The Hightower Report

Get ready for the sweatshop tsunami; and Congress gives itself a raise


SOLD OUT TO THE WTO

Get ready for the storm surge. I don't mean the floodwaters from the horrific hurricanes that have been battering our country, but the surge of clothing and textiles flooding into our land from China, drowning what remains of our own industry and wiping out entire American communities.

But don't blame the Chinese. Such U.S. retailers as Wal-Mart, Gap, and Nike led the rush to China years ago to build that country's now-booming textile industry on the backs of dirt-cheap labor – including sweatshops, child labor, and forced labor. It was these same corporations that pushed U.S. politicians to go along with creation of the sovereignty-busting outfit called the World Trade Organization. The secretive, autocratic WTO, based in Geneva, has established global corporate rule over our jobs, farms, environment, food ... and even our laws.

If, for example, we pass quotas and other laws to ensure the economic well-being of our textile families and towns, the manufacturers in China can run to the WTO and overrule our laws. This, in essence, is what has happened, and next year, our clothing and textile markets will be thrown wide open to a tsunami of Chinese-produced goods. American families stand to lose 600,000 more manufacturing jobs as a result. Meanwhile, in China, workers are not benefiting – wages are reported to be falling even as productivity rises, and Wal-Mart, Gap, Nike, and the rest laugh all the way to the bank.

Now, in this political year, the politicians are scrambling, putting out all sorts of hot rhetoric to try to cover the fact that they are the ones who opened the gates with their blind support of the WTO. Feebly, the Bush White House is reduced to pleading with Chinese officials to voluntarily restrict their clothing exports to the U.S. No, say Chinese officials, noting that to do so would be "a breach of the WTO."

Our own corporate and political leaders are the ones who've sold America out to the WTO.


WHO NEEDS A PAY RAISE?

I bring you tidings of great joy! At last, our Congress critters have done something tangible to lift people up from the economic doldrums we're in. They've raised wages in America!

You're not silly enough to think for a moment that congress would raise your wages, are you? No, no, Nanette – for the past several years they've kept the minimum wage in our country stuck at the paltry poverty level of $5.15 an hour. It's their wages that they've just raised.

Again. By "again," I refer to the fact that this is the sixth pay hike that our lawmakers have bestowed upon themselves in the past six years. This time, the members will pocket an extra $4,000 each, raising their gross pay to about $162,000 a year.

Of course, congressional leaders don't do such dirty work directly. Instead, these steady increases (now totaling some $25,000 over the last six years) have come surreptitiously. Each year, an automatic congressional increase is tucked deep inside the mammoth appropriations bill for the Treasury Department – a bill that always passes. So members always get a raise ... unless they choose to deny themselves by specifically voting to remove the automatic hike. Thus far, they've shown remarkable restraint in this regard.

One bold and admirable member who keeps trying to say no to this help-yourself dip into the taxpayer's gravy is Jim Matheson, Democrat of Utah. Again, this year, Matheson called for a vote on the $4,000 increase. But, by a tally of 235 to 170, his colleagues rejected his procedural motion – thus avoiding even having to cast a direct public vote on their money grab.

At a time when the wages of average Americans have fallen in terms of buying power, and when our middle-class jobs are being offshored, it's good to know whose side your Congress critter is on. To learn how your member of Congress voted on Matheson's attempt at honesty, call Taxpayers for Common Sense at 800/TAXPAYER.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work – and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown – visit www.jimhightower.com. You can hear his radio commentaries on KOOP Radio, 91.7FM, weekdays at 10:58am and 12:58pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

China, Wal-Mart, Gap, Nike, World Trade Organization, WTO, sweatshops, child labor, forced labor, Congress, pay raises, Jim Matheson, Treasury Department

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