Multinational Monitor

JUN 2003
VOL 24 No. 6


Winning is Possible: Successful Union Organizing in the United States — Clear Lessons, Too Few Examples
by Kate Bronfenbrenner and Robert Hickey

Biotech Food Flacks: Canadian Consumer Group Goes to Bat for Biotech
by Aaron Freeman


Countering Privatization: Defending the Public Sector in an Era of Privatization Run Amok
an interview with Bobby Harnage

Workers at Risk: The Dangers on the Job When the Regulators Don’t Try Very Hard
an interview with Margaret Seminario


Behind the Lines

The Grand Plan

The Front
Biotech Food Fight - Tobacco Treaty Triumph

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

New Zealand's Worst

Tranz Rail is the recipient of the 2002 Roger Award for worst corporation in New Zealand/Aotearoa (Aotearoa is the indigenous Maori name for New Zealand). The Roger is awarded by an independent panel of judges, and is administered by GATT Watchdog and Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA), two activist groups based in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is named after Sir Roger Douglas, a Minister of Finance in New Zealand's 1984-1990 Labor government, which leveled controls on foreign investment in New Zealand.

Tranz Rail is a more than 100-year-old company, which was state run until privatized in the 1980s. "Since privatization," according to the Roger Award judges, "the company has cut staff, services, safety and many corners."

"The record in 2002 is no improvement on past behavior," the committee concluded. "Disregard of the health and safety of both passengers and the few workers who have not been downsized out of the company is an ongoing scandal. Ö The saga never ends. Tranz Rail deserves huge censure, with successive governments' handling of rail little better. The Roger Award 2002 is the least Tranz Rail can expect."

In short, said the judges, "This company has taken a major community asset and run it into the ground over a period of 10 years."

Other finalists for the award were: Carter Holt Harvey, Shell, Sky City Entertainment Group, Telecom (the national telephone provider) and Novartis. Novartis won a Special Spin Award, for the company's involvement in "Corngate," involving the importation into New Zealand of genetically modified sweet corn seeds.

Salvadorans End Strike

Healthcare unions in El Salvador ended a nearly nine-month strike against the government in June, on terms that generally favored the workers.

The healthcare unions had struck over government plans to privatize the country's healthcare system. During the strike, the striking doctors and workers provided only emergency treatment.

The settlement stipulates that the healthcare system must reinstate striking workers, as well as employees who had been dismissed. Workers will receive half of the salaries they would have drawn over the nine months of the strike.

Inter Press Service reports that although the agreement does not include a written promise by the government not to privatize the Salvadoran Social Security Institute (ISSS) -- the striking workers' key demand -- the strike and large protests had already forced the government to withdraw three draft bills to partially privatize the ISSS.

Polls showed most Salvadorans blamed the government for the strike, and sided with the doctors and other workers on strike.

Demonstrations in San Salvador attended by the strikers and their supporters had attracted upwards of 250,000 people. El Salvador's entire population is 6.2 million.

Union leaders hailed not just the outcome of the strike, but their successful efforts to re-energize popular movements and the left. The left-leaning FMLN, which supported the strike, won a plurality of the seats in the national Congress in March elections held during the strike, outdistancing the right-wing ruling party ARENA.

With this strike, "we are sending a message to all of Latin America, to show that it is possible to fight neo-liberalism,'' the secretary-general of the ISSS employees, Ricardo Monge, told Inter Press Service.

The Cost of No Insurance

Considered purely in economic terms, it would pay to provide universal health insurance coverage in the United States.

That is the conclusion of a June report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

Forty-one million people in the United States lack health insurance. The poorer health and earlier death experienced by these uninsured costs the nation between $65 billion to $130 billion every year, according to the Institute of Medicine study.

To capture the hidden costs of uninsurance's effects, the committee which authored the report employed the concept of "health capital" to estimate the value that would be gained if health insurance were extended to all. Health capital represents, in monetary terms, the value of an individual's health over future years of life, and includes the subjective value of being alive and healthy, earning potential, and children's physical and mental development. The differences in health status and life spans between the uninsured and otherwise similar people with coverage represents the value of health capital lost due to being uninsured.

As against the loss to society, the cost of providing care to the uninsured, if they used the same amount and kind of services as the insured, is estimated at between $34 billion to $69 billion.

"By identifying and, where possible, quantifying the economic inefficiencies and losses that stem from having 41 million Americans without health insurance, this report looks at our national health policy within a cost-benefit framework," says Mary Sue Coleman, co-chair of the committee that wrote the report and president of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"Our findings are based on the same approach that federal agencies use to determine whether the benefits of reducing a particular risk or harm justify the costs to society."


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