Note to Editors: This is the first of two columns looking at the legacy of the Ludlow Massacre on its 94th anniversary.
Ninety-four years ago on April 20, America made international news when a government-sanctioned paramilitary unit murdered Colorado union organizers at a Rockefeller-owned coal mine. The Ludlow Massacre was "a story of horror unparalleled in the history of industrial warfare," wrote The New York Times in 1914 — and the abomination was not just the violence, but the way political and corporate leaders colluded on their homicidal plans to protect profits.
Sanitized history teaches that our government has since changed. Quite the contrary, as the Bush administration this week moves to legitimize the methods of Ludlow through its Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
Colombia resembles Colorado in the early 20th century, only with more frequent slaughters. In the last two decades, over 2,500 Colombian labor organizers have been assassinated, making Colombia the world's most dangerous place for unionists.
This violence is underwritten by companies like Chiquita, which has financed Colombian death squads that "destroyed unions, terrorized workers and killed thousands of civilians," according to Portfolio magazine. The brutality deliberately depresses labor costs in a country where business analysts cite exploitative conditions as reason to invest.
This situation, like Ludlow, developed not in spite of the governing elite, but thanks to it. As The Washington Post reports, Colombia's "most influential political, military and business figures helped build" the killing machine. Recently, prosecutors connected these paramilitaries to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's allies.
Colombian labor leaders have begged the White House to drop the deal, saying it will undermine their struggle for human rights by validating Uribe's thug-ocracy. Nonetheless, President Bush bolstered Uribe with a pact giving corporations incentives to leave America for the corpse-strewn pastures of Colombia — a union hater's paradise.
Bush justifies the deal as "urgent for our national security." The rationale asks us to believe that in backing tyrannical regimes, we will quell anti-Americanism among the oppressed, rather than sow it.
Congressional Democrats could vote down the agreement. But they would need to overcome pernicious forces in their midst. Specifically, the Colombian government and corporate groups have hired former Clinton administration officials to champion the deal, paid off former President Bill Clinton with an $800,000 speaking contract, and employed Mark Penn — Hillary Clinton's chief presidential strategist — to push the pact.
Oh, how we've regressed from Ludlow, when mere Rockefellers owned everything. Today, Dubai princes purchase our stock exchanges, Chinese communists buy our banks, and now Colombian goons bid on our politicians — and the results are trickling in.
When Bush dropped the deal on Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi complained only that his tactics are "jeopardizing prospects" for the pact's passage. Instead of blocking the accord, she only pledged to postpone it — a maneuver that could ensure its approval. National Journal reports that Democrats are considering "delaying a vote until after the November elections." The scheme would let Democratic candidates campaign as aw-shucks populists promisin' to fight for the little fella, and then head to D.C. to do the bidding of lobbyists and ratify the deal in a lame-duck session.
Between equivocating press releases, Pelosi said she worries that if voted on now, the pact "would lose, and what message would that send?" For starters, it would say the Democratic Party joins most Americans in opposing job-killing trade policies. It would also declare the party against rewarding murderous regimes on behalf of Clintonites now living large off of Colombian blood money.
But, then, such principled stands are considered uncouth in this, the Ludlow renaissance.
Calendars may say it is 2008, but the Establishment mentality is 1914. On the anniversary of the butchery in Colorado, we see the hideous power of corruption in all its pathological glory. Our government is showing that it views the Ludlow Massacre not as an embarrassment, but as an ideal to be embraced and exported.
David Sirota is a bestselling author whose newest book, "The Uprising," will be released in June of 2008. He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network — both nonpartisan organizations. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota.