerging in fights shaping up south of the border.

A Health Care System That Makes Us Sick
Just in time for open enrollment season we get yet another report on ailing health care in America. A survey published in Health Affairs questioned several thousand adults in six countries who had recently been hospitalized, had surgery or reported health problems between March and June of this year. More than half of the Americans went without needed care because of cost compared to 38 percent of patients in New Zealand, 34 percent in Australia, 28 percent in Germany, 26 percent in Canada and 13 percent in Britain. The United States also stood out for having the highest error rates, most disorganized care and highest costs, the survey found. We should take note that the best overall performers were socialized medicine in Britain and single-payer in Canada.

Good News, Bad News had a useful article with lots of statistics on plunging U.S. wages. Real–inflation adjusted–wages have fallen over two percent since 1998. These sharp analysts comment,

"That's good news for employers because it helps profit margins. It also lessens the risk of a '70s-type ‘wage-price spiral,’ where higher energy costs fed into labor and product prices.

"But stagnating wages don't help the consumer, especially when it comes to spending on discretionary items like vacations and holiday sweaters."

Gee, I was counting on some holiday sweaters since falling wages means a falling thermostat setting as well.

Record Savings
You may have missed it but Americans have set a new record for personal savings. The Third Quarter GDP report showed that our savings rate went down to a minus 1.1 percent. This is the first time since they started keeping the records that there has been a negative savings rate.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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