Multinational Monitor

APR 2000
VOL 21 No. 4


The IMF on the Run: The International Monetary Fund Tries to Outrun its Critics
by Robert Weissman

Twenty Questions on the IMF
by the Monitor Staff


Unraveling the Washington Consensus
An Interview with Joseph Stiglitz

Globalization, Regionalism and Democracy
An Interview with Samir Amin


Behind the Lines

Against IMF "Realism"
- Brutal Banking

The Front
BHP's Big Mining Mess - The U'wa/Oxy Standoff

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Book and Video Notes

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Wal-Mart Cuts the Union

Shortly after a group of ten butchers voted in February to unionize their department at a Wal-Mart store in Jacksonville, Texas, the company announced it would cut all meat packaging operations at 180 stores, including the one in Jacksonville, and switch to "case-ready meat" prepared off-site.

The Jacksonville workers voted 7 to 3 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the first successful vote to unionize workers in the history of Wal-Mart. With 885,000 employees, Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the United States.

Union organizing efforts are ongoing at about 20 Wal-Marts around the country.

UFCW President Doug Dority announced in March that the union is demanding immediate bargaining on behalf of the meat department employees in Jacksonville. "Wal-Mart cannot make unilateral changes to their working conditions. The company must negotiate with the workers over any proposed changes. That's the law," Dority says.

Wal-Mart officials say the company has an "open door" approach to labor relations that makes unions unnecessary and that union officials took improper actions to influence the Jacksonville vote. Company officials say the workers who cut and wrap beef will be offered other Wal-Mart jobs with equal pay and that the company's decision was not retaliation for the union vote, but is part of a long-term plan to sell prepackaged beef cuts instead of preparing the meat on-site.

But the Jacksonville butchers say that argument doesn't cut it because the company had just invested $40,000 in a new wrapping machine for the Jacksonville store.

New Zealand's Roger Award

The 1999 Roger Award for the Worst Multinational Corporation in New Zealand was awarded to TransAlta, a Canadian power company which retails energy in Auckland and other New Zealand cities.

The annual award, administered by the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (the indigenous Maori name for New Zealand), is named after Sir Roger Douglas, a Minister of Finance in New Zealand's 1984-90 Labor government, and is given to the multinational that has had the most negative impact in the country during the previous year.

Although TransAlta has agreed to sell its New Zealand assets to an Australian company, its "brief foray into New Zealand is a warning to the world of what can happen when basic infrastructural services such as electricity are privatized and deregulated," the award's judges stated.  

According to the judges, during TransAlta's seven years in New Zealand it 1) raised rates for consumers and small businesses, while cutting rates for big businesses; 2) sacked workers "to an extent which is causing those left to fear for their safety;" and 3) helped build two gas-fired power plants which are responsible for half the total national carbon dioxide emissions increases from 1990 to 1998.

TransAlta officials refused to comment when contacted by the Monitor. Past winners of the Roger Award include U.S.-owned Tranz Rail (for unsafe rolling stock) and Monsanto.

Students Against Sweat

After developing a new Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) in consultation with unions and other groups, students affiliated with the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) have conducted a number of sit-ins over the last two months to force college and university administrations to pledge to join the new organization and stop buying sweatshop-produced apparel.

Seven schools have pledged to join the WRC this spring, including two Big Ten universities where the protests occurred -- University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin-Madison -- bringing the total to 18.

Student activists say WRC will force greater disclosure than is currently provided to the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a sweatshop monitoring effort that emerged from a White House initiative.

"The problem with FLA is that it is designed to provide cover for the companies," says David Alvarado, a student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Rather than provide real information about what the inspection teams found, they only put out annual reports showing how much progress there has been."

"I'm happy that students are interested in the sweatshop issue," Sam Brown of the Fair Labor Association told the Monitor, "but I think the energy is being misdirected. University licensed apparel is only two-thirds of 1 percent of the market, so that's too narrow a focus."   The spring round of actions began in early February at the University of Pennsylvania. A week later, 20 University of Michigan students began a "sweat-in" in the school's administrative offices. At the same time, six students at the University of Wisconsin locked themselves together inside the chancellor's office. They were supported by 50 others who sat outside, including non-student community members.

Michigan and Wisconsin were joined by the University of Indiana in issuing a joint pledge that they would "conditionally" join the WRC. So far it is unclear what conditions will have to be satisfied for the schools to stay with the WRC.

In the meantime, students at the University of Toronto have begun another sit-in to sweat out their own administration.

-- Charlie Cray

Mailing List


Editor's Blog

Archived Issues

Subscribe Online

Donate Online


Send Letter to the Editor

Writers' Guidelines