Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, September 26, 2004
by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

A Spot on the Mall Can’t Cover A Stain On the Nation
Since Christopher Columbus had set sail for India he called the first people he encountered Indians. The name stuck even after Europeans figured out a whole "New World" had instead been "discovered." While the white guys didn’t find a short cut to India they of course found gold and silver in abundance. Even more importantly, the indigenous peoples gave them potatoes, corn, tobacco, and other hitherto unknown crops, to take back to Europe. In exchange the Europeans brought horses, gunpowder, whisky–and smallpox.

War and deceit drove most Indians in what is today the United States out of what the whites perceived the most desirable locations, and in to tribal "reservations." Then it was decided to "civilize" them. These Red Skins were so "primitive" that they didn’t even understand the concept of private property. They were mostly a communal lot, everyone sharing in the work, rewards, and hardships of life. They just couldn’t seem to get with the program.

In 1887 congress passed the Dawes Act. Congressman Henry Dawes, author of the act, once expressed his faith in the civilizing power of private property with the claim that to be civilized was to "wear civilized clothes...cultivate the ground, live in houses, ride in Studebaker wagons, send children to school, drink whisky, own property."

This law divided up what remained of communal lands into small plots. These plots were supposed to be awarded to those who could prove their Indian heritage as part of 61 officially recognized tribes–and had anglicized their names. In fact millions of acres were given to relatives, friends, and bribers of corrupt government officials.

After scandals revealed the extent of this land theft the Dawes Act was repealed, replaced with the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This new law established a credit fund designed to encourage small businesses and self-sufficiency as well as a mechanism for Indians to pool their land, purchase new parcels and own land as a corporate entity. But the same old corruption, indifference, and incompetence remained in full force. And IRA1934 removed government recognition of the 61 tribes, leaving hundreds of thousands of Native Americans disqualified for government assistance.

In 1996 a group of American Indians, along with the Native American Rights Fund and the Intertribal Monitoring Association, filed the largest class action lawsuit against the Federal government in history. The suit demanded restitution of 100 billion dollars from American Indian trust funds that the government has either lost, paid to the wrong people or simply withheld. It has dragged on through the courts, with numerous government officials, including two consecutive Secretaries of the Interior, being found in contempt of court for blocking investigations and refusing to carry out reforms ordered by the courts.

But while Washington still cheats the Indian, and stonewalls in the courts, they have learned the PR value in exploiting Indian culture. The last vacant spot on the Washington DC Mall has been filled by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. It’s directors are quite proud of what they call "perhaps America's best example of successful pluralism at work—a private/public partnership financed by a combination of the United States government and caring citizens worldwide." The single biggest group among the private contributors are the most successful example of the civilizing nature of Indian entrepreneurism–casino operators.

Better Dead Than Red?
The National Committee for Quality Assurance is a health care industry not-for-profit with strong ties to "managed care" outfits. They like to crow about any perceived improvements in the quality of American health care. So when they acknowledge there are at least 42,000–and perhaps as many as 79,000–annual avoidable deaths among industry customers you can rest assured that’s no exaggeration. Perhaps this is another reason, in addition to greedy trial lawyers denounced by politicians, for such high rates for malpractice insurance. Americans pay top dollar for health care but the drive for profits in "managed care" leads to too much shoddy work. Harder to quantify are numbers of people needlessly dying or suffering because financial costs discourage them from getting the kind of preventive medicine that is standard practice in most other industrialized countries.

Thanks to an invitation arranged by long time Labor Party stalwart Harold Smith, I had an opportunity last week to speak to a group of retirees about the LP Just Health Care campaign. Like most folks, they were not only surprised by the scope of coverage of the plan–everyone entitled, without co-pays or deductibles, to all doctor and hospital visits and procedures, all prescriptions, all dental and vision care, personal choice of physician–but also the fact that this genuine universal coverage could be had for no additional cost to 95 percent of Americans. Also, like most folks, they thought this sounded like an excellent idea.

Tell It to the Judge
US Airways is the latest addition to the growing list of U.S. corporations trying to use bankruptcy laws to break union contracts and pension agreements. They have told a judge to impose a 23 percent wage cut on all US Airways unionized workers.

Outsourcers Tell Quebec Strikers Adieu
Furniture maker Shermag Inc. will permanently close a Quebec manufacturing plant employing 245 people that has been on strike since April. Chief executive Jeff Casselman said the company had already transferred the work to other plants–and increased its outsourcing in China–to meet commitments to furniture dealers during the strike. Among other issues, the strikers refused to cave on demands for massive changes in work rules.

Not So Sweet
Hershey has demanded bitter concessions from union workers at its flagship plant. Their proposal to extend the Chocolate Workers Local 464 contract through 2008 would increase employees' health care contributions from 6 percent to 12 percent, beginning in January 2006. It would also reduce wages by four dollars an hour for nearly 260 employees hired after January 2000 — including 220 who are currently laid off but could resume working if production demands warrant — and new employees would be paid at the lower rate. A union official said the take-aways are necessary to keep the company from moving the jobs elsewhere.

As usual, much of the material in this Week In Review is based on stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

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That’s all for this week.

Regards to all