Two Nice Guys

Did you read the excerpts from Rebecca Clarren’s article about near-slave labour in the Mariana islands and the sterling work Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff did to block all legislative attempts to reform the situation? That’s the far right for you, revealed in all its squalid glory – peel away all the heavy breathing about culture of life and family values and Christian nation, and what you find is the reality: destitute Asian women worked practically to death for execrable wages and in execrable conditions while fat prosperous happy safe white men collect huge payments to bribe each other and take each other on junkets all in aid of preventing those overworked underpaid Asian women from being paid the minimum wage. It’s bottomlessly disgusting.

30,000 “guest workers” — predominately women — from China, the Philippines and Thailand sew clothing for top-name American brands, which are then allowed to label them “Made in USA” because the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a U.S. territory. But workers in these factories are not covered by U.S. minimum-wage and immigration laws. Coming from rural villages and the big-city slums of poor Asian countries, these garment workers arrive in Saipan with a huge financial debt, having borrowed money (at interest rates as high as 20 percent) to pay recruiters as much as $7,000 for a one-year contract job. In a situation akin to indentured servitude, workers cannot earn back their recruitment fee and pay for housing and food without working tremendous hours of overtime…Abramoff and his team brought in nearly $11 million in fees from the Northern Marianas government and Saipan garment manufacturers to block congressional efforts to raise the minimum wage and eliminate the islands’ exemptions from U.S. immigration laws. His efforts focused on the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over U.S. territories. And he also cultivated powerful allies in the House leadership — notably Tom DeLay, who, as Majority Whip at the time, could keep a bill off the House floor even if the Resources Committee voted in its favor.

Could, and did. And then apparently slept well at night. A pretty picture, is it not? Powerful rich men keeping powerless poor women in wretched grinding poverty, because they’ve been paid to do so.

Update: Terri Gross interviewed Rebecca Clarren, the reporter who wrote the story, and Katherine Spillar, the editor who commissioned it, on Fresh Air last Tuesday. They say more about DeLay’s work to block legislation than appears in the extracts at Alternet and TomPaine. I’d link to the full article but it appears not to be online. The interview is pretty gripping.

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