Friday, May 26, 2006

Justice Served For Enron Victims, But, Where's Mine?

I sympathize with the victims of the Enron fraud. They basically had their livelihood taken away due to fraud and market manipulation by Ken Lay and Jeffery Skilling. The former employees of Enron Corp have, with the convictions of Schilling and Lay, achieved some closure and vindication. They more than likely will not, however, be able to recover the part of their lives which was taken from them.
I sympathize, because I, too had a lucrative career and pension which I was deprived of due to a combination of asbestos litigation and NAFTA. In a way, I am a victim of asbestos poisoning, though I was never exposed and have not become ill from it. Nor am I a perpetrator of any asbestos related crime, as I never used nor advocated the use of asbestos in ship and structure construction.
In the 1940s, the Department of the Navy required that asbestos be used in the construction of their ships. Eagle-Picher, the company I worked for in the 80's and 90's, had been one of the companies contracted to build ships for the Navy. Apparently, in the 1940s and 1950s, the dangers of asbestos were not widely known. In the late 1960s, when people began getting ill, and the illness was attributed to asbestos exposure, trial lawyers everywhere seized the opportunity to fatten their wallets by claiming "punitive damages" for the victims of asbestos exposure. The ensuing litigation, which continued for twenty years, eventually bankrupted Eagle-Picher, even before any verdict or settlement was reached, due to legal fees. Interesting to note, no charges were ever brought against the administrations of FDR or Harry Truman, or the Department of Defense, for advocating, and requiring the use of asbestos.
Eagle-Picher possibly, even likely, could have recovered from bankruptcy. Businesses, individuals, and corporations have often done so. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, proposed by Ronald Reagan and signed into law by Bill Clinton, tilted the playing field toward those manufacturers which practiced outsourcing of jobs and product or parts manufacturing to Mexico and Canada. Eagle-Picher was priced out of the market, and many career employees, such as myself, lost their livelihood and their pensions. Furthermore, I have been unable to find a job in my chosen profession, for jobs in my area of electronics skills have been outsourced to China, India, and other countries where labor is cheaper and less taxed than in the United States. No charges have been brought against the government concerning market manipulation.
There could have been some closure concerning the trial lawyers. Legislation which would have established an Asbestos Victims Fund, to be funded by companies which exposed employees to asbestos, does not pay any fees to the trial lawyers. The money would have gone to the victims or their survivors, and none of it would have gone to the lawyers. It would have been a minor victory, but it was defeated in the Senate last February.
I am happy for those former employees of Enron, who, at least, seen justice served. But as I go to work at an American sweat shop, where workers are deprived of dignity, encouraged not to feel good about their job, not even given a "well done," and basically treated like human scum, I can't help but to wonder, "Where's mine?"

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