Varsha Patel works in the stockroom at the Cintas industrial laundry plant in Piscataway, N.J., sorting dirty uniforms as they come in for cleaning. For eight hours she remains standing as she separates the damaged cloths from the merely dirty; at the end of the day, she says, "My hands, feet and legs are sore." For this she is paid a princely $7.94 an hour.
Varsha Patel (not her real name) has worked for Cintas, America's largest uniform rental company, since 1997, and it has not been the happiest of associations. Six months ago, her co-workers who hang clothing on racks positioned well above their heads had to hang 1,700 uniforms a day. Now they have to hang 2,000. And if she or her fellow workers take more than six sick days in a year, they'll be summarily fired.
The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party convenes here today at a national conference sponsored by the liberal Campaign for America's Future. The gathering comes not a moment too soon, not only because the party's progressive base needs to assert and renew its principles, but also because it has come under assault lately from its intra-party adversaries.
In a recent memo addressed to "Leading Democrats," Al From and Bruce Reed, the leaders of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, have all but read the party's activists out of the human race. Purporting to dispel some noxious myths about the Democrats, they write, "Real Democrats are real people, not activist elites."
For a moment there, it almost looked as if the Democrats were getting their act together.
Leaders of the key Democratic constituency groups have begun meeting to develop a strategy and the wherewithal for winning the battleground states in the 2004 presidential election. On May 8 the president of Emily's List, Ellen Malcolm, hosted a gathering of the heads of various environmental, pro-choice, civil rights and labor organizations to look at how they could have the greatest impact in next year's race. (The gathering was a tribute, in its way, to the regular meetings of conservative leaders hosted by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist.)
Europe wants an army. Tony Blair wants a European rapid deployment force that can work through NATO in concert with the United States to build "one polar power" that spans the Atlantic. Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder and the leaders of Belgium, Greece and Luxembourg -- the continent's leading critics of the war with Iraq -- want a rapid deployment force to be the military arm of a distinct European Union (EU) foreign and security policy. They want to get that force up and running by next year, and to establish a headquarters for the command in Belgium.