Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 2, 2009

A Robust Two Percent
The AFL-CIO convention endorsed both Canadian-style single-payer health care and President Obama’s plan--if it includes a “robust” public option. Unionists were active around both this past week. Some shared platforms with prominent congressional leaders while others went to jail.

Priscilla King of the AFL-affiliated Alliance for Retired Americans stood a few feet from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as the California Democrat announced what the AFL-CIO Blog called “the House’s historic health care reform bill.” It includes what labor has said must be present in reform--a public option.

An analysis of this option by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows it to be somewhat less than robust:

• By the time it is fully implemented ten years from now it’s estimated it will include only two percent of the population under age 65 (eligibility for Medicare.)

• The option would likely draw “a less healthy pool of enrollees.”

• Because these sick people would require more care than the average for the general population premiums for the public option would likely be substantially higher than those for mandated private insurance.

While public option has long been talked about in the House, many were surprised at Senate Majority Leader Reid’s sudden conversion to the “leveling of the playing field.” In the process he seemed to lose his one, hard-won Republican supporter and got a push back from the insurance robber barons. Business Week speculated,

“Reid may not have the votes for the public option. But to keep labor on board in the health-care fight -- and to help with his own reelection campaign, which is so far going poorly -- he may be pushing for a public option even if he can't ultimately get one passed. Democrats could then take up fallback options such as an ‘opt-in’ proposal or a trigger-based public plan.....Reid can put it forward and push for it. If he doesn't win, he doesn't win. But, at least he can tell them he's tried.”

Meanwhile, for something completely different, the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer reports,

“Dozens of unionists have put their bodies on the line in a series of grassroots mobilizations for healthcare for all that is sweeping the nation. The protests have targeted health insurance companies and have demanded an end to their profiteering and the establishment of a Medicare for All single payer system. So far, 115 activists have been arrested in 8 cities.”

The Campaign further states,

“House Speaker Pelosi seems poised to present a healthcare reform bill to the full house stripped of the Kucinich Amendment and without a debate and vote on the single-payer Weiner Amendment. Pelosi promised to support both amendments last summer when she needed the support of single-payer Representatives to move the main healthcare reform bill through congressional committees. Now, in an apparent concession to the House Blue Dogs and their corporate sponsors, she has reneged on her commitments. (The Kucinich Amendment would allow individual states to establish their own single-payer systems. The Weiner Amendment would substitute HR 676 for the main healthcare bill and allow for an historic up and down vote for single payer in Congress.)

“Please call Speaker Pelosi's office at 202-225-4965 today! Demand that she live up to her agreement to include the Kucinich Amendment in the final legislation and schedule a vote for the Weiner Amendment. It is urgent that we act quickly on this. Please pass this message on to all who will support it.”

Show Down In ChiTown
Most working people don’t much like or trust banks–and for good reason. This sentiment was demonstrated by thousands protesting at the American Bankers Association convention in Chicago last week.

The new AFL-CIO president, Rich Trumka–who in his previous post as Secretary-Treasurer often rubbed shoulders with those inside the convention–consented to say a few words to the demonstrators and several media outlets. The AFL-CIO Blog attributed to him,

“Business as usual is over. We are shutting it down. You work for us—not the other way around. Your job is to be stewards of our savings, to put and keep working families in homes, to lend the money companies need to create jobs. And you have failed. You’ve turned the American economy into your own private casino, gambling away our financial future with our money, and driving us to the brink of a second Great Depression—then sticking out your hand for taxpayers to bail you out.”

That last sentence sounded pretty good, appropriate for a show down. But the lead in the paragraph reveals that, despite his years of dealing with them, Trumka either doesn’t understand, or won’t acknowledge the true job of private banks–to use our money to make as much money for themselves as they can, anyway they can. All Trumka brought with him to the “show down” was some milk toast tweaks of financial regulation. It was like bringing a Red Ryder B-B gun to the OK Corral.

Others at the protest carried signs reading “Break Up the Big Banks.” They undoubtedly would like to see bankers like Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life. But small is not a virtue in banking. There is a role to be played by institutions such as credit unions but to raise large sums of capital for big projects means bigger is better. 

The problem with banks is not size but their insatiable drive for profits. Moral persuasion will not convince them to fund socially needed projects when so much more can be made through casino capitalism and even fee-gouging of our checking and credit card accounts. 

Just as we need a single-payer for health care we need a single financial institution as part of the public sector. This was figured out by our predecessors such as Eugene Debs more than a century ago. Forget breaking them up or futile efforts to regulate them–nationalize the banks and use them to fund the rebuilding and conversion of our economy in the interests of the working class majority. 

That’s how we should arm ourselves for the coming real show down. 

Tell It On the Mountain
Two weeks ago we wrote about the coal barons and their politicians mobilizing miners to prevent EPA hearings on the destructive practice known as Mountaintop Removal.
Last Friday the EPA heard from the other side.  

Some Appalachian residents, including former coal miners, staged a sit-in at EPA headquarters in Washington while others rallied outside. There was also a demonstration at the New York headquarters of JPMorgan Chase–a primary lender of capital funds for outfits such as Massey Energy. Massey has begun a potentially dangerous operation on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia. Support actions were coordinated around the country by the Rainforest Coalition. You can find out more by clicking here. 

In Brief...
¶ From today’s Guardian: “The head of the international group leading the fight against climate change has accused countries of pushing science aside in favor of self-serving ‘political myopia’ ahead of the vital Copenhagen summit.” Juliet Eilperin writes in today’s Washington Post, “The climate-change bill that has been moving slowly through the Senate will face a stark political reality when it emerges for committee debate on Tuesday: With Democrats deeply divided on the issue, unless some Republican lawmakers risk the backlash for signing on to the legislation, there is almost no hope for passage.”
¶ In the
“extra” I sent out to the e-mail list yesterday about the UAW rejection of Ford give-backs I expressed the hope, “Perhaps the CAW Ford workers will be inspired by their sisters and brothers in the UAW and decide this is their basta moment.” I didn’t reckon with the faster pace north of the border. Ratification of the tentative deal between CAW and Ford Canada reached Friday was completed by Sunday–83 percent in favor.
¶ SEIU’s latest attempt to raid UNITE HERE–2300 food service workers in Philadelphia schools–was all sizzle, no lunch. The workers turned down Chairman Andy’s wholly owned Workers United by a 2 to 1 margin.
¶ Ford just announced that despite failing to get further give-backs from the UAW they at least have an “unexpected” profit of 997 million dollars for the third quarter to fall back on.
¶ OSHA imposed a record 87 million dollar fine on BP for failing to correct safety problems identified after a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City, Tex. refinery. These included 439 “willful and egregious” violations of industry-accepted safety controls at the refinery.

¶ The Kansas City Labor Notes Discussion Group has changed our monthly meeting time. Beginning this Sunday, November 8, we will meet on the Second Sunday of each month at Noon. The topic this month will be Mark Brenner's article on pensions in the October issue. A pasta fazul lunch--both meat and meatless varieties--will be served. For more information call 816-753-1672. 

That’s all for this week.

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