Bill Onasch

Week In Review March 22

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Mar 222018

  by Bill Onasch

No Joy In Vindication

My past WIR warnings about the most antisoical of the “social media” have admittedly had little effect even within my circle of close friends, comrades, and mate. This blasé attitude by people smarter than I who presumably value their privacy is puzzling.

Certainly there can be no expectation of privacy on FaceBook. It’s long been known FaceBook is closely monitored by tech-savvy cops and crooks. Most employers check out the FB page of job applicants as do many apartment managers before agreeing to a lease. Uploaded video of gruesome crimes has received media attention. Fake news proliferates behind a shield of presumed veracity of anything on the Internet.

Still, a couple of billion people have signed up, mostly to use it for such mundane tasks as keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries, exchanging cute photos of kids and cats, sharing recipes, and collecting a lot of “friends.” And many low budget movement groups use FB as a “free” sort-of-website—available only to registered FaceBook users.

FaceBook’s founders made their billions of dollars by connecting merchant capital to billions of potential customers around the world through various stealthy methods. The motto in Silicon Valley is “it’s all about the clicks.” Until this week, Wall Street heartily approved the FB business model.

To identify various targets among their “members” FB sometimes employs reputable social behavior psychologists–including some research faculty in the university town of Cambridge, England. Those profs developed an “app” with seemingly harmless questions about member preferences and delivered the results to FB.

But the Cambridge shrinks harvested a lot more data than they acknowledged to their client. Through tracking “friends,” “likes,” city of residence, and in some cases work histories, they worked up profiles on 50 million FB users, mainly in the USA and the UK. Such information was more valuable to those who sought to manipulate them politically through big doses of fake news than to merchants peddling shampoo or kids toys.

They found a buyer in Cambridge Analytica, whose slogan is Data Drives All We Do. Their corporate website proudly declares “Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior. Visit our Commercial or Political divisions to see how we can help you.” CA—whose directors once included Steve Bannon who is credited with salvaging Trump’s presidential campaign–is part of a nest of groups bankrolled by ultra-right geek hedge fund owner Robert Mercer.

Mercer is also a major backer of the racist United Kingdom Independence Party and the odious Breitbart News. Most of their projects—including elections in dozens of countries–have been heavy users of the FaceBook platform. This enabled these crypto-fascists to make credible claims of decisive intervention in two important close elections—Brexit to take Britain out of the European Union and Trump’s electoral college victory. The official Trump campaign committee alone paid CA 9 million dollars for their services in 2016.

The pernicious role of FaceBook can no longer be denied or ignored after recent exposures by the Guardian and Financial Times in Britain, soon followed by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal on this side of the Atlantic. FaceBook top management was aware of the massive theft and exploitation of FB user personal information but tried to avoid embarrassment by remaining silent.

This scandal is a blow to Zuckerberg & company’s scheme to build an alternate Internet producing mega-profits—in the process smothering the open one that was one of the greatest achievements of the last century. They don’t deserve a second chance. They offer nothing useful that can’t be done on the still for now free World Wide Web.


While we should be fighting mad about cyber-psychological warfare “to change audience behavior,” it has been successful only within narrow parameters. Appealing to race and anti-immigrant bigotry tipped the scale in favor of Brexit.

The 2016 presidential election was a somewhat different kettle of fish. Most American workers don’t—indeed many can’t—vote. And the uniquely undemocratic Electoral College allows a second place candidate to win.

The bigotry used in Britain was certainly a feature of the Trump campaign but was probably less of a factor than in the two previous elections that sent an African-American to the White House. The Democrat Establishment choice proved to be an ineffective candidate. Many dissatisfied workers who had twice voted for Obama cast a protest vote for Trump and even more simply stayed home.

The impact of the cyber-campaign was magnified by targeting enough pluralities in state electoral votes to overcome Clinton’s nearly three million national plurality in votes by people.

Evil use of technology is not the primary threat to democracy and the interests of the working class majority. The ruling class two party cartel has played that role since the nineteenth century. We need to fight fake news with the truth and the truth can build a working class party that can set us free.

In Brief…

* Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is supporting a call for solidarity by the electric utility workers of Puerto Rico (UTIRA) who face a threat of privatization. After decades of neglect and underfunding, public PREPA was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Six months later most of the Island’s interior is still without reliable electricity or running water. The union’s proposal, which includes a transition to renewable energy can be found here.

* According to the The Wall Street Journal median pay of CEOs of 133 biggest U.S. corporations is now just a tick under 12 million dollars.

* The Sacramento Bee reports on two big health care union settlements in California. 19,000 CNA nurses at Kaiser are voting on a TA with patient care and working conditions improvements. 15,000 SEIU workers at Dignity Health have already ratified. Both deals provide for 2-3 percent annual wage hikes over five years.

In Passing…

Marielle Franco

* Tens of thousands of outraged workers took to the streets after the murder of a popular Black lesbian socialist Rio de Janeiro city council member Marielle Franco. A drive-by shooting also killed her driver and seriously wounded an adviser. No arrests have been made. Last month the military was put in charge of “security” in Rio causing concern about a return to an army dictatorship.

* Annette Gagne, a socialist, feminist, and LGBT activist in Providence, Rhode Island passed away after major heart surgery. No dates yet for a memorial meeting.

* Dave Young, a long time trade unionist, charter member of the Kansas City Labor Party, a well versed socialist, and a personal friend of mine for over thirty years, succumbed to an inoperable brain tumor in January. There will be a celebration of his life Saturday, March 24, 4:30-8:30PM at the Matt Ross Community Center, 8101 Marty Street, Overland Park, Kansas.

That’s all for this week.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review March 12

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Mar 122018

  by Bill Onasch

A Great Victory Shared With Others

The “illegal” strike by 35,000 West Virginia teachers and other school employees didn’t get an immediate permanent fix to the underfunded state worker health insurance scheme they had sought–but they did win a freeze on insurance premiums as the legislature works on a new insurance structure.

When the boss politicians branded the teachers as “selfish” for wanting bigger raises than other state employees they had an appropriate response—give all state workers a five percent raise—and that’s what they settled for. When the Governor announced the new tentative agreement to hundreds of teachers maintaining their daily vigil at the Capitol a spontaneous chant broke out—put it in writing. They in fact didn’t return to work until an expedited session of the legislature approved the deal and the Governor signed it.

A union that I was once part of expressed thanks for this solidarity in a statement by the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers (UE) who represent–but cannot legally bargain for–some public workers who will benefit,

We are grateful to the determination and solidarity shown to us by our fellow public workers,’ said Jamie Beaton, President of Local 170. ‘Coupled with the commitment to secure full funding for PEIA, the action of school district employees represents an historic milestone. For too long the politicians have tried to pit the interests of school employees against state workers,’ added Beaton. ‘From now on, both county school and state employees will act together to advance the working conditions that we have in common. Fixing wages and health benefits will no longer be deferred by dividing us, and we have the rank and file members of WVSSPA, ATF-WV and WVEA to thank for changing the game.”

As the schools reopened, 1400 members of Communications Workers of America Local 142 walked off their jobs at Frontier Communications, a major Internet and TV provider in West Virginia.

My friend Ann Montague, a long time leader in a state employees union in Oregon, sent me a link to a story in the Tulsa World, headlined Schools Will Stay Closed Until We Get What We Are Asking For, Oklahoma Teachers Union President Says. West Virginia had been 48th in state teacher salaries—Oklahoma is dead last. The State NEA has given the legislature an April 1 (no fooling) deadline to come up with an acceptable raise to keep the schools open.

In Arizona, rank-and-file teachers sported red shirts as part of a #RedForEd movement that is discussing a possible strike.

There was a “walk-in” action in Minneapolis where MFT teachers impatient with seven months of contract negotiations, rallied outside their schools before marching as a body in to their classrooms.

The inspiring West Virginia strike victory that was in the national headlines over its duration took place in a most hostile union environment. West Virginia has no public employee labor law but does have a “Right-to-Work” law banning union shop agreements in the private sector. The state voted for Trump and has a Republican Governor and a GOP controlled legislature. Too many unions feel helpless in RtW states and some public sector ones appear ready to throw in the towel when the Supreme Court Janus ruling is announced, perhaps as early as this week.

The AFT-NEA success shows unions can still win if they fight. And while strikes have been in decline for decades they remain a powerful weapon in the workplace arsenal long overdue for revival.

Most lawyers retained by unions focus on warnings of what’s illegal. Since the USA has the most oppressive labor laws of any major capitalist country that usually doesn’t leave much. But some attorneys are more flexible.

The lawyer used by UE Local 1139 in Minneapolis when I was local president during a series of strikes in the 1970s had a wry sense of humor. He would assure us that if we were arrested on the picket line he’d get us out of jail even if it took twenty years. But he was dead serious and effective in helping us defy injunctions and maintaining spirited picket lines.

Joe Burns is a special kind of labor lawyer. He is a skilled negotiator who is a firm believer in the strike weapon–even when forbidden by law in the public sector. He wrote a valuable book, Strike Back: Using the Militant Tactics of Labor’s Past to Reignite Public Sector Unionism Today. Perceptive comments by Burns while the West Virginia school strikes were still in progress were cross-posted on Jacobin and Labor Notes. After acknowledging the “illegality” of the state-wide strike he goes on to write,

During the high point of the 1960s and ’70s public sector strike wave — when millions of government workers were involved in work stoppages — unionists had a slogan: ‘There is no illegal strike, just an unsuccessful one.’ Lawmakers could impose draconian penalties, courts could issue injunctions, and the corporate media could fulminate endlessly. But if the strike was strong, if the cause was just, and if community support was robust, harsh penalties were rarely imposed.”

Both the article and book are worth reading. I expect Joe Burns will be at the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago April 6-8. For sure some of the heroes of West Virginia will be among the 2000+ in attendance. I’ll be there and I hope you will be too.

Careful What You Ask For

At a 1847 Free Trade Conference in Brussels a young Karl Marx declared himself a supporter of Free Trade, with some caveats, as opposed to protective tariffs. With some additional reservations in the present era of Globalization, that remains the view of most socialists today.

Marx noted workers in protected industries received no better wages and the ability of workers in all industrializing countries to improve their conditions would be enhanced in the long run by economic growth accompanying free trade. This internationalist class perspective is what separates socialists from pro-capitalist Free Trade economists whose mission is to serve their own national ruling class.

Of course, capitalism is not always in growth mode. There are cycles of recession and at times depression. In the 1930s the Great Depression hit virtually all major industrialized countries at the same time and lasted a decade. Only the Soviet Union, with its nationalized planned economy and state monopoly of foreign trade, continued to grow. In desperation, national ruling classes established protective tariffs. This led to “trade wars”—which were a major contributing factor leading to the most bloody war in human history.

That war produced full employment in greatly expanded industrial capacity in the USA and Canada while much of basic industry was destroyed in Europe and Japan. That made them captive customers for North American factories as they rebuilt during the first two decades of the postwar period.

American companies cranked out goods for foreign and domestic markets with aging plants while their European and Japanese competitors—later joined by a restored capitalist China–rebuilt with the latest, far superior technology. Nowhere was this more apparent than in steel. That couldn’t be long sustained.

Beginning in the 1970s, the American steel industry went through a massive restructuring. The old open hearth mills were finally closed, replaced with new technology, and major companies went bankrupt. Currently there are only eight U.S. plants—some “foreign” owned–producing steel from iron ore. There are another 100 or so “mini-mills” that recycle scrap steel in electric furnaces. Between them they produce about as much steel as ever—but with far fewer workers.

The United Steelworkers couldn’t resist new technology any more than coal miners, rail workers or longshore unions could. But they adapted some of their “fair trade” arguments raised in the fight against NAFTA to use against Chinese imports. They had some success in winning relief from the World Trade Organization on Chinese “dumping” of cheap tires. The Obama administration had filed a similar WTO complaint about steel. Recently Steelworker president Leo Gerard and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka asked Trump to pursue this action more vigorously.

But appeals to Trump for help are as effective as requests to my wife’s cats not to jump up on the table while we’re eating breakfast. President 45 used the union complaints as a wedge for his America First appeal to dissatisfied workers. Instead of a penny-ante WTO complaint involving only about a 2 percent slice of the American market he ignored all advisers and slapped a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, applying to almost every exporting country. Tentative dispensation was granted to Canada and Mexico pending outcome of Trump’s demand to renegotiate NAFTA, along with some staunch allies like Australia and the new right-wing regime in Chile. To cover his backside in the WTO, he declared steel to be vital to America’s security.

Far from denying this was a trade war, Trump reveled in bombast that such wars are “easy to win.” He quickly assembled a few lads and lasses dressed in blue collars to witness his calligraphic flourish on his declaration of war.

Europeans quickly prepared retaliation with punitive tariffs on orange juice, peanut butter, blue jeans and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. China growled about unspecified counter-measures.

But perhaps most upset of all was the mainstream American ruling class. They were prepared to ignore Trump’s often irrational behavior as long as he followed through on tax cuts—though now revealed to be plagued with numerous errors and contradictions–deregulation, and didn’t screw up economic recovery. They see nothing to gain and much to lose in trade wars.

To achieve fair trade requires cross-border collaboration of workers—not with our employers or “our own” capitalist governments. This topic, including a fresh look at trade and investment zones like NAFTA and the European Union, will be explored further in future editions of the WIR. And I believe this naturally ties in to issues like Just Transition and a deferred but not forgotten working class infrastructure policy.

That’s all for this week.

Receive notification when a new WIR is posted in one of the following ways:

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

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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.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member