Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 4, 2009

Let Other Voices Be Heard
The holiday period is usually a slow news cycle so I decided to take a break in updating the Daily Labor News Digest to spend some quality time with my main squeeze and catch up on nagging uncompleted tasks. I should have known better.

The war lords running the state of Israel never seem to take any holiday breaks. Kids were still playing with Hanukkah dreidels as F-16s began hundreds of bombing sorties in Gaza, taking out mosques, schools and television stations as well as government buildings. They also played a fun game of “roof knocking”–telephoning homes to tell residents they had one minute to get out before a bomb hits. The supposed main target is leaders of Hamas–called a “militant group” by the New York Times but actually the party that was elected to power by the people of Gaza–but there is plenty of “collateral damage” as well, including many children. After a week of this terror from air and sea hundreds of tanks rolled in to one of the most densely populated regions of the world yesterday.

On short notice there were mass demonstrations against the attacks across Europe and Canada as well as the Middle East. Yesterday 150,000 protested in the mainly Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin, and thousands marched with signs reading “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies!” in Tel Aviv. Police estimated 21,000 in the streets of Paris chanting “We Are All Palestinians!” Tens of thousands including singer Annie Lennox, human rights campaigner Bianca Jagger and Ken Livingstone, the city's former mayor, marched in London.

The normal holiday lull was not the only factor in the timing of the Hanukkah attack. The Israeli politicians are maneuvering to show how tough they are in anticipation of an imminent election. Even more important I would guess is the fact that Bush has less than a month left. The present White House is an enthusiastic cheerleader and apologist for the bombing, blockade and invasion.

As Joe Biden predicted during the election campaign, the new President will be tested by crisis right away. Here’s his first major challenge on the world scene. But we’ll have to wait a bit to hear his response. While the President-elect has freely talked about his plans for the economy, and even commented on the troubles facing the Governor of his home state, Obama has insisted that on foreign policy matters the country must speak with “one voice”–Bush.

But other voices are being heard and a lot more should be. The U.S. may not have boots on the ground as in Afghanistan and Iraq but the jet fighters, helicopters, gun boats and Hellfire missiles wreaking havoc in Gaza were all supplied by Washington.

That’s why thousands have already protested across the USA. Yesterday, as Mayor Bloomberg rushed to Israel to “show his support,” thousands of his constituents jammed Times Square in solidarity with the people of Gaza. These initial actions were largely composed of young Palestinian-Americans. They will undoubtedly be joined by students returning from holiday break. The broader antiwar movement has begun to respond as well. The National Assembly, ANSWER, UFPJ and US Labor Against the War have each issued statements condemning the Israeli attacks.

The USLAW statement concluded with this,

“We are guided by the belief that international working class solidarity offers a path to mutual understanding and peace. Working people of the U.S., Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine and throughout the Middle East must reach across the borders of our differences to create a common ground for mutual understanding that will create the peace, prosperity and security to which we all are entitled.”

Tomorrow (Monday, January 5) we’ll be back to our daily news updating–including reports on the invasion of Gaza from sources such as Independent correspondent Robert Fisk, Al Jazeera, and the Alternative Information Center in Israel.

Shy In His Triumph
I’m afraid I’ve been neglecting Andy Stern lately. Fortunately others haven’t. Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Pringle–who earlier exposed major corruption inside SEIU’s biggest California local–recently wrote a piece,
A year of triumphs and scandals for SEIU.

Chairman Andy declined to be interviewed by Pringle but, like a good CEO, delegated the job to a trusted lieutenant, Michelle Ringuette. When Pringle told her he had talked to several SEIU leaders who claimed to have alerted Stern about possible corruption and ethics violations by his appointee Tyrone Freeman–now expelled from the union and facing criminal investigation–as early as 2001 Ringuette categorically denied it ever happened. “Until we read these allegations in the L.A. Times, nobody ever brought before us serious credible evidence of wrongdoing,” she said.

Most of Pringle’s sources didn’t want to be named, fearing that could end their labor movement careers. But one did accept attribution–embattled president of United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) Sal Rosselli. He has already risked his future by challenging Stern on issues of basic policy and union democracy.

“There were lots of discussions about problems with Tyrone -- the way money was being spent, Ford Explorers for all the staff, second cars for some people,” said Rosselli, who had headed SEIU’s statewide California structure until being removed by Stern a couple of years ago.

There were other SEIU corruption scandals involving Stern appointees exposed last year, in Michigan and California. And, though not charged with any wrongdoing, Chairman Andy’s Midwest procounsel, Tom Balanoff, was embarrassed by leaked recorded transcripts of discussions with Governor Blagojevich about filling Obama’s Senate vacancy.

And what was the triumph for SEIU you may ask? Why helping to elect Obama, of course.

Earlier this week, Juan Gonzales wrote in the New York Daily News,

“At a meeting of SEIU's executive board next week, he [Stern] is expected to dismantle one of its largest locals, California's 150,000-member United Healthcare Workers West, by merging all or part of it into a new California affiliate, union sources say. By doing so, Stern plans to remove UHW's highly regarded president, Sal Rosselli, the most persistent and effective advocate of rank-and-file democracy within SEIU. Stern is rushing to do away with the UHW and Rosselli despite overwhelming opposition from the local's members, who flooded SEIU headquarters the past few weeks with more than 125,000 letters and petitions opposing the merger. Even Stern's supporters fear his take-no-prisoners strategy is about to spark brutal strife within organized labor, as other unions and labor-friendly politicians are forced to choose sides.”

No one should expect that the UHW folks will go meekly or quietly. You can follow their fight at the seiuvoice.org website.

Shrinking Media
A Village Voice without Nat Hentoff sounds like the Benny Goodman Band without a clarinet. But the publishers of the now much deformed alternative newspaper have chosen to axe the veteran holder of many awards. Nat told an interviewer, “I’ve been fired from better places than this.” I expect we’ll hear more from him.

Ketzel Levine, a correspondent for National Public Radio for 31 years, was midway through a series on how people were handling job loss when she found out she was among 64 being axed at NPR. She featured herself in the concluding episode.

The Kansas City Kansan has joined the list of newspapers, including the Christian Science Monitor, abandoning print editions for web only publication.

In Brief...

¶ This coming weekend labor leaders and activists will gather in St Louis for a conference to launch a Labor Campaign for Single Payer.

¶ It wasn’t just big name celebrities, charities, and universities that got bilked by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The New York AFL-CIO reports at least eight union pension and welfare funds in the Syracuse area got scammed as well. The status of the roofer’s fund is “critical.”

¶ An Economic Policy Institute report on the impact of the collapse of the Big Three on African-Americans says, “African-Americans earn much higher wages in the auto industry than in other parts of the economy, and the loss of these solid, middle-class jobs would be devastating...The motor vehicle and parts industry, a sector of the economy that has been particularly welcoming to African-Americans, is becoming a shrinking island of prosperity.” Black employment in manufacturing has declined 13.9 percent over the past year.

¶ Sam Gindin has an excellent new article out, Saving the Detroit Three, Finishing Off the UAW.

¶ Buried deep in a New York Times article entitled “Obama Weighs Big Increase in Jobless Aid” is discussion within the transition team about long term spending reductions to recover short term massive deficit spending for a stimulus package. “Among their ideas are a bipartisan commission to propose limits on future benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the entitlement programs whose projected future costs would squeeze out all other spending.”

This Wednesday we will post on this website’s home and news pages, and also send out to our e-mail list, the call, schedule, and registration information for the April 3-4 New Crises, New Agendas conference in Kansas City. Be sure to watch for it.

That’s all for this week.

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