Letters to the editor
May 23, 2003 | Page 4
Sweatshops on wheels
Dear Socialist Worker,
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have just made U.S. interstates a more dangerous place to work for America's 3 million truck drivers. With the new Hours of Service rules, the FMCSA has insured that more fatigue-related accidents and deaths will occur.
On the surface, it might look like they are allowing drivers to get more rest, by cutting the on-duty period from 15 hours with 10 hours driving followed by eight hours rest, to 14 hours with 11 hours driving followed by 10 hours of rest. But I can tell you from experience that 10 hours of interstate driving is mind-numbing and fatiguing enough, and 11 hours is even more so.
Most truck drivers now exceed the maximum 70 hours on-duty time in eight days as it is, leading to fatigue and accidents that caused 755 fatalities and 19,705 injuries each year, according to the DOT.
The hours revamp was supposed to address this problem. But after eight years of "looking at the problem, the new rules only make matters worse. Under the new system, a driver can log 364 hours in 31 days--84 more hours of work than under the current system.
America's trucks are truly becoming sweatshops on wheels. Instead of doing something to relieve the unending hours of overtime or to create more jobs in the midst of a recession, the government just handed trucking bosses the right to ratchet up the exploitation of their current workforce.
This didn't have to happen. While there are 3 million truck drivers on the road, there is an industry-wide shortage, and driver turnover for many companies is at or over 100 percent per year.
While the International Brotherhood of Teamsters now represents around 25 percent (and falling) of drivers, it could have used the hours of service issue to organize a campaign for driver safety and fought for rules that would improve drivers' lives--not the bottom line. Hoffa and Co. blew it.
It's now time for all truck drivers--union and non-union--to fight back against the DOT's new "Hours of Slavery."
Leighton Christiansen, Riverside, Iowa
Dear Socialist Worker,
Beginning this summer, students at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG) will have to start paying for every page they print on the university's computers. According to the administration, students are beginning to print too much for the university to "foot the bill" anymore.
Many students are extremely angered by the university's decision to start charging for printing, because they thought those costs were covered in the $100 "Education and Technology" fees they pay each year--along with an array of other mandatory fees.
This new system could create a huge problem at our school. UNCG is a largely commuter-based, working-class campus, and many students simply can't afford to buy computers or pay for printing elsewhere.
The question that needs to be asked, though, is why the university can't "foot the bill." The real problem is the budget crisis in education that is plaguing cities across the U.S. There is a disgustingly large amount of money spent on the military in this country, and much too little spent on education.
Instead of spending billions of dollars on a war on Iraq that looked more like a bloodbath than liberation, the government should be giving money to schools for printing costs, school lunches, decent pay for teachers and many, many other things.
The priorities of this system are completely screwed up. That's why we need to unite--workers and students alike--to fight back against Bush's war at home and abroad and create a real challenge to the system as we know it.
Julie Southerland, Greensboro, N.C.
Dear Socialist Worker,
I am writing you after reviewing the recommendations that were filed to Congress dealing with the discrepancy between cocaine and "crack" cocaine sentencing policies. Being a family member of a first-time nonviolent drug offender, I was very disturbed by the results.
What troubles me and many others is the recommended 20-to-1 ratio of jail time for "crack" cocaine vs. powdered cocaine. If the previous 100-to-1 ratio is unfair, then a 20-to-1 ratio must also be unfair. The concern is great, because even if sentencing is changed to a 20-to-1 ratio, there will still be tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who will not feel any relief.
To my understanding, these laws were enacted mainly for "drug kingpins." But ask any Black or Latino who was been convicted either with conspiracy or possession of 5 or 10 kilograms of "crack" or cocaine if they consider themselves a "kingpin." The answer is no!
We need a cure and soon, or else we will have a huge problem to deal with in the near future.
Christina Stephens, Olathe, Kan.