Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 26, 2009

Reminded of Orwell
Some of our younger readers may not be as familiar as my generation with the English writer George Orwell. In fictional works such as Animal Farm and 1984 he demonstrated insightful political analysis combined with incisive satire. His protagonist in 1984 lived in one of the world’s three remaining super-states, always in a constant state of war–conducted by the Ministry of Peace.

My recollection of Orwell was triggered by a lengthy interview I overheard this morning as my wife Mary listened to National Pentagon Radio. An earnest fellow from the U.S. Institute for Peace examined various alternative strategies for the commander-in-chief of the Afghanistan war to consider. The man who now “owns” that war recently was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. If you are not familiar with the Peace Institute you may be interested to know it is a government funded project launched by the Reagan administration–in 1984.

But even NPR, who tries not to excite us proles, has to occasionally report some unpleasant peace news.

Eighteen Americans were killed in Afghanistan over the weekend. This ensures October will be the bloodiest month yet for GIs and contractors since the war was launched eight years ago.

There was even more blood and destruction in the “secure” area left behind in Baghdad–scores killed and hundreds wounded in bomb attacks that destroyed the Ministry of Justice and City Hall buildings. This was the worst yet of a long string of such attacks that included earlier gutting of the Foreign and Finance ministries--also adjoining the Green Zone where the Iraqi President and the U.S. embassy are sheltered. Such shocking attacks, coupled with political chaos, is leading some players to question whether scheduled withdrawal of U.S. troops can continue.

On days like this I miss Orwell. But I miss even more the time when such pursuit of “peace” by the government that speaks in our name evoked outrage--and masses of angry people marching in the streets demanding the troops be brought home now. This included targeting an earlier Nobel Peace Laureate–Henry Kissinger, who advanced peace negotiations with Vietnam through the Christmas bombing campaign in the North.

But, with a few honorable exceptions, most of today’s “peace movement” is still in love with the current Peace Prize holder. They scold the military for trying to “pressure” him. They implore their hero not to send more troops to Afghanistan and to be a bit more careful with his drone targets.

Orwell could probably think of a witty description of these peace advocates. I can only think of words not appropriate for a family audience.

But there was one hopeful sign this past week coming, out of all places, from the labor movement.

The Troy, New York Labor Council passed an important resolution brief enough to be cited in its entirety,

“The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, attacks on Pakistan, military aid to Colombia, Israel and many of the countries that use US aid for repression of indigenous and popular movements, are making the people of the US and the world less safe.

“And Whereas:
These wars and military aid are bankrupting the people of the US, who are already suffering from staggering job losses, foreclosures and a broken healthcare system.

The Troy Area Labor Council AFL-CIO calls upon the AFL-CIO to organize a national march on Washington for Peace, Jobs and Healthcare Justice, to stop the wars and to use the resources freed up to end the jobs and healthcare crisis here at home.

“Passed unanimously at the October 21, 2009 Meeting.”

This short and sweet resolution deserves discussion and action throughout the labor and antiwar movements.

Transit Troubles
I want to thank my bus driver e-mail friend Rod in Vancouver for alerting me to an important fight that began in earnest today by 500 paratransit workers in the Vancouver area. HandyDart service provides door-to-door public transit for people with mobility impairments. Said Rod,

“The right wingers see labors soft under belly and are getting their butcher knives ready... Hope we are up to the fight, as this is a test run for CAW local 111 and 222's, 4500 members contract expiry in 2011!...The entire Metro Vancouver HandyDART system is now in the hands of an American company under a very expensive contract that was not put out for public tender. High expectations of users and employees have been dashed.”

According to ATU Local 1724 the company “is looking to eliminate the pension plan, slash benefits and cut shifts in half.”

After giving a 72-hour strike notice, the union called a rally Saturday that was attended by many regular passengers and received sympathetic coverage by the often pro-boss CBC. The company then jumped the gun by canceling service beginning this morning.

In Windsor the ATU thought they had a deal for a contract to replace the one that expired September 30--but the company board of directors rejected it and sent their negotiators back with new demands.

And, in Philadelphia, the 4700 members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 have authorized a strike just on the verge of the World Series. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has proposed no wage increase for the first two years of a four-year contract and a 2 percent increase in each of the other two years.

Restoring Home Town Pride
We haven’t had a lot of good news to report from Kansas City lately and I have to acknowledge I first heard the latest in a message from my friend Larry in Detroit. The vote on the Ford concession deal at UAW Local 249 at the Claycomo plant was 147 in favor--1,712 against. Voting among locals will continue until Friday and no official results are being released. It’s known that locals in Wayne and Cleveland have approved and Michigan Locals 182 at Livonia Transmission and 845 at a plant in Plymouth, have rejected.

This Just In
A headline in this morning’s Los Angles Times reads,
Insurers poised to reap benefits from healthcare overhaul. Among its salient points,

“The specifics of the healthcare legislation are still being hashed out on Capitol Hill, and key details will evolve in the days ahead. Even so, there is broad agreement that the final plan will, for the first time, require Americans to buy health coverage, with taxpayer subsidies for millions who cannot afford it.

“For the health insurance industry, that means millions of new paying customers. What's more, there are likely to be no limits on what insurers can charge, while at the same time the plan is expected to limit competition from any new national government insurance plan that lawmakers create....

“That achievement, should it stand up in the final legislation, would be the capstone of a sophisticated lobbying and strategic campaign that began even before Obama was elected president.”

Well worth a read.

Perhaps sensing my mood after I posted a graphic last Friday of poll numbers showing only a third of Americans believe global warming is affected by human activity--a big drop since 2007--Andy in Brooklyn sent me links to a couple of articles that put these gloomy numbers in perspective. For example, the Pew Center’s polling shows half of Americans still remain in favor of putting limits on carbon emissions and making companies pay for their emissions.

I appreciate Andy’s effort. Certainly all poll results have to be taken with a generous dose of sodium chloride. I am not yet convinced that Americans have become more stupid over the past two years. As a matter of fact understanding of global warming dropped more sharply among Democrats with college degrees than those with just a high school diploma.

But certainly the figures show respondents have become more frightened over this period–more about their jobs than climate change. Boss propaganda makes excuses that can rationalize denial or doubt of science which could threaten jobs and life styles. That we can’t afford to ignore.

We can’t, and shouldn’t try, to scare the doubters even more than the bosses. Fear, whether of the real or the imagined, seldom leads to progress. Our task is two-fold–educate about the dire threat of climate change and, most importantly, offer a credible alternative.

Last Saturday was the 350 International Day of Climate Action. In most countries events were bigger than the “Step It Up” with a similar theme two years ago, in some cases drawing thousands to local events. But that wasn’t the case in the USA. The event I attended in Kansas City was less than a third of the size of the one in 2007.

While there I was approached by a young lad collecting signatures for a petition of Al Gore’s Repower America. It’s aim is to gain support for the cap-and-trade scam being palmed off as climate change legislation by the Democrats in congress. He was visibly shocked when I refused to sign because I oppose the bill. He must have wondered what the hell I was doing there because that was the only concrete plan that he knew of.

I tried to explain the basics of the perspective I favor–putting society on a war-time footing to tackle the challenges, nationalizing key industries to create a new public sector to convert to an emission-free economy, and providing a Just Transition to protect the living standards of workers who will need to be retrained and placed in new jobs. I didn’t expect to convert him on the spot with a sound bite. He had to get on with his task of collecting signatures.

The present situation is disappointing, to say the least. But as long as a fighting chance remains despair is not an option. That twenty percent drop in poll numbers in two years can be reversed just as rapidly and unexpectedly. In my view the fight for climate justice has become inseparable from the fight for class justice. Either we win both or our kids will lose everything we’ve always hoped for.

Don’t forget to visit our Daily Labor News Digest, updated Monday-Friday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

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