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April 2001 (Volume 52, Number 11)

» Notes from the Editors
April 2001 (Volume 52, Number 11)
A note to MR readers from Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff:

It was just over a year ago that we asked John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney to serve as acting co-editors of Monthly Review, with a view to having four co-editors. Although Foster and McChesney were naturals for undertaking this responsibility—they are longtime MR contributors and MR Press authors—the type of collegiality necessary to make a publication like MR tick is delicate and difficult to predict. We therefore thought it desirable that they be “acting” co-editors, to provide for a trial period. In the past year we have worked together in a truly collective way, published some of our best issues, and circulation has grown at a rapid pace. In addition to political economy and socialist education, John and Bob have opened MR up to new areas where we are now on the cutting edge. John is among the three or four leading environmental sociologists, and Bob holds similar distinction as a media and communications scholar. Moreover, both John and Bob have been active in radical movements for much of the past two decades. There is a lot of ballyhoo nowadays about public intellectuals. In John and Bob we have two of the very best of the breed. To top it off, they are genuinely warm and loving individuals with whom everyone enjoys working. MR’s morale has not been this high in a very long time. We are thus happy to announce that these two younger friends and colleagues are joining us as permanent—no longer “acting”—co-editors of Monthly Review.

Last June in this space we wrote of the student protests at universities and colleges across the country aimed at getting their schools to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) based in New York. The WRC was established by the United Students Against Sweatshops to monitor the conditions under which university-licensed goods are produced and sold by such companies as Nike, Reebok, Disney, and the Gap. On January 24, 2001, the WRC issued preliminary findings and recommendations on its investigation of a formal written complaint by workers at the Kukdong apparel factory in Atlixco, in the state of Puebla, Mexico. The Kukdong factory produces apparel for Nike under licensing agreements between Nike and WRC-affiliated universities. The same factory also produces apparel for Reebok.

The investigation by the WRC revealed a long list of abuses by management at the Kukdong factory, including refusal to reinstate workers following a January 9-11 work stoppage. The WRC’s preliminary findings indicated that “Kukdong managers and supervisors have committed, and continue to commit, sporadic acts of physical assault and verbal abuse against workers. These acts range from physical assaults such as blows by hammer and screwdriver, to slaps on the front and back of workers’ heads, to screaming of racial epithets and obscenities. (This fact was admitted by Kukdong managers, although managers disagreed with workers about the frequency and severity of the physical and verbal assaults.)” As Mark Barenberg, a Columbia University law professor who led the WRC investigation, is quoted as saying in an Associated Press dispatch: “The general manager [of the factory] himself volunteered information about one manager hitting a worker with a hammer”(Eugene Register-Guard, January 28, 2001).

Other WRC findings reveal that: (1) children thirteen to fifteen years old are employed for workdays of nine to ten hours; (2) many workers in the plant are paid below the minimum wage required by Mexican law for the occupation of seamstress, putting a worker with one dependent “below the commonly recognized line of ‘extreme poverty’” (3) workers had developed rashes, fevers and stomach disorders after eating rancid meat and other unhealthy food in the factory cafeteria; (4) workers were routinely locked inside the company gates during their lunch breaks; (5) five supervisory workers involved in the formation of a non-company union were dismissed from their jobs, with grounds for their dismissals asserted post hoc by management; (6) police had beaten workers who during the work stoppage had occupied the outdoor patio lying between the factory building and the fence surrounding the factory compound; and (7) Kukdong had refused to reinstate most workers who had participated in the January 9-11 work stoppage.

What is clear to us is that these conditions, some of which have already been confirmed by Kukdong factory management, would not have been revealed at all, or become a public issue, if university students had not organized the United Students Against Sweatshops and created the WRC as an independent monitoring agency. The fact that such investigations are taking place thus represents a victory for the anti-globalization movement—one which we hope will translate into both better conditions for workers and a growing movement of international solidarity in resisting capital.

Our comrades of the Black Radical Congress have launched a campaign to resist the police state that lies just beneath the facade of U.S. democracy. To start the campaign, the BRC is circulating an Anti-Police Brutality and Misconduct Petition. The petition, in a form intended for the gathering of signatures, can be downloaded from http://www.blackradicalcongress.org. We welcome this initiative, and will be gathering some signatures ourselves.

Boston-area readers of MR may be interested in a study group discussing Daniel Singer’s important work Whose Millennium? Theirs or Ours?. For more information call (617) 731-8725.

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