Behind the Lines

Labor Strikes Back in Turkey

APPROXIMATELY ONE MILLION WORKERS throughout Turkey staged a one-day strike on July 20, 1994 to protest the government's economic austerity package, according to Reuters news reports. The strike took place despite official warnings from Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller that participation in strike actions was illegal and that high level officials would prevent workers from joining the strike.

 Turkish labor unions oppose the wage freezes, price hikes, investment cuts and a privatization drive that came with the April 5 austerity plan, say the reports.

"Garbage is not being collected and the post offices are generally not functioning," Burham Metin, a municipality spokesperson told Reuters. It was also noted that ferryboats and some public buses were not operating.

 The Turkish Medical Association also joined the strike, but maintained emergency, oncology and child services. And although Turkish law bans strikes in the civil service, many government workers also joined the strike.

 Most demonstrations "ended without incidents as the police did not intervene," according to Nevzat Kiraç, assistant to the general secretary of the Ankara-based Human Rights Foundation of Turkey.

"However," he adds, "a group of 500 people marching in the Gülsuyu quarter of Istanbul were dispersed and beaten by the police." Eighteen people were detained and several were wounded, and houses and cars were damaged. Demonstrators in Kartal Cevizli and Istanbul Bakirköy also clashed with police, Kiraç says.

"This is only the first step if the government continues with the austerity package and does not fulfill its promise to democratize and lift restrictions on trade union activities," Yildirim Koc, of the largest labor confederation Turk-Is told Reuters. The Ciller government has promised to adjust workers' 1994 wages in line with inflation, which was running at 116 percent in June.

 The Turkish Embassy did not respond to questions regarding the strikes, but a spokesperson says the Turkish government will forge ahead with the austerity plan. "The government has signed a stand-by agreement with the [International Monetary Fund]," he says. "The government cannot deviate from the agreement [because] we would be unable to get credit."

Post-NAFTA Labor Abuses

IN THE FIRST TEST of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor side agreement, the U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO) has decided to hold hearings on complaints that General Electric and Honeywell have violated international labor law in Mexico . The hearings are scheduled for September 12, 1994, and will be held in Washington, D.C.

 The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) filed the first complaints under the NAFTA labor side agreement in February 1994. The UE filed on behalf of nine GE workers who were fired at the company's Compania Armadora motor plant in Juarez, Mexico and the Teamsters filed for similar abuses at a Honeywell plant in Chihuahua. The workers were union organizers, and the UE accused GE of firing the workers for their union activities.

Critics have denounced the NAO for limiting testimony to only 10 minutes, prohibiting television and radio coverage of the hearings and holding the hearings in Washington, D.C., rather than El Paso, Texas, closer to where the violations took place. "[T]he logistical and financial hardship of traveling to Washington, especially for workers, will no doubt render participation impossible in most circumstances," notes an August 12 letter from 60 members of Congress to Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

The NAO, in an August 10 letter to President Bill Clinton, defended the venue of the hearings, arguing, "Our personnel and resources are here. The operations and focus of the NAO and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation are primarily national and international in scope. Accordingly, we believe it is appropriate that the hearing be in our capital." The 10-minute limit on testimony was put in place "because [the NAO] thought it prudent and appropriate that the public be on notice that time is not unlimited," the letter states.

 In addition to obstructing union organizing efforts, workers at the 1,200-employee GE plant have described violations that include failure to pay proper overtime, failure to give light work to pregnant women and failure to properly ventilate work areas or provide adequate protective equipment. They also charged the Mexican government with failure to enforce its labor laws [see After NAFTA: Worker Rights," Multinational Monitor, January/February 1994 ].

 GE disclaims any role in the hearings. "The hearings do not involve GE," says GE spokesperson Charles Welch. "The hearings are about labor law enforcement in Mexico." Moreover, he added, "The matters alleged in this complaint took place before the side agreement went into effect. ... There is a legitimate question as to the appropriateness of this review ... under NAFTA."

 On August 1, 1994, STIMAHCS, a metal workers union affiliated with Mexico's independent labor federation, the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), submitted a formal letter requesting union recognition to GE in Juarez. The union advised GE that workers at the company's CASA plant had formed a union and wanted to negotiate a contract.

 Workers at the GE plant set a strike date of August 24 in order to win union recognition; in response, GE agreed to allow the first secret ballot election in Mexican labor history.

While STIMAHCS lost the election, workers allege that GE illegally promised to restore benefits and increase wages if STIMAHCS lost, and threatened a closure of the plant if workers voted for the union. GE also held meetings with workers for many hours until the eve of the election.

 "The vast majority of the workers at [the plant] supported the union at the time of the election agreement," says STIMAHCS General Secretary Benedicto Martinez. "However, GE's illegal campaign tactics of threats and bribes destroyed any possibility of a fair vote. Companies that do business in Mexico must be required to respect our laws."

 "We are outraged by GE's blatantly illegal actions," says Amy R. Newell, UE General Secretary- Treasurer. Newell adds that the UE will help STIMAHCS document these violations for presentation at the NAO hearings.

 GE's Welch denies that the company violated Mexican or U.S. labor laws, or that it threatened to close the plant in Juarez in the days leading up to the election.

Of Bull and Bonds

MERRILL LYNCH & CO., the world's largest investment bank, has been suspended from doing business with the state of Illinois following a July 1994 report by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on the company's questionable bond-underwriting practices.

 The city of St. Louis has passed a resolution urging reform at Merrill Lynch, and several other cities are considering similar resolutions. The state treasurer in Minnesota has also endorsed a suspension of financial operations with the company.

 The Teamsters report, "The Bull in the Glass House: The Case for Reform at Merrill Lynch," alleges "a string of public scandals," including:

 o the company's involvement in an alleged interest-peddling scandal with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, leading to the banning of the company from financial positions with state agencies that issue bonds;

o allegations of improper activities involving the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and other bond agencies around the United States; and

 o a record high payment of $5 million to settle a claim with a Lebanese investor who alleged Merrill Lynch mishandled his money.

 The Teamsters initiated a corporate campaign against Merrill Lynch because of the company's interest in the Pony Express courier company. Merrill Lynch is the principle investor in, and has a significant presence on the board of Borg-Warner Security Corp., the parent company of Pony Express. The union's report documents poor wages, failure to bargain in good faith with workers and illegal race, age and gender discrimination against Pony Express employees.

 Merrill Lynch has referred to the Teamsters campaign as "misdirected." "Merrill Lynch does not manage Pony Express," says a company spokesperson who asked not to be named. "One of Merrill Lynch's affiliates, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, has, with other investors, an investment interest in the parent of Pony Express. However, Merrill Lynch has no authority or responsibility for the day-to-day management of the company."

 But Teamsters National Coordinator for Corporate Affairs Bart Naylor disagrees. "Three Merrill Lynch employees are among nine members of the board of directors. They own 47 percent of the stock. They can have as much control of the company as they want to," he says. The Teamsters message to Merrill Lynch, he says, is: "You own Pony Express. Reform it."


Bad Chemistry at EPA

AN INTERNAL U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memorandum charges that an EPA investigation into allegations that Monsanto falsified scientific studies on the carcinogenicity of dioxin was itself fraudulent.

 The memo, written by EPA employee William Sanjour, examined a criminal investigation that resulted from court cases of Vietnam War veterans who were sprayed with Agent Orange, a defoliant containing small amounts of dioxin, while serving in Vietnam and who later contracted cancer. The veterans were attempting to obtain compensation from Monsanto and other chemical companies which produced Agent Orange.

 The veterans' case was largely thwarted in 1984 because of a lack of scientific evidence and Monsanto-sponsored studies which showed no increase in cancer among human subjects exposed to dioxin (studies that were later contradicted by EPA studies of the carcinogenicity of dioxin to humans).

 But in February 1990, EPA chemist Dr. Cate Jenkins wrote to the EPA Science Advisory Board that there was evidence that the Monsanto studies were fraudulent and that, had they been done properly, they would have shown the connection between dioxin and cancer in humans. This led to a criminal investigation in August 1990 of Monsanto .

But, according to Sanjour, instead of investigating Monsanto, the EPA "investigated and illegally harassed the whistleblower, Cate Jenkins." The memo states that, within days of the initiation of the investigation, Jenkins' "job duties were withdrawn without warning. She was not given any assignments from August 30, 1990 until she was reassigned on April 8, 1992 to a job which was primarily administrative or clerical." Jenkins, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, filed a complaint with the Department of Labor, which reinstated her, but not until after two appeals by the EPA (the most recent by current EPA Chief Administrator Carol Browner).

 The Monsanto investigation was quietly halted in August 1992 without determining if the studies were fraudulent or not. "However," wrote Sanjour, "the investigation itself and the basis for closing the investigation were fraudulent."

"[D]id Monsanto manipulate their studies in order to play down the danger of dioxin so as to reduce their liability to the Vietnam veterans?" the memo asks. "Are top EPA officials more concerned with protecting their employment prospects with the industries they regulate than in protecting human health and the environment? And, are EPA law enforcement officials being used as an internal KGB to silence dissent?"

 Monsanto "denies globally the implications in the memo," states Monsanto's Director of Environmental Communications Gary Barton. He alleges that the memo contained "misstatements and innuendo" about the company and maintains that Monsanto "never manipulated any scientific studies [and] cooperated fully" with the EPA.

 The EPA did not respond to requests for comment on the memo.


- Aaron Freeman