Multinational Monitor

SEP/OCT 2005
VOL 26 No. 9


The Storm This Time: A Personal Account of the Natural and Unnatural Disaster in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina
by David Helvarg

Disaster Profiteering: The Flood of Crony Contracting Following Hurricane Katrina
by Charlie Cray

Between Soldiers and Bombs: Iraq's Fledgling Labor Movement
by David Bacon

Takeover Inn Argentina: Argentina's Worker-Run Cooperative Movement
by Aaron Freeman


The Human Engineering of Catastrophe: Coastal Maldevelopment and Katrina's Wrath
An Interview with Mark Davis

The Soul of New Orleans: Asseting Rights of Low- and Moderate-Income Families in Hurricane Reconstruction
An Interview with Tanya Harris

Restoring the Gulf: An Ecological Agenda
An Interview with Cynthia Sarthou


Behind the Lines

Exploiting Disaster

The Front
Fake Debarment

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Gun Makers Get Off

The U.S. gun industry will be able to get off scot-free, thanks to legislation signed by President Bush in October.

The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act gives gun manufacturers effective immunity from lawsuits over harms caused by their products. Under the bill, victims of gun violence would only be able to sue gun makers if they sold a weapon knowing it would be used to commit a crime.

The bill also intends to end litigation by cities against gun manufacturers for negligent distribution of everything from pistols to assault rifles, and to make the industry pay for the resulting harm.

The House of Representatives passed the bill by a 283-144 margin in October. The Senate had passed the bill 65-31 in July. The big margin of passage, and the significant support obtained from Democrats, is viewed as a testament to the reemergent political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The rifle association gloated over its victory.

“History will show that this law helped save the American firearms industry from collapse under the burden of these ruinous and politically motivated lawsuits,” says Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president.

“We worked hard to change the political landscape to pass this landmark legislation,” says Chris Cox, NRA’s chief lobbyist. “As always, our members were up for the task. Key electoral victories in 2000, 2002 and 2004 helped pave passage of this law.”

Gun control advocates say the bill will leave people less safe. “All Americans now have a little less protection from wrongdoing than we had before, and a little less freedom to seek justice,” says Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We are all less safe from the dangers posed by irresponsible gun companies. We are all diminished by this craven act.”

India On Strike

Challenging the government’s move to more market liberalization, Indian workers in September walked off the job in a one-day general strike joined by millions. Union organizers claimed as many as 60 million workers participated in the strike.

The Indian government under the Congress Party has pushed a market-based program that is pleasing foreign investors and much of the national business class, but upsetting the working class and rural voters that put the current coalition in power.

“We have put them on warning. We are just telling them that at times you forget you are in a coalition. They forget the opinions of the working class,” Tapan Sen, national secretary of the Center of Indian Trade Unions, which convened small unions to join the strike nationwide, told the International Herald Tribune. “They must reverse this policy of neoliberal globalization. They must promote a self-reliant development program.”

The demands of the striking workers covered a range of concerns, including price hikes for gasoline and diesel fuel; moves to privatize various government operations, including airports in Delhi and Mumbai; and efforts to roll back workers’ legal protections relating to employment conditions.

NYC: Mandatory Healthcare

New York City’s large grocers will be required to provide health insurance for their employees, following a New York City Council 40-2 vote in October to override a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The Health Care Security Act will take effect in July 2006, and will require grocers with more than 35 employees, or other retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of food products, to provide insurance coverage for their workers. The employers are given flexibility over how they provide coverage, but they must contribute an amount equal to what large employers currently providing insurance do — roughly $2.50 to $3.00 an hour.

The bill had gained the support not only of worker advocates, but of more than 100 employers and trade associations from across the city, including major supermarket chains such as Fairway, Gristedes, D’Agostinos, Key Food and Pathmark.

“When my competitors drop healthcare for their workers, they’re not only hurting their employees, they’re hurting mine,” said John Catsimatidis, CEO of Gristedes, after the bill first passed the City Council in September. “If I have to compete with low-road, cost-cutting employers like Wal-Mart, it’s going to be hard for me to continue to provide my employees with the care they deserve.”

Proponents of the bill say the law will expand healthcare for up to 6,000 employees in the grocery industry and protect coverage for 21,000 employees now receiving healthcare through their employers.

“The Health Care Security Act is a practical response by New York to the costs that low-wage, no-benefits jobs impose on our communities,” says Paul Sonn, deputy director of the Poverty Program at the Brennan Center at NYU School of Law. Sonn and others emphasized that workers without private insurance often are forced to rely on the public health system, meaning employers have effectively shifted the burden of providing insurance to taxpayers.

Bloomberg said he vetoed the bill because it was preempted by federal law. A legal challenge on preemption grounds is likely.


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