[IWAR] ASIA labor chief blasts IMF

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Date: Fri Jan 23 1998 - 10:03:10 PST

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    U.S. labor chief blasts IMF's deal for Asia
       MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. labor leader John Sweeney blasted the
       International Monetary Fund's rescue plans Thursday for Asian economies,
       likening its austerity demands to Medieval doctors prescribing leeches
       to cure the plague.
       ``(The IMF) seeks to restore the confidence of investors and
       speculators, to placate the fickle barons of finance, by bailing out
       those whose loans are at risk,'' said Sweeney, head of the 13 million
       member AFL-CIO labor union umbrella group.
       ``The bill for this treatment is then passed on to workers -- in
       depressed wages, lost jobs, crushed hopes. The Fund is like the medieval
       doctors at the time of the Black Plague who applied the only remedy they
       knew -- bleeding their patients.''
       The U.S. labor chief was addressing students at Mexico City's National
       Autonomous University.
       He drew comparisons between the woes of Indonesia, Thailand and others
       and Mexico's disastrous peso devaluation in December 1994, which
       provoked a massive flight of capital and a recession the country is only
       now pulling out of.
       Sweeney said the result in Mexico today of an IMF-backed rescue was
       millions of unemployed, ``poverty and rising crime, social and political
       upheaval,'' while those responsible for the economic collapse were
       bailed out by international funds.
       ``In the new global casino economy, we are essentially telling the
       biggest gamblers they can pocket their winnings and the house will cover
       their losses. This is an invitation to greater folly, not greater
       responsibility,'' he said.
       IMF first Deputy Managing Director Stanley Fischer defended its Asian
       rescue deals Thursday, saying the crisis would have been far deeper
       without its help and describing the loans as investments instead of
       In addition to lashing out at billion-dollar IMF loans, Sweeney also
       criticized the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and
       Washington's drive to win so-called ``fast-track' trade deal negotiating
       authority from Congress.
       ``For us, NAFTA has been a failure,'' he said at a news conference after
       holding talks with President Ernesto Zedillo.
       President Clinton had wanted to get fast-track approval by the Santiago
       summit in April of leaders from the Free Trade Area of the Americas
       (FTAA) signatory countries.
       Thirty-four nations in the hemisphere agreed at the 1994 Miami summit to
       set up a free trade zone from Alaska to Patagonia by the year 2005.
       But Clinton withdrew the bill from Congress after it became clear that
       he had not mustered enough support.
       Sweeney called on the Mexican labor movement to join with him in making
       sure trade agreements included controversial social clauses setting
       minimum working conditions.
       ``In our global neighborhood, companies must be held to international
       standards of simple decency,'' he said.
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