Multinational Monitor

MAR 1998
VOL 19 No. 3


Pentagon Welfare: The Corporate Campaign for NATO Expansion
by William Hartung

Fields of Nightmares: The Not-Yet Eliminated Global Landmine Industry
by E.J. Hogendoorn

Guarding the Multinationals: DSL and the International Private "Security Business"
by Pratap Chatterjee


Living Downstream
an interview with
Sandra Steingraber


Behind the Lines

Executive Decisions

The Front
Domesticating Big Tobacco - The Anti-Child Support Act

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Trade Watch
Recolonizing Africa

Money & Politics
The Oil Royalty

Their Masters' Voice
Whipping the Minimum Wage

Names In the News


Their Masters' Voice

Whipping the Minimum Wage

U.S. House of Representatives Republican Whip Tom DeLay has returned from Congress's winter recess bursting with vim and vigor, promising to press the Republican agenda with all available energy.

DeLay's high spirits no doubt result from his use of Congress's winter recess to fly to the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, a chain of islands in the Pacific where the temperatures hover in the eighties year round. DeLay sloughed off the heavy mantle of legislative responsibilities at a hotel where single rooms cost a minimum of $270 a night and which offers its own private beach and golf course. The latter has special appeal to DeLay, who is a prodigious duffer.

DeLay is one of six members of Congress to have traveled to the Northern Marianas during the past 18 months.

More than 70 congressional staffers and dozens of conservative think tankers and journalists have also journeyed over the Pacific to the elysian islands.

The junkets are being coordinated by the lobby shop of Preston, Gates, Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, which the Commonwealth retained in 1996. The bill for the congressional and chattering class junkets -- already topping $2 million -- is paid for by Northern Marianas taxpayers.

The local government shells out the cash because it hopes to fend off a move in Congress that would subject the islands -- a U.S. territory whose residents have U.S. citizenship -- to the federal minimum wage. The current minimum wage in the Commonwealth is around $3 an hour -- less than 60 percent of the U.S. minimum wage.

But the attraction of the Northern Marianas is not only its low wage rates. Thanks to the Commonwealth's territorial status, companies operating there are allowed to export their goods to the mainland with the coveted "Made in the USA" label. The right to use the "Made in the USA" label along with the low minimum wage has proved irresistible to dozens of garment factories that have located in the Northern Marianas.

Most of the garment factories are Chinese owned. The Chinese companies often bring along their own workers.

One contract that the Chinese government forces employees to sign states that while in the Northern Marianas the employees will not "participate in any political or religious activities and, among other things, may not engage in smuggling, prostitution, theft, gambling, drugs, fighting, excessive drinking or watching pornographic videos. While working overseas, [the employee] may not date or get married."

Working conditions in the Commonwealth are atrocious, as reflected in the Philippine government's 1995 prohibition against workers going there, the first time ever that a foreign government barred its citizens from working on what is technically U.S. soil.

No one has been more assiduous in supporting the Northern Marianas government than DeLay.

In addition to his own year-end trip to the islands, at least two of DeLay's staffers have traveled to the islands as well.

A number of prominent Commonwealth officials have visited with DeLay in Houston, where the Majority Whip has reportedly taken them on extensive tours of local golf courses.

Business and political leaders from the islands gave DeLay $6,000 during the 1995-1996 election cycle, and donated another $21,000 to other Republicans.

Bill Jarrell, a former DeLay staffer, now works at Preston, Gates, where his clients include the Northern Marianas government and the local garment industry.

It's not surprising, then, that DeLay has so enthusiastically supported the Commonwealth government and sweatshop operators.

Last June, he and House Majority Leader Dick Armey -- who also has a former staffer, Dennis Stephens of Preston, Gates, lobbying on behalf of the Commonwealth -- wrote then-Governor Froilan Tenorio to congratulate him on "advancing the principles of free markets."

DeLay and Armey promised that Congress had "no intention" of subjecting the Northern Marianas to minimum wage laws.

Late last year, DeLay also slipped an amendment into the 1998 Defense Department Appropriations bill that recommends that the U.S. government authorize a controversial development plan on the island of Tinian (from whence the Enola Gay departed to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima), which is largely controlled by the Pentagon.

It is not clear who is behind the development plan, but one person likely to be involved is Willie Tan, son of a Chinese banker and a local powerbroker with a finger in almost every pie. Tan -- who was fined $9 million in 1992 by the Labor Department for violations of U.S. labor and safety law -- threw a reception for DeLay during his recent visit.

The House Majority Whip told the assembled guests, mostly local business leaders, that, although he had only been on the islands for 24 hours, he had already "witnessed the economic success of the [Northern Marianas] and good will of its people."

He denounced in harsh terms those supporting minimum wage laws in the Northern Marianas, including such wild-eyed radicals as Bill Clinton and Senator Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, as pawns of "big labor and the radical left."

DeLay said that raising the minimum wage would "destroy the lives of the people here."

"Stand firm," the number three Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives implored those attending the Tan reception. "Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator. God Bless you and the people of the Northern Marianas."

-- Ken Silverstein


Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines