Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
June 14, 2010

CORE Values
The Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (
CORE) slate has won a stunning 3-2 victory in leadership elections in the Chicago Teachers Union. With 30,000 members, CTU is the biggest local union in the state of Illinois.

CORE unseated the United Progressive Caucus–who had controlled the union for 37 of the last forty years–because the old guard proved ineffective in defending schools and teachers against Arne Duncan’s plans to “transform” education. Duncan had been superintendent of Chicago schools before being elevated by his neighbor, President Obama, to Secretary of Education.

President-elect Karen Lewis, a chemistry teacher, set the tone at her victory press conference when she said,

“This election shows the unity of 30,000 educators standing strong to put business in its place: out of our schools!”

That not only means fighting charter schools and standardized testing; CORE has also pointed out that a huge chunk of a supposed 600 million dollar deficit claimed by school management is some 250 million that has been diverted from schools to TIF projects enriching the local Establishment.

Hats off and best of luck to the CTU and its new leadership.

From the NNU...
¶ Minnesota Still Champ–For Now
On Thursday, the
Minnesota Nurses Association, an affiliate of National Nurses United, set a new record with the biggest nursing strike in U.S. history. 12,000 RNs walked out of fourteen Twin Cities facilities for the day in support of patient care and fair working conditions through nurse/patient ratios in their contract. The folks at Workday Minnesota have compiled a thorough record of articles, photos and video about their struggle which you can check out by clicking here.

Challenger Delayed 13,000 RNs in the California Nurses Association had been scheduled to strike the same day, over the same issues, at University of California hospitals and two other smaller facilities. A San Francisco Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order barring the strike at UC on Tuesday, acting on a request from the University as well as the state Public Employment Relations Board. The union organized protest rallies and informational picketing and has a June 18 court appearance to appeal
Some Scabs Had to Work In both states the bosses had already hired strikebreakers–wasted money in the case of UC. One small private sector hospital, Little Company of Mary in San Pedro, decided to get their money’s worth and locked out CNA members--even though the strike notice had been withdrawn. At least some Minnesota nurses were also prevented from returning to work by bosses on Friday and the MNA has filed ULP charges about that.
Victory Even Sweeter A state board in Pennsylvania has ruled that the 28-day NNU work stoppage at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia–which ended in a victory for the union–was in fact a lockout. The practical impact of the ruling is that those who did not work other jobs during the lockout are entitled to 550 dollars a week in unemployment compensation for the duration of the stoppage.

Strike Fever Spreads On Three Continents
So-called “austerity” plans being imposed by the IMF and World Bank in Europe have ignited big strikes and demonstrations in Spain, France, Italy, and above all Greece. British Airways cabin crews continue to wreak havoc with air schedules in a series of limited duration strikes, London Underground workers are organizing two 48-hour walkouts and Dockland Light Rail workers are also preparing more disruption in British ground transportation.

Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times from Zhongshan,

“Striking workers at a Honda auto parts plant here are demanding the right to form their own labor union, something officially forbidden in China, and held a protest march Friday morning. Meanwhile, other scattered strikes have begun to ripple into Chinese provinces previously untouched by the labor unrest.”

Hyundai workers in India also took industrial action last week.

In North America nurses weren’t the only ones on the picket lines. 32,000 striking teachers shut down all of Quebec’s schools for a day. 300 UFCW strikers from Mott’s processing plant in Williamson, NY have taken their picket lines to the parent company Dr. Pepper Snapple Group stockholder meeting, a Goldman Sachs Consumer Products Symposium in New York City, and the gates of several Dr Pepper plants around the country. Unite Here Local 2 called a three day strike at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco at the foot of Market Street. Unite Here Local 11 members walked off the job for a day at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. And 440 members of the Airline Pilot’s Association have completely shut down Spirit Airlines.

It just goes to show how us proles are such slow learners. No matter how often or loudly the bosses, pundits, and even many union officials tell us that the strike tactic is obsolete we keep turning to the simple things we know.

Coronation May Turn In To Convention
About 1400 delegates gather in Detroit’s Cobo Hall this week for the UAW Constitutional Convention. The once mighty union has taken quite a beating since its last gathering four years ago: a sea change concessionary agreement negotiated with the Big Three in 2007; further draconian take-backs extracted by the Obama administration during the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies; defeat of a major strike at Detroit Axle; and much more. The working membership of the UAW, which peaked out at over 1.5 million in 1979. has declined to 396,000 at last report.

Two extreme views of the current UAW are circulating. Pro-boss experts see the union as good as dead, certainly no longer a player in industrial relations. This is a case of the wish being father to the thought.

There are also some current or retired UAW members, including some who once earned respect as militant union activists, who have concluded that the UAW is now just as much the enemy of workers as the boss. They say we need to scrap the UAW, and most other unions, and build a new union movement. Explanations of how this would be done, and what the objectives of this new movement would be, are always quite hazy.

The primary flaw in both of these views is that they see the Administration Caucus, that has governed the UAW as a one-party regime since 1946, as the union. In dismissing any possibility of replacing this bureaucracy that has led to so many defeats, they ignore or dismiss the members as well. If we were to apply the “new unionists” approach to politics we’d have to say the government in Washington is rotten, the people keep electing them, therefore we should find or start a new country.

While the UAW is seriously wounded--in large part because of the disastrous policy of “partnership” with the boss practiced by the ruling party--it is far from dead. The ranks still make themselves heard even in these most difficult times.

A prime example was the overwhelming defeat of the Gettelfinger/King proposal to give profitable Ford some of the same concessions surrendered to bankrupt GM and Chrysler. That was probably the biggest, most humiliating setback the members have ever dealt the top union hierarchy.

A prominent leader in that fight last year was Gary Walkowicz, bargaining committeeman at Ford's Dearborn Truck plant in storied Local 600. He has announced he will run against the anointed successor to Gettelfinger, Bob King. Walkowicz is centering his fire on reversing the two-tier wage structure given to the Big Three in 2007 and getting adequate funding for the VEBAs providing retiree health insurance.

Jerry Tucker, who once defied the ruling party and was elected to a term on the UAW International Executive Board, has remained a part of the dissident movement in the UAW for decades. In a recent e-mail blast he concluded,

“Gary Walkowicz, whose voice spoke truth to power so eloquently during the Ford Contract reopener rejection vote, should command both the respect of his delegate brothers and sisters who are being given this rare opportunity lend their own voices to the reformation of a once proud union sorely in need of a new direction.”

While Walkowicz may not get a lot of votes he will get a hearing from many. The Detroit Free Press said,

“One UAW official, who declined to provide his name for fear of reprisal, said dissatisfaction within the UAW ranks runs deeper now than at any time in recent history. ‘Once we said that our job is to help the companies survive ... then it just threw us off task of representing our members' interests,’ he said.”

The specter of the ranks will be haunting Cobo Hall. There may not be a revolution there but it ain’t going to be no coronation either.

Let’s Play Kick the Keister
President Obama upset a few Sunday School teachers when he disclosed to the media his circle of experts on the Gulf oil crisis would help him determine who to kick in their most padded part of anatomy. The chosen target of this metaphorical violence is now clear–the really rich guys with foreign accents. BP may not have to fall on their sword but a size 12 Nike can be painful enough.

Tomorrow evening the President will speak to a national television audience from the White House for the first time. He didn’t do that when he eliminated tens of thousands of jobs in the auto industry. Nor did he chat to us when he greatly escalated the war in Afghanistan. It’s a sign that this crisis is now considered a serious threat–not just to birds and turtles and wild flowers but to politicians. He is expected to demand BP set aside big bucks to speed up financial claims from the tourist and fishing industries.

This, of course, comes after nearly two months of the Administration giving BP a free hand in every bizarre scheme they could imagine to stop the flow of oil in to the Gulf. It comes after parroting the BP line about the size and scope of the disaster and their futile attempts to fix it. Not only was the public deceived but scientists were stonewalled as well. Now, with the assistance of helpers such as Rev Jesse Jackson, and MOVEON.org, the President will attempt to pile more sins on the souls of these arrogant Englishmen than the Archbishop of Canterbury can arrange to absolve.

But the truth is the Gulf catastrophe illustrates that there is no single bad guy, the capacity for disaster is greater than the ability to repair them, that nearly every action results in unwelcome reaction.

Ban offshore drilling? That obvious step is opposed by all the public officials and industry spokesman on the Gulf Coast rightfully complaining about their lost income--because it would cost many oil industry jobs.

Boycott BP? That would mainly hurt those small businesses operating BP logo filling stations under franchise agreements–not the rich Brits.

Some have hoped the Gulf crisis would help revive the broader environmental movement. Some groups have taken advantage of outrage over oil soaked birds to raise money. But, as Kate Galbraith notes in today’s New York Times,

“There is a flip side, however: other environmental causes could get starved of money and attention. For the past 50-plus days, the oil spill has dominated the headlines, the news programs and even the comedy shows across the United States (the comedian Stephen Colbert recently suggested that the Gulf of Mexico be renamed the Black Sea). Other issues could get overlooked.”

Indeed they could. And that’s part of the program. Even the Times had little to say about the latest round of climate change talks in Bonn, mostly limited to those accepting the Obama/China Copenhagen accord. Global warming continues relentlessly. Vermont Yankee keeps leaking. Mr President ask not whose ass the bell tolls for, it tolls for thee.

Mary Kristine Cheatum
If you called Central Casting and asked for a kindly grandmother you’d get somebody who looked like Kris Cheatum. Kris was a kind and gentle person but she was also a ferocious and tireless opponent of war and advocate for human rights. She seemed to be at every demonstration and picket line. She maintained an e-mail clearing house to forward messages about progressive activities great and small. A practicing Unitarian, she assisted many, including me, in getting church facilities for worthy public events. Kris passed away last week at age 73 and we will all miss her.

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

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