Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 29, 2009

No Bush, No Bush’s War?
The demonstrations in Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles last weekend against the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the smallest national mobilizations yet. The organizers should not be faulted. By and large, ANSWER, the National Assembly, Veterans for Peace, and others did a good job with their publicity and organizing sentiment. There was some encouraging lively participation by a new layer of student activists and US Labor Against the War had a modest presence as well. But collectively the three actions probably numbered no more than 15,000.

I think there are three major explanations for the diminished numbers.

1) The success of the administration/media scam that, with a withdrawal timetable in place, the Iraq war is good as over. Today’s reports of American troops assisting the Baghdad regime’s repression of the Sons of Iraq is just the freshest contradiction of this wishful thinking.

2) The companion lie that the war in Afghanistan has returned to focusing on those responsible for 9/11, using high tech weapons that limit American casualties and collateral damage. The war is in fact being escalated on several fronts–now openly including Pakistan–with many civilian casualties. And the NATO allies are becoming less willing everyday--requiring the surge in GIs being sent to harm’s way there.

3) Much of the movement used to focus on “Bush’s war”–despite its bipartisan support. Bush is gone and many are reluctant to come out squarely against what are now Obama’s wars.

With so many other big problems to address it would be easy to simply put antiwar activity on the back burner–if not in the freezer. But these wars are not just part of a smorgasbord of issues where we can limit ourselves to comfort food. Good people are dying. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being squandered. Women are struggling for basic human rights. Unions are fighting for their right to exist. We have an elementary duty of solidarity with the working people of Iraq and Afghanistan–not to mention our own GIs–to do what we can to end these unjust wars.

Though the movement may seem smaller and disoriented, we shouldn’t cut and run, or wait for somebody else to do something. We need to figure out how to rebuild a mass movement against these wars whose end are truly not in sight. A good focus for this discussion is a conference called by the National Assembly in Pittsburgh July 10-12.

A Suitable Reception
The leaders of the top twenty free enterprise economies–the G20--are gathering for a summit in London this week The hospitable British working class decided to give them a proper welcome. Organizers of Saturday’s Put People First march and rally in London had just the opposite experience of antiwar protesters in the USA. A coalition of unions, charities, and environmental groups had hoped to attract as many as ten thousand. The official police estimate was 35,000 and, from the looks of photos, may have been quite a bit bigger than that. In addition to numerous trade union and political party banners were those reading “Jobs, Justice, Climate,” and “Capitalism Isn’t Working.”

There were simultaneous demonstrations of 15,000 in Berlin and 20,000 in Frankfurt–home of Germany’s Wall Street.

Can Terrorists Learn From Bayer?
Last summer a Bayer CropScience plant in the Chemical Valley of West Virginia blew up. Two workers were killed and the local population was understandably concerned. When the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board announced it was coming to town to publically share its preliminary findings Bayer said no way. Because they have a barge dock on the Kanawha River they claim their facility is under the jurisdiction of the 2002 federal Maritime Transportation Security Act. To keep information from falling in to the hands of terrorists the Coast Guard must handle anything disclosed to the public, Bayer argued.

Bayer bought the plant from old Union Carbide. It was considered the sister plant to the UC operation in Bhopal, India. It makes and uses the same chemical--methyl isocyanate–that leaked in Bhopal, killing thousands in 1984.

What might terrorists learn from the investigation that would allow them to duplicate the West Virginia explosion? They might start by encouraging management to relentlessly work employees massive amounts of overtime. They could help the white shirts nurture poor communications between the plant and outside emergency crews. Then they might suggest careless storing of combustible and explosive materials. That would probably work as well for Ossama bin Laden as it did for Bayer.

The Show Opened and Closed In Philadelphia
It’s been hard at times to sort out what was going on in the fragmentation of the union once known as UNITE-HERE. I may have inadvertently contributed to the confusion in this column a couple of weeks ago passing on garbled press stories.

But now we know which way the rabbit was running. A convention in Philadelphia purporting to represent 150,000 (about a third) UNITE-HERE members mainly in textile, garment, and laundry founded a new independent union–Workers United. But their independence was short-lived. Before they left the city of Brotherly Love their new president, Edgar Romney, announced they had affiliated to SEIU.

Romney claims tens of thousands of the HERE hospitality wing joined in the split and that they will seek to organize more. HERE’s John Wilhelm says his members were kidnaped and denounces “Czar Andy” Stern for raiding.

What this will mean to the mainly low wage ranks remains to be seen. Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, after obtaining a copy of the 13-page affiliation agreement commented,

“Andy Stern, president of the powerful Service Employees International Union, seems hellbent on using classic corporate raider tactics to bring a huge portion of the U.S. labor movement under his absolute control.”

EFCA R.I.P.?
Friday evening Bill Moyers did an interesting PBS segment revolving around the Employee Free Choice Act. He advanced the claim by some union officials that it’s passage could lead to the organizing of some sixty-million workers. This was followed by a piece on a dynamic organizer with Chicago Jobs with Justice, James Thindwa, who integrates the fight for EFCA in his many, varied activities.

But by the time this aired it already appeared that EFCA was dead. Although supporters are sure they have a majority, sixty votes are needed in the Senate to force a vote. The lone Republican on record in support, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, jumped ship early this week. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska has been strongly opposed all along. The Democrats from Arkansas and Louisiana are thought unreliable. Missouri”s Claire McCaskill is said to be wavering. Now the San Francisco liberal, and one time EFCA sponsor, Dianne Feinstein says the uncertain economy is the wrong time for the bill.

Last week we wrote about a “compromise” proposal floated by the CEOs of Costco, Starbucks, and Whole Foods, being pushed on Capitol Hill by former Clinton administration adviser Lanny Davis. Earlier in the week EFCA’s Senate sponsor, Tom Harkin of Iowa, denounced it–accurately–as “written by CEOs for CEOs.” But Davis will be joined in his lobbying this week by Whole Foods’ top dog John Mackey and the EFCA supporters may have to eat their sprouts and consider this “third way.”

The alternative for labor, after spending hundreds of millions on the successful election of “friends,” will be to accept the same thing they got for their top priority under Bush–nothing.

Reform Czar
President Obama has appointed a “czar” to wheel and deal on health care reform. Nancy-Ann DeParle has quite a resume. She’s been in some top state and federal government health posts. But she also knows her way around the private sector healthcare industry. For example, she has served as a director on the boards of Medco Health Solutions, Cerner, Boston Scientific, and DaVita. In 2006 and 2007 alone, DeParle collected at least 3.5 million dollars in fees and the sale or awards of stock from healthcare firms. We know we can count on her to take on the robber barons.

By the way, Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus ran a poll of his readers on the question, “Are private health insurers the best to achieve universal coverage?” At last look, 86.2 percent answered no.

Want Money Back I
Tipton County, Indiana supposedly won 1200 well-paid jobs when Chrysler, and German parts maker Getrag, announced in 2007 they were building a transmission plant there. Tipton honored their bargain by taking on bonds totaling nearly ten million dollars for plant infrastructure. But the companies walked away from the deal leaving the county saddled with debts it can ill-afford. Representative Dan Burton wants Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to withhold additional aid until Chrysler puts a plan on the table that would make Tipton County whole for costs incurred preparing for the plant.

Want Money Back II
Economic development officials in Ohio say they will check whether Wal-Mart violated terms of a tax agreement by closing an optical lab near Columbus. Ohio gave the world's largest retailer a 1.8 million dollar job-creation tax credit in 2001 on the condition that the company create and maintain jobs there. Wal-Mart on Friday announced that it will close the lab, cutting 650 jobs. The lab makes eyewear for vision centers in Wal-Mart stores.

What Time Is It?
Why it’s conference time in Kansas City. This Friday and Saturday labor and environmental activists will be gathering for the
New Crises, New Agendas conference, sponsored by kclabor.org in partnership with Labor Notes Troublemakers Schools. I hope I’ll see you there. Because of the event we may be a little late with the next WIR.

That’s all for this week.

New Crises, New Agendas
Saving Jobs While Saving the Planet
Speakers, Discussion, Music
In partnership with Labor Notes

Kansas City, April 3-4
Click here for schedule

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