Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 5, 2009

Relocation and Escalation
Last Tuesday there were celebrations in Iraq, cutting across ethnic, sectarian, and political divisions, as U.S. troops ceremoniously withdrew from urban areas. The head of the Baghdad regime proclaimed it a new holiday–national sovereignty day.

This joy will be short-lived. In fact, on that very day, hours after GIs withdrew from Kirkuk a car bomb in the Kurdish area killed 32 and wounded more than 100. The ethnic/sectarian divisions revived and manipulated by the occupiers continue.

The American troops haven’t gone very far. The city limits of Baghdad were redrawn so that the main U.S. Forward Operating Base Falcon has conveniently been placed outside the city. The roads and waterways are still patrolled by U.S. forces. And there is a high tech joint command center ready to quickly dispatch troops and air support in to the cities if the Baghdad regime forces get overmatched.

There are also still tens of thousands of U.S. contractors of all descriptions throughout Iraq. The occupation remains; Iraq is far from regaining genuine sovereignty. The demand for immediate, total, unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops and contractors is yet to be won.

As this phony withdrawal from Iraq was being peddled a major escalation was launched in Afghanistan. After getting approval from Russia to use their air space for supply missions, 4,000 fresh Marines are spearheading Operation Khanjar to take–and hold–positions over a wide area of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban have been dominant. The new tactics sound a lot like warmed-over Strategic Hamlets of the Vietnam war days–and will likely be just as successful.

Regrettably, in the face of all this the U.S. antiwar movement remains fragmented, seldom seen. Next weekend activists will gather in Pittsburgh for the second conference of the National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations. Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend this year but I look forward to reports back.

Spraying Round Up On the Green Shoots
That’s how one pundit described the impact of job loss figures on Federal Reserve Chair Bernanke’s reported sighting of “green shoots” of U.S. economic recovery. (For our readers outside the USA, Round Up is the brand name of a popular broad-spectrum herbicide produced by Monsanto.)

June was the eighteenth consecutive month that the American economy has lost jobs. There are now fewer jobs than at any time since May, 2000. The losses run the whole spectrum of the economy. Only education and health care have shown any gains and those have been minuscule.

The “official” unemployment rate generally cited by the media is at 9.5 percent. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics also has an “Alternative measures of labor underutilization report”–referred to as the “real” unemployment rate–which includes “discouraged” workers no longer counted under the official rate, and those working part-time because they can’t find full-time work. That rate now stands at 16.8 percent.

Along with job elimination there has been a decline in hours worked. The average work week has sunk to 33 hours. Average hourly earnings rose just three cents between April and June to 18.53 per hour, the smallest quarterly gain since at least 1964. It’s estimated that average weekly earnings have fallen at a 0.6 percent annual rate over the last three months.

What about the 787 billion dollar stimulus rushed through five months ago that was projected to create or save 1-3 million jobs?

Clearly it’s had no measurable impact on the private sector. The public sector has also lost jobs though perhaps the losses would have been greater without the stimulus. A Wall Street Journal article commented,

“While stimulus spending could prevent the economy from slipping deeper into recession, it alone isn't expected to be a major engine of second-half growth. That is partly because some of the money has gone to fill gaps in projects that lost state funding because of the precipitous drop in local tax receipts. In addition, many states are now looking at further job cuts as they struggle to balance budgets, despite the stimulus infusion.”

The stimulus has also skewed public sector priorities. While many areas are forced to close schools and fire stations their stimulus may be dedicated to widening and resurfacing streets. Lost revenue from the tanking economy has brought several states to the verge of bankruptcy–above all the biggest, California, which is essentially printing their own money in the form of IOUs.

President Obama is still telling us what sounded more plausible when he first took office–this crisis was a long time in the making and won’t be solved in a few months. But the stimulus was supposed to be a short-term, one-time shot in the arm to reverse the downward spiral. At the time he signed it in February the President said, “We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time,” and declared it was the “beginning of the end” of the crisis. A dream of sorts, maybe–but far from ending the crisis.

Nor did the administration’s destruction of tens of thousands of decent-paying jobs at GM and Chrysler, which in turn have adversely impacted hundreds of thousands of jobs depending on the auto industry, help matters any. Those jobs eliminated are not coming back and those still working in the industry will have less income to spend and greater expenses for health care.

The stimulus is a bust. The hundreds of billions handed out under TARP to the banks has not freed up credit. The low interest loan programs to salvage the housing market is a non-starter. The capitalist market economy is in a state of collapse and will not be resuscitated by handing out money to those responsible for the breakdown. If we remain chained to their failed system the present Great Recession will almost certainly evolve in to another Great Depression.

The sprouting of healthy green shoots that can provide sustenance for decent jobs and income for the working class will need to be nurtured in a planned economy designed for human needs, not profits for the super-rich. The base of such an economy can be built on a new public sector of nationalized key industries–finance, energy, transportation–and what remains of the auto industry. In my opinion, such a course has to become the center of discussion within the labor and social movements. It is also naturally linked to the solutions needed to tackle the climate change crisis.

Speaking Of IOUs
Last week I promised to take a fresh look at the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill this week. Because of space crunch I must defer this another week.

I also said I’d deal with the state of the health care crisis struggle. I’ve sometimes been accused of being like that proverbial lad who when asked the time of day had to begin his answer with a description of how Swiss villages came to make the first portable time-pieces. I’m still working on an article that will be far too long to include in the Week In Review format. I expect to be finished by mid-week and will then post it online and send it out to the e-mail list. There are a couple of health care items I want to mention now.

* Charges against the Baucus 13–arrested for seeking to testify for single-payer at Senate hearings conducted by Max Baucus–were settled last week. Ten of the defendants will have their charges dropped within six to twelve months. Three, who live in the DC area, were given sentences of forty hours of community service. Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic was one of these lucky three.

* You probably heard that Wal-Mart sent a letter to President Obama supporting employer mandates to offer health insurance, a departure from the position taken by groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. At the same time Wal-Mart made clear it supports a mandate for all uninsured people to buy reasonably priced coverage.

Actually this costs them nothing. Wal-Mart has long offered insurance to their “associates”–but many of them can’t afford it. Only 52 percent of Wal-Mart workers use the company plan. Los Angeles Times blogger David Lazarus speculates,

“...the company may be trying to put the kibosh on a ‘free-rider provision’ that would require employers to contribute to individual policies or government programs like Medicaid if workers have no other recourse for coverage.”

Not as well publicized is that Wal-Mart was not the only signer of the letter to the President. Also on board was SEIU president Andy Stern.

In Brief...
¶ Today is the 75th anniversary of what was known as Bloody Thursday in San Francisco. On that day cops and professional strike breakers tried to open up the waterfront that had been on strike since May. Two workers--Howard Sperry, a striking sailor, and Nick Bordoise, an unemployed fry cook–were shot and killed at the corner of Steuart and Mission streets. Worker outrage launched a general strike that soon resembled an insurrection. The ultimate victory was one of the key turning points in labor’s struggles during the Depression and made San Francisco a solid union town.
Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism was a headline that caught my eye in the English edition of Der Spiegel. Of course, those old enough to remember know the regime initially installed by Stalin in the Soviet occupation zone evolved in to one of the most brutal dictatorships in history–hardly a basis for nostalgia. What they miss is full employment, free health care, free education, low rents, cheap but high quality food and beer. Actually, if you could add democracy to those attributes fondly recalled you might have a real winner.
¶ At the UNITE-HERE convention last week fifteen of some of the leading unions–including major Change to Win affiliates–pledged to provide UNITE-HERE with “material and moral” support against SEIU raiding efforts.
¶ Congratulations to UFCW workers at Smithfield’s Tar Heel, North Carolina plant on winning a first union contract after more than a decade of struggle.

That’s all for this week.

fight2 by One Day In Julyteargas by One Day In Julyfuneral by One Day In Julybutton by One Day In July
One Day In July—A Street Festival For the Working Class
Remembering the 1934 Minneapolis Truck Strike–Minneapolis, Saturday, July 25

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