Sunday, April 17, 2005

DeLay's Golden Oldies

Considering the focus being leveled at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay right now regarding his fondness for junkets with lobbyist Jack Abramaoff, it might be worthwhile to revisit one of the previous incidents involving such a trip, uncovered by Jeff Stein for Salon back in 1999, describing garment factories in Saipan that are more slave dens than manufacturing plants:
Wages in the factories average about $3 per hour -- more than $2 less than the U.S. minimum wage of $5.15. No overtime is paid for a 70-hour work week. But that's hardly the worst of it. Far away from the swank beachside hotels, luxurious golf courses and the thousands of Japanese tourists snorkling around sunken U.S. Navy landing craft in the clear waters, some 31,000 textile workers live penned up like cattle by armed soldiers and barbed wire, and squeezed head to toe into filthy sleeping barracks, all of which was documented on film by U.S. investigators last year.

The unhappy workers cannot just walk away, either: Like Appalachian coal miners a generation ago, they owe their souls to the company store, starting with factory recruiters, who charge Chinese peasants as much as $4,000 to get them out of China and into a "good job" in "America." Their low salaries make it nearly impossible to buy back their freedom. And so they stay. The small print in their contracts forbids sex, drinking -- and dissent

The Clinton administration was moving to change these conditions when DeLay and Abramoff sprang into action:
Enter Tom DeLay and his Texas Republican sidekick, Dick Armey. When the Clinton administration sought to yank Saipan's factories into the 20th century in 1994, requiring the workers be paid a minimum wage, overtime and their living conditions improved, the island government hired a platoon of well-connected Washington lobbyists, headed by former DeLay aide Jack Abramoff, to block the plan. Abramoff, in turn, personally or through his family, contributed $18,000 to DeLay's campaign coffers. So far, the island government has paid the firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds $4 million for their efforts, records show. They also treated DeLay and Armey to trips to the island, where they played golf, snorkled and made whirlwind visits to factories especially spiffed up for the occasion, according to several accounts.

"Even though I have only been here for 24 hours, I have witnessed the economic success of the Marianas," DeLay told a banquet crowd. As for the critics of the plantation system, DeLay told the dinner crowd darkly, "You are up against the forces of big labor and the radical left."

Right. Unlike the workers in Saipan, who merely are up against the forces of big money and the radical right. But then, the same is true of American workers.

And if you go through the catalog of DeLay/Abramoff scandals, you'll see that the identical alignment is at work in each of the instances of lawbreaking behavior by the Republican power cadre. (Indeed, the Marianas lobbying has become one of the focal points of the Justice Department investigations.)

DeLay's scandals are part of a larger pattern of abuse of ordinary working people in defense of moneyed interests. That probably needs pointing out.

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