Joe Kenehan Center

Friday, September 06, 2002
How the Sausage Gets Made

The paperback edition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation continues to sell briskly, so obviously at least some Americans are concerned about where their Big Macs come from.

This article from last week’s Nation profiles the fight by packinghouse workers in Pasco, Washington and Amarillo, Texas to have a say in slaughtering animals humanely and safely.

Maria Martinez, an IBP worker in Pasco who led a strike at her plant and then was elected president of her Teamster local, explains how a safer workplace for workers allows them to process meat more safely for consumers. That's one good reason why all of us meat eaters should support these workers.

Wednesday, September 04, 2002
Cato’s Worst Nightmare

California’s disastrous experiment with energy deregulation has gotten the lion’s share of media attention, but other Western states like Montana haven’t fared much better.

Several years ago, Montana’s old-school power company -- which for years had simply provided reliable, reasonably-priced power under prudent public oversight -- decided to bet it all on the deregulation casino. A compliant legislature agreed to let Montana Power sell off its hydro dams to out-of-state companies, who proceeded to jack up prices.

Given that Montana’s economy is already sputtering, higher power costs have hurt working families, ranchers, and small business.

Now Montanans might vote to re-regulate their hydroelectric infrastructure. If the ruggedly conservative voters of Montana are seriously considering a plan to socialize their power system, the Cato Institute has to be getting worried.

Working Class TV

Over at the seeingtheforest blog, the forester notes how rare it is for the mainstream media to focus on working class and union issues.

Matt Witt, a writer and editor who has worked for a number of unions, had this to say about the lack of working class voices in the media in a op-ed piece that originally appeared in the Baltimore Sun in 1999.

Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Sizing Up Boeing’s Competition

Supposedly, Europe is doomed to certain economic collapse because of its unions. Even many American liberals believe that because Western Europe’s strong labor movement imposes “rigid” work rules and “exhorbitant” demands on European industries, it’s all but impossible for the Euros to compete.

So how on earth does Airbus even make it out of bed in the morning?

Here in Seattle, the outcome of chaotic contract negotiations between Boeing assembly workers and the company will be a huge factor in the direction of our local economy.

Boeing has thrown down a take or leave it contract, insisting that vicious competition from Airbus requires it to ratchet down labor costs. To compete with Airbus, it says it simply must move more and more production to low-wage markets like China and Indonesia.

But according to the conventional wisdom, Boeing should already be running circles around Airbus. As shown on this map, Airbus produces its airplanes in “entrepreneurially stagnant” areas like Northern Germany -- somehow overcoming the high wages, high social taxes, and strong regulation that characterize European social democracy.

Yes, European countries subsidize Airbus, but it’s not like Uncle Sam hasn’t been willing to help out Boeing.

The reality is that Airbus is indeed challenging Boeing. But it’s hard to believe that Boeing’s labor costs are what’s holding it back.

Bill Virgin, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s business columnist, is not a fan of unions, but even he can see the contradictions of Boeing's arguments.

(By the way, has anyone compared how Boeing’s executives are compensated in comparison to Airbus’ honchos? I remember when Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler that Daimler’s German executives where stunned when they learned how much Chrysler's top management was getting paid.)

Wellstone and the Greens

Another reason to support Paul Wellstone for Senate is that he’s actually trying to build a campaign the right way, by relying on volunteers, grassroots campaigning, and participation -- not just an endless blitz of TV ads. Harold Meyerson reports on the Wellstone campaign from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, including an up close look at the Greens’ infantile campaign against Wellstone.

Micah Sifry, who is an articulate supporter of building a third party, checks in on the Greens and admits that the Minnesota Greens' attack on Wellstone is not a sensible stategy for the party.

By the way, if you haven’t given money to Wellstone yet, you should.

A Health Care Candidate?

Andy Stern, the president of SEIU, appeared on CNN’s Capital Gang over the Labor Day weekend and spoke warmly of Vermont Gov. Harold Dean’s efforts to discuss health care reform in the early presidential campaign: "basically because he's talking about universal health care . . . This is going to be a campaign about issues, and I think Howard Dean's taken a good start on it."

Actually Existing Privatization

The privatization of public services isn’t just a theory anymore. For the past several decades, American governments at every level have experimented with turning a wide range of public services over to for-profit corporations.

It’s time to look at the results. The West Coast’s experience dealing with the Enron-driven manipulation of California’s energy markets shows how dangerous to put our power supply in the hands of guys like Andy Fastow.

What about schools? This Slate piece highlights the disastrous performance of Edison, a private corporation conservatives insisted would be able to quickly and easily solve all the problems facing public schools in troubled urban neighborhoods.

Splitting the House of Labor

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports on the Rove/Bush White House’s efforts to woo Doug McCarron and the Carpenters Union.

Gimme Retirement

An appropriately savage indictment of the Rolling Stones' feckless new tour. Your editor’s first major rock concert was the Who’s “farewell” tour (the 1989 version). Even as a rock concert rookie I remember feeling that something seemed missing. Like actual passion or commitment to the music.

By the way, Daltrey and Townsend have come under far too little criticism for pushing on with a similarly pointless tour just days after Jon Entwistle died.

Happy Labor Day

Your editor started the workers’ holiday at the King County Labor Council picnic and then moved on to Bumbershoot -- Seattle’s Labor Day weekend arts festival -- to witness blistering, gorgeous early afternoon sets from The Minus 5 and Wilco.

Later highlights from today: a lovely set in the rain from The Mekons, including an anti-Thatcher anthem they wrote during the 1984-1985 miners’ strike.

The Gourds were fantastic as usual. I was almost dismayed to see them give in to the shouters and play "Gin N' Juice" as the last encore, but their Snoop Dogg cover really is hard to resist. Tonight’s version featured improvised nods to Britney, Lou Reed, and Willie Nelson.

Speaking of outdoor music festivals, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney provides a thoughtful little essay about how playing these shows feels as a performer.

(Also: I officially call bullshit on lame radio stations hanging their banners at festival stages and sending out their DJs to give cheesy DJ welcomes to bands that they never, ever actually play on their stations.)

Upticks In The Numbers

Various Labor Day polls confirm what should be obvious: in the post-Enron economy, workers are less trusting of executives and more in favor of joining a union. The number of workers who would “join a union tomorrow” is at the highest mark in decades.

Let Them Play, Let Them Get Paid

The MLBPA settled without a strike, and supposedly mobs of vigilante fans were going to brutalize the ballplayers if they hadn’t given in. Clumsy, almost non-sensical anti-player sentiments ran deep on the sports radio I caught last week.

This piece in The New York Times provides a little perspective on “playing for the love of the game.”

My Advice? Join A Union

A restaurant worker whose bosses are pocketing his tips wonders about the ethics of the situation. The New York Times magazine’s ethics columnist admits that there’s little that a single employee can do to fight back without joining together with his or her co-workers in a union.