THE WAGES OF TINSELTOWN

Los Angeles

Film critic John Anderson’s review of Radical Hollywood by Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner [“Screening Our Politics,” Aug. 19/26] shows a conventional disregard of Hollywood labor history. He writes that last year’s threatened strike by the Writers Guild was “largely about credits,” which is only partly true. And that the “secret” 1933 meeting to organize the guild was also “largely over the issue of credits.” (It was secret because the studios used industrial spies to unionbust.) Anderson seems to suggest that it’s all about egos and also, yes, money.

The facts are: My union’s attempts to organize screenwriters into a legitimate fighting force was not one jot different, in spirit, from the efforts by auto, steel and longshore workers in the same period. Perhaps the closest parallel was the Teamsters’ near-impossible (or so it seemed) task of getting independent truck drivers into a single national bargaining unit. It’s a bad idea to trivialize white-collar union work as “merely” about credits when, in Hollywood and TV-land, it was, and is, about wages, health benefits, pensions and the right of a writer to control his or her own work.

CLANCY SIGAL


HOT FLASH ON HORMONES

Berkeley, Calif.

Re “The Women’s Enron” by Sue Woodman [Sept. 2/9]: The pushing of “hormone replacement therapy” (a misnomer, as the most commonly promoted drug was mare hormone, and many hormones foreign to humans) involved much more than simple pharmaceutical industry promotion. I was there.

I celebrated my fiftieth birthday as a medical student in 1989. I was talked into HRT by my internist but stopped after one month when, after some untimely bleeding, the advice was to undergo another endometrial biopsy. Having found the first to be excruciating, I was unwilling to have this surgical procedure without anesthetic and therefore had to have a D&C with general anesthesia, complete with an angry lecture at my bedside by the (female) gynecologist about her preference for an outpatient (unanesthetized) procedure.

I chose HRT as my research topic during my Ob/Gyn medical school rotation. After hearing my report noting the developing evidence linking increased incidence of cancers with HRT, a colleague commented that he would have given a more “scientific” report–a recitation of the current common practice, medications and dosages rather than an assesment of data.

As a middle-aged woman, as a medical student and as a resident physician, I was subjected to strong, punitive pressure to promote HRT. A New York Times article on the recent decision to stop the drug trial included remarks by a woman physician who was chastised for appearing on a panel in which HRT was characterized as at all controversial. That is certainly the political climate in which I found myself. I recall walking out on a medical school lecture when menopause was characterized as “ovarian failure,” a pathologic condition requiring treatment. A noted physician referred in a dismissive way to women who refused to take HRT as “cancerphobic.” (Was he “cancerphilic”?)

An attending physician (read: my boss) remarked that he could not understand why women didn’t want to take HRT. I replied that it seemed they were kind of saying, “It’s just a matter of time before they tell us it causes cancer.” He was enraged, asking how I could say such things. I said because that’s how many women feel, and that’s what the data were showing. He denied that such data existed and said studies showed the drugs to be safe. I replied that I had seen the data and there were no studies on taking the drugs for twenty to forty years, as the drugs had not been available to be studied for that length of time. I challenged him to show me the studies, which of course he could not do.

Certainly HRT was pushed by its makers. But the problem was made more difficult by the authoritarian and nonscientific atmosphere of much US medical practice, and complicated by its sexism and other narrowness of vision.
JUDY BERTELSEN, MD, PhD


Darien, Conn.

Most of the millions of menopausal women who have been prescribed Premarin and Prempro are unaware that these drugs are derived from the urine of pregnant mares tied in narrow stalls for months at a time while their urine is collected. Restrained in a condition of almost total immobility for six months, the mares are unable to stretch, turn around or lie down comfortably. Every fall tens of thousands of foals born to these mares, byproducts of this lucrative industry, are sold to slaughter. There are many synthetic and plant-based alternatives to these drugs. For information go to www.friendsofanimals.org.

PRISCILLA FERAL


ONLY SKIN DEEP…

New York City

In Lauren Sandler’s “Beauty Tips and Politics” [Sept. 2/9] in the context of the “apparent schizophrenia” of today’s women’s magazines–progressive political content alongside traditional messages on the supreme importance of synthetic beauty–my positions and those of the Girls, Women + Media Project were misrepresented. Readers were led to believe that I think “schizophrenic” media are inevitable and that looking deeper into the roots or ramifications is “beside the point”–a phrase I used to detail how dwelling on a litmus test for feminism isn’t particularly helpful.

On the contrary, examining the commercial, social and historical foundations of media content is a central focus of the media-literacy movement and my work with the Girls, Women + Media Project. If pop media were to truly reflect the thoughts and lives of women, we’d see more content questioning restrictive synthetic beauty standards and more women in the media rejecting rigid, unhealthy, expensive ideas about synthetic beauty. And we’d hear of the increasing number of women being enlightened about advertising and entertainment messages (www.mediaandwomen.org).

TAMARA SOBEL


O, TO BE A VEGETARIAN

Point Reyes Station, Calif.

To Eric Schlosser and Karen Olsson’s superb observations on the meatpacking industry [“Bad Meat” and “The Shame of Meatpacking,” Sept. 16] I would add only this. It’s one of the best examples we have of re-emerging monopoly capitalism.

Since 1980 the four largest beef processors in the country–Cargill, ConAgra, Farmland National and Tyson Foods, which last September acquired Iowa Beef Packers, IBP, the largest of them all–have increased their share of the steer and heifer slaughter from 36 percent to 82 percent. And during those same years, they’ve wrangled such a tight grip on cattle markets that their profit margins have soared 233 percent while the price for cattle on the hoof steadily weakened. According to the Department of Agriculture, producers’ share of the retail beef dollar has declined 25 percent since 1975, which translates into $400 per head less at the scales. This while the cost of almost everything else a cattleman needs to survive–fodder, machinery, labor, insurance and medicine–has either doubled or tripled.

Of course the same thing has been happening throughout the agricultural economy, as giant corporations like Archer Daniels Midland gobble up mid-size firms and use their massive buying power to depress the price of harvested food crops. But the meatpacking situation is far worse now than it was at the turn of the last century, when ranchers were at virtual war with the packinghouses, a situation that required White House intervention.

Economic studies of monopolized industries indicate that when a market becomes dominated by fewer than six firms, fair pricing is compromised. So when more than 80 percent of cattle are slaughtered and processed by four large firms, which own up to 35 percent of that cattle, we are inviting monopoly. Here’s how it works.

Very much the way Enron and Dynegy gamed the system in the California energy markets, the four largest packers game the cattle market with captive supplies of anywhere from 20 percent to 35 percent of the preslaughter cattle in the country. By holding a few million steers or hogs over the market every day, packers can keep wholesale prices down. And by joining forces with larger retailers like Wal-Mart, as IBP/Tyson recently did, they can exert a strong influence on retail prices. And who gains the difference between low wholesale and high retail? Not the rancher.

All this is taking place in a much larger spasm of corporate crime and depravity. The last President who was bold enough to attack economic corruption of this magnitude head-on was Teddy Roosevelt, a probusiness Republican. And his most memorable target for reform, we must remember, was the meatpacking industry.

MARK DOWIE


Omaha

I work in Omaha as an official of my union, Local 1140 of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA). I frequently leaflet at the NE Beef plant alongside the UFCW and OTOC organizers. Time did an article on NE Beef (Nov. 9, 1998) and things haven’t changed. People still sometimes have to urinate in their pants because they’re refused permission to use the bathroom. About three years ago the plant shut off the drinking water and sold bottled water in the lunchroom. This is a violation of Part 1910, Code of Federal Regulations: An employer is obligated to supply his employees with potable water. This went on for about two years, until Local 271 filed a complaint with OSHA here in Omaha, and OSHA ordered the drinking water restored.

Another perk that NE Beef gets under state law LB775 is to hold on to state taxes deducted from employees’ paychecks. The employee has to file a return with the company as well as with the state. But the company is known to recruit illegals in Mexico, so how many of them are going to file a return? And what happens to their money? The money is held all year for training, etc.–that is, for legitimate use–but as far as I know the state doesn’t check on this. And knowing the company, I’m sure it’s used to earn interest for themselves.

There are lots of these horror stories. A friend in my union whose wife once worked in a nearby IBP packinghouse says they received a semi truck full of pigs–all dead. They were supposed to only be rendered, not used for food. But the boss told the workers to go ahead and butcher them, and the pigs went into the food chain. Enough to make a vegetarian out of you?

Senator Paul Wellstone has tried to do something about this with S.1102. Why don’t you ask the AFL-CIO why they’re not supporting it? Hell, why they’re not even talking about it? In solidarity,

JOHN BLASINGAME
Local 1140, LIUNA