Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 14, 2009

Nurses United Will Never Be Defeated
Such a catchy adaptation of an old slogan would not only reflect palpable optimism in the now formally launched super-union,
National Nurses United; it’s repetition might prevent me from garbling their proper name as I unfortunately did last week.

The NNU displayed their “culture” right away by utilizing their assembled delegates for a demonstration at the Phoenix offices of the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association. Now 150,000 strong--and shielded with a nonaggression pact with sometimes past bitter rivals in SEIU–we can expect to see a rapid growth in adversarial unionism among RNs throughout the country. Every indication points to their continued championing of single-payer within organized labor and their communities as well.

Christmas Story
250 workers have been locked out at the Tembec paper mill in Pine Falls, Manitoba for four months. They were surprised by the arrival of a package containing skates, toys and books–from a 10-year old girl in another town who wanted the worker’s kids to have something for Christmas.

While the most touching effort, the little girl’s contribution was not the only gift of solidarity. The union also received a shipment of more than 300 Christmas presents, collected and delivered by the owner of several Arby's restaurants in Winnipeg.

This concludes the upbeat section of this week’s missive.

A Dynamite Speech
I guess I wasn’t as shocked as many by the selection of President Obama for the Peace Prize endowed by the inventor of dynamite. Such American hawks as Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Henry Kissinger picked up medals and money before him.

What did surprise me was Obama’s unabashed, almost arrogant celebration of America’s role as world super-cop. For example, in his acceptance speech he said,

“The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”

“Global security” means security for Globalization, using military power to advance corporate interests. Six decades takes us back to the beginning of the Cold War, the launching of NATO, and the still continuing nuclear arms stockpile. His continuity includes the overthrows of democratically elected regimes in Iran, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile. It encompasses the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, counterinsurgency in El Salvador, the Contra War in Nicaragua as well as Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and Iraq–twice, and still in play. And the newest Laurent insisted his latest escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a “just war.”

The Bush Doctrine has mutated in to the Obama Doctrine. No wonder his remarks were enthusiastically endorsed by Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin.

King To Be Crowned In June
The one-party regime in the UAW has agreed on the successor to Ron Gettelfinger as president, to be formally ratified at the union’s convention in June. Bob King, head of the UAW Ford department, is described by the Detroit Free Press as having “strong relationships with management.” Being the son of a Ford Industrial Relations manager may have given him a leg up in this regard.

King studied religion and philosophy at Holy Cross, got a degree in political science from the University of Michigan, and a law degree from the University of Detroit. He was likely the best educated electrician’s apprentice ever to hire on at Ford in Dearborn. Once initiated in to the Administration Caucus, he made a steady climb up the UAW hierarchy over the last forty years.

Recently he did go through some rough spots. King and Gettelfinger were often booed at meetings prior to the unprecedented membership rejection of their latest give-back effort at Ford.

Buried in a Detroit News story about the succession was this revelation,

“In other developments, Gettelfinger has informed union staff that he will impose the terms of a concessionary contract that they voted down last month -- a move that reduces benefits for the union's own retirees and requires each UAW employee to accept a two-week unpaid furlough or give up their 401(k) matching contribution next year.”

In addition, 120 UAW staffers will get the axe.

Moving On Up to the Next Level
When I first met Bridgette Williams she was answering the telephone and doing clerical work in the modest offices of the Kansas City central labor council. Since we were in the same building, I sometimes dropped off my ATU Local’s per capita payments to her. She was never inclined to chat with messengers.

Williams got her first big career break when her boss, Mike Fisher, ran afoul of lobbying laws as he fought to win casinos for the working class of Missouri. Though it seemed like piddly stuff to me Mike had to do some hard time and, of course, leave his job as council president.

Brother Fisher’s unplanned departure caught our local leaders without a ready succession plan. A retired TWA machinist stepped in to keep the chair warm until a permanent solution could be hashed out. To just about everyone’s surprise, with a nudge from John Sweeney Sister Williams was catapulted past other potential candidates in to the role of top spokesperson for Kansas City labor.

Still inaccurately promoted as the first African-American to head a central labor body, she was initially greeted with much enthusiasm and good will–which was soon squandered. Traditional projects of assisting Locals with organizing and strike activities faded as Williams was appointed to share table space with bosses and elected officials on numerous commissions and task forces. On her watch, many affiliates defected and the council became largely dysfunctional, doing little more than endorsing candidates. It wasn’t all her fault but since she wasn’t part of the solution she became a large part of the problem.

This week Sister Williams announced she was leaving the post she has held for the past twelve years to become deputy director of the Heavy Constructors Association of Greater Kansas City–an important employer group. She said, “It just felt like a good time to make the transition and parlay what we’ve accomplished by taking it to the next level.” I can only hope that she does for them what she did for us.

We Will Not Die Quietly
This slogan was first raised at the Copenhagen climate conference by a young lad from Fiji–an island nation likely to be among the first obliterated by rising sea level resulting from global warming. It was soon taken up by many delegates from African nations suffering interminable droughts that are leading to starvation, widespread sickness, and massive numbers of climate refugees finding welcome nowhere.

These forces became more vocal and disruptive as secret deals being advanced by the EU, USA, China and India became public knowledge. They rallied around a motion put on the conference floor by the delegate from the island nation of Tuvalu to amend the current U.N. climate treaty to require much sharper reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But the chair ruled such a motion would have to have consensus–and Saudi Arabia, China and India immediately shot that down.

The cause of the poor majority was taken up by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Europe and Australia, along with much smaller actions in Canada and the U.S., on Saturday.

It’s still unclear whether any kind of agreement will come out of Copenhagen. This morning, the diverse bloc of “developing countries” boycotted scheduled sessions. No deal at all would be better than what the major polluters would accept at this point. Still, Copenhagen is proving useful in exposing the real obstacles to progress on climate change–those profiting from industrialized market economies.

Coming Up On Ten
In March kclabor.org will have completed ten years online. We’re in the early stages of planning an event to both mark our anniversary and encourage a strong Kansas City contingent to participate in the Labor Notes conference in Detroit April 23-25. Our local event will take place Sunday, March 21, 1PM, at the North Kansas City Library. Details will follow soon. Meanwhile, if you’re in the area please save the date.

In Brief...
¶ Reform slates beat the Old Guard in two of New York’s most important local unions–Transport Workers Local 100, representing about 30,000 bus and subway workers at the New York Transit Authority, and Teamsters Local 804, the late Ron Carey’s local of UPS workers. Steve Early wrote a good analysis of both which can be read
¶ The gyrations of Senate Democrats on health care have made me dizzy. Right now they are waiting to get a cost out on offering Medicare at age 55. Donna Smith, writing in Common Dreams, pointed out a little noticed comment in an AP story, “A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates. The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.” Prospects for Obama’s “reform”look little better than the chances of a deal in Copenhagen.
US Labor Against the War, once limited to the issue of Iraq, is now on record for withdrawal from Afghanistan as well. A new 28-minute DVD, Why Are We in Afghanistan?, tailored to labor audiences, is now available.

Next week’s Review will be a year-end round-up. After that we’ll take a two week holiday break.

That’s all for this week. 

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