May 262014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Memorial Day
This three day weekend in the USA hasn’t always been dominated by trips to the lake, “Sales” at the Malls and promotions by car dealers. It started out as a commemoration of those soldiers who fell during the Civil War–the bloodiest of all American wars. It later came to be broadened to include the casualties of subsequent wars and interventions–and there’s been quite a few of those.

The working class and the employer class shared interests in supporting a Union victory in the Civil War. Both correctly saw elimination of chattel slavery as vital to their future. Once their slave owner rivals were eliminated, the capitalists consolidated their power as the sole ruling class.

As the Industrial Revolution took off, there were no more shared interests between worker and boss–not in the workplace, government, or armed forces. When rebellious workers briefly took charge of St Louis in 1871 the US Army was sent in to crush the St Louis Commune.

When the short-lived American Railway Workers Union shut down most of the nation’s railroads in solidarity with workers in Pullman, Illinois the carriers prevailed on a “friend of labor“ in the White House, Grover Cleveland, to use Federal courts and the Army to break the strike–and the union. The principal strike leader, Eugene V Debs, who had once been a Democrat member of the Indiana legislature, was sentenced to six months in jail. Debs absorbed some valuable lessons about the class structure of society from Marxist fellow prisoners and went on to become America’s most prominent socialist.

While never honestly expressed, the primary mission of the U.S. armed forces–when not needed to break strikes at home–has been to defend and expand the global corporate agenda of what is now popularly called the One Percent.

I was already convinced of this position when in the summer of 1965, then living in Chicago, I received a letter from President Johnson informing me I was needed by my country for service in the U.S. Army. This was the early stage of a massive build up of forces on the ground in Vietnam. I strongly opposed this war I saw as unjust and I was involved in the fledgling antiwar movement.

Some opponents of the war refused to report for induction and instead went to jail. Others migrated to Canada. I was at that time a member of the Socialist Workers Party who thought such individual solutions, however noble in spirit, had little impact on the war. As long as the majority of our generation accepted military service as their duty we should go along with them–while retaining our democratic rights to oppose the war. I still think that was the best policy.

But it was not easy to implement. Part of the induction process was a Form 98 asking if you were a member of an organization listed as “subversive” by the Attorney General. The SWP was one of the dozens of groups listed. If we answered Yes we would be voluntarily accepting the false characterization of being a subversive. If we signed off as No we would be vulnerable to prosecution for perjury.

We declined to sign the form at all, explaining our political views were not relevant to our qualifications to be a soldier and were none of the Army’s business. My experience became typical as the Army finally noted a pattern. I was pulled out of my group just before the oath ceremony and told I would be contacted by Army Intelligence. I politely declined to answer any of the questions put to me by those sleuths as well.

In a few weeks I received a thick dossier in the mail from Fifth Army Headquarters. Obviously benefitting from FBI and Chicago Police Red Squad informants, it documented my presence at dozens of SWP public events as well as frequent visits to the national office of Students for a Democratic Society (the major national antiwar group at the time.) Though none of my activities reported in the document were illegal, it concluded that my service in the Army would not be in the best interests of the United States.

In the long run, the attempt by the Army and the other armed forces to keep out dissent broke down as the antiwar movement initiated by students steadily attracted support from the civil rights and union movements to become a majority movement. The call to Bring the Troops Home Now resonated among the grunts on the ground in southeast Asia and many began to repeat the slogan to the Brass. That was a major factor in forcing an end to that terrible war.

I share these recollections on Memorial Day to illustrate part of the continuity of a current in the American workers movement–going back to the days of the great Eugene V Debs –with a class perspective on war.

Debs explained the reality of the War to End All Wars, aka the First World War, in his famous Canton Speech. President Wilson–another labor “friend”–was so infuriated he ordered that Debs be prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Debs had to conduct his 1920 campaign for President on the Socialist Party ticket from a cell in the Atlanta Penitentiary. He still got nearly a million votes. His motto of No War But the Class War is today–in the nuclear age–more appropriate than ever. Those who identify with the Debs heritage–and I include myself in their numbers–still practice international worker solidarity, still work to keep our country out of wars and end those already in progress.

Those of us who recognize that our class enemy in the workplace and government here at home is still our enemy when they lead us down the road of unjust war abroad, take a different view in respect to the sons and daughters of the working class who have to fight these wars. They are not the enemy, they are part of our class flesh and blood. We grieve their every casualty in battle and work to get them out of harm’s way by bringing them home where they belong. I was proud to be part of the Founding Conference of the still active US Labor Against the War on the eve of Bush II’s invasion of Iraq.

Our grief is not limited to Americans. It includes the vast unknown number of dead Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, and those in many other countries where GIs have been sent over the years to advance the profits of “our” bosses and bankers.

We support the democratic right of workers in uniform to express, on their own time, views against war–they have certainly earned it. And, in collaboration with groups such as Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and Iraq Veterans Against the War, we fight to get the benefits promised to and earned by those who served.

This Fall will mark thirteen years of war in Afghanistan. There will be Armed Forces Appreciation Day at the ball park tonight. A major national brewer recently pledged to donate money to needy GIs for every bottle cap sent in by their customers. The President made a quick trip to Afghanistan for a photo op with the troops. But the mass media no longer pays much attention to the day-to-day situation of the 30,000 soldiers and Marines still on the ground over there. It’s like an unpleasant background noise most learn to ignore.

When they mention Veterans at all, the politicians and many in the media call them Heros. These heros have a much higher unemployment rate than the general population–over twenty percent for the 18-24 age group, 9.5 for 24-35. Ten percent of those who have jobs earn less than ten dollars an hour. On any given night, about 60,000 Vets are homeless and 140,000 are incarcerated.

Advances in medical science have greatly lowered fatality rates among wounded and injured troops on the battle field. Saving lives is a good thing but one result is many more being left with varying degrees of debilitation that will require medical attention for life. Many of the 51,000
wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan fall in to that category.

In addition to these physical wounds hundreds of thousands more suffer from psychological afflictions such as PTSD. Active duty soldiers with such disorders, that can lead to behavioral problems even in initial stages of treatment, are often given bad conduct dishonorable discharges to deny them any VA benefits. There’s been little public attention given to this outrage.

Recently, CNN broke a headline scandal about shameful treatment of Veterans at some Veterans Affairs health care facilities. Even this wouldn’t have been such a big deal had it not been passionately pursued by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the Comedy Channel.

Prior to the Vietnam war, the VA had a proud record of providing health care and other services to Vets in need. Agent Orange and drug addiction acquired “in country” were not adequately addressed for Vietnam Vets. The greatly increased needs of the more than two million Vets of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars come as Austerity is the watchword throughout the public sector. The VA is overwhelmed, Vets are getting short shrift–and some bureaucrats are protecting their performance bonuses by cooking the books to show everything is lovely.

Many hawkish Republicans who never served want to abolish the VA health care system and give the Heros vouchers to buy private insurance–like the Obamacare they so despise. The VA model is in fact the best component of health care in this country. But it needs to be run by people who care more about Vets than bonuses, supported by whatever funding is required. The only adequate replacement would be a system like Britain’s National Health Service that covers the needs of all.

Of course, the best outcome for the VA and the women and men they serve would be peace. The single biggest obstacle to that goal are the bosses, bankers, and brass hats who rule Wall Street, Washington, the state capitals and City Halls across our land. They are armed with WMDs and are extremely dangerous. But they can be brought to justice by those who do all the work and all the fighting–the working class majority.

I don’t want to sour anyone’s holiday–including my own. But I felt compelled on this day to comment in the spirit of the words of Mother Jones to coal miners–Pray For the Dead and Fight Like Hell For the Living. Feel free to substitute honor or mourn for pray if you prefer–but there’s no effective option for fight.

That’s all for this week.

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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

May 182014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Solidarity on the Chow Line
Short strikes and demonstrations by fast food workers began about a year and a half ago in New York City. In sharp contrast to the prevailing trend of yielding give-backs to the boss, they are organizing through once common but now “nontraditional” methods for a big raise and dignity and power on the job. The positive public response to the first lunch-time job actions in Midtown Manhattan inspired local movements around the country. They are supported by groups like Jobs with Justice, worker centers, and unions such as the Service Employees International Union.

Last Thursday, this movement escalated in to a global day of action with protests in thirty countries, as well as 150 cities and towns across the USA, coordinated by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations–a world-wide labor group representing 12 million workers.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to come out here and fight. We’re going to let them know we want $15 an hour and a union.” That’s what a striking McDonald’s worker told a Channel 9 reporter covering a 6AM protest at a Golden Arches at 14 & Prospect in Kansas City, Missouri. That big early bird demo became much more visible as it spilled on to the Prospect Bridge spanning I-70. It was the first of four Kansas City area events over a twelve-hour period Thursday.

Early afternoon I was at another action in Shawnee Park, near a McDonald’s target in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas. Firefighters were there donating food and labor to give the activists on hand a hearty lunch. I started far back in the chow line, much closer to the speakers booming out recorded hip-hop than the grub. I was trying to lip-read the comments of fellow retired bus driver Tony Saper next to me, when I was made aware that someone behind me was trying to get my attention.

I almost missed her when I turned around because this young woman hardly stood up to my shoulder level. She was wearing the red shirt uniform of the fast food workers and old-fashioned black framed glasses that have become trendy again. Hardly the image of a union thug.

I cupped my ear to listen to a voice as diminutive as her height warmly thanking me for coming out to support them. She had noticed the Amalgamated Transit Union jacket I was wearing on that unseasonably chilly day. The decibel level of the music precluded any lengthy discourse about solidarity. I mumbled something to the effect that we were proud to be with their inspiring struggle–and I meant it.

By no means are all fast food workers young, nor are most as shy and soft-spoken as the sister who expressed gratitude. They are diverse in the best sense of that overused term. But they all show some important common traits–courage, focus, tenacity–reviving attributes that faded in our largely bureaucratized unions over the past few decades. These fighting as well as working poor signify hope for the future of the American working class. Their victory can help turn the tide of class war. They deserve our continuing support for Fifteen and a Union Now.

This concludes our good news section.

Chutzpah, Hypocrisy Accompany Death in the Mines
It’s customary for heads of state to visit the sites of big workplace disasters to express sorrow for loss and promises for increased safety. But when the Prime Minister of Turkey visited the grieving town of Soma–where more than three hundred workers at a privatized coal mine employing six thousand have been confirmed dead after an underground explosion and fire–he didn’t sound much like Mother Jones. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan cooly asserted “Explosions like this in the mines happen all the time,” the families and friends of the victims booed and shouted him down. After the PM was whisked away by his security detachment the riot police were sent in to disperse the vocal but peaceful crowd. NBC correspondent Richard Engel narrowly avoided being doused by a water-cannon. Turkish trade unions responded with a general strike and there have been skirmishes with government storm troopers across the country.

Of course, underground mining will never be completely risk free. But safety protocols have been developed that–if enforced–eliminate explosions and greatly reduce accidents and fatalities of all kinds. Turkey has a terrible record for industrial accidents of all types that has gotten worse under a decade of rule by the present right-wing regime.

In this country, the coal bosses and government regulators congratulated themselves because there has not been a mining accident with such a high death toll as in Soma here in living memory. But they ignore the preventable deaths still occurring in a workforce that has been greatly reduced through technology.

It’s been nearly three years since Ken Ward Jr wrote in his Coal Tattoo blog, “The Obama administration announced plans to further delay a requirement for underground coal-mine operators to equip mining machines with devices meant to protect miners from being run over or crushed by those machines.” During this time Australia, Canada, and South Africa mandated this technology that can save lives. In the USA it still languishes in regulatory purgatory. This past Wednesday, a miner died from a preventable machine crushing injury at M Class Mining LLC’s MC No. 1 Mine in Franklin County, Illinois.

And noting a patently dangerous retreat mining practice–where miners risk their lives removing pillars to recover every last chunk of coal from an area that’s being abandoned–Ward closes his Thursday blog,

“Instead of just being glad we didn’t blow up 200 coal miners today, why not spend that time and effort asking why we buried two coal miners alive Monday night in West Virginia?”

Should Have Listened to Mercer
Please don’t shoot the blogger. I don’t enjoy piling climate gloom and doom on top of our other many problems nearly every week. But considering its overarching importance I believe you not only have a right to know–you need to know.

I’ve written quite a bit in past WIRs about the rising sea levels already beginning as a result of melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the melting ice sheet that has covered most of Greenland. Now the focus is shifting as far as you can go due south.

Last Monday, two separate but complementary scientific reports about the alarming state of the West Antarctica ice sheet were simultaneously released. I posted several stories about them on our companion Labor Advocate news blog. One in the New York Times began,

“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries. Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet…”

The time line of the swelling of the seas is hard to precisely predict but it is likely the Antarctic contribution alone will raise levels as much as three feet within the lifetime of our youngest generations. This will require an inland migration of hundreds of millions of residents of coastal areas much sooner than previously considered. This means relocating the populations of cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Miami, Los Angeles in coming decades. There is no structure in place to begin planning such an unprecedented evacuation from places that will be lost for good.

We ignore science at our peril. Powerful sections of the ruling class are working–with some success–to keep climate science out of public education. The same Times article vindicates dismissed past science,

“The new finding appears to be the fulfillment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed ‘a threat of disaster.’ He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)”

Our doom is not yet sealed but human civilization is in mortal danger. We need to first clear away the ignorance, confusion, and outright lies we are fed by those who profit in the short term from destroying our biosphere in order for the working class majority to mobilize for urgently needed action. That’s why I continue to rant–and I hope you will too.

Nat Weinstein Memorial Meeting Set
Here, as promised, is the information I have received:

“There will be a Celebration of the Life of Nat Weinstein on Sunday, June 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. in San Francisco. The celebration will be at SEIU 1021’s Union Hall at 350 Rhode Island St. The entrance is on Kansas Street, between 16th and 17th. There will be remembrances by family members and life-long comrades of Nat and an open mic for those who wish to share appreciations and memories of Nat’s life. Refreshments will be served.”

That’s all for this week.

Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is available through RSS

Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member