An Exemption Already? – The Minimum Wage, Samoa, and the DLC

Last night I decided to re-animate Dispatch from the Trenches (see description at right under “About”) at its old site on Blogger. I intended this to be the first new post but true to Blogger form it’s down again so I’m posting it here. *sigh* I guess maybe it would be better if I found a new host….again. (Are they ever going to get it together?)

I think everybody not a millionaire thinks it’s about time the minimum wage got raised to something like a level that at least matches the inflation rate, and all power to the Democrats for finally taking the first step toward that goal. We’ve been waiting a long time.

But this is disturbing.

After years of protection from the likes of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff, employers on the Northern Mariana Islands would finally have to pay workers the federal minimum wage under legislation before the House tomorrow.Democrats have long tried to pull the Northern Marianas under the umbrella of U.S. labor laws, accusing the island government and its industry leaders of coddling sweatshops and turning a blind eye to forced abortions and indentured servitude. But Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist now in federal prison, spent millions of dollars from the island and its business interests currying favor with Republicans, aligning support with conservative interest groups and thwarting every effort to intervene in the Northern Marianas’ economy.

But Republican leadership aides accused the Democrats of using a double standard by imposing the higher minimum wage on a government with a Republican representative to the United States while continuing to exempt a territory with a Democratic delegate. American Samoa and the tuna industry that dominates its economy would remain free to pay wages that are less than half the bill’s mandatory minimum.

I hate – I mean, hate – to agree with Republicans about anything but they’re right about this. There’s no excuse for exempting American Samoa from the new minimum wage law, especially not this one:

[Samoa’s] low-wage canneries have a protector of a different political stripe, Democratic delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, whose campaign coffers have been well stocked by the tuna industry that virtually runs his island’s economy.Faleomavaega has said he does not believe his island’s economy could handle the federal minimum wage, issuing statements of sympathy for a Samoan tuna industry competing with South American and Asian canneries paying workers as little as 66 cents an hour. The message got through to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the minimum-wage bill that included the Marianas but not Samoa, according to committee aides. The aides said the Samoan economy does not have the diversity and vibrancy to handle the mainland’s minimum wage, nor does the island have anything like the labor rights abuses Miller found in the Marianas.

“We can’t afford it” is the standard corporate line every time raising the minimum wage is mentioned and Miller’s aides should be ashamed of themselves for buying into it. Talking out of the other side of his mouth, Faleomavaega himself nailed that one during one of StarKist’s previous successful attempts to prevent a hike.

“StarKist is a billion-dollar-a-year company,” he said after a 2003 meeting with executives from StarKist and parent company Del Monte Foods. “It is not fair to pay a corporate executive $65 million a year while a cannery worker only makes $3.60 per hour.”

Diversity and or “vibrancy” (whatever that is) are irrelevant. StarKist is a giant company and DelMonte is a global conglomerate. The argument that they “can’t afford” to pay a decent wage to their employees is disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. Miller or his staff could and should have shot that out of the water without even bothering to aim. It’s deplorable that they didn’t.

But the second excuse is even worse. Exempting Samoa because it’s not as bad as the Marianas smacks of the right-wing Pinochet/Castro meme (“Maybe Pinochet killed people but Castro killed more people so Pinochet’s alright by us”). As my mother used to say, two wrongs don’t make a right, and even Democrats ought to know that.

This is your friendly neighborhood Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the corporate wing of the party, in action. StarKist (and, presumably, DelMonte) is a big-time contributor to the Democrats, so they can buy the legislation they want just as if they were dealing with corrupt Republicans and the workers can take a flying leap into the drink for all the Democrats care.

This may seem like a trivial matter. After all, Samoa is a small island waaaaay out there in the Pacific, and why should we give a shit? First, it certainly isn’t trivial to StarKist’s underpaid employees, and second, it’s a very grave sign that the Democrats, despite all their high-flown rhetoric, are going to be just as unresponsive to the needs of workers when those needs conflict with corporate greed as the Republicans have been and for the same reason: they’re guarding corporate campaign contributions. That’s been the function of the DLC from the moment of its inception, and as long as they remain in control of the party, the Democrats will never be more than a somewhat less lethal version of the GOP.

3 responses to “An Exemption Already? – The Minimum Wage, Samoa, and the DLC

  1. Pingback: The Medicare Drug Bill: Democrats Fold « Dispatch from the Trenches

  2. I’m ditrurbed by this too. But I have to point out that it isn’t a matter of a Democratic representative getting preference over a Republican one.
    The Marianas have no elected delegate to the congress, just a lobby paid for by the garment industry, and no minimum wage and no labor laws.
    Samoa on the other hand has an elected delegate who is on record as being opposed to raising the samoan minimum wage, which is already set by a federal review board and adjusted periodically, to the US minimum.
    I’m not sure what should be done about Samoa in particular, but the bill as a whole is a step in the right direction.

  3. Hmmm. Two things:

    1)The Samoan delegate is against the US govt raising the minimum wage; at the same time, he’s for raising StarKist’s wage structure – which is far below the old minimum wage, let alone the new one – a structure he characterized as unfair.

    2. …the samoan minimum wage, which is already set by a federal review board and adjusted periodically, to the US minimum.

    No, it isn’t. That’s what the new exemption is for – to replace the old exemption that allowed Samoan wages to be below the national standard, the exemption a Republican Congress gave them 12 years ago.

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