Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 29, 2009

Two Wars, Hold the Butter
I think it’s time for Country Joe McDonald to update one of the biggest hit songs of my generation--
I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag. Certainly the signature chorus could be edited with just one word substitution,

And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don't ask me I don't give a damn
Next stop is Vee-Yet-Nam Afghanistan

Tuesday evening this year’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will address the nation from West Point. Like LBJ, Nixon, Bush I, and Bush II before him, he will announce a major escalation of war. Depending on commitments from NATO allies, it’s expected 30-34,000 additional GIs will go to a country noted for defeating such previous attackers as Alexander, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union.

The Soviets spent nine years trying to stabilize Afghanistan. In the seventh year Sergei Akhromeyev, the commander of the Soviet armed forces, told the Politburo that 110,000 of the best trained and equipped troops of the day were insufficient to finish the job. Like today’s General McChrystal, he wanted more. But two years later, the USSR had to finally accept a humiliating defeat, withdrawing as various war lords and the Taliban moved to replace them.

The regime the Soviets initially intervened to defend had much more popular support, and was certainly more progressive in many respects, than the one currently propped up by the U.S. invaders. But what unites nearly all Afghans, regardless of religious, ideological, or ethnic differences, is a determination to be free of foreign occupiers. They insist on building their own nation–even as the USA enters the ninth year of occupation.

For a long time the bipartisan war machine has managed to sew divisions in the antiwar movement. Some opponents of the Iraq war have believed Afghanistan is a good war, a just expedition to kill or capture those responsible for the horrible 9/11 attacks. Deeply felt emotions have slowed recognition of a quite different reality. This was no more apparent than in the labor movement where many unions that endorsed the efforts of US Labor Against the War around Iraq remained supportive of Bush’s–now Obama’s–war in Afghanistan.

But that’s beginning to change. The Call to USLAW’s Third National Assembly, to be held in Chicago December 4-6, has this mention of Afghanistan and also Pakistan,

“In Afghanistan, after 8 years of war the US faces another quagmire of death, dollars and destruction, with the added elements of drug lords, massive corruption and untold human dislocation and suffering. This is now President Obama’s war – a war that threatens to undermine both Obama’s and labor’s domestic agenda, much as Vietnam did to LBJ’s.

“Meanwhile Pakistan, a country with 173 million people ruled by a corrupt regime with a nuclear arsenal, is threatened with dangerous destabilization as the US has turned it into part of a military battlefield in what is now a regional war.”

It is hoped that discussion among the delegates will put USLAW squarely on record against what some call the AfPak war. I regret that my travel budget does not allow me to participate in this important gathering. Fortunately, others are able to represent KCLAW there.

USLAW has also not neglected the continuing occupation of Iraq–especially the ongoing attacks on Iraqi unions. Thousands of public sector workers are being dismissed from their jobs by the Baghdad regime at the insistence of the IMF to privatize Iraq’s extensive state economy. Baghdad’s leather workers have been on strike for over a month in defiance of anti-union laws.

There will be various types of actions across the country on the evening following Obama’s escalation speech, where he will explain how he will “finish the job.” Unfortunately, there is still no unified antiwar movement to coordinate and build these activities.

Here in Kansas City the AFSC will be conducting a candle light vigil Wednesday evening at the usual gathering place at 47 & Main. I respect the dedication of the Quakers whose religious views shy from confrontation. But I’d prefer to have Country Joe & the Fish setting the tone.

Happened To Be in the Neighborhood
After picking up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, President Obama will make a cameo appearance at the Climate Summit in nearby Copenhagen. Preoccupied with expanding war and health care “reform,” he will not stay for the part of the conference where 65 heads of state will go in to last ditch negotiations.

Last Wednesday, the White House announced the U.S. would commit to a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from 2005 levels by 2020--as long as China and other emerging nations made serious pledges of their own. That meager figure is based on the cap-and-trade bill that the Senate will take up next year–passage of which is no sure thing.

The targets in the current Kyoto Protocol, set to expire in two years, used a baseline of 1990. By shifting to the much higher pollution level of 2005, the tentative White House pledge would mean only a measly four percent emissions reduction over the life of Kyoto. (Of course, the USA is the only major country not to sign on to Kyoto.) It also encouraged others to start counting reductions from this higher starting point.

China responded with a unique and confusing pledge of their own. They promised to slash “carbon intensity” by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon-dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product. If the GDP goes up–as it certainly will–even with the “cuts” the volume of emissions could still increase.

China, soon joined by India, argue this is a fair, even generous offer considering they are still far behind the developed world in living standards and need to greatly expand their overall economy. They also remind the G8 powers that they have been contributing to the greenhouse problem for over a century while the developing world has only recently started polluting in a major way.

Furthermore, China says the developing countries need substantial financial assistance from those who have the money if they are to implement greener measures. They suggest a contribution of one percent of the annual GDP of the developed countries.

While some of the Chinese rhetoric is cynical and self-serving they do make some valid points about fairness. So did Brazil’s president, Lula da Silva, when he remarked at a conference on deforestation in the Amazon, “I don't want any gringo asking us to let an Amazon resident die of hunger under a tree.”

Some will say that while fairness is important reducing the emissions that are wrecking our living space is paramount. No doubt–but why can’t we tackle emissions fairly, in a way that also advances the majority of humanity out of poverty while preserving good living standards in the “rich” countries?

The Chinese one percent proposal would currently cost the USA 144 billion dollars. That’s less than the costs of just the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In addition to putting that money to better use we could reclaim the trillion+ handed out to the bankers, and redirect the ineffective “stimulus” funds, putting those assets to work as seed money for a crash program of conversion to a sustainable economy, with good jobs, here at home as well.

Needed technology and conservation methods have been available for at least the last decade. The ruling class that still profits from bringing our biosphere to the brink of destruction is sitting on more than enough resources to implement what the scientists have figured out.

Keeping the Earth fit for humans to live is fundamentally a class challenge, a political challenge. Such ideas won’t be on the table at Copenhagen and will be as excluded from public discourse as talk about single-payer--until we organize ourselves for class and climate justice.

Noisy Northern Neighbors
Canucks take their Thanksgiving in October so while us Yanks chilled out this week there was a lot going on in Canadian labor.

• Those CAW workers in Windsor blocking removal of equipment from closed Catalina Precision Products plants we talked about last week crossed over to Detroit to protest at the Comerica Bank. They accuse Comerica of being in cahoots with Catalina to cheat them out of more than 2 million in severance and unpaid vacation.
• After the Canadian National railroad declared an “impasse” in bargaining, and attempted to impose a new settlement, 1700 Teamster organized engineers pulled the pin. The Tory Labor Minister is demanding the hog heads accept binding arbitration.
• Carole James, who has led the B.C. NDP (labor party) to two election defeats, promised to work more closely with the business “community” in order to “move beyond the conflicts that hold us back.” The Globe & Mail reported, “Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, responded to Ms. James’ remarks by noting that New Democrats should certainly talk to the business community but never forget they will never sway business to support them.”
• A sharply divided Supreme Court seized a technicality in Quebec labor law to deny relief to Wal-Mart workers who lost their jobs when the company closed their operation on the same day they had been ordered to go in to arbitration for a first union contract.
• American radio journalist Amy Goodman was detained and questioned by Canadian border guards on her way to speak to a meeting in Vancouver. They seemed concerned that Goodman would denounce the Olympics slated for B.C. and insisted on checking the notes and computer contents of all in Goodman’s travel party before reluctantly granting them access. Our friend Rod in Vancouver commented,

“As a Canadian I'm appalled at Ms Goodman's treatment! Unfortunately, Canada is moving towards the right. The lesson here is unless you’re going to support the pro corporate model your not welcome. Every year the diversity of media voices is lessening. Mainstream media has a single voice; more profit, less or self regulations and less corporate taxes.”

In Brief...
¶ Congratulations to Nurses United for breaking through on the Kansas suburban side of the KC metro area with an organizing win at Menorah Medical Center. Formerly affiliated with the AFT’s nursing division, Nurses United is now part of the National Nurse Organizing Committee established by the California Nurses Association. In a few days, CNA will join with two other nursing unions to complete unification of a new “super-union”–the 150,000 member National Nurses Union.
¶ In some rare good news for workers in Honduras Russell Athletics has agreed to re-hire the 1,200 garment workers at Jerzees de Honduras it had fired for organizing a union. The victory comes after a determined campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops. Russell is a major supplier of athletic apparel to U.S. and Canadian universities.
¶ As atomic bosses push more nukes as a “clean” alternative to burning fossil fuels the Guardian reports, “Britain's main safety regulator threw the government's energy plans into chaos tonight by damning the nuclear industry's leading designs for new plants. The Health and Safety Executive said it could not recommend plans for new reactors because of wide-ranging concerns about their safety.” And the Globe & Mail revealed GE’s fear of legal liability, “One of the world's largest nuclear plant suppliers has ordered its Canadian division to hermetically seal itself off from its U.S. parent, going so far as to forbid engineers at the U.S. wing from having anything to do with Canadian reactors.”

The next meeting of the Labor Notes discussion group in Kansas City will take place next Sunday, December 6, Noon, at 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. A lunch will be available. For more information call 816-753-1672.

That’s all for this week.

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