Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
September 21, 2009

A Singular Victory
Commenting on the
resolution supporting single-payer adopted at the AFL-CIO Pittsburgh convention my old friend Mark Dudzic was spot on,

“This resolution is an extraordinary achievement. Its passage was made possible by the powerful organizing efforts of grassroots labor activists around the country. Now our job is go back to our communities, build the campaign and take the fight to the halls of Congress.”

Mark, as national coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer was a key player in these efforts that also included the tireless plugging away of the All Unions Committee for Single Payer Health Care, who assembled hundreds of union body endorsements of HR676; and the Labor Caucus for HR 676, a coalition of national unions that fought for the more than seventy single-payer resolutions submitted to the convention resolutions committee.

This sentiment for single-payer–which reflects its popular support among the working class–was just too great to be buried, as are most resolutions deviating from the leadership’s program. But the top echelon didn’t want a contentious debate, and perhaps embarrassing vote, with President Obama coming to address the delegates. They brokered a compromise where the convention would go on record in support of Obama’s reforms–with a “public option”–as well as single-payer. It remains to be seen whether the new federation leadership will follow through on previous threats that lack of a robust public option would be a deal breaker for support of “reform” in congress.

The convention stand may seem inconsistent and illogical. The single-payer resolution received next to no attention in the mass media. Still it’s an important victory for at least two reasons:

• It shows some life is still left in the union movement. The bureaucracy is not monolithic and rank and file campaigns can still get a wedge in here and there.

• The wedge of this resolution opens up new opportunities for building labor/community alliances that can take on the robber barons and the incipient ultra-right.

There is even discussion going on in the San Francisco Central Labor Council about urging the AFL-CIO to call a Solidarity Day march on Washington, taking back the streets with Medicare For All as a central theme. That’s a worthy goal.

The independent UE also adopted a single-payer resolution, and staged a public rally in support, at their convention in New Haven last week. Labor Notes director Mark Brenner, who led an economics workshop at the UE gathering, submitted an interesting blog, Now For Something Completely Different: the UE Convention.

The Scourge Persists
The first President from the South since the Civil War, Jimmy Carter, revealed to NBC, “There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be President.” He was immediately rebutted by the first African-American to be elected President who, in a breath taking round of five appearances on Sunday morning political TV shows, gave the cracked tea pot crowd the benefit of the doubt of just expressing their political differences.

But a Bob Hebert column in the New York Times, took a sharply different view,

“Did we really need Jimmy Carter to tell us that racism is one of the driving forces behind the relentless and often scurrilous attacks on President Obama? We didn’t know that? As John McEnroe might say, ‘You can’t be serious.’”

Among the recent examples cited by Hebert of open racism promoted by talk radio and cable TV, and blessed by many mainstream leaders of the Republicans,

* One of the leaders of the so-called tea party movement, Mark Williams, refers to the President of the United States as an Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug, and a racist in chief.

* Among the posters at the gathering of “conservative” protesters in Washington was one that said, “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.”

* When a gorilla escaped from a zoo in Columbia, S.C., a longtime Republican activist, Rusty DePass, described it on his Facebook page as one of Michelle Obama’s ancestors.

The mainstream media steers clear of the openly racist incitements of the Rush Limbaughs and Glen Becks. But they furnish lavish free publicity to the ultra-right’s racist tinged campaigns. For example, one of the biggest stories of the week, going on for days, was hidden camera footage taken by an extremist operative dubbed a “documentary film maker.” Posing as a pimp, accompanied by a teenager playing the role of his indentured employee, this screen artist got an ACORN staffer to offer some tax advice for his community prostitution business.

The racist operative had been thrown out of other ACORN offices using the same sting pitch but persisted because, as he acknowledged, he wanted to get something on this group that was registering poor Blacks who would likely vote Democrat.

While the Republicans led the charge on ACORN the Democrat appeasers quickly latched on. The Republican motion to strip ACORN of federal funding got solid bipartisan support on an 83-7 Senate vote. Now the President is calling for an investigation of ACORN and the Black Democrat Governor of New York has cut off state funding to their one time ally.

Compare the ACORN scandal to the scant coverage given Jamie Leigh Jones, the Halliburton/KBR contract clerical worker who was gang raped by her co-workers in Iraq and then imprisoned in a shipping container after she reported the attack to the company. The occupation authorities refused to allow any criminal action. Indeed, they have continued to pump lots of federal money in to this company. Finally, this past week, after three years, a court authorized a civil law suit.

Did you hear former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, along with Royal Dutch Shell who has employed her since she left her cabinet post, are the subject of a corruption investigation by the Justice Department relating to sweetheart shale leasing deals on public land in Colorado?

No, these stories didn’t make NBC Nightly News, or commentary by Cokie Roberts on National Pentagon Radio. Government/corporate protection of rapists, and cabinet members cutting deals with Big Oil to diddle both government and the environment in exchange for a cushy job, just don’t compare to exposing a naive community organizer.

Of course, criticizing the policies of President Obama, or ACORN, does not make one a racist. Regular readers know I’m not a big fan of either. But you also don’t have to be a supporter of Obama to defend him against racist attacks–even when he downplays them.

Hebert says,

“.... it’s time for other Americans, of whatever persuasion, to take a stand, to say we’re better than this. They should do it because it’s right. But also because we’ve seen so many times what can happen when this garbage gets out of control.”

I agree we should oppose racism because it is the morally right thing to do. But moral appeals haven’t gotten the job done yet. We need to understand the history of racism, and who profits from it, before we can take effective steps to begin to rid ourselves of the scourge.

People aren’t born with it. Anti-Black prejudice didn’t exist among Europeans before the sixteenth century. The university at Timbuktu was highly regarded by medieval European scholars.

The poison of Black inferiority was concocted by those who developed slavery to exploit new economic opportunities they had discovered in the western hemisphere. Only by branding their victims sub-human could they give cover to the inhumanity of slavery and slave trade.

Even after slavery was finally eliminated in America through civil war the victorious capitalist class continued to promote racism as a way of dividing the working class and maintaining a super-exploitation of our Black component. That’s what keeps the venom flowing and it becomes more open and aggressive in times of crisis and discontent.

Yes, we should oppose racism out of a sense of morality. All workers should also fight it because giving in to it is dumb and self-destructive. We have to overcome racism to advance our class interests. There’s no two ways about it.

In Brief...
¶ Thousands protested across British Columbia on Saturday against the Liberal provincial government’s plan to introduce Harmonized Sales Tax. HST combines federal and provincial taxes in to one handy package–but, in the process, adds regressive sales tax for the first time to a wide range of goods and services.
¶ More good news, bad news on the environmental front. According to a report soon to be published by the International Energy Agency, last year saw the biggest drop in carbon emissions in four decades. However, the sole cause for this welcome respite is the global recession. The IEA cautioned, “We have a new situation, with the changes in energy demand and the postponement of many energy investments. But this only has meaning if we can make use of this unique window of opportunity. (That means) a deal in Copenhagen.”
¶ Two more heroes passed away this past week.
Crystal Lee Sutton, the real life inspiration for Sally Field’s Norma Rae, lost out to brain cancer at age 68. Mary Travers, who began as a backup singer for Pete Seeger before hooking up with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey to form the legendary Peter, Paul, and Mary, succumbed to a long struggle with leukemia at 72.
¶ The first meeting of the new Kansas City Labor Notes Discussion Group will be this Sunday, September 27, Noon, at 2113 Erie, North Kansas City. A lunch will be served and the article for discussion this time will be:
Recession Over? Depends Who You Ask by Mark Brenner. The group plans to meet on the fourth Sunday of each month.

Thanks to those of you who promptly responded to our fund appeal. You’ll get a personal note soon. This was a good start but we can still use more. Use our secure PayPal button below or send a check or money order, made out to Bill Onasch, to 3927 Kenwood, Kansas City, MO 64110.

As always, there were lots of other important stories that we didn’t have room for. There’s plenty available on our Daily Labor News Digest and recent stories over the past ten days are stored here

That’s all for this week..

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