Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 2, 2011

Though I am unpaid for my online efforts I still try to use the vacation time I would be due under the KCATA-ATU 1287 contract. That’s how my year-end holiday break turned in to two weeks in 2010–use it or lose it. While I did enjoy some seasonal cheer with friends I have to admit it turned in to more of a busmen’s holiday than I anticipated--including responding to some unexpected, hopeful initiatives not yet ready for prime time publicity. For now, the WIR, along with the Daily Labor News Digest effective Monday, January 3, returns to regular schedule.

Ill Wind Watch
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If you live in North America, Europe, or Australia, the dominant mass media news stories during our holiday break were weather. Monsoon like rains drenched the long parched coastal areas of California producing flash floods and landslides. Snow paralyzed not only much of Canada and the northern tier of the lower 48--where they should have been better prepared--but Atlanta and the Big Apple as well. Rare hard freezes in Florida as far south as the Keys threatened the citrus and strawberry crops and sparked a mass migration of manatees desperately looking for warmer waters. Even rarer were a number of deadly tornadoes–usually confined to the spring–that developed in several states.

In Europe snow was the big story shutting down not only the principal airports but also most train service and major highways. And Australia–long suffering from drought and wild fires--got hit with a flood of “biblical proportions,” inundating an area bigger than Texas.

In addition to the deaths and suffering of all creatures great and small, there are other issues that justify these weather incidents being lead stories. In many places cuts in public sector responders contributed to turning what would once have been inconvenient disruptions in to life threatening disasters. Deregulated airlines operating around hub connections that are a house of cards in the best of times totally collapse if so much as one major hub goes down for any length of time.

But more important than the response to this unusual combination of meteorological events is the question of why is extreme weather increasing in alarming scale and frequency? AFP’s Marlowe Hood writes,

“Counter-intuitive but true, say scientists: a string of freezing European winters scattered over the last decade has been driven in large part by global warming. The culprit, according to a new study, is the Arctic's receding surface ice, which at current rates of decline could disappear entirely during summer months by century's end....

“Rising temperatures in the Arctic -- increasing at two to three times the global average -- have peeled back the region's floating ice cover by 20 percent over the last three decades. This has allowed more of the Sun's radiative force to be absorbed by dark-blue sea rather than bounced back into space by reflective ice and snow, accelerating the warming process. More critically for weather patterns, it has also created a massive source of heat during the winter months...

“The result, according to a modeling study published earlier this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research, is a strong high-pressure system over the newly-exposed sea which brings cold polar air, swirling counter-clockwise, into Europe.”

The same pattern hitting Europe is, of course, also impacting the other great land mass adjoining the Arctic–North America. Australia’s problems flow from similar effects of global warming on the opposite pole.

No longer a hypothesis about the future to be viewed with skepticism, climate change resulting from burning fossil fuels has begun. One of the ways it is unfolding is extreme weather, such as we are witnessing this winter. And, this is just prelude. By the time the robust lady sings there will be no flowers left to send backstage.

You didn’t see that part of the story on PBS–much less Fox, CNN, or NBC. But if you scan, as I do, the sources the Establishment follows to keep informed–such as the New York Times, Guardian, Der Spiegel, Wall Street Journal-- you can find well written reports about the science and impact of climate change. It’s not that the ruling elite doesn’t know about this crisis. They are just too heavily invested in the destructive practices that led to it–and continue to drive it–to agree to the solutions required to stop it.

Many had hopes that former Vice-President Al Gore might help his class come to their senses. Gore’s book and film, An Inconvenient Truth, did a good job in explaining the cause of global warming. The movie won an Academy Award and Gore won a Nobel Prize. But while a masterful presentation of the problem, this work was short on real fixes, mainly pushing failed market solutions such as cap-and-trade and alternative fuels such as corn-based ethanol.

Recently Gore admitted to a free lance journalist that he pushed ethanol in his film even though he knew its use was actually counterproductive. His acknowledged motive was quite simple: since he was contemplating another run for President, the early Iowa caucuses would be crucial–and in Iowa politics ethanol is king.

Ironically, I can report some positive development this past week in the heart of king corn ethanol–Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Some young people there were so impressed with their first contact with the Alliance for Class & Climate Justice they set up an attractive local version of the ACCJ website which can be viewed here.

Looking Ahead In 11: What’s Hot?–What’s Not?
It’s a good thing we have more troops than the other side because the class war will continue on a number of fronts:

Shooting War
Except when it can be exploited for a patriotic occasion, or to denounce WikiLeaks, we don’t hear much war news these days. Now approaching its tenth year, the war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of an unknown number of Afghans and Pakistanis--and 2284 coalition troops, 1445 of them American. The majority of these casualties have happened on Obama’s watch. Tens of thousands of GIs remain in harm’s way in unstable Iraq. Total war-related expenditures last year added up to 1.3 trillion dollars–not so coincidently equaling the total Federal deficit. We support the efforts of
US Labor Against the War to keep this issue relevant in the labor movement despite the distraction of the Great Recession. And we endorse the call by the United National Antiwar Committee for bi-coastal Out Now! Demonstrations in New York and San Francisco April 9.

Private Sector Bargaining
2010 saw relatively few national contract negotiations in the USA. This year:

* The IUE and UE national contracts will lead multi-union bargaining at General Electric.
* The
ILA East Coast Master Agreement.
* The UAW will be back at the table with Caterpillar and the Big Three automakers.

Public Sector
Postal worker contract negotiations continued over the holiday breaks. In addition, you could say just about all public workers–Federal, state, local, school, transit–will be under fire, signed contracts or not. During our break some good overviews of these attacks appeared by
Dan La Botz, Mark Brenner. Howard Ryan, and Dave Johnson. Many will try to imitate President Obama’s freeze of Federal civilian worker wages. Most are going after pensions. Some are aiming to eliminate public sector collective bargaining altogether. Privatization–especially in education–is on the rise.

Social Security/Medicare
The Establishment lies about the inability to support even the present meager levels of the last remnants of New Deal/Great Society has already eroded expectation of ever receiving these benefits. We can be sure of prompt follow-up on Obama’s plan to gut these once sacred gains of past struggles. This is one fight we cannot afford to lose.

Human Rights
In a recent
excellent article about the treatment of foreign-born workers–many of them union members--David Bacon writes,

“Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that almost 400,000 people were deported last year, the highest number in the country's history. But deportations are only part of the story. Much less visible is the other arm of current immigration enforcement policy -- the firing of workers. The justification is brutal -- if immigrant workers can't work, and therefore can't eat, pay rent, or provide for their families, they'll have no alternative but to leave the country.”

All indications are this inhumane treatment of our immigrant sisters and brothers will continue, if not expand.

Obama’s Justice Department has also reissued Grand Jury subpoenas to union and antiwar activists whose homes were raided by the FBI last September. Despite this long fishing expedition no charges have been filed. Those summoned have indicated so far they will not answer questions even if they are granted “immunity” from crimes they did not commit. That could land them in jail for “contempt.” Their defense has been endorsed by a number of unions and peace groups and deserves support from all of us. You can find out more by going here.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Not all of us can devote ourselves to all of these important battles. But each of us can–and should–take up an issue as our project. Our masters will show no mercy. No action figures will save the day. These are the struggles of our class to be won or lost by us. Happy New Year.

Forum Planning Meeting
A meeting to plan promotion of the first of our new KC Labor Forum series will take place at Tony Saper’s home, 2113 Erie, North Kansas City next Sunday, January 9, Noon-2PM. We will also select the topic for the second Forum. Preferring to eat corn rather than burn it in our cars, we will have a hot casserole Polenta Milanese, a meatless dish served in two versions–with cheese or vegan–prepared by Mary Erio.

The KC Labor Forum will take place on the second Sunday of each month (beginning February 13)at the North Kansas City Community Center. A PDF of the leaflet for the first Forum can be viewed here

That’s all for this week.

The KC Labor Forum
Launching February 13

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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