Corporate Shell Game

Opponents of plans to expand corporate power were celebrating the apparent impasse in negotiations on the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) in Paris, only to see elements of the investment liberalization proposal crop up in other bills and trade accords.

MAI, a project of the secretive Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suffered a blow in March when the European Parliament urged its member nations to oppose the pact, which was supposed to be unveiled at the end of April.

But the House passed a bill on sub-Saharan Africa trade (HR 1432) which has some elements of MAI in it, according to free trade critics. Senate action is expected to gear up in May.

There also is an effort to extend the reach of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from trade to investment. The Senate's supplemental appropriations bill for emergency disaster relief included language that would support the IMF's attempt to obligate its 180 member countries to remove all barriers to international capital flows. This would preclude any country from protecting its economy by taking measures against speculative capital. "What's more," said Brent Blackwelder, chairman of the Citizens Trade Campaign, "it would take important national decision-making authority out of the hands of elected officials and hand it to the unelected international bureaucrats at the IMF."

Rep. Ron Klink (D-PA) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL, chair of Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade) have proposed an amendment that would condition IMF funding on the U.S. Treasury's certification that it vote against any change in the IMF's charter in favor of capital account liberalization. The U.S. has effective veto power of IMF action.

There is also some concern that if the OECD fails to complete the MAI, the World Trade Organization may adopt similar multilateral investment rules for WTO members. If adopted, investment rules would automatically bind its 132 industrialized and underdeveloped member-nations.

Oakland OKs Living Wage

Passage of an ordinance in Oakland, Calif., requiring companies doing business with the city to pay a "living wage'' has organizers figuring out where to take their campaign next, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The Oakland City Council voted unanimously March 24 to adopt the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance -- a mandate that businesses receiving service contracts or subsidies from the city pay their workers at least $8 an hour with benefits, or $9.25 without. Oakland became the 17th city nationwide to enact such a law.

Organizers of the campaign -- a coalition of labor and community groups and churches -- say the idea is sure to spread. Organizers are discussing initiatives in San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley, Fremont and Hayward.

"Every time one of these passes, the buzz moves across the country and it becomes an inspiration to other cities,'' the Chronicle quoted Jen Kern, a spokeswoman with the national office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which spearheaded the movement.

Oakland's ordinance is considered one of the strongest in the nation. It requires companies doing more than $25,000 a year in business with the city or receiving more than $100,000 in subsidies to pay workers substantially above the state minimum wage of $5.75 an hour. It is expected to benefit as many as 400 workers.

Businesses with fewer than five employees and nonprofit organizations are exempt. The requirement also does not apply to businesses in the private sector.

Indy Politics Summit Set

National Independent Politics Summit/98 is set for the weekend of June 12-14 at Laney Community College in Oakland, Calif. "We must build, from the bottom up and over a protracted period of time, an alternative to both the Republicans and the Democrats," said Ted Glick, national coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network.

For more information call the IPPN, P.O. Box 170610, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11217; phone 718-624-7807; email ippn@people-link.com; website www.ippn.org.

Graduates Pledge Responsbility

In 1987, Humboldt State University in California initiated the Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility for its graduates. The pledge states: "I pledge to investigate and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job opportunity I consider." Since that time, dozens of colleges and universities have enacted that pledge, which allows students to define what "responsible" means to them.

Manchester College in Indiana now coordinates the effort, which has taken different forms at different institutions. At Manchester, it is a community-wide event coordinated by a diverse committee. For more information write GPA, MC Box 135, Manchester College, North Manchester, IN 46962; email Neil Wollman at NJW@Manchester.edu; or see the website at www.manchester.edu.

Slander Suit Slaps Prof

ACornell University labor professor has been named in a lawsuit claiming that she defamed the nation's largest nursing home company. Beverly Enterprises Inc., which operates more than 700 nursing homes, said Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner defamed it last year when she said at a town meeting in Pittsburgh that her research on anti-union tactics showed Beverly was "one of the nation's most notorious labor-law violators." In addition to $225,000 in damages sought, Beverly demands, in the pretrial discovery process, that Bronfenbrenner turn over details of more than a decade of research, including confidential interviews with union organizers and workers. More than 500 professors from around the country have rallied to her side in defense of academic freedom and free speech.

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