Nov 242013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Mixed Week For Choice
The Texas Establishment–in a tight race with Kansas and North Carolina for being the most reactionary and mean spirited of all–will soon need new Stetsons to accommodate their swollen pride. They continue to defiantly order their National Guard not to process military benefits now guaranteed for same sex couples. Their state board of education is taking another shot at blocking science that conflicts with literal interpretation of  Genesis.

Those malevolent stunts may be fleeting. But not the surprisingly swift Supreme Court action last week upholding a law that, in effect, denies Texas women access to safe, legal abortion in much of that vast state. Already several clinics have had to close their doors. You can bet dollars to doughnuts that other states will rush to craft identical laws.

Well financed fanatics within all Abrahamic faiths use opportunist politicians and faithful judges on the bench to try to impose their theocratic rule over all. All of these view birth control and even stem cell research as murder. Some don’t limit themselves to legal actions–they also bomb clinics and murder doctors.

These religious zealots and their political stooges claim to represent a majority. Even if that were true, denying women the right to choose if and when to have children would be no more acceptable in a democratic society than the long Texas history of denying civil rights to African-Americans and Latinos.

But, in fact, their claim to majority status is bogus. Opinion polls have consistently shown the majority opposes bans on birth control, including abortion. Last week there was an even more decisive poll in Texas’s western neighbor. An AP dispatch reported,

“In a closely watched, first-of-its kind municipal election, voters in New Mexico’s largest city have soundly defeated a ban on late-term abortions. Voters on Tuesday rejected the measure 55 percent to 45 percent following an emotional and graphic campaign that brought in national groups and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising. The campaign included protests that compared abortion to the Holocaust and displayed pictures of aborted fetuses. A coalition of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Planned Parenthood, called the results a huge victory for Albuquerque women and families.”

We should respect the rights of individuals who believe birth control is morally wrong. The Pro-Choice movement has always condemned any pressuring of women to get abortions or sterilization. The right of women to freely make life altering decisions for themselves  is a fundamental human right that should be defended unconditionally by the working class movements and all supporters of genuine democracy. Once again this right is in danger. We should follow the example of Albuquerque and rally to its defense on all fronts.

Contributions Keep COP Alive
The headlines on Saturday morning were grim. “UN climate talks go nowhere, again,” said Climate & Capitalism; Aljazeera proclaimed “Divided Warsaw climate talks near end with little to show;” the Guardian’s take was “Warsaw climate change talks falter.”

All were an accurate description of the UN gathering in the Polish capital designated COP19– as of its scheduled adjournment on Friday. Embarrassed at the prospect of leaving empty handed after eleven days of overdue deliberation, they went in to overtime to make a deal of sorts. It too is somewhat embarrassing–but as a former Defense Secretary was fond of saying, something is better than nothing.

It turned out COP19 wasn’t the only global summit taking place in bustling Warsaw. There was also a conclave of officials and lobbyists of the World Coal Association meeting at the Polish Finance Ministry. UN Climate chief Christiana Figueres accepted their invitation to deliver the keynote address where she assured the carbon crowd, “The coal industry has the opportunity to be part of the worldwide climate solution.”

They could, of course, make an enormous contribution to solution by going out of business but that’s not what the chief had in mind. Much to the chagrin of environmentalists she  endorsed  the thoroughly discredited scam of “clean coal.”

Like past gatherings, the 190 nations represented at COP19 fell in to three camps–rich countries, poor countries, and emerging countries.

The rich countries accumulated their wealth through industrialization which in turn led to the alarming accumulation of greenhouse gases. The lion’s share of the more than 400 parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be chalked up to them.

The poor countries justly argue they have contributed little to the crisis but are usually its first and foremost victims. They say the rich countries have a moral obligation–as well as most of the world’s wealth–to help them survive the challenge of global warming.

The emerging countries are a more complicated case. They are on sound ground when they remind us that their economies were long retarded and distorted by colonial domination. Now that China, India, and Brazil are becoming major industrial powers they say it’s not fair for their old colonial masters to try to again dictate restraint. They want to be cut a lot of slack in emission quotas as they try to catch up with the living standards of the rich countries.

If the debate was solely about fair play the emerging countries might win on points. But the question confronting the nations of the world is whether we can prevent the collapse of our biosphere? China is by far the biggest culprit in greenhouse emissions and other forms of pollution while the rich countries have done little or nothing to clean up their acts. If these trends continue it’s game over for civilization as we know it.

China has not raised one available powerful argument to partially explain their explosive growth in emissions. Much of their production is for companies based in the rich countries–work formerly done in the USA and Europe. Not only were jobs offshored–so was the pollution, including carbon emissions–resulting from that work.

So what was the final deal coming out of COP19 that was supposed to lay the groundwork for replacing the expiring Kyoto Protocols at a Paris conference in 2015? There were again  vague promises of freeing up some money for the poor countries. And, since like many of the young of my gender, there was aversion to “commitment,” all parties were urged to submit “contributions” before the Paris meeting of what they might do to reduce greenhouse emissions.

The debates over culpability and liability have been going on at summits for decades. So has global warming. There has been zero discussion about an equitable, planned restructuring of the global economy needed to sustain future generations. That won’t happen until we–the working class majority–get our act together.

 As Boeing Threatens Exit Socialist Enters Stage Left
For a wage worker, there’s nothing outside the home more crucial than having a job. But American workers have less job security than any of our counterparts in the industrialized world.

Job insecurity is not limited to struggling employers. One of the richest of all is General Electric. The UE reported this past week, “Despite our best efforts and 17 bargaining sessions over the last 60 days, we are saddened to report that our Union has failed to achieve an agreement with GE to keep the Fort Edward [New York] plant open beyond next September.”

The 163 jobs left at this capacitor plant are headed to a nonunion Clearwater, Florida plant where wages are less than half the UE rate. The union has done an impressive job in mobilizing support among public officials, the Ft Edward community, and the regional labor movement–and they haven’t given up yet. But because the workers have few legal rights left, and the company is not moved by shame, a local newspaper headline is probably all too accurate–Future dim for Fort Edward GE plant.

Laws with severe financial penalties to discourage such job loss are common in Europe where mass working class parties exist. Such measures were written in to the program of the now defunct Labor Party in this country at its 1996 founding convention. For now the only form of government intervention sometimes applied is bribery of employers threatening job destruction.

Another highly profitable company, Boeing, has not yet formally announced any new jobs loss but the threat to thousands of good union positions in the Seattle area is palpable. In last week’s WIR I discussed the IAM rejection of a Boeing ultimatum to renegotiate an extended contract that included draconian take-aways. As could have been predicted it went down by a two-to-one margin.

Whether or not this was a serious offer by Boeing there is no doubt they were motivated by the prospect of their next big project–the 777X wide-body for which they already have early orders amounting to 95 billion dollars. This bigger air frame will require either a new plant or major retooling of existing facilities. Boeing has put out requests for bids from localities in several states for a new plant. The Washington Governor and Legislature hurriedly put together a package of incentives worth about nine billion dollars to entice Boeing to keep the work in their state.

There is understandable local concern that if Boeing leaves, Seattle could become another Detroit. Some say the IAM should have surrendered the give-backs demanded in order to save jobs. They clearly don’t understand the irony attached to this argument.

The workers in Detroit and other auto centers were long told by the UAW leadership that concessions to the boss “partner” were necessary to save jobs. After pocketing the union give-backs, their “partners” skillfully used outsourcing, offshoring, and even whipsaw competition between UAW plants to eliminate tens of thousands of union positions. New technology finished off even more. The true lesson of Detroit is that concessions don’t save jobs.

The jobs under attack will not be satisfactorily saved through conventional collective bargaining or by Democrat “friends” in office offering hand-outs from the tax-payers. Management rights are enshrined in the law of the land and their class dominates all things political. Like workers in most other industrialized countries we need a party of our own to rewrite the laws in the interests of the working class majority.

Recently, for the first time in decades, Seattle voters elected a socialist, Kshama Sawant, to the city council. A lone socialist on a local body can’t do much in the way of legislative change. But she can help promote working class ideas among the general public and build solidarity with worker, social, and climate movements. The next WIR will take a look at some things she has already done, what she has said about Boeing and what more we can expect from this rare working class electoral victory.

That’s all for this week.

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Nov 182013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

And the Winner Is…
A Saturday AP dispatch reports,

“Seattle voters have elected a socialist to city council for the first time in modern history. Kshama Sawant’s lead continued to grow on Friday, prompting 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin to concede…..Conlin was backed by the city’s political establishment. On election night, she trailed by four percentage points…. But in the days following election night, Sawant’s share of the votes outgrew Conlin’s.”

41-year old Sawant was raised in Mumbai, India. She moved to the USA with her computer engineer husband and become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2010. Sawant holds a PhD in economics from North Carolina State University and teaches part-time at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University.

The victorious Socialist Alternative candidate first gained public attention through her participation in the Seattle edition of Occupy Wall Street  in 2011. She won the city council contest on a platform that included a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, rent control, and a tax on millionaires to finance public transit.

Hats off to Kshama Sawant and her dedicated campaigners.

Double Hit In Philippines
Peter Moskowitz writes on the Aljazeera site,

“Most climate scientists agree that increasing global temperatures will cause more-intense storms in the future. And while it’s hard to pinpoint the causes of any one storm, many agree that there will be more Haiyan-strength storms to come because of climate change. That has put the Philippines and other developing nations in a bind. While poor countries often bear the brunt of climate change’s effects, their lackluster economies prevent them from funding infrastructure and education, which could help mitigate the damage of disasters like Haiyan. Now many in the Philippines, as well as environmental advocates and climate experts, are pushing for affluent countries, including the United States, to pay to help lessen the impact of climate change across the globe. They say that industrialized nations should not only foot the bill because they can but also because they are largely responsible for climate change.”

Both the science and logic of this argument is irrefutable. But even past puny pledges of help, such as those offered by President Obama and others at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, have mostly been unfulfilled. Nor have philanthropists such as America’s second richest man, Warren Buffett–who recently purchased 3.45 billion dollars of shares in ExxonMobil–shown much interest in helping the poor island nations survive extreme hurricanes/typhoons, tidal waves, and rising sea levels caused by burning fossil fuels.

Even though the Ecuadoran Supreme Court drastically reduced a damage award against Chevron for environmental destruction in the Amazon Valley–a region that greatly affects global climate–the U.S. oil giant rejects any payment as “illegitimate and unenforceable.” And since Copenhagen, right-wing governments in Australia, Canada, and Japan have abandoned their little more than token goals for reducing carbon emissions and sent the weak from birth Kyoto Accords off to hospice.

Some island nations have found ways to minimize death and destruction from severe weather. Fidel Castro, who in medical retirement has written extensively on climate issues, always made weather emergency plans a top priority and this has continued on his brother’s watch. Despite their own hardships, mainly resulting from a half-century of U.S. embargo, Cuba is also usually the first to come to the aid of others when disasters strike in their hemisphere–as they did with doctors and engineers in Haiti within hours of the horrible earthquake there. But few vulnerable countries have such effective regimes.

The Philippines sent an able spokesperson to the COP19 UN Climate Conference now meeting in Warsaw. Naderev Saño told the delegates,

“…What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness…We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to. … Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to delay climate action.”

But the effects of the climate disaster in the Philippines have also been greatly compounded by widespread corruption and incompetence of the authorities. Even now, little relief has reached inland areas who are essentially out of medicine, food, and potable water. As medical personnel can only helplessly watch, victims with easily treatable injuries, such as broken legs, are dying days after the storm from malnutrition and dehydration.

Some of the One Percent’s wealth, and more governments with the Cuban approach, could help mitigate climate disaster somewhat. But an even more important task is to stop fueling extreme events that flow from a planet stressed by global warming. That will require replacing fossil fuels with clean renewables and modifying wasteful consumption promoted in the capitalist marketplace.  No lamb’s blood on the door will prevent climate calamities from ultimately reaching all homes if we fail to act–and soon.

On Saturday there were some mass climate actions in the streets worth noting–and emulating. The Guardian reports,

“An estimated 60,000 people have attended rallies across Australia in one of the largest ever displays of support for action on climate change. Labor and Greens politicians, alongside volunteer firefighters and environmental activists, took turns at the Climate Action Day to lambast the Coalition government, which will table bills in parliament on Monday to dismantle carbon pricing.”

Considering the population differential this is equivalent to a half-million in the USA.

And the CBC tells us about rallies across the Canadian state in 130 cities and towns. In Edmonton, capital of the Alberta province that is home to the notorious tar-sands, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the Legislature with a wall of 55-gallon oil drums.

It’s now the turn of us Yanks–number one per capita generators of greenhouse gasses–to stir things up while there’s still something left to stir. 

Bay Area Rapid Threat
After six months of bargaining, and two strikes, the tragic death of two track workers hit by a train being used to train strike breakers finally led to a contract settlement last month between Bay Area Rapid Transit and their two main unions. The deal included some give-backs by the workers, though not nearly as severe as long held out for by BART management. The strikers went back to work and soon ratified their new contracts. They decided to live with concessions and fight another day.

Or so they thought.

An AP report,

“BART management says a provision that it never agreed to was somehow ‘inadvertently’ included in the final agreement and signed off on by both transit and union officials. Board Director James Fang confirmed Thursday that the sticking point is family medical leave, which allows workers to take time off to care for a family member with a serious illness. The new contract would give 3,200 BART workers six weeks of paid leave each year, while prior language required workers to use sick leave and vacation time first. ‘It’s very unfortunate,’ Fang said, adding: ‘We’re going to discuss the options and one of them is to not to approve the contract.’”

The unions responded to this threat of a literal deal breaker with the contempt it deserves. If BART reneges a third strike is likely. AP quotes ATU Local 1021 President Antonette Bryant,

“‘BART management is now attempting to go back on agreements it made in July and August and that were part of the final deal,’ she said. BART officials first signed off on the family medical leave clause in July, she added. ‘We feel that this is a valid contract,’ Bryant said, ‘and we expected the board would ratify it.’”

No Inadvertence At Boeing
When workers hear an employer wants to renegotiate an existing union contract they are always suspicious. There is no known instance of a boss saying, “Our profits have exceeded our wildest expectations. We want to share this windfall with our loyal workers who made this possible by writing generous raises in wages and benefits  in to our labor agreement.”

Boeing did not break such new ground either in at first secret negotiations with IAM officials representing 31,000 of their workers in the Seattle area. In fact, there wasn’t much that could truly be called negotiating. The multinational aerospace giant issued an ultimatum specifying  nonnegotiable conditions for considering keeping work on a new product line–the 777X, for which they already purportedly have 95 billion dollars worth of orders–in Washington.

Boeing wanted to extend the current contract, which still has more than two years left, another eight years. But starting in 2016, there would be major new take-aways. The present defined benefit pension would be replaced with a 401(k); paycheck deductions for health insurance would increase  substantially; new hires would have to work twenty years to get to the top pay grade; and general raises would be limited to one percent every other year. The company did offer a ten thousand dollar bonus for each worker if this deal was approved.

Local union officers trying to explain this boss hubris soon recognized this dog wasn’t going to hunt. The President dramatically tore up a copy. But those on the International payroll dutifully tried to sell it and organized a vote. They not only got a lot of verbal abuse from the livid ranks but were handed a two-to-one vote to reject as well.

The Democrat Governor and legislature are desperately trying to bribe good corporate citizen Boeing–who in the past outsourced and offshored much production work as well as moving their corporate headquarters to Chicago–to keep the new work in their state. Jenny Brown writes in a good piece on the Labor Notes site,

“In another rushed move, Washington Governor Jay Inslee called legislators to the capital for a special session to discuss incentives to keep the 777X in Washington last week. In the past, Boeing has taken state money—and union concessions—and then built wings in Japan and a new 787 factory in right-to-work South Carolina. On Saturday, legislators approved $8.7 billion in tax breaks for Boeing over the next 16 years. It’s the largest state tax subsidy in U.S. history, according to critics who point to a revolving door between the state’s government and Boeing.”

The Spirit of Athens Polytechnic
Every November 17 Greek workers and students mark the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising, initiated by students and soon supported by thousands of workers, against the military dictatorship then ruling Greece. Though it was suppressed by AMX tanks it was considered pivotal in the movement that finally brought down the Junta the following year.

Yesterday’s commemoration was bigger than usual bringing tens of thousands of workers in to the streets of Athens and Thessalonika. It also attracted thousands of cops and police helicopters hovered constantly. Tear gas was used when some protesters threw rocks at the headquarters of the fascist Golden Dawn party.

The anniversary coincided with a visit of IMF and EU Bank officials monitoring the progress of the austerity they have imposed on Greece in exchange for loans to keep the government afloat. They should be pleased. Reuters reports,

“Greece’s bailout has come at a price of tax rises and cuts to wages and pensions and the crisis, the country’s worst during peacetime, has forced thousands of business to shut, pushed up unemployment and eroded living standards. Nearly six in 10 young Greeks are without work, homelessness is on the rise and many have seen their incomes and wages shrink to levels not seen in decades.”

The Greek workers and youth are down–but far from out. Their legacy of tenacity and resilience lives on.

That’s all for this week.

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