Week In Review February 5

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Feb 052018
 

  by Bill Onasch

A Lot Ahead in Shortest Month

Today is Transit Equity Day.

February is Black History Month. This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike which later brought the solidarity of Dr Martin Luther King to the city where he was assassinated. The union involved in that strike, AFSCME, is organizing many commemorative events around the country.

The Fight for 15 movement is teaming up with the Poor People’s Campaign for actions on February 12 which was the actual launch date of the Memphis strike. In Kansas City, we will gather at 11:30 at the SEIU headquarters, 4526 Paseo, for a march to an as yet undesignated target.

George Gresham, president of SEIU 1199, has a substantial article in the Black-oriented New York Amsterdam News about the interaction of unions with Black liberation struggles since Emancipation.

The Guardian published an excerpt from a new book, ‘I am not a symbol, I am an activist’: the untold story of Coretta Scott King about how she was much more than just a helpmate to her famous husband.

One of the demands of the St Paul Federation of Teachers as they authorized a strike if necessary is full funding of “racially equitable” schools.

And, of course, our friends at St Paul’s East Side Freedom Library have included presentations and film showings related to Black History Month as part of their ambitious February schedule of events.

Two More For the List

On January 24, Labor Notes published an excellent article by JP Wright, the organizer of Railroad Workers United—A Decade of Train Wrecks: What Has Gone Wrong? Just since then two more Amtrak trains have been involved in deadly accidents.

One was a charter carrying Republican members of Congress and their spouses to a West Virginia resort for a strategy session that collided with a trash truck on the track.

The other, early Sunday morning, was a Miami-bound train from New York running on CSX track in South Carolina that was shunted on to a siding at speed where it collided with a stopped train. Two crew were killed, dozens of passengers and crew were injured, and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel spilled. The cause of the misaligned switch leading to this disaster is under investigation.

Wright says in his article,

Train wrecks often result from hidden factors over which the individual worker has little control, including poor work schedules, chronic crew fatigue, limited time off, inadequate staffing, lack of training, improper qualifying, task overload because of crew downsizing, deferred maintenance, antiquated infrastructure, and the employers’ failures to implement available safety technology. It is almost never just one of these factors, but a complex web that can result in disaster.”

Undoubtedly this will be a priority topic at the RWU April convention held in tandem with the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. I believe it is also high time to revive the demand of socialists from the time of the great Eugene V Debs—socialize the railroads and operate them under management elected by railworkers.

Briefly On the Memo…

Trump’s congressional minions, immune from libel suits, half-baked what the Cockneys call a Pork Pie “memo” accusing the FBI of pro-Clinton bias against Trump during the 2016 election campaign and abuse of their power by getting a secret warrant to wiretap a prominent Trump campaign official. Trump declared himself “totally vindicated” and darkly hinted more scandals would be revealed—and heads will roll.

Such an attack by the legislative branch on the American equivalent of the KGB or MI5, is as rare as steak tartare. None dared to challenge J Edgar Hoover, FBI Director through six administrations. Hoover not only employed thousands of stool pigeons to spy on and disrupt crooks and “subversives”–he amassed secret files on every politician. His knowledge of which skeletons were in whose closet gave him lifetime job security.

Only after Hoover’s death in 1972, were some of his atrocities exposed and future Directors were term limited appointments subject to Senate approval—and firing by the President.

But especially after the launching of the “War on Terror” and passage of the PATRIOT Act, a bipartisan effort was made to rehabilitate the reputation of the secret police. A true hero and patriot Edward Snowden exposed the old surveillance and disruption methods were still being used by the FBI and other agencies during the Obama administration. Only now they have been expanded with upgrades of latest technology.

In expressing outrage about the scurrilous, libelous memo, the liberal Democrats were not content to just expose its falsehoods. They have also become vocal defenders of the secret police under attack.

This is part of a long liberal tradition that includes FDR using the FBI and the odious Smith Act to jail socialists and trade unionists opposing American entry in to the Second World War; Truman’s establishment of a list of “subversive organizations” assembled by FBI stoolies like the infamous Herbert Philbrick, that kept their members out of government jobs, housing–and sometimes the armed forces; LBJ’s clandestine joint task forces of the FBI and local police Red Squads that began to implant thousands of paid informers and provocateurs in left, civil rights, and antiwar groups and used their treachery to get activists fired from jobs, evicted from their homes—and sometimes even worse.

The swamp in Washington is inhabited by two major species. Both are dangerous to democracy and the interests of the working class.

Saving the NHS

The Tories don’t yet dare try to abolish the still extremely popular National Health Service, Britain’s socialized medicine established by a Labour Party government seventy years ago. But through bits of privatization—and especially malnutrition from inadequate funding—they hope to engineer the collapse of the best health care model of any capitalist country.

But that won’t be easy, especially after the revival of Labour’s left wing under Corbyn’s leadership. Last Saturday, tens of thousands responded to a call from a coalition of pro-NHS groups to march on Downing Street—supported by thousands more around Britain–demanding “More Staff, More Beds, More Funds.”

The Shape of Water

This is not a review of the hit film I have not seen. It’s an update of the current distribution of liquid H2O essential to those of us once described by an alien species in a Star trek episode as “ugly bags of mostly water.”

California, after a brief respite from years of drought marked by torrential rains and major floods, is bracing for a return to arid conditions because of a paucity of snow fall in the mountains.

Amarillo in the Texas Pan Handel normally experiences cold snowy winters. They recently went 129 days without measurable precipitation.

A recent Guardian article began,

Carmelo Gallegos used to sow wheat in the cool winters and cotton in scorching-hot summers of the Mexicali valley. These days, water is so scarce he can only plant one crop a year.

“But on top of drought and a sinking water table, the 61-year old farmer now has another preoccupation. A huge brewery is being built in the nearby city of Mexicali, and Gallegos – like many others – fears it will suck up what little water remains to make beer for export to the US.”

Worse yet is Capetown, South Africa. After years of drought this port city is literally running out of drinking water.

The French would gladly share some of their abundance of water with Capetown. The normally placid Seine River flooded in Paris preventing iconic tourist boats from passing under bridges and spreading panic at the Louvre as they scrambled to secure priceless works of art on their lower levels.

The principal cause of this bad shape of water is climate change. To slow and stop the growing threats of both droughts and floods clearly requires urgent actions on a global scale. But one of the most prominent climate activists recently suggested We Can Battle Climate Change Without Washington DC. I’ll comment on this assertion in the next WIR.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review January 30

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Jan 302018
 

  by Bill Onasch

Last Year and This

Last year’s Women’s Marches on Trump’s first full day in the White House were the biggest nationally coordinated political demonstrations in U.S. history and inspired solidarity actions on every continent. Pulled together in less than two months, they were largely self-organized on the fly in local areas. For many, probably most, it was their first nonelectoral political action of any kind.

Their focus was ongoing struggles around “women’s issues”–such as defending the right to control their own bodies; fighting sexual harassment; the lack of affordable quality child care; and eliminating the gender pay gap. But they were not alone in their sense of urgency sparked by the election of the most reactionary president in living memory–an exposed misogynist and racist to boot. Women were first in the queue of anti-Trump protests and attracted many from Black Lives Matter, peace, climate justice, immigrant rights, LGBT and union organizations—forces that also had some clashes with the Obama administration but were even more alarmed about the heightened threats of Trump.

Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have been seldom seen or heard from since the Democrats managed to lose another election in which they received the most votes. But that party’s liberal wing saw an opportunity to declare a “resistance movement” based on anti-Trump. Groups like Our Revolution, Democracy for America, the National Women’s Political Caucus, and more traditional opportunists like moveon.org, keep the “Resistance” busy with e-mail blasts about signing petitions, calling Congress, supporting good Democrat candidates (including some who are antichoice)—and above all fund appeals.

With these diversions receiving sympathetic attention from anti-Trump media such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and MSNBC, it was no surprise when the national leadership of this year’s marches chipped in with a theme tied to a “march to the polls” to advance the Resistance in the midterm elections.

They also decided that in so-called “Red States” it would be better to have fewer marches, concentrating on “blue islands in red states.” My blue island in Kansas City, where 10,000 rallied last year, didn’t make the cut. Those asking for our money told us to hit I-70 and head to a small campus town like Lawrence, Kansas or Columbia, Missouri.

This year’s marches were about half the size of last year. Still, half of four million isn’t chopped humus. A new article by Ann Montague justified its headline—Women’s Marches Get a Huge Turnout Nationwide. Totals in many major cities were impressive indeed—500,000 in Los Angeles; 300,000 in Chicago; over 200,000 in New York City; 60,000 in San Francisco and Philadelphia; and tens of thousands in D.C. were among the highlights of hundreds of events in the USA and another 200 abroad.

Montague goes on to describe many hand-made signs, speeches, and interviews that indicate there is no consensus among women activists around the Resistance doubling-down support to Democrats.

Montague is a veteran activist who experienced all the broken promises of the Equal Rights Amendment, and equal pay for comparable work, by the Democrats. She warns,

This year showed that the uprising of women with the election of Donald Trump has continued and remains strong even in the smallest communities in the country. The Democratic Party will continue to attempt to ‘harness’ the movement and drive it into electing their candidates. They will try to bring women into a political system that has no answers for institutionalized sexism and racism.”

Ann Montague shed her “harness” long ago, becoming a socialist and a staunch Labor Party Advocate. Many more will likely take the same path in the struggles ahead.

Not Even Landing a Punch

Eduardo Porter, a leading economics writer at the New York Times, is no climate change denier. Far from it, instead of skepticism he is close to the pessimism of those who say climate change is now inevitable. His gloom and doom is expressed in Fighting Climate Change? We’re Not Even Landing a Punch.

Porter builds his case by examining international climate gatherings, beginning with the very first in Toronto in 1988 right through to the current accords adopted in Paris in 2015.

At the time of Toronto, the Earth’s average temperature had risen about .5ºC over measurements in the late nineteenth century, annual global greenhouse emissions amounted to 30 billion tons, and scientists suggested those emissions be reduced by 20 percent.

At the landmark Paris summit a little over two years ago, the planet’s warming had reached 1.1ºC and emissions had risen to nearly 50 billion tons. The two full years since Paris have set new warming records and emissions continue to climb as well.

Porter writes,

While the world frets over President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement, I would argue that the greatest impediment to slowing this relentless warming is an illusion of progress that is allowing every country to sidestep many of the hard choices that still must be made.

“’We keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome,’ said Scott Barrett, an expert on international cooperation and coordination at Columbia University who was once a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Porter proves his assertions about the already palpable failure of international diplomacy to even slow down global warming. But diplomacy is determined by governments. And nearly all governments—tiny Cuba being an honorable though hard pressed exception—serve the interests of the ruling capitalist class.

We have the science, technology, human and material resources available to restructure a planned ecologically sustainable world economy while providing an acceptable standard of living for everyone on this planet. But to start landing punches on climate change we have to first knock out its instigator and continuing perpetrator—capitalism. But that’s not an option you’ll ever see in the Business section of the New York Times.

Transit Equity Day

Transportation recently surpassed electricity generation as the biggest source of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. That makes expansion of public transit more important than ever in tackling climate change. Safe, reliable, affordable transit has also historically been an important demand of the civil rights movement.

Next Monday, February 5—the next workday after the birthday of the late Rosa Parks who helped launch the pivotal Montgomery Bus Boycott that ended segregation in public transit–is Transit Equity Day. This initiative of the Labor Network for Sustainability is being co-sponsored by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Greenpeace, Jobs with Justice, Institute for Policy Studies, Sierra Club, 350.org, among others. You can find more information here.

I’ll Be There

I’m happy to report that I once again will be taking Amtrak to the Windy City for the biennial Labor Notes Conference. In recent years these gatherings have attracted thousands of labor activists from across the country—and the world.

Unfortunately, due to a tight budget, I won’t have the usual KC Labor table there. But I’m pleased my wife, Mary Erio, will be accompanying me for her first Labor Notes experience. I hope to see you there.

Health Alert

Besides the opioid pandemic and flu epidemic there are other new shake-ups in America’s health care system. After eliminating the “individual mandate” in the Affordable Care Act the Trumpites are going after the employer mandate that could lead to millions losing coverage. Drug giant CVS is acquiring Aetna, one of the biggest health insurers. And two of the richest men in the world, along with the CEO of America’s biggest bank founded by a former richest in the world, have announced a plan to provide health care directly to their employees. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway, and Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase provided few details in their Tuesday announcement.

In Brief…

* Reuters reports–“German industrial workers will start a fresh wave of walkouts at metals and engineering companies across the country late on Tuesday, labor union IG Metall said after last-ditch talks over wages and working hours failed to reach a deal over the weekend.”

* According to the Guardian, the 26-county Irish state will schedule a May referendum on reforming the present total ban of abortions.

* The St Paul Federation of Teachers has scheduled a strike authorization vote on Friday. The main issue in contention is class size.

* Harley-Davidson disclosed on Tuesday that it will close its Kansas City Assembly plant next year. The plant was opened with substantial government incentives in 1998 and once employed a thousand. About 800 current jobs will be eliminated while 400 new positions will open up in York, Pennsylvania. Last year Harley staged a photo op with President Trump sitting on an American icon HOG on the White House lawn. Shortly after, they announced the opening of a new plant in Thailand. The Steelworkers and Machinists share representation at the plant.

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.

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