In whose interests does Bush act?

On Sept. 9 the front page of the Wall Street Journal headlined an article, “U.S. opposes EU effort to test chemicals for health hazards.” The article describes the Bush administration’s aggressive efforts to block the European Commission’s plan, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals), which would require the testing of all chemical products before they go to market. The aim of REACH, of course, is to safeguard public health and safety.

The administration’s fervor in opposing the European Commission’s plan shows its unabashed partisanship in favor of U.S. chemical and plastics companies and against the interests of the health of U.S. people and people around the world.

This is just one more example of the administration’s surrender to corporate greed in its search for political contributions to the coffers of the Bush 2004 election bid. In earlier days, one could say that the Bush administration had no shame. But what can you say of an administration that is beyond all human emotion?

These struggles are taking place against the backdrop of meetings of the World Trade Organization. The recent meeting in Cancun was but one example of the ability of progressive forces to hold corporate greed at bay. The struggles in France and elsewhere against genetically modified foods have received wide notice and the strikes in Bolivia have driven a president from office.

In the United States, union and community groups have been fighting chemical companies for decades through federal regulations and direct action. Most of these are for worker protection and environmental laws. Federal toxic substances regulations are in place and are very useful. But the chemical companies are always pushing for a weakening of these protections.

You can guess the cast of greedy guts: Dow Chemical, Rohm & Hass, and the Lyondell Chemical Company. Dow, with its role in the napalming of Vietnam, is a poster child of the horrendous and unsafe use of chemicals. Their claims were, then as now, that their chemicals have been fully tested and non-cancer-causing.

The American Chemical Council cries that EU regulations would cost over $8 billion. U.S. corporations claim that they conduct their own tests and government testing is not necessary.

The most damning issue that emerged in this debate about the exposure of workers and communities to cancer-causing agents is the cost of not having government regulation. Here in the U.S., corporations never calculate the human costs of not regulating the safety or quality of their products. They simply don’t care about the human costs of chemical exposures and cancer. In the U.S., since there is no national health system, neither the government nor the corporations care in the least about the human costs of inadequate regulation.

While the EU countries and their corporate supporters basically agree with U.S. estimates, they also put forward the cost of not regulating, saying it will cost from 18 to 54 billion Euros in the next 30 years’ period. Those sobering figures are pushing the EU toward some kind of regulation of chemical products.

Clearly labor, community and political groups from around the world must keep up the struggle against the WTO, IMF and World Bank and add these environmental and occupational heath issues to broaden the coalition. Hammering away at the costs of not regulating is one effective tactic; struggling to establish a national health system here and protecting those in Europe is another.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org