Max Fraser writes: The United Food and Commercial Workers’ “Justice at Smithfield” campaign, joined by labor, community and immigrant rights groups and religious leaders, staged a noontime demonstration at the corporate offices of Smithfield Foods in midtown Manhattan recently. The rally was an attempt to bring the meatpacking firm’s abusive treatment of its nonunion workforce to the attention of New York consumers. Smithfield workers described dangerous and unhealthy conditions and illegal unionbusting at the company’s Tar Heel, North Carolina, facility [see Eric Schlosser, “Hog Hell,” Sept. 11]. New York labor leaders endorsed putting a resolution before the City Council to discourage city supermarkets from stocking products from the Tar Heel plant. Organizers entered the Smithfield building with a letter for chairman Joseph Luter III suggesting he “do the right thing” or face the possibility that New York consumers would find Smithfield products “distasteful”–only to discover company officials had decided, after the demonstration began, to take a long weekend. Smithfield’s anti-unionism makes even more troubling a recent NLRB decision reversing a judge’s order that Smithfield bargain with the UFCW at its Wilson, North Carolina, plant–and Smithfield’s recent purchase of Premium Standard Farms, giving it control of more than 30 percent of the US pork industry and a North Carolina monopoly.
SLAVERY REPARATIONS UPDATE
John Friedman writes: At a recent hearing before the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, attorneys for slave descendants asked a three-judge panel to send their slavery reparations suit back for a further hearing to the US district court. A judge there had dismissed it last year, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired and that the plaintiffs had no legal standing. The twenty plaintiffs include Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the attorney who first uncovered a corporate link to slavery, and Cain Wall, a 108-year-old man who was enslaved on plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana from birth until his escape in the 1960s. More than fifteen defendants are named in the class-action lawsuit, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Absent at the hearing in Chicago was Judge Ann Claire Williams, the only African-American on the court. She had recused herself, according to a court clerk. The plaintiffs’ lawyers asked the all-white, all-male panel to disqualify itself and were told to file a formal motion. Williams refused to comment.
FAIR TURNS 20
John Nichols and Robert McChesney write: When Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting was founded twenty years ago, the conservative crusade to paint an increasingly consolidated and homogenized corporate media as somehow “left wing” had been advancing for the better part of a decade. Editors were pulling their punches in order to avoid the “liberal” label, and the pressure to dumb down the news in order to avoid controversy was already being felt. Worst of all, citizens were starting to accept the lie that journalism that failed to compliment right-wingers was “biased.” FAIR fought back with the truth, exposing the conservative biases of most media, as well as the collapse of serious investigative journalism and the declining coverage of working families and communities of color. FAIR’s critique helped millions of Americans recognize what would become the crisis of contemporary media, an awareness that laid the essential groundwork for the independent-media and media-reform movements that are now challenging the corporate stranglehold on our communications. As FAIR celebrates its anniversary, we salute a pioneering group that is even more necessary in this age of 24/7 news cycles, warped news judgment and Bush spin. (FAIR will hold a benefit October 12 at Cooper Union, 7 E. 7th Street, in New York City. Barbara Ehrenreich will speak. Tickets: $20 or $50. Info: www.fair.org or call 800-838-3006.)
David W. Moore writes: This summer the House broke ranks with the President by refusing to “stay the course” on at least one aspect of the Iraq War. When France refused to support US war efforts in March 2003, the House renamed french fries and french toast sold in its cafeterias “freedom fries” and “freedom toast.” That action was ordered by GOP Representative Bob Ney, then chair of the Administration Committee, responsible for the House cafeterias. But this past July, those same cafeterias quietly reverted to the original names. The Washington Times suggested the change reflected shifts in public opinion, but in fact the public always disagreed with the renaming. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll at the time found two-thirds of Americans considered the new terminology “silly”; only 15 percent would actually say “freedom fries.” A shift in leadership may better account for the word change: Representative Vernon Ehlers of Michigan replaced Ney as the committee chair, because of Ney’s close ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The New York Times opined that Ehlers may be “more sensible” about cafeteria policy. It said nothing about how sensible Ehlers might be about US policy in Iraq.
Awardees: Victor Navasky has won this year’s Ann M. Sperber Biography Award for his memoir A Matter of Opinion. Administered by Fordham University, the prize is given annually to the best biography or autobiography of a journalist. Eyal Press’s Absolute Convictions was honored with the Anne Fisher Champion of Choice Award by NARAL at its Fifteenth Annual National Power of Choice Luncheon. Mark Hertsgaard received an Open Society Institute Katrina Media Fellowship to examine the differing impact of global warming on whites and nonwhites in New Orleans, Miami and Calcutta. Two Nation columnists currently have books in the better stores. Katha Pollitt’s Virginity or Death! contains eighty-four of her columns that appeared in these pages between 2001 and 2006, preserving her sharp take on issues that still engage us. Gary Younge, who appears monthly in The Nation, has a paperback edition of his Stranger in a Strange Land: Encounters in the Disunited States just out. Patricia J. Williams’s “Diary of a Mad Law Professor” column will also be appearing monthly.