Saturday, October 4, 2014

California's modest poultry law survives court challenge.

California law puts a stop to this. Source
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
Oakland CA

We all hear or read about the Rule of Law.  The big business mass media uses the term all the time whether it’s to describe a regime that they don’t like because it doesn’t have this special rule or to denigrate opposition or protests against injustice here in the US.  But what law are they talking about? People or political legislators write and pass laws.  Here in the US we have only two political parties of note to choose from at election time, both representing bankers and the 1%, so most of the laws are made to protect the interests of this constituency.

That doesn’t mean that the pressure of an overwhelming working class electorate doesn’t force concessions from them at times, we have sick leave and unemployment insurance for example, legislation that they pass under duress due to pressure form below.

In 2008, no doubt under pressure from environmentalists, animal rights and consumer groups (I’d like to say the trade union leadership but it’s just as likely they would defend the rights of the corporations in cases like these) California passed legislation that bans the sale of any eggs in the state that are produced by hens that are housed in the all too familiar cramped and inhumane conditions that exist in the poultry industry.

The law states that not only hens, but pigs and calves, must be raised in conditions that allow the animals to “lie down, stand up, turn around and fully extend their limbs.”   This is not exactly an earth shattering decision; after all, for many of us, we have only seen such animals enjoying life in the field or barnyard. Surely this is a much healthier environment than what exists at the moment.

In response to this minor change in the housing of animals for human consumption, Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit to block the law and officials from a half-dozen states joined in. They claimed that the California law “…overstepped California’s legal authority and violated principles of interstate commerce enshrined in the US constitution.” (WSJ 10-4/5-14)

 “California’s lawmakers were trying to force expensive rules on any farmer who might market eggs in the state.”, the lawyers for these other egg producing states claim. The states, Missouri, Nebraska, Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Iowa produce about 20 billion eggs a year and 2 billion or so of them are exported to California.

It is California’s economic power with about 13% of US GDP that gives it some clout. It is perhaps the 8th largest economy in the world and the most populous US state with one in eight Americans living here.

It was reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that a federal judge has thrown out the lawsuit.  But it’s interesting to see what is behind all this.  Firstly, even a minor law or legislation like this passing in a legislature controlled by big business parties, a legislature that has no representatives from a workers’ party, is due solely to pressure from below. Big business at the top, through their politicians that actually vote yea or nay, always cringe at such legislation and do whatever they can to stop it. But despite a host of the world’s billionaires living in California, the pressure from below was enough and the billionaire’s wealth not threatened enough, to force them in to a war on this issue. Also, many of California’s wealthy come out of the tech or movie industry as opposed to manufacturing although we do have a huge agricultural sector.

California is often maligned as being hostile to business and the home of loony’s hippies and liberals; the media portrays it as a place full of irresponsible revelers and lefties. It is not the loonies” or the nudist activists that bother business, it is legislation, regulation or any restrictions that might curb profits and capital flow; that is the problem. Capital hates obstacles to its motion.  Even something as innocuous as allowing a chicken to stand up and spread its wings is too intrusive to business.  Legislation that protects workers, consumers, travelers (highway laws) and the environment are a hindrance to profit taking---this is why California is maligned in the big business press.

The attorneys general representing the states that brought the lawsuit don’t actually represent “the states” meaning the inhabitants in total.  They represent a certain section of the population. As representatives of the food industry, in this particular case, poultry production, it is this section they represent, or better still, their economic interests.  The Missouri attorney general is speaking for that state’s capitalists whose capital is tied up in the egg producing business but he doesn’t say that.  His spokesperson tells the WSJ, Instead:
“We disagree with the federal court’s opinion that Missouri lacks standing to defend its business and consumers against burdensome economic regulation imposed by out-of-state legislators. “

He means by “Missouri” himself as the “official” representative of the sate either through appointment or election, it’s sort of secondary as to which.  He is speaking solely for the minority of individuals in Missouri that are owners of the egg producing industry.  I’ll bet in these states their workers are not in unions. Chicken farms in the US are notorious for their inhumane, stressful conditions of work. The most “burdensome” issue the workers in these plants have to deal with is their bosses.

So it is a lie that the attorney general of Missouri or any other state is acting in defense of workers or consumers. Where has Missouri’s attorney general been over the years as inequality and poverty has ravaged working class communities while the police have acted like an occupying force as the events in Ferguson so clearly showed? How many lawsuits or public condemnations has he made of the conditions working people are forced to endure?   And leaving aside that this writer believes agriculture and food production needs to change its character altogether, allowing a pig to stand upright in a stall does no harm to a worker in these industries.  And the consumer can only benefit from meat from animals that have a healthier existence, range feeding being paramount.

Legislation like California’s law should be supported but it should also be clear that another aspect of this struggle is the division between different sections of the capitalist class in the same political party.  They can disagree on some details that benefit competing sections of the class at one time or another.  But what we workers have to understand first and foremost is that these divisions take place due to pressure from workers and the middle class and plain old competition between capitalists themselves. Capitalists do compete with each other, and there are economic pressures that affect one section or another at different times. But as far as the system as a whole is concerned, the private ownership of the means of production and the labor process that are the source of profits this is where they draw the line-------the integrity of this system and their place at the helm comes first.

So while it might appear that we have a small difference between capitalist politicians in one state (Missouri’s attorney general is Democrat) this does not mean that this political party should be supported in any way by working people. It is a dead end for us, a black hole that leads to the same place the Republicans are headed; they are two parties bought and paid for by the banks and the 1%. There’s no way out for us through this door.  There is also no guarantee that an independent party of the working class will resolve the crisis of global capitalism, it is this writers contention that only a democratic socialist society and economy can do that, but political independence does give us an alternative that we can join, build and discuss ideas, strategy and tactics for advancing our interests. And a political party governs.  Such a formation would change the balance of class forces in this country as the 1% presently have a monopoly in the political sphere.

The production of food has to be collective, more localized and deindustrialized. Meanwhile, I’m pleased the state I live in recognizes a chicken should be housed in a way that it can stand up and spread its wings.


Sean said...

I have given up eating chicken and also eggs as they cut the beaks of little day old chicks with a small saw and with no pain killing procedures. This cruel method is used on practically all chicken and egg production even those that claim to be organic. You have to look for Animal Welfare guaranteed products. Sean.

Richard Mellor said...

My son and daughter in law have chickens in their yard so we can eat real eggs like when I was growing up.