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Thursday, March 03, 2016

I was a stringer for the People's Daily World - Part 2

This is the second part of a short story and an excerpt from My Otto Biography, which is still a work in progress. For the fist part click here. for the rest:

By SJ Otto

I decided to do a review of some of the articles I did for the People's Daily World. I was surprised at how many interesting things happened that I could write about in a small rural part of Missouri.
One thing I was able to do was to expose the oppressive practices of my first boss, when I finally got my first job as a journalist, in the small town of Osceola, MO.[1] The paper I worked for included a chain of small town newspapers running all through the south west corner of Missouri. I have to admit that having this article printed about working abuse at a small town string of newspapers had little, if any, affect on anything. It was interesting to expose the abuses and the abuser. But there was little hope that anything would change after I submitted the article. Still, it gave me a sense that I had gotten a small piece of revenge.
As with the other people who worked at the St. Clair County Publishing Co., we all worked anywhere from 65 to 100 hours for either minimum wage or as in my case, a salary. The salary meant that I would not get any overtime pay even though I worked almost twice what a normal work week would encompass. The real problem was on production day, which started out on Monday and ended late into Tuesday night or even Wednesday morning. Those of us on the skeleton production crew worked straight with less than an hour or two at a time for a break in that whole 70 hour period. I worked as an actual reporter during the majority of the week. But the paper was laid out, along with photos and ads all in a 48 hour period.
Strangely enough, our boss was not doing anything illegal:

"I never got a raise after six months, even though I was promised one, "said Kathy Martin, a former proof reader. "I called the Better Business Bureau and the Hours and Wage Division, and they told me as long as overtime is paid there is nothing they could do."

The article I wrote was a general piece on various abusive jobs that people took in the small rural area because Missouri was in the midst of a recession. There was high unemployment, and that led to the rural people taking minimum wage jobs that were hazardous, such as a fireworks plant where employees were expected to drill directly into gun powder filled tubes.
I was often surprised that the People's Daily World allowed me to post articles that were mostly about a suffering population and the depression of the rural economy. I have to admit they allowed me to focus on my own the problems I saw as important. I posted another article about the rural economy, where local companies were laying people off. There was also a lot of graft, where a company, Schreiver Foods, had come into town, set up a factory using a generous supply of industrial revenue bonds, then left before the town could collect any taxes them. They abandoned workers and that led to religious leaders in the area questioning the morality of allowing companies to simply abandon their employees. A ministerial Alliance took action, such as holding a candle light vigil.[2] And once again I was able to choose the subject I wanted to write about with no interference from the paper.  
At times I got to cover some very interesting political events in Kansas City, a major US city that is located about an hour and a half drive from Clinton, MO, which was where I lived after I left the newspaper office in Osceola. On one such occasion I went to hear a representative of the African National Congress at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC).[3] Shuping Coapoge, an ANC Representative, talked of the need for the US to apply stronger sanctions and work for a total isolation of the apartheid government of South Africa. He was addressing mostly political activists and not US officials who could hardly show any interest in stopping the apartheid government. Those were the President Ronald Reagan years and for me and all left-wing political activists those were very difficult years. Reagan was possibly the worst president the US has ever had and yet he is still popular among many people who are or were old enough to have lived under him. Not only was he popular among the US right-wing, but a lot of politically obtuse adults liked his authoritarian leadership. As much as we hear about the American people's love of freedom, there is a very strong love of fascist like leadership by many of those same adults.
Other issues of the time included the Sandinista government which was widely supported by US political activists on the left while Reagan attempted to overthrow that government. This was an issue I was very interested in. I wrote an article on a group of people who put out a newspaper version of the Voice of Nicaragua Radio, translated into English.[4] Today Nicaraguan periodicals can be accessed on line, but in the 1980s, such first hand news accounts were hard to come by.
It was about 1992, that I took a trip to El Salvador and Nicaragua. The El Salvador trip was through a sister city program and Nicaragua was through Witness for Peace. It was a great trip and the first time I had gone to a third world country, other than Mexico.
When I cam back I wrote news articles for the People's Weekly World, which is what they called it by then. Also, I started using my real name.
While in El Salvador we went to the city of La Bermuda. The war was over and I was meeting with a lot of members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). A lot of them were planning on something similar to what happened in Zimbabwe with the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) party having won an election and that party and its leader Robert Mugabe, ended up running the country. There were to be elections and the FMLN did take part, but they did win after I left. FMLN members had high hopes. Julio Hernández, of the FMLN Electoral Strategy Committee, told me of their plans to gain political power through elections. At the time he thought the FMLN needed to create a more inclusive party. He wanted to slow down all the efforts of parties to polarize.

"People have no desire for the same old political party," Hernández said. "It 's a very common opinion that all political parties are corrupt and that once in they only enrich themselves." [5]

He warned that opposition politicians were already studying the FMLN leaders to see what it would cost to win them over or buy them off.
Years later much of that party has been accused of selling out. Even though the FMLN has won elections recently, and way later than they planned, many poor and working people don't really feel a lot has been won by working for the FMLN. The FMLN did win a lot of seats
On Sunday, March 15, 2009 an FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes was elected President of El Salvador.
I had made agreements to try and keep in touch with some FMLN members, but that never panned out. unlike the internet today, it was hard to stay in tough with activist in El Salvador.

The FMLN and the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) are the two dominant political parties in El Salvador today. Since 2000, the FMLN has gone back and forth with ARENA in controlling the largest number of Legislative Assembly seats. The FMLN has controlled the mayor's offices in many of the large cities of El Salvador since 1997, including the capital, San Salvador, and the neighboring city Santa Tecla. The FMLN mayor of San Salvador, was Violeta Menijvar, the first female mayor of San Salvador, who was elected in a narrow victory in 2006. The FMLN mayor of Santa Tecla was Oscar Ortiz, who served in that position since 2000.
In the legislative elections, held on March 16, 2003, the FMLN won 34% of the popular vote and 31 out of 84 seats in the legislative Assembly of El Salvador, becoming the political party with the most assembly members. The FMLN's candidate in the March 21, 2004 presidential election Schafik Handal. won 35.6% of the vote, but was defeated by Antonio Saca of ARENA.
In March 12, 2006, the FMLN won 39.7% of the popular vote and 32 out of 84 legislative assembly seats. The FMLN also retained the mayor's seats in the largest cities of El Salvador, San Salvador and Santa Telca and hundreds of other municipalities. Two months before the elections of 2009, however, the FMLN lost the mayoralty of San Salvador.
So what have the FMLN actually done for people in this last decade and a half? Not much. It seems they have not created the revolution many of us had hoped for during the 1980s. As with the Sandinistas today and much of the leadership in Latin America, they have played the role  of a social democratic party.

To be continued ->

[1] Mark Milhouse, "Missouri Farm Crisis hurting small towns," People's Daily World, (May 15, 1986).
[2] Mark Milhouse, "Plant closing will hurt rural town economy," People's Daily World, (January 7, 1987), p. 5-A.
[3] Mark Milhouse, "ANC leader: end policy of constructive engagement," People's Daily World, (April 1, 1987).
[4] Mark Milhouse, "Newsletter reports  on Nicaragua," People's Daily World, (September, 19, 1987).
[5] Steven Otto, "FMLN looks to coming electoral victories," People's Weekly World, (February 6, 1993),

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