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February 3, 2006 | Page 8

How Vons busted a union
Kong's racist framework

Support the dockworkers

AS A result of their participation in the protests at the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, France, January 18, eight Belgian and one French dockworker have been sentenced to jail terms from one to four months. Another four dockworkers from Spain and France were given suspended sentences of up to five months.

The convicted dockworkers were part of a protest action of about 10,000 dockworkers protesting planned schemes to cut back jobs on the docks and to undermine safety conditions at European ports. Ports across Europe were shut down as a result of protest strikes January 16-17. As a result of the protest, the European Parliament backed down from supporting this.

The dockworkers were tried and convicted in a matter of a few days, due to a system of "fast-track justice" allowed in France. Their defense attorney had less than an hour to read the disposition of the case. This compares to an executive of a large corporation, in Belgium, charged with money laundering whose case has been waiting to go to trial for several years.

The Belgian dockworkers, part of a contingent of almost 3,000, including 40 buses, were arrested by waiting police, upon their return to Antwerp. The Belgians appear to have been singled out for victimization.

The workers' movement internationally must demand that all charges be dropped and the jailed dockworkers be immediately released. Workers' solidarity has no borders.
Ken Morgan, Madison, Wis.

Messages of solidarity can be sent to [email protected].

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How Vons busted a union

THE VONS supermarket that I regularly shop at in North Park has recently undergone a complete remodeling: new floors, cashier stations, even a new Starbucks. Apparently, this remodeling is going on in many stores and must be enormously expensive.

Normally, this wouldn't bother me; I have no issue with working-class neighborhoods having nice stores to shop in. The problem is that it was just three years ago that Vons was supposedly so hard-up that they had to lock out their Southern California employees in order to force them to accept concessions on their benefits and wages. They went to war with a bunch of old ladies and college students--forcing them to settle for a lousy contract that established a "two-tier" system.

During the strike, a few comrades and I would visit the picket line at this same store to sell Socialist Worker, talk about the strike and other politics, and to find out how we could help. Exhausted and falling behind on their finances, they unanimously were ready to vote for this contract and get back to work--despite our arguments. Most of the cuts would only affect new hires, so some workers argued that they had actually come out ahead.

Now when I shop at this store, I only recognize a few faces from the days of the strike. I have to assume that 80-90 percent of the people working there are on the lower tier: barely making a living wage and paying for most of their own benefits.

Vons used the "two-tier" concession to gut the power of the union and to turn the store into a low-wage employer, and it happened very quickly. Maybe this is why they have the money now to remodel the store. I, for one, was happier when the workers there made enough to buy a home and raise a family.
Chuck Stemke, San Diego

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Kong's racist framework

IN HIS review of King Kong, Joe Allen describes Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902) as an "anti-colonial classic" ("King Kong: Is racism irrelevant?" January 6). Joe implies that the novel's cameo appearance is part of the "liberal veneer" that director Peter Jackson uses to mask a "deeply reactionary film."

In fact, the reference to Conrad frames the racism of Jackson's film. Joe rightfully points to the ugly depiction of the natives of Skull Island as savages and beasts--but these images come right out of Conrad.

Anti-colonial writers and critics have long rejected Conrad's novel. As African writer Chinua Achebe put it in 1977: "Conrad saw and condemned the evil of imperial exploitation but was strangely unaware of the racism on which it sharpened its iron tooth."

In Heart of Darkness, Marlow, a man on quest up the Congo River in the 1890s, criticizes the brutality of the Belgian colonialism in the Congo. Kurtz, whom Marlow is seeking, has gone crazy in his jungle fortress, enslaving and murdering Africans. He symbolizes what happens to Europeans who pillage and plunder Africa.

That's why the book was a bit more liberal than older European literature that simply praised colonialism as a "civilizing mission." After the great anti-colonial rebellions of the second half of the 19th century, European writers couldn't get away with rosy pictures of conquest.

But the corruption of the "civilized" Kurtz is clearly shown to be a result of European contact with "savage" Africans--not the act of colonialism itself. Every page of the book bleeds with anti-Black racism. Marlow's greatest gesture of solidarity with Africans is when he wonders whether they are "not inhuman" after all.

Indeed, liberal critics of U.S. foreign policy have long used Conrad to mask the racism underlying their own texts. Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now is a case in point (see Alan Maass' excellent review in Socialist Worker, "Apocalypse Then and Now," August 31, 2001). Coppola criticizes the war in Vietnam--even as he portrays the Vietnamese as Maass writes, as "savages who turn innocent American boys into monsters."

That's why, for writers like Achebe who actually lived under the heel of colonialism, Conrad was nothing but a "thoroughgoing racist."
Pranav Jani, Columbus, Ohio

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