Multinational Monitor

MAR 1997
Vol. 18 No. 3


We'll Close! Plant Closings, Plant-Closing Threats, Union Organizing and NAFTA
by Kate Bronfenbrenner

Democracy on Trial: South Korean Workers Resist Labor Law Deform
by C. Jay Ou

A Referendum on Union Democracy: Teamsters Vote to Stay the Democratic Course
by Martha Gruelle

Nike Does It To Vietnam
by Jeff Ballinger

Conflict in the Strawberry Fields
by Cece Modupé Fadopé


The Bhopal Legacy
an interview with
Dr. Rosalie Bertell



Behind the Lines

Class War in the USA

The Front
Indian Labor Activist
Shot - Toxic Deception

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Their Masters' Voice

Names In the News


The Front

Indian Labor Leader Shot

Two gunmen pumped 19 bullets into the head and chest of India's most important trade unionist, Datta Samant, on January 16, in Bombay. Samant, the leader of Magar Aghadi (Workers' Front), which has more than 300,000 members, was the third major Indian labor leader to be murdered in the 1990s. Police have arrested two suspects who, they claim, were hired by rich businessmen with "international links" to kill Samant.

Samant's assassination, and varying reactions to it, reveal widening social cleavages in India as it undergoes "free-market" structural adjustment. Samant was a militant labor leader who refused to tolerate economic liberalization riding roughshod over workers' interests.

Samant was known for tough bargaining tactics. He led numerous strikes, including the Great Strike of 1982 to 1983 in Bombay's cotton mills. The Great Strike was one of the largest protracted strikes in labor history, with 250,000 workers striking for 20 months. By comparison, 200,000 British coal miners threw down their picks in their massive strike of 1984 to 1985.

The most plausible hypothesis about the motive for Samant's killing is that he strongly opposed the illegal conversion of textile mill land into real estate developments of commercial complexes and posh apartments. The mills, only a third of which are operating, sit on 190 hectares of prime property in Central Bombay. At the astronomical rates that land commands in Bombay (up to $285 per square foot), this is worth $5.6 billion, more than 20 times the profits from cloth production. Property values in Bombay exceed those in mid-town Manhattan in absolute terms.

Bombay mill owners have been lobbying the government to permit them to sell this land. However, much of the land was leased to them by city and state governments during the colonial period under various conditions. And sale of the land would likely violate Bombay city's master plan and destroy its urban ecology by heightening population density and congestion. Nevertheless, the mill owners in recent years have transferred tracts to builders under "development agreements" of dubious legality. Samant was their fiercest, most implacable opponent.

Samant's killing has polarized public opinion. While 150,000 workers paid homage to him -- the funeral was delayed seven hours to accommodate mourners -- and labor and political leaders condemned the assassination, the conservative media maligned Samant, charging him with using violence and commanding "an army of thugs." Such charges were repeatedly disproved during Samant's life. He had little respect for balance sheets and India's notoriously dilatory legal methods of dispute resolution. But he did not belong to the underworld.

"The reaction of the conservative media reflects the new climate of deregulation in India, which has encouraged an employers' offensive," says Jairus Banaji of the Union Research Group, an independent Bombay-based labor support organization. "Many industrialists have interpreted liberalization to mean abolition of regulations and freedom to do what they please."

During the 1990s, the tide has shifted against Indian workers. The number of strikes decreased by three fourths from 1991 to 1996, with a commensurate decline in person-days lost to industrial disputes. Today, lockouts account for twice as many lost work days as do strikes. "Employers have mounted a new offensive to close down factories which yield less profit than speculative operations," says Colin Gonsalves, a Bombay-based labor lawyer. "They impose illegal lockouts and move into industries with foreign collaboration, or into stock markets."

Indian labor laws do not permit permanent closure of industries without government permission. But investors are pressuring the government to give them unlimited rights to hire and fire. Government economic officials, who aim to attract $10 billion in foreign investment, are gradually softening the closure policy.

In the meantime, factory owners have devised devious means of effecting de facto closure -- for example, by not paying electricity and water bills. More than 75,000 factories have closed down in the past two years, and Indian manufacturing employment in the organized sector has decreased.

Unions have demanded that the government allow workers to take over and run neglected factories, but it has refused.

Studies of India's major industrial cities have found a rising incidence of employers illegally firing permanent workers and re-employing them on a temporary basis. And factory workers are increasingly being converted into home- or sweatshop-based assembly workers. Casual workers have few rights and are not entitled to pension funds and health benefits. Women workers are the worst victims. One study of women in Delhi documented a 20 to 30 percent decrease in their earnings in recent years.

Most new, especially foreign, investment in India generates little employment. Large multinationals are opening big, highly automated plants (e.g., cola-bottling) which do not employ enough workers to be governed by industrial and labor laws. In India, liberalization has been a raw deal for workers.

Now the workers can add the loss of Datta Samant to the list of ills traceable to liberalization.

- Praful Bidwai

Toxic Deception

The chemical industry has "overpowered" federal and state efforts to protect the public health from chemical hazards, according to a scathing report issued by the Center for Public Integrity in February.

The report, "Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law and Endangers Your Health," was authored by Newsday reporter Dan Fagin, National Law Journal's Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity.

Examining four heavily regulated chemicals -- alachlor, atrazine, formaldehyde and perchloroethylene, the report found that studies of these chemicals funded by the chemical industry tended to find the chemicals safe, while studies financed by non-industry sources tended to find the four chemicals to be dangerous to human health.

The authors reviewed 161 studies of the chemicals on file at the National Library of Medicine and found that of 43 industry-funded studies, only six returned results unfavorable to the chemicals. In the 118 studies conducted by non-industry researchers, 71 were unfavorable.

"Chemical companies employ nearly 90 percent of the nation's 1,650 or so `weed scientists,' and the few independent researchers rely heavily on grants from pesticide makers," says Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity. "The industry-sponsored studies are important because the federal government's approach is to consider the chemicals safe unless they are proven harmful."

The chemical companies are required by federal law to make any scientific findings available to the government if a chemical already on the market is found to pose a "substantial risk of injury to health or to the environment."

The report found that the industry frequently acted in "bad faith" in this regard. In 1991 and 1992, when the EPA offered amnesty from big-money fines to any manufacturer that turned in health studies they should have provided under the law earlier, manufacturers suddenly turned over more than 10,000 studies showing that their products already on the market pose a substantial risk, the authors reported.

The report was highly critical of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to police private laboratories that conduct important safety tests. "The EPA has never inspected about 1,550 of the 2,000 labs doing the manufacturer-funded studies that the EPA uses to decide whether chemicals are safe," Lewis says. "The EPA, which doesn't do its own safety tests, has audited only about 3.5 percent of the hundreds of thousands of studies that have been submitted to the agency."

The report also criticizes the revolving door between the EPA and the chemical industry. The report found that a substantial number of top EPA officials who worked on toxics and pesticide issues have ended up with chemical companies, their trade associations, or their lobbying firms.

Of the 344 lobbyists and lawyers identified as having worked from 1990 to 1995 for the chemical companies and trade associations, at least 135 came from federal agencies or congressional offices. "There are many tales of former U.S. officials helping the industry to thwart federal government oversight," adds Lewis.

EPA officials say they are "aware of the report, and we take it very seriously."

Officials say that EPA Deputy Administrator Fred Hansen will be asking the Inspector General and EPA's ethics office to review the report and "if any impropriety is found, it will be addressed with swift and appropriate action."

The chemical companies also influence the regulatory process by taking members of Congress on trips. The companies that make alachlor, atrazine, formaldehyde and perchloroethylene gave 214 free trips to members of Congress and even flew one key committee chair to Rio de Janeiro.

"Some lawmakers got more than just a plane trip and a hotel -- they also collected tens of thousand of dollars in speaking fees from chemical manufacturers and even more in political action committee contributions," Lewis says.

"Is it possible that the federal regulatory system, the way in which political campaigns are financed, the judicial system's increasing secrecy, the paucity of non-industry funding for cancer research [and] the news media's confusion about which scientist to believe, all skew public discourse and policy in favor of the continued manufacture of fundamentally unhealthy products?" Lewis asks. "The answer, after three years of intensive research, is yes."

"With millions, maybe even billions of dollars to spend on lawyers, scientists, PR firms, campaign contributions and secrecy orders, and millions of pages and years of seemingly unlimited patience in litigation challenging the outmanned, underfunded government's every regulatory move, the chemical industry has managed to continue manufacturing what are generally considered to be harmful agents -- even when better, safer alternatives are available," Lewis says.

"Simply put, the chemical industry has overpowered the nation's system of safeguarding the public health. The federal agencies that are supposed to be the public's watchdogs have been defanged by the industry's pressure tactics, which include junkets and job offers to government regulators, major contributions to politicians, scorched-earth courtroom strategies and misleading multimillion dollar advertising and public relations campaigns."

Jeff Van, a spokesperson for the Chemical Manufacturers Association, says he cannot respond to the specifics of the report. But he does say that chemical products are subjected to "a level of review and scrutiny that is unparalleled in modern society."

"Our products receive a great deal more scrutiny by government at all levels, by the media and the public than anything the Center [for Public Integrity] does or will ever do, including the people who pay their bills," Van says.

- Russell Mokhiber

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

The first Lawrence Summers Memorial Award* goes to a number of industry lobbyists working to oppose new clean air regulations. Here are the comments which earned them this prestigious prize:

  • "The effects of ozone are not that serious. I hate to say that," said an automobile manufacturers association spokesman. "But what we're talking about is a temporary loss in lung function of 20 to 30 percent. That's not really a health effect." (Quoted in Al Kamen, "Lost in the Ozone," Washington Post, February 3, 1997.)
  • "People can protect themselves" from the health effects of ozone, an oil industry lobbyist told the National Journal. "They can avoid jogging. Asthmatic kids need not go out and ride their bicycles." (Quoted in Al Kamen, "Lost in the Ozone," Washington Post, February 3, 1997.)
  • Former Bush White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, appearing on MSNBC, said that if -- after further study -- air pollution is proven to cause health problems, then "if the problem is to be rectified, it's more easily rectified by getting poor people better air conditioning in the summertime. The way to solve that [the pollution problem] is not by raising their utility bills," he said. (Quoted in Al Kamen, "Strip Tease," Washington Post, February 17, 1997.)

* In a 1991 internal memorandum, then-World Bank economist and current Deputy Secretary of Treasury Lawrence Summers argued for the transfer of waste and dirty industries from industrialized to developing countries. "Just between you and me, shouldn't the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?" Summers wrote. "I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. ... I've always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted; their air quality is vastly inefficiently low [sic] compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City." Summers later said the memo was meant to be ironic.



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