Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 21, 2008

It’s been a very busy week. That’s why I posted an earlier stand alone commentary on the financial crisis. If you are not on our e-mail list you can access that article by clicking here. Now on to other important stories.

The Wars
Tariq Ali opened a
recent article with this paragraph,

“The decision to make public a presidential order of last July authorizing American strikes inside Pakistan without seeking the approval of the Pakistani government ends a long debate within, and on the periphery of, the Bush administration. Senator Barack Obama, aware of this ongoing debate during his own long battle with Hillary Clinton, tried to outflank her by supporting a policy of U.S. strikes into Pakistan. Senator John McCain and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have now echoed this view and so it has become, by consensus, official U.S. policy.”

In a way, this is reminiscent of when Nixon expanded the Vietnam war by going after “sanctuaries” in Cambodia. But there’s a big difference. In 1970 huge, militant protests spontaneously erupted on campuses around the country. Four student demonstrators were killed at Kent State by National Guard troops and a few days later two were shot to death by police at Jackson State–fueling a wave of the biggest local demonstrations during that war.

Today not only the campuses are quiet–there has yet to be visible protest of any kind against the ominous escalation in to Pakistan. Some groups have issued statements on their websites. In a few areas modest actions against both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are projected for the October 11-12 weekend. But most peace groups plan to focus on supporting the “peace candidate” for President–who favors even greater escalation of the war in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In my opinion, this virtual invisibility of the antiwar movement contributes to the Bush administration’s claim of consensus. We owe those under fire in Asia today–as well as the memory of the 1970 Kent State and Jackson State martyrs–better than this.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered union movement in Iraq was anything but invisible–though there is no mention of their struggles in the mass media. We were able to post a story from our old friend, Amjad Al-Jawhary, about further demonstrations by thousands of electrical power workers in Baghdad. They are part of the Labor Movement Unifying Bureau which presently consists of the General Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq; General Union of Oil Workers, General Union of Electricity Workers, and the Union of Rail Workers. The Bureau’s goal is to bring all Iraqi labor groups together in collaboration.

‘A Recipe For Global Disaster’
James Hansen, who twenty years ago became the first leading scientist to warn about human-caused global warming, was recently in Britain. He testified at a criminal trial on behalf of six Greenpeace members charged with property damage in the course of a direct action protest at a Kent coal-fired power plant. After hearing Hansen’s testimony about the imminent danger posed by burning coal, the jury found the protesters had a “lawful excuse” for their action and acquitted them.

While in England, Hansen was interviewed by The Independent. The present level of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere stands at 385 parts per million (ppm)--about 100ppm above what it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. It is rising by about 2ppm a year. The most ambitious international efforts focus on stabilizing it at 450 ppm, though few see this as achievable. Hansen called this “a recipe for global disaster.” He says we’re “at the precipice of a planetary tipping point” right now and that “if we go over the edge we will transition to an environment far outside the range that has been experienced by humanity, and there will be no return within any foreseeable future generation.”

The no nonsense words of the world’s foremost climate change expert received wide, serious attention in Britain. In his homeland the prophet is largely ignored and the politicians are looking at different tipping points of their own. Building on voter discontent with high fuel prices, a bipartisan “Gang of Ten” in the U.S. Senate is putting together a deal for extensive offshore drilling, subsidies for shale extraction, and possibly incentives to revive nuclear power.

On a more positive note, we’re pleased to see the Climate Crisis Coalition of the Twin Cities (3CTC) is still plugging away at connecting up environmentalists with the labor movement. Tomorrow evening (Monday, September 22) 3CTC is sponsoring a forum on converting the present St Paul Ford plant and hydroelectric station, slated for closing in 2011, to green production with a union workforce. Among the speakers will be 3CTC coordinator and IATSE Local 13 member Christine Frank, and David Riehle, Local Chair, UTU Local 650. The event will take place at May Day Books, 301 Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.

Stickin’ With the Union
After their SEIU local merged in to the bigger SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) local the bosses at Stanford Hospital told workers they didn’t have to deal with the “new” union. They wouldn’t hear of any quick card check either–they would only recognize a vote. So the workers again cast their ballots–3-1 to be represented by UHW.

Now the UHW faces an even bigger challenge–an effort by SEIU president Andy Stern to put their local in to trusteeship. UHW is the national center of opposition within the union to Chairman Andy’s style of corporate unionism. The truteeship move is an attempt to oust the UHW leadership and replace them with loyal appointees. A hearing has been scheduled in San Mateo September 26-27.

A few weeks ago, thousands of UHW members marched in San Jose protesting the power grab. The Local is calling on members to again mobilize at this week’s hearings. UHW members have also filed a suit against Stern and secretary-treasurer Anna Berger.

Chairman Andy did have plans to transfer 65,000 UHW home care workers in to a local run by leaders he had appointed. That ran in to a snag when widespread corruption was exposed in the other local, forcing Stern to place it in legitimate truteeship.

This important fight to preserve union democracy and adversarial unionism is well documented at SEIUVoice.org.

Looking For A Different Union
Hundreds of healthcare workers in Cook County (Chicago), who had been represented by SEIU, have filed for an election to be represented by Caregiver and Healthcare Employees Union (CHEU). CHEU is an affiliate of the National Nurses Organizing Committee (NNOC)/California Nurses Association. NNOC/CNA already represents 1,800 Cook County Bureau of Health Services registered nurses.

‘Criminal Negligence’
The media has carried a lot of speculation about whether the MetroLink engineer, who apparently ran a red signal in the head on crash with a freight train that killed 25 near Chatsworth, California, was text-messaging at the time. State regulators moved quickly to prohibit rail workers from carrying cell phones.

Certainly, texting while operating any moving vehicle is unsafe. It hasn’t been established that was a factor in the accident–and may never be. But other aspects of the wreck reminded me of a 1996 accident in New Jersey.

A PATH engineer ran a red signal and collided with another train, killing him and two others. Investigators then concluded that fatigue, from working overtime on top of split-shifts was the primary factor leading to the wreck. The New York Times reported at the time, “Investigators also said yesterday that an automatic braking system used on some rail lines would have prevented Friday's collision.”

In the California case, the Los Angeles Times said,

“Federal investigators are trying to determine whether back-to-back, split-shift workdays that began before dawn and ended at 9 p.m. played a role in a Metrolink engineer's failure to heed warning lights in last week's crash that left 25 people dead.”


“Friday's disastrous collision that took the lives of at least 25 people might have been prevented if Metrolink and the region's freight railroads had installed sophisticated warning and control devices, according to safety experts who have been calling for such improvements for decades.”

The carrier bosses like split-shifts because it saves labor costs. They don’t like life-saving Positive Train Control (PTC) devices because it’s unproductive capital expense. As the UTU said in an editorial entitled No PTC? 'Criminal negligence',

“each well-intentioned attempt to force railroads to do something meaningful to reduce train-service employee fatigue and install PTC has been met with a barrage of mean-spirited railroad lobbying.”

Unknown Artist
I’ve known Andy Pollack for over twenty years and have been an admirer of his writing skills. I was surprised to recently learn of his talent as a cartoonist as well. Check out
a strip by Andy on the recent ICE raids in Laurel, Mississippi. (Remember to follow it clock-wise.)

Even though there’s more that could be said,

That’s all for this week.

Demand Guaranteed Healthcare on a SinglePayer model for everyone in America, for life.

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