Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 7, 2009

Busy weeks past and forward. Next week we’ll be able to comment on the national assembly of US Labor Against the War, which concluded yesterday–on the heels of a major escalation of war. We also look forward to reports from the formal launching of the new “super-union,” the National Nurses Union, whose founding convention begins today. We’ll start with another gathering convening today–the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen.

A Deal At COP 15?
Corporate polluters and their coalition of the ignorant are doing their best to challenge the underlying assumptions of the conclave in Copenhagen by escalating the case of the purloined e-mails we commented on last time in to “Climategate.” I won’t take valuable space saying more here but I did post additional remarks on my seldom used blog which can be read

Despite these literally criminal efforts at distraction, speculation is building that some kind of deal, if not a full blown replacement for the soon to expire Kyoto Protocols, will emerge from Copenhagen. This has been reinforced by President Obama’s decision to actually take part in deliberations instead of just the previously announced photo op.

But Big Oil & Coal are not the only ones that hope these negotiations collapse. James Hansen, perhaps the most respected climate scientist of all, and the first to sound a public alarm about the climate change crisis more than twenty years ago, told the Guardian he hopes the deals being crafted fail,

“This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln...On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50 percent or reduce it 40 percent....We don't have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual.”

This not so mild mannered scientist has not only grasped the political reality but also has the guts to tell it like it is. The hard cops of denial will have little presence in Copenhagen. The show is run by corporate soft cops who will be striving for compromise “balance” between greener measures and maintaining the Globalization economy. In fact, they hope to make a buck off greenwashing business as usual. Schemes focus on cap-and-trade quotas, offsets, expanded nuclear power, and biofuels. All these are ineffective at best; some make things worse.

(The best explanation of cap-and-trade I’ve seen is a recently released 9-minute video, narrated by Annie Leonard. If you haven’t yet viewed it please take the time to do so now by clicking here.)

Just as we oppose the phony health care reform being cooked up by the insurance and drug robber barons so should we reject the rotten fare served up in Denmark by the global captains of industry and finance.

The mainstream environmental organizations are grateful for any crumbs granted by those they accept as our rightful rulers. Most of the U.S. union leadership take a similar approach to their corporate “partners” and political friends. But there are some hopeful glimmers in both camps.

Greenpeace International recently selected a new leader--Kumi Naidoo, a former South African anti-apartheid activist and long-time campaigner on human rights, poverty and climate issues. In an interview with AlertNet's climate change editor, Laurie Goering, he said,

“We have to recognize that leaders will not act until they are pushed. They have shown the complete inability - particularly the most powerful ones - to move from rhetoric to implementation....You have to look at history and what it teaches. That's that we have only managed to reverse major injustices and win struggles - take the civil rights movement, or the anti-apartheid movement - when decent men and women are willing to say, 'Enough is enough,' and put their lives on the line, go to prison if necessary. Right now what is needed is peaceful civil disobedience on a scale that we have not seen before.”

A recently formed Labor Network for Sustainability shows some early promise--though, of course, it remains as yet untested. They are among the 250 trade union delegates at Copenhagen–out of a total of 15,000 seated there. In their first blog posting from Denmark they quote Guy Ryder, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) which represents unions from around the world,

“The science shows clearly that the longer we wait, the higher the human, environmental and economic costs will be. We need governments to make ambitious commitments which will set in stone the core elements of a treaty that must be completed as a matter of urgency. This means legally-binding targets on emissions and longer-term financing to assist developing countries to adapt, as well as ‘just transition’ strategies to deal with the social and employment dimensions.”

An approach somewhat different than what we hear from most union leaders in this country. The blogger has to somewhat diplomatically explain,

“Not all unions and federations agree with the ITUC position on every issue. The Solidarity union in Poland and the AFL-CIO in the US have different positions on the issue of emission reduction targets, for example.”

Brother Ryder’s approach not only makes sense for the climate change crisis; it is a logical segue to the next topic.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs–Deficit, Deficit, Deficit
West Wing spokesman Robert Gibbs set the tone for the President’s approach to last week’s Jobs Summit,

“The government alone is not going to create and doesn’t have the primary responsibility to create the jobs that will get our economy moving again. That's the private sector. The President wants to hear from them on the type of environment that we can have that would allow for that hiring to take place...[Obama] is looking forward to having a broad discussion with, and getting ideas from, a whole host of people in the private sector — people that run fairly large companies, like FedEx, Google; small business owners that...do most of our hiring, financial experts, others that have ideas.”

Among los otros were our highest ranking labor statespersons. In general they favor an environment where the government forks over money to their employer partners for stimulus projects targeting their dues paying members. While the White House line is that past stimulus programs are working, and they were delighted with the news that official unemployment plunged from 10.2 to a mere 10.0 percent, they warn the 1.4 trillion dollar deficit that has been run up restricts free spending on more such projects.

Of course, increased revenue could pay for additional stimulus. But the President has not only pledged to not raise taxes on those earning under 250,000 a year: he also remains opposed to canceling the tax breaks granted the wealthy by the Bush administration. Struggling to come up with something, our labor visionaries proposed--a sales tax on stock transactions.

This far-sighted boldness could have inspired Shakespeare. “ It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” might be a bit over the top. Maybe Much Ado About Nothing would be more appropriate.

The President will deliver a speech on jobs tomorrow. That’s when Trumka, Stern, Hoffa, and the rest will get their marching orders on jobs and pass them along to us. There will be nothing said about a just transition conversion to a sustainable economy; no proposal to nationalize the banks to assure credit will flow to produce good green jobs and affordable housing; taxing the rich will not be mentioned; using advances in productivity to reduce the work week with no cut in pay will be absent; and there sure as hell won’t be any talk about diverting money from war to get the working class through this crisis.

In Brief...
¶ President Obama has said that the savings in Medicare reform cuts would be achieved by eliminating “waste and inefficiency” and that “nobody is talking about reducing Medicare benefits.” But the “reform” passed by the House would slash Medicare spending on home health services by 55 billion over ten years. The bill being debated in the Senate features similar cuts.
¶ The National Union of Healthcare Workers won an important round in their ongoing battle with SEIU to reunite more of the workers who lost control of their union when Chairman Andy removed their elected leaders and seized their assets. The NLRB dismissed frivolous SEIU objections to a petition by southern California Kaiser Permanente workers for a representation election filed back in February. SEIU says they will appeal.
¶ Some die-hard “leftist” supporters of the President have been saying Obama was “pushed” in to escalation in Afghanistan by the war machine. Articles in the
Washington Post and New York Times tell a different story. They show the commander-in-chief thought Pentagon plans for a surge were too timid and sluggish and pressed them to get fresh forces in sooner. The final plan was crafted by him, not by the Brass.
¶ More than five hundred members and supporters of Unite Here Local 311 rallied in front of the TJ Max distribution center in Worcester, Mass. Friday protesting back breaking mandatory overtime, company demands for health insurance take-backs, as well as advancing their own demands for a substantial raise. Rally speaker’s remarks were translated in to English, Spanish, Albanian and Chinese.

That’s all for this week.

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