Union Searches for Growth in Wrong Field

In "Strawberry Fields Become Fresh Union Battleground" (April 16) the balanced approach for which the Monitor is so renowned was sadly missing.

Contrary to the insinuation that growers do not provide fresh water and proper sanitation, California leads the nation in compliance with regulations which have been on the books since the early 1980s. The strawberry industry has the best record of compliance with these rules.

As far as disgruntled workers or low pay are concerned, the vast majority of strawberry workers have rejected union representation not because of threats by the "boss" but because working conditions are good and the pay is superior. Workers average 20 percent or more above the established California minimum, which is higher than the federal minimum.

The AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer's quote says it all: "We needed a national campaign that everybody could buy into. We picked strawberries." This is about money and power, not workers rights. The AFL-CIO needs bodies and dues, especially with president John J. Sweeney spending $6 million- plus during the last election.

The article makes it look as if the workers are so beaten down and misinformed that they are being taken advantage of by the powerful growers! These workers, all US citizens or documented aliens, are informed, well paid, and very skilled at what they do.

As for the growers, with all of the regulations on pesticides, labor laws, the INS and Border Patrol, and the specter of food safety hanging over them, do you really think they are going to mistreat their valued employees and pay them poor wages?

Louis Didier

Yuma, Ariz.

Sweatshop wages will still fall short

Your sanguine editorial "The Sweatshop Code" (April 18) fails to point out fatal flaws in the agreement on sweatshops signed by some industry and human rights groups.

The agreement allows companies to continue to pay minimum wages that are often way below subsistence, instead of requiring that companies pay a living wage. While workers the world over have fought for decades to win a 40-hour week, this agreement allows companies to force workers to work 60 hours a week, and even more under "exceptional business circumstances." And while it calls for the inspection of factories by outside monitors, it allows those monitors to be accounting firms in the company's pay.

This task force's eight-month process demonstrates that we cannot leave the fate of apparel workers in the hands of presidential commissions. To really put an end to sweatshops, we must continue to mobilize public opinion, support struggling factory workers, and pressure abusive corporations until workers at home and abroad are paid living wages and treated with dignity.

Medea Benjamin

San Francisco

Director, Global Exchange

No link between art and money

As an artist, writer, and musician, I found your article "Gingrich & Co. Keep Bead on Arts Endowment" (April 22) provoking an interesting question: Where is the relevance of publicly funded arts projects in any society?

The origin of art lies in everyday life and the individual attempt to bring beauty, harmony, and transcendent meaning to the mundane. Compare this with grandiose projects in the former Soviet Union, where public art was designed to educate the masses into conformity.

Art is not money-dependent, but thrives anywhere a person takes a moment to bring meaning to one's experience. Affluence simply breeds larger art works as the wealthy patronize artists and their projects. I disagree with public funding of the creative spirit. If our government truly finds public good in large, creative endeavors that are relevant to our communities, the best way to encourage them will be to pursue economic policies that foster greater wealth in our communities. Then, let the people determine their own art.

Marie Shih

Coolidge, Ariz.

Your letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed (200 words maximum) to oped@csps.com

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