Hey Starkist, tell 'em Nancy sends ya
Dems say wage bill soon will include U.S. territories
By The Associated Press
Fending off charges of favoritism, House Democrats said a minimum-wage bill passed last week will be changed to cover all U.S. territories — including American Samoa — before it reaches President Bush's desk.The view from Kansas is this:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she has instructed the House Education and Labor Committee to help change the bill. Her statement Friday followed accusations from Republicans a day earlier that American Samoa, which is not now covered by the $5.15-an-hour federal minimum wage, was not included in the law raising the federal pay floor to $7.25 an hour because StarKist has a large cannery in the island chain. StarKist is owned by Del Monte Foods, which has its headquarters in San Francisco, Pelosi's district.
Once shielded, Northern Marianas Islands included in minimum-wage increases
By David Whitney
A week after they took control of Congress, the Democrats are already dismantling the work of disgraced and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, beginning on the far side of the Pacific Ocean.
Low wages and easy immigration to the Northern Marianas from China, the Philippines and elsewhere drew cheap labor for foreign-owned factories. They were allowed to sell their low-cost clothing, shoes and other products with "Made in the U.S.A." labels duty-free in the United States.
The United States captured the islands from Japan during World War II and administered them under a U.N. mandate until 1978, when they became a U.S. commonwealth.
The Northern Marianas' 1976 Commonwealth Covenant with the U.S. government exempted the islands - the largest are Saipan, Tinian and Rota - from federal immigration and import laws. It also set a lower minimum wage in an effort to spur economic growth for the islands' 82,000 people.
"There will be a human toll to this," said Malinda Matson, chief of staff in the territory's Washington office. "A dollar-fifty in a year is too fast an increase. A lot of people are going to suffer. The only social program we have is food stamps."
"It's sad," said Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., once a close friend of Abramoff's and an ally in the fight against raising wages in the Northern Marianas. "This represents an aggressive attack on the people of the Northern Mariana Islands," Doolittle said. "Organized labor has had it in for the Northern Marianas for years. I just think it is unfortunate. This is one of our territories - and probably the most free-enterprise oriented and industrious. This is going to hurt them."
David B. Cohen, deputy interior secretary overseeing the territories, warned a Saipan Chamber of Commerce meeting on Jan. 5 that hard times are coming.
"Under the Democrats' proposal, the CNMI minimum wage will increase from $3.05 to $7.25 over a four-year period, jumping $1.50 in the first year alone," he said. "That could very likely result in a complete and immediate exodus of what's left of Saipan's garment industry."
Cohen laid part of the blame on Abramoff: "I am sure that a lot of people hear `Northern Mariana Islands,' scratch their heads and say, `Isn't that where Jack Abramoff is from?'"
Blocking efforts to raise the minimum wage and tighten immigration restrictions in the islands was a priority of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who once called the Northern Marianas a "perfect petri dish of capitalism."
Doolittle, a lieutenant of DeLay, helped Abramoff renew a $100,000-a-month lobbying contract, then met regularly with his lobbying team to find ways to block changes and steer more money to the islands.
Now, in a city where Abramoff's name and game once opened doors, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands can't get anyone to listen to its concerns, said Matson of the territory's Washington office, which last week lacked heat.
Matson said that when Abramoff was at the peak of his power, "there was a lot of lying going on." Changes favored on the islands to address legitimate concerns never made it to Washington, she said. A constant theme from Abramoff was that "horrible things are going to happen unless you give us more money," she said.
Guambat is on record as being critical of the garment factories on Saipan but nevertheless reckons however you look at it, this little dust-up is just politics. The US territories are, as they always have been, just unrepresented pawns. (You did know, did you not, that if you are a resident of a territory, even if you are a US citizen, you have no representative in Congress and you get no vote for President?)
The history of the US territories in the Marianas islands, including Guam, as a separate US jurisdiction from its neighboring and smaller Northern Marianas commonwealth, is long and best characterized as colonial. The administration of the islands for several centuries has been without more than patronizing regard to the local population but rather for the overriding benefit of the colonial padrone.
The Marianas are geographically and historically an integral part of the Western Pacific Rim. They lack the resources to compete with their neighbors except in one vital aspect. They have a strategic importance to larger powers. And the colonial powers have always usurped that resource in an uneven "trade-off" for hand-outs for which the colonizers patronizingly believe the islanders should be ever grateful.