Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
March 8, 2010

International Women’s Day is a holiday, like May Day, with roots in the USA but celebrated mainly in other lands. It’s taken seriously in Turkey, for example. Seher Tümer, a public sector union leader, has been held in jail since her participation in last year’s IWD. You can check out and support the solidarity campaign for her release by clicking

The first Women's Day was organized in 1908 by American socialist women fighting for the right to vote and promoting organization of women workers through the Women's Trade Union League. Fifteen thousand marched through the streets of New York. The following year they organized another mass demonstration in New York in preparation for a major garment worker strike. Their actions inspired a 1910 Women's Conference of the Socialist International to proclaim an annual coordinated International Women's Day, beginning in 1911.

In 1917 an IWD demonstration in Petrograd (later Leningrad, now St Petersburg) became the launching pad for the revolution that first overthrew the Russian Czar and then, eight months later, established the Soviet Union. IWD was then institutionalized as an official national holiday by a grateful Soviet government.

During the “second wave of feminism” in the 1970s young women activists revived IWD marches and other events in many North American cities. They shook things up, helping to win the right to choose, and raising demands for affirmative action and equal pay for comparable work. But today you will find no mention of IWD on the NOW web site–nor will you get a clue from the CLUW site.

The potential for truly mass action is still there, in my opinion. The biggest demonstration I’ve ever seen was held as recently as 2004–the March for Women’s Lives, which brought 1.3 million to the Mall in our nation’s capital. Unfortunately, it coincided with the launch of ABB–Anybody But Bush.

Like most of our unions, the mainstream feminist organizations have been completely coopted by the Democrats. I still get messages from them detailing outrages against women. But, instead of being summoned to protest, I’m asked to send an e-mail to an elected official, and to send money to those doing the mailing. Retreating from high profile advocacy, they instead pin all hope on lobbying and voter turnout.

As a result, even though women are on the cusp of becoming the majority of the workforce in the USA, they are losing ground in rights and the struggle for equality up and down the line. Operation Rescue, on the other hand, is higher profile than ever, even inspiring and defending the cold-blooded murder of Dr Tiller in Wichita.

And what about those “friends” in office? The First Lady is hosting an IWD reception at the White House for selected women leaders--but her husband doesn’t believe in asking Supreme Court nominees about their views on Roe and certainly doesn’t consider anti-choice amendments to his insurance “reform” to be a deal breaker.

We’ll know the working class is moving forward once more when we reclaim our proud heritage embodied in celebrations such as International Women’s Day.

March 8 is also the anniversary of the launching of the kclabor.org website–this year our tenth. We are having a modest public celebration on March 21 and I will say more about that next time.

Tough Love, Tough Choices, Tough Crowd
Steven Greenhouse and Sam Dillon, writing in the New York Times,

“The decision by school authorities in Central Falls to fire the 93 teachers and staff members has assumed special significance because hundreds of other school districts across the nation could face similarly hard choices in coming weeks, as a $3.5 billion federal school turnaround program kicks into gear.”

Its importance was emphasized by the President who twice went out of his way to hail the Rhode Island union busting. On the first occasion he said,

“If a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn’t show signs of improvement, then there’s got to be a sense of accountability. And that’s what happened in Rhode Island last week.”

Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, an educational research and advocacy organization, told the Times,

“This is the first example of tough love under the Obama regime, and that’s what makes it significant.”

The gratuitous slap in the face of teacher unions coincided with a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council. That august body was already in a bad mood after Obama’s hard ball tactics on health care, inaction on jobs, and belated recognition that their political centerpiece–the Employee Free Choice Act–is no longer among the living. They fussed and fumed. But, at the end of the day, the Wall Street Journal could report,

“The AFL-CIO plans to roll out its biggest political campaign ever, surpassing the $53 million spent in 2008 to help elect President Barack Obama, to try to avert a repeat of the 1994 midterm election when Democrats lost a majority in Congress.”

(The 53 million figure is just what the federation spent. It’s affiliates, and Change to Win unions, spent another 400 million on top of that.)

In addition to the “underperforming” tough love candidates, many other school districts are facing just plain tough choices because of financial problems. The decline in home values has shrunk property taxes, consumer belt tightening means plunging sales tax revenue, and state assistance to districts is being slashed or eliminated. Public higher education is taking their lumps along with K-12 districts.

Fortunately, there are substantial numbers of students, and some campus unions, that are not prepared to accept defeat without a fight, are not willing to confine themselves to writing a public official or trying to save the Democrat majority in Congress.

Last Thursday, there were once again dozens of demonstrations and building occupations in California, involving tens of thousands. For the first time, they were joined by numerous other actions around the country on the same date.

In Minneapolis, a big crowd of students at the University of Minnesota responded to a call to rally from AFSCME Local 3800, the campus clerical workers union. Their slogan was “chop from the top,” targeting 250 U of M administrators making 200,000 dollars a year or more.

In Olympia, Washington proceedings of the state legislature had to pause as they were serenaded by students in the gallery, an innovative protest song set to the melody of Amazing Grace. (You can see it on YouTube by clicking here.)

There were significant student/faculty actions at Hunter and Stony Brook in New York and dozens of more modest events elsewhere. When times get tough the toughest do get going. I look forward to seeing more of this emerging new generation of fighters at the Labor Notes Conference where they will be prominently featured.

Is There A Plan ‘C’?
Juliet Eilperin and David A. Fahrenthold wrote in the Washington Post,

“As climate change legislation stalled in the Senate, the Obama administration noted that it had a workable -- although admittedly unwieldy -- Plan B. If Congress wouldn't cap U.S. emissions, officials said, the Environmental Protection Agency would do it instead. Now, even Plan B may be in trouble.

“On Thursday, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) introduced a bill that would put a two-year freeze on the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants. His was the latest of various congressional proposals -- from both chambers and both parties -- designed to delay or overturn the EPA's regulations.”

Essentially that keeps the USA where we were under the global warming deniers of the Bush administration–virtually no regulation of greenhouse emissions.

Actually business hasn’t had much to fear from the Obama EPA so far. They had already been looking at a quite generous annual threshold of 100,000 tons of CO2 emissions before regulation would kick in. And a story in the Wall Street Journal said,

“The Environmental Protection Agency is riling many businesses with proposals to regulate greenhouse gases for the first time, but data suggest it has been slow out of the gate under President Barack Obama in enforcing existing regulations on traditional pollutants. In fiscal 2009, the EPA's enforcement office required polluters to spend more than $5 billion on cleanup and emission controls—down from $11.8 billion the previous year...”

In other words, today’s EPA is less intrusive in corporate polluting than the Bush EPA.

In Brief...
¶ The syntax is tortured and downright timid but the message from climate scientists around Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews of Climate Change is crystal. After factoring in some additional contributions to global warming, such as evaporation from warmer oceans, they say, “There is an increasingly remote possibility that climate change is dominated by natural rather than anthropogenic [man-made] factors.”
¶ We received a brief message from the ATU this morning: “Negotiators for the ATU Crimson Ride drivers and First Transit arrived at a tentative agreement last night or early this morning. No details are available at this time. We will inform you as soon as we get them in Washington.” The drivers of the University of Alabama campus bus system have been fighting for a first contract since voting for the ATU last summer. Last week they staged a one-day strike, which was followed by a lock-out. The drivers have received strong support from the local Black community as well as students–including an active chapter of SDS redux.

That’s all for this week.

Coming Events...
Tenth Anniversary Of kclabor.org
North Kansas City Library, March 21

Labor Notes Conference
Detroit, April 23-25

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