Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The importance of Pullman...


Click the link below to find out more about the plans for celebrating Labor Day in the historic Pullman neighborhood in Chicago. Tom Shepherd of the Pullman Civic Organization talks about the historical importance of the Pullman neighborhood including the 1894 Pullman strike in which important figures in U.S. labor history make their first major appearance on the public scene, including Eugene V. Debs, A. Philip Randolph, Jane Addams, and Clarence Darrow. The celebration is sponsored by Pullman Civic Organization, Illinois Labor History Society, Bronzeville/Chicago Black History Society, Illinois AFL/CIO, Calumet Heritage Partnership, Historic Pullman Foundation, Chicago Metro History Project, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, The State of Illinois Historic Site at Pullman, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, and more…

http://www.archive.org/details/Plans_for_Pullman_LaborDay_08

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Celebrate Labor Day in Historic Pullman...


The Illinois Labor History Society, the Pullman Civic Association, and other allied groups have planned the perfect venue for celebrating Labor Day 2008 - the historic Pullman neighborhood, home of the George Pullman's "model" workers planned community and the 1894 Pullman strike, one of the most important events in the history of the U.S. labor movement. To find out more about the events planned for Sept. 1st, check out this website...


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Labor Rights and the 2008 Olympic Games…


Let me start by saying that I never have been a sports fan and likely never will be. For whatever reason sports just never attracted me as a kid and unless you develop such an interest in childhood, I think it unlikely that you will take an interest later in life. It’s not because I lacked the aptitude for sports. I spent much of my youth on swim teams and running cross country. I would often start a season as one of the better athletes on the team; but by mid season my lack of interest and lack of willingness to put in much effort to the sport would usually mean I would fall to the back of the pack. I also played nearly every team sport except football at some point in my youth because my father’s firm belief that playing sports was good for you. I was less convinced. I think I generally rejected the whole idea that competition should be valued and I preferred the life of the mind rather than the world of the body. Asian martial arts were the only physical activity that interested me as young boy and I always gravitated to the styles like Kung Fu over Karate because they seemed to emphasize the power of the mind over the body. My heroes as a young boy were famous scientist, philosophers and historical figures instead of baseball or basketball stars.

That said I must admit, with some embarrassment, that two sporting events have captured my interest over the years. The futbol World Cup and the Olympic games (both Winter & Summer) have seemed to capture my attention like no other sporting event (other than basketball in the final years of the Bull’s dynasty). Clearly part of the reason is the international character of both the Olympics and the World Cup. I particularly enjoy the events in which U.S. dominance is not a foregone conclusion. In the case of the Olympics I am particular drawn to the more obscure sports – canoe/kayak, archery, fencing, pentathlon, etc. All of this is meant to explain away and apologize for the fact that I have spent much of the past two weeks trying to watch as much of the 2008 Olympics coverage as possible. Part of my guilt at enjoying the Olympics stems from my awareness that behind all the supposed high minded principals of this international athletic competition is a very ugly reality of global exploitation. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the International Olympic Committee’s continued refusal to take responsibility for the working conditions of those who make the Olympic experience possible. From the workers who construct the sporting venues of the games to those who produce the official apparel sold at the event, there is a long history of exploitation. This time around an organization has been formed to challenge the callousness and the obstinacy of the IOC in regards to labor rights.

Play Fair 2008 is a coalition organized by the The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Worker’s Federation (ITGLWF). Their goal is to convince the IOC and related bodies to take steps to… “eliminate the exploitation and abuse of workers in the global sporting goods industry.” You can be a part of this campaign by sending a letter to the IOC requesting the take…“immediate action to address the violation of workers' rights in their supply chains.”

You can find out more about the campaign and how to write your letter at the Play Fair 2008 website…


http://www.playfair2008.org/

If you, like me, have spent much of the past 14 days enjoying the games, you can take out a few minutes to play a role in demanding an end to the exploitation behind the Olympics. You can also find out more about the issue by listening to this Sunday’s episode of the Labor Express Radio program. Part of this week’s episode will be devoted to last week’s Building Bridges report on the Chinese workers who produce Speedo sporting goods for the 2008 Olympics and the difficult working conditions the face. That’s this Sunday night, 7:00 P.M. on 88.7 FM in Chicago. On listen online at… http://www.wluw.org/

One last word on politics and the 2008 Olympics. Once again I think the mainstream media in the U.S. has demonstrated their bias and incompetence. The U.S. press has shown great jingoistic exuberance in its China bashing throughout the Olympic games. They have found plenty of irrelevant stories to focus on which they use to demonstrate the failings of the Chinese and reassure their American audience that it is still U.S. Über Alles. From the so called “faking it” of the games opening ceremonies (first fireworks, than lip syncers), to the age of its athletes, to selective readings of the medal counts, the media takes great glee in diminishing the achievements of the world’s most populous nation, while ignoring any critique that raises issues of real substance. The U.S. corporate media is much more interested in fake fireworks than the exploitation of millions of Chinese workers and the role U.S. corporations play in that exploitation. China is, after Colombia, probably the world’s second worst violator of labor rights and is one of the world’s most serious violators of human rights in general. U.S. corporations profit from the fact that China has remade itself into the world’s sweatshop, including those trans-national companies that produce gear for the 2008 Olympics. But you won’t see these issues raised on the nightly coverage of the Olympics. Once again, it is only on alternative news source like Labor Express Radio and Building Bridges that you will hear the real story – the issues that mater – the concerns and struggles of the world’s working people.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I have returned...


Hi All,

Well I am back from my annual Summer travel abroad, and as has been the case for the past several years, Mexico was my primary destination. First off let me apologize to readers of pilsenprole for being very slow to update the blog over the past few months. Now that I have returned from my Summer break, one of my goals for the new year (I always think in terms of the School year rather than the calendar year) is to be more consistent with regular updates. Check back weekly and I will endeavor to have new material for you to read and respond to. AND RESPOND IS KEY!!! I talk to people fairly often who tell me the read this blog but NEVER RESPOND ONLINE! Please do. It helps to know who is reading this stuff and I crave your feed back.

It was an interesting time to be in Mexico. As gas prices have become the number one concern of many working class people in the U.S., the possible privatization of Mexico’s state oil monopoly PEMEX is the main topic of political discussion in that country. What's interesting about the perhaps coincidental (perhaps not?) timing of these two events is the fact that the economic elites in Mexico are decrying the so called "inefficiency" of their state oil company while Americans are pouring over the Northern border to purchase the cheap, stably priced Mexican gasoline. My last fill up in Mexico was at a PEMEX station in Nuevo Laredo, several miles from the border on the far side of town. I was struck as I pulled into the gas station by the long line of vehicles waiting to fill up, a sight I had not encountered any where else in the country after a month of driving around the northern third of Mexico. I quickly assessed the situation upon noticing that every vehicle in the line had U.S. plates. I talked with one of the gas station attendants and he confirmed that this was no oddity but a regular occurrence lately. Drivers from the U.S. make up a large percentage of their customers these days he said, and they have been running through fuel supplies much more quickly at the station lately. What is even more interesting is that these drivers are braving long wait times in the return to the U.S. just to buy gas in Mexico (it took us 3 hours to re-enter the U.S. at Laredo Bridge 1). But none of this should come as much of a surprise since fuel prices in Mexico are roughly $2.50 a gallon, while gas prices over the border in Texas were nearing the $4 mark. The station attendant told me that Texas drivers not only fill up their tanks at his station, but bring as many gasoline cans and free standing tanks as they can and fill those up as well.

So why the cheap gas prices in Mexico? I’m sure some economist would tell me that there are a million and one reasons why market conditions are different in Mexico (I love when these oil company execs go before the U.S. Congress every few years to explain to nervous legislators why an oil refinery fire in Alabama, unrest in the Middle East, a hurricane in China, a butterflies wings in Mongolia, and the recent passing of his late grandmother are responsible for a 25 cent over night increase in gas prices). I am equally sure they would attempt to blame the differences on gasoline taxes in the U.S. - but Mexico also taxes gas sales at about 5.5%, not much different than gas taxes in most states. Ultimately the real explanation lies in the fact that the state plays a direct role in setting gas prices in Mexico, unlike in our magically and amazingly “efficient” private oil market in the good ole USA. From my experiences there over the years and from conversations with people living in Mexico, it is clear that fuel prices are fair more stable (around 7.3 pesos a liter for the green “Magna” or non-premium gas during the month of July) and Mexicans do not have to deal with the wild price fluctuations we experience north of the border. Gas prices rarely rise more than a cent or two from month to month. The highest price we paid in July was 7.32 pesos per liter, the lowest 7.24 pesos. I think this raises serious questions about whether privatization is the miracle cure all solution to economic woes as repeated ad nauseam by every economist, politician and journalist given any credibility in the global north.

Mexico is actually a quite interesting example of the hollowness of the cult of privatization. The transfer of Telmex, the national telephone company, into private hands in the early 90’s turned the new owner, Carlos Slim, into the world’s richest man (yes richer than Bill Gates, though he may have slipped into second place this past month) and made billions for foreign investors. But it did little for Telmex customers who saw their telephone rates skyrocket in the years that followed the sale of the state owned enterprise. And anyone who has lived or spent any time in Mexico knows, these new high prices certainly did NOT improve the quality of telephone service. Another example is the notorious “autopistas”, the Mexican highway system, which has experimented with privatization as well. Anyone who has driven these toll ways can attest to the outrageous toll prices, as much as $20 bucks for a 75 mile stretch, and how the roads are practical empty because no one in the country can afford to use them. The result has been massive government bailouts of many of the privatized highways. Despite this, Mexico’s illegitimate, new president Felipe Calderon (the George Bush of Mexico) is proposing new privatization schemes for the costly highways.

Calderon is also behind the call for the PEMEX reforms which would not privatize the state oil company outright, but would allow more foreign oil company involvement in the Mexican petroleum industry – a move many fear is a step toward undermining the cherished principal, enshrined in the country’s constitution, that oil should be treated as a national patrimony, a resource meant for the benefit of all Mexico’s citizens, not foreign economic interests. The reforms are opposed by the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) the furthest left of Mexico’s three major parties. They have pushed a national referendum on Calderon’s proposed reforms. While I was in Mexico, the Southern states were voting on the referendum. The Northern states will complete their voting by late August. Turn out has been low so far, but of those voting, over 80% have opposed any privatization moves.

They real issue here is not so much low gas prices, which ultimately are probably to low in the United States – they are much higher in Europe where fuel taxes take into consideration the environmental impact of private auto travel and where funds raised by the taxes are used to expand they already superior public transit system - The more important issue is who controls this vital resource, how is it conserved, and who profits from its exploitation. The gas price difference between the U.S. and Mexico is just one small, and perhaps not all that accurate, representation of how private ownership and unfettered “free” markets rarely benefit the working class majority. This is not mean to declare state monopolies the salvation of the working class either. One of the great mistakes of the history of left wing politics is the equation of working class power with nationalization. State enterprises can often exploit workers with just as much gusto as privately owned companies, and do not always pursue the wider community interests. Regardless the cult of privatization is ultimately not about economic efficiency – it is about shifting power from workers, citizens and communities into the hands of transnational corporations.

Tune into Labor Express radio in late August to hear interviews with Mexican labor activists opposing the privatization of PEMEX.

For more info on the current situation check out the following…

http://www.ww4report.com/node/5340