Bill Onasch

Week In Review February 20

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Feb 202017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Where to Start?

That’s always been a challenge for the Week In Review since the launch of this more or less weekly missive on a regular basis 13 years ago. But Trump’s simultaneous Full Frontal assaults on workers, women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT folks, and the media is unprecedented in living memory.

It is ambitious to the point of hubris. At least superficially, its methods often resemble odious authoritarian regimes in other lands that ultimately led to massive death, destruction and misery during the 1930-40s.

But the USA today is not a defeated, humiliated Germany and there is no imminent danger of worker revolution that led the ruling class in Italy and Spain as well as Germany to reluctantly embrace a fascist solution. The Trump blitzkrieg is a preemptive offensive to divide, exhaust, demoralize, and neutralize opposition to his America First agenda to transform class and social relations top to bottom. It is viewed as a risky gambit by top echelons of the ruling class who would be content to get some tax breaks, and fewer regulations with out reviving hostile mass movements.

I could have picked the proud protests against the travel ban correctly viewed as an attack on Islam; the outpouring of support for Planned Parenthood and the projected Women’s Strike; the hastily assembled demonstrations against the crackdown on immigrant workers; or the fight against new draconian anti-union legislation in Iowa, for this week’s lead. These and more are worthy of attention and support and both will be forthcoming in future WIRs.

But this week I will return to an overarching crisis that needs to remain front and center.

‘Of Biblical Proportions’

The term comes from the numerous cataclysmic events recorded in what Christians call the Old Testament–like the fire and brimstone destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; the great flood that floated Noah’s Ark; the series of escalating plagues against Egypt to secure release of enslaved Jews. According to scripture, these were acts of divine retribution against disobedience, implemented by a deity who reserved the sole right of vengeance.

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If you follow the climate news stories posted on our companion Labor Advocate blog you know there are events of such scale occurring in our time with alarming frequency. Just since our last WIR:

* 200,000 in northern California fled their homes because of a credible threat that a dirt spill way at North America’s highest dam might fail, releasing a tsunami. After some frantic emergency patchwork, those temporary refugees were allowed to return home–but warned to stay prepared for another possible evacuation as more monsoon like rains were expected.

* Not so widely publicized, a chunk of the Antarctic ice shelf the size of Manhattan Island broke away from that melting deep freeze continent and even bigger separations are imminent.

* Perhaps disoriented by this Antarctic impact on the South Pacific, hundreds of whales beached themselves in New Zealand.

* While marine mammals always attract sympathetic attention, a dire situation in East Africa is largely ignored. Climate & Capitalism describes the impact of severe drought–“Failed harvests, disease, deteriorating water and pasture conditions, and animal deaths mean 12 million need food aid now, and the situation is fast deteriorating.”

But these calamities are not divine wrath like those in Abrahamic lore. They are natural reactions by a planet extremely stressed by human activity. Mere mortals are threatening the viability of the biosphere that has nurtured our species long evolution to what we call civilization.

Scientists explain climate change, caused by unnatural global warming, is mainly the result of unintended consequences from burning fossil fuels. They can predict the impact and pace of its likely future course. And most importantly, they offer counter-measures that, if taken soon enough, can stop it short of collapse of our biosphere.

Science Also Under Attack

Science is also in the cross-hairs of the lethal America First. While all major party politicians are suspected of deceit, the Liar-in-Chief in the White House is downright pathological–with a particular trash-talking obsession with climate science.

Trump’s nominee for Science Adviser has characterized climate science as “a glassy eyed cult.” EPA employees, including scientists, took the extraordinary, though unsuccessful step of urging Senators to reject Trump’s choice for Agency Administrator. His already confirmed Secretary of State, whose duties include compliance with commitments in the Paris climate deal, and approval of pipelines crossing U.S. borders, was until a few weeks ago CEO of America’s biggest fossil fuel company. And Army Corps of Engineers ecologists were ordered, from the very top of the chain of command, to stand down from their unfinished Environmental Impact Report that had been holding up construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline along side and under the Missouri River in the Standing Rock Reservation.

It is ironic that the top prelate in the church that once burned Bruno on the stake, and forced Galileo to recant, when their science clashed with church dogma today is an outspoken defender of climate scientists and an advocate for climate action. I don’t agree with much of Pope Francis’s teachings but I sincerely welcome the spiritual leader of hundreds of millions to our righteous cause.

A recent demonstration by hundreds of scientists in conjunction with a conference of the association that publishes Science magazine, is also gratifying.

But neither prayer nor pleas from scientists are sufficient to reverse the destructive course of Global Capitalism and the governments that serve them. That’s the mission of the working class majority—if we choose to accept it in time. And that time is growing short.

The Best Defense…

A maxim first attributed to George Washington is usually spot on—the best defense is a good offense. That’s the spirit of the message in a widely reprinted article by Jeremy Brecher, a well known labor historian and co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability—How Labor and Climate United Can Trump Trump.

It’s a good start toward moving from the popular but hazy call for “resistance” to coordinated counter-attacks on all fronts. Still, in my opinion, the climate crisis demands an even greater sense of urgency—and a more comprehensive program to win. In the past, Brecher and others have called for declaring a climate emergency requiring government intervention on the same scale as the economic mobilization during World War II. A planned restructuring is essential.

The global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy advances a demand of socialization of all energy under worker management. That’s the only sure way of converting to the goal of 100 percent clean renewable options to fossil and nuclear.

That’s good—but still insufficient. In my view, to implement the full scope of what’s needed for a just and sustainable society would require at least socialization of finance and transportation as well.

I’m willing to stand with the Pope, Naomi Klein, Bernie Sanders, and Bill McKibben in actions demanding meaningful measures against climate change. But I will also work for not just inclusion of the workers’ movement in broad demonstrations but for the working class to lead the fight for class and climate justice.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review February 12

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Feb 122017
 

by Bill Onasch

Unions Need to Lead’

Taking a chance that I will still be around to celebrate the 2018 New Year, I just voluntarily mailed in a check to cover my 2017 dues to Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1287. Us old folks only have to pay 4.50 a month so it is affordable and simpler to pay annually for those like me who took a lump sum pension payment. By remaining a member I’m entitled to attend and speak at meetings, vote for top Local officers—and get the ATU’s magazine In Transit.

When I first became a member 27 years ago the most interesting part of that magazine was almost always the Canadian page. The Locals north of the border tended to be a lot more militant and were involved in the NDP, Canada’s labor party.

But States’ side the International and most Locals functioned like traditional AFL craft unions, a poster child for the so-called “service” model of unionism. Membership meetings often failed to meet very modest quorums. Strikes were authorized only if the employer refused arbitration. Lawyers were retained for both Interest (contract) and grievance arbitrations. Voluntary member contributions to COPE were spent to try to retain at least a friendly ear of politicians—mostly Democrats but some “good” Republicans–controlling transit funding.

Not surprisingly, this strategy and “culture” led to many take-away contracts, privatization, and cuts in transit funding. There was a scandalous situation in Chicago where separate Locals for train and bus divisions fought each other more than draconian concessions demanded by the CTA.

With a hefty boost from the Canadians, a new reform International leadership won a contested election at the 2010 ATU convention. Larry Hanley out of the Staten Island Local took over the President’s office. Hanley had earned a good reputation in the New York labor movement as a solidarity builder.

The number two spot of Executive Vice-President was won by Javier Perez who I had come to know and respect when he was president of Local 1287 in the early Nineties. Javier understood the importance of mobilizing the ranks in action and reaching out for broader support in the community, both in our struggle for a negotiated, no concession contract and fights against cuts in transit service. Some good work was done—but not so much after he was kicked upstairs to climb the long ladder of International Vice-Presidents.

Turning around a union with 190,00 members in 240 Locals in 46 states and nine provinces is a bit like steering an aircraft carrier in to a 180 turn through heavy rolls. There was active hostility from some staff and Local leaders and a great deal of apathy to overcome. This transformation is still far from complete but some important objectives have already been won and others show promise. These include:

* Setting up a new internal education department that included, among others, former leaders from the now dormant Labor Party who I know well and admire. They were dispatched to Locals to train leaders and rank-and-filers alike in proven methods of mobilizing both in the workplace and community outreach.

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* Unprecedented ATU participation in the biennial Labor Notes Conferences that attract hundreds, sometimes thousands, of labor activists exchanging experiences and new ideas.

* Also Influenced by the example of the Chicago Teachers Union, the once warring bus and train Locals in the Windy City are now collaborating in high profile marches, rallies and community meetings, along side their passengers protesting the CTA attacks on both.

* Involvement in the climate change movement through the People’s Climate March in 2014, joining protests against the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and affiliating to the Labor Network for Sustainability.

* Supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Ferguson and around the country.

I now actually look forward to receiving In Transit—and not just because they once linked to a WIR Extra about transit. Its pages reflect a more activist, adversarial union with a developing social vision. And they are beginning to come to grips with the political crisis confronting the working class. This was expressed In the first post-election issue in a piece entitled “Unions Need to Lead,”

But rather than just going along and supporting candidates that simply agree with us on most issues, we need to set the agenda for the political candidates of today and tomorrow. Only then, working with our coalition partners, can we slowly start to get people talking about issues that are important to working families.


“Bernie Sanders’ campaign proved that there are millions of passionate people out there who believe in a more just America. While that campaign is now over, the ideas it hatched won’t go away any time soon, and neither will we.”

This is not a call to revolution. But the logic of this perspective can and should lead to the conclusion that the next indicated step is unions taking the lead to form a working class party to break the boss class political monopoly.

The Jefferson City Swamp

There is an outside chance that the “Right-to-Work” law recently signed by Missouri’s new Republican Governor may be blocked, or at least delayed. There was already an effort under way for a constitutional amendment to require such a law passed by the legislature to be submitted to a voter referendum.

Jerry Tucker

The last time Show Me State voters were given that chance RtW was soundly rejected. That success was due to an exemplary state wide campaign that won over unorganized workers and farmers in rural areas as well as the union strongholds in St Louis and Kansas City. It was directed by a remarkable leader who knew how to mobilize the ranks of unions and their allies—the late Jerry Tucker. I also discussed this in a WIR Extra on RtW two years ago that I believe is still relevant.

The mainstream leadership of Missouri labor praised Jerry for this upset victory. But few absorbed the lessons it offered and none followed through to utilize momentum for further gains. They soon returned to depending on Democrat “friends” for protection.

The mule is both Missouri’s State Animal and the historic logo of the Democrats. This hybrid creature, a sterile half-assed horse, is no longer any match for the GOP pachyderm—or the ALEC-backed crocs and gators lurking in the swamp of Jefferson City.

Union officials in my home state didn’t get serious about the referendum proposal until the Republicans replaced the term-limited Democrat Governor who had temporarily saved their proverbial bacon with a veto of RtW last year. I wish them well even though they are probably too late with too little.

In Brief…

* No Place Like Home–I’m sure many readers watch home improvement shows on the HGTV channel getting ideas about the relative merits of granite vs quartz countertops and the best grout for shower tiles. That’s all well and good but a Guardian article reminds us that there is an epidemic of evictions in the USA. A Harvard sociologist, Matthew Desmond, shows how the combination of soaring rents and low wages is reviving the Great Recession scenes of sheriff’s deputies setting possessions out on the curb—this time more renters than foreclosed mortgages.

* Women’s Upsurge Continues—It’s clear the four-million strong January 21 Women’s Marches on every continent was not just a one-off. In the USA Planned Parenthood has stepped up efforts to defend health clinics Christian extremists try to physically—sometimes violently—shut down. A reader in the Twin Ports reports 300 defenders turned out at a clinic in chilly Duluth. Now there is a call for an International Women’s Strike on March 8—International Women’s Day. You can find the Call, and links to related articles on the Labor Standard website.

* First Line of Defense at Standing Rock—Guardian reporter Sam Levin opens a dispatch from Cannon Ball, North Dakota “US veterans are returning to Standing Rock and pledging to shield indigenous activists from attacks by a militarized police force, another sign that the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline is far from over.”

* Double Duty Meet-Up at Hardee’s—Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr has always been a target of the 15 Dollars and a Union demand of low wage fast food workers. Trump’s nomination of Hardee’s CEO Andy Puzder for Labor Secretary has added a dimension of personal insult to injury. After weeks of protests at Hardee’s outlets around the country demonstrators will converge at corporate headquarters in St Louis, 100 North Broadway, tomorrow at Noon.

That’s all for this week.


If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.