Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
May 24, 2010

Why We Buy Organic
Organic foods don’t necessarily have healthier nutritional content than those grown with chemical applications. Nor can it be said that organics always taste better. So why do chumps like me pay considerably higher prices for organic fruit, vegetables, eggs, and dairy products?

We got a fresh reminder about one reason this past week with a study published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that kids consuming even trace amounts of organophosphate residue on their vegetables became twice as likely to develop attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

That should come as no surprise. Organophosphates were originally developed for chemical warfare and they are known to be toxic to the nervous system. The scientists confirmed there are at least forty organophosphate pesticides, such as Malathion, registered in the U.S.

If kids undergo behavior modification through ingesting tiny amounts what about the workers spraying and tending to the crops in the field? And what of the workers manufacturing these toxic chemicals? It’s long been known that many thousands of birds die every year from pecking away at pesticide treated crops.

Pesticides and herbicides, along with chemical fertilizers, have produced once unimaginable crop yields. That’s why they are pushed by AgriBusiness. But, at the same time they have set in to motion serious long-term problems–depleting the soil; fouling our water; and spurring the evolution of super-bugs resistant to present chemical weapons used against them.

It’s hard for organic family farmers and coops to compete with chemical based AgriBusiness in the marketplace. That’s why today we must pay premium prices for organics–if we can find them where we shop. But I believe a planned conversion to organic farming and ranching needs to be an essential component of a working class program for the environment–and public and workplace health.

Nurses Still On A Roll
This past week RNs at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso voted 151-71 to be represented by National Nurses United. At the same time, workers in other bargaining units at the hospital voted for SEIU.

Also last week, 1,300 registered nurses at the University of Chicago Medical Center voted to affiliate with NNU.

And on Wednesday, members of the Minnesota Nurses Association, an NNU affiliate, voted by a margin of ninety percent to authorize a strike by 12,000 RNs at six Twin Cities hospitals if no settlement is reached by June 1.

Their Borders–Not Ours
Arizona has deservedly been the focus of much attention on its blatant racial profiling law aimed at immigrants, sometimes harassing citizens of some skin pigments as well. There’s also been a fair amount of opportunistic grandstanding by politicians coast to coast who, having had no intention of stepping foot in Arizona, enthusiastically endorse the boycott of that state

More serious. was a protest reported in the New York Times,

“In an escalation of protest tactics, five immigrants dressed in caps and gowns held a sit-in on Monday at the Tucson offices of Senator John McCain, calling on him to sponsor legislation to open a path to legal status for young illegal immigrants.

“Four of the protesters, including three who are in the country illegally, were arrested Monday evening on misdemeanor trespassing charges. The three were expected to face deportation proceedings.

“It was the first time students have directly risked deportation in an effort to prompt Congress to take up a bill that would benefit illegal immigrant youths.”

McCain, of course, a few years ago was promoting bipartisan immigration “reform” in partnership with the late Ted Kennedy. Now he’s running scared in a reelection campaign and he’s embracing the new papers-on-demand law and getting help from Sarah Palin.

But David Bacon reminds us in a recent article that it’s not just the right-wing immigrant workers have to confront. Obama’s ICE continues to target union members of high seniority on the job and with deep roots in their community. Check out the story about the ICE-ordered firings of SEIU members at ABM building services in San Francisco– Hundreds of Union Janitors Fired Under Pressure From Feds.

The boss class wants to have their torte and eat it too. They don’t want to relinquish control of their borders--but they also don’t want to lose a seemingly inexhaustible supply of cheap, disposable labor that can be highly profitable. They also find immigration to be a sometimes effective wedge to be driven in to working class solidarity.

The Obama strategy of going after mainly unionized immigrant bastions seems a reasonable temporary compromise to the Establishment. It is more subtle and insidious than the coarse xenophobia spewing out of the Arizona legislature.

When President Calderon of Mexico paid a State Visit to Washington last week both he and Obama were critical of the Arizona law. To their credit, union staffers from the Steelworkers and AFL-CIO organized a demonstration denouncing the Mexican government’s four-year-long campaign to destroy the independent mine workers’ union, Los Mineros. Members of Los Mineros have been on strike since July 2007 at the Cananea mine in Northern Mexico over health and safety and other contract violations.

Los Mineros is but one of many examples of anti-working class policies of Mexican employers, the Mexican government, and the multinational corporations that have flourished south of the border–especially since Clinton drove through NAFTA.

These policies are the driving force behind Mexican workers reluctantly leaving their homes and under difficult, often dangerous conditions, seeking work in the USA.

During more prosperous times in the U.S. economy this migration suited the bosses and both governments. Calderon loves to see citizens--that his policies made long term unemployed--go elsewhere and send money back to Mexico.

The Great Recession has made all this nodding and winking more challenging. Scapegoat examples such as Obama’s plan have to occasionally be made.

The working class is made up of those who must sell their labor to a boss in order to live. For those of us who recognize this definition there can be no such thing as an “illegal” worker. Nor do we accept that some of us can be considered “disposable” workers. An injury to one of us is an injury to all.

By all means boycott Arizona. But we can’t ignore the treachery of our “friends” elsewhere. The travel boycott is a good gesture. But solidarity requires more than gestures that cost us little. We need sustained actions in the streets and workplaces throughout the country to show solidarity with the fired janitors, the students risking deportation, and all the others in our class being targeted by our mutual adversaries–the bosses and their politicians. Solidaridad obrera no tiene fronteras.

‘U.S. Wasn't Ready for Major Oil Spill’
This assertion in a Wall Street Journal headline is beyond refute. The WSJ has done a good job in reporting the greed, incompetence, and even corruption on the part of BP, TransOcean, Haliburton, and their good buddies in Mineral Management Services.

But this rare honest examination still misses the point. There is no good way to be ready for a “spill” of millions of barrels of crude oil a mile under water. Once it has been released in to the high sea there is no effective way to contain its movement. Efforts to break it up with toxic chemical dispersants result in a net increase in environmental damage. And once the oil/chemical cocktail reaches delicate marshes it’s game over. There’s no way to clean up the mess in wetlands. If left alone, nature may eventually restore it–minus some newly extinct species–but it’s unlikely I’ll live long enough to see that day.

The only reliable measure to prevent another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is to permanently shut down all offshore drilling right now. No drill, no spill–it’s just that simple.

This sure-fire simple solution is nowhere on the agenda of industry, government, or even many environmental groups. The market demand for oil for fuel, lubrication, and a vast array of petrochemical products, will continue to inspire the cry of Drill Baby, Drill. The Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act “climate” legislation, heralded by Establishment environmentalists, is predicated on secure, domestic production of oil–which can only mean offshore or deeper in to the Arctic.

If we continue to rely on Big Oil, their bipartisan advocates in government, and groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, to be guardians of sea and shore we will deserve inevitable future disasters.

It is possible to maintain quality living standards while drastically reducing the need for oil. Expanded mass transit, rail service, and electric powered cars and trucks, based on renewable energy sources, can slash the need for gasoline, diesel and motor oil. We can revive packaging and container methods to replace much of the huge waste generated by petro-based plastic products.

Again these are simple solutions. But they won’t be achieved through market methods and won’t prevail without a hell of a fight against the mightiest vested economic interests in history. The only adversary with a chance in this struggle is the working class.

Burgers, Beans and Beer
Those traditional Three Bs will be available at a Cookout/Meeting of the Kansas City Labor Notes discussion group this coming Sunday, May 30. (Vegans and teetotalers are welcome and will be offered other food and beverage options.)

The group was formed by some local participants in the New Crises, New Agendas conference sponsored by this website in April, 2009. Along with discussing LN articles the goal was to build participation in the recently held Labor Notes Conference.

After dining at Noon, we will meet 1-3 to assess our experience, decide if we want to continue functioning as a group, and, if we stick together, plan some future goals.

If you live in the KC area and are interested in attending give me a call at 816-753-1672.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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