May 112014
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Call For a Wartime Effort
Peter Moskowitz on Al Jazeera reported,

“Climate change is real and has the potential to catastrophically affect every aspect of American life, Barack Obama’s administration said Tuesday in a report, prompting immediate calls for a national response akin to a ‘wartime effort.’….Its findings are expected to be a launching pad for Obama’s climate change policy in the last two years of his presidency.”

A color-coded map of the Lower Forty-eight States on the front page of the New York Times contrasted the 1991-2012 average temperature with the 1901-1960 average. Like most Midwest cities, my home town was in the + 1-2 degrees F range. There were ominous looking red swaths here and there indicating an increase of more than 2F. That these included southern California and a Boston-Philadelphia corridor was to be expected but I was surprised to see much of Colorado and the Minnesota Iron Range shaded in scarlet as well. The two hottest spots in the contiguous 48 were Grand Junction, up 3.2, and Hibbing 3.1.

But the biggest impact of all was off that map–Alaska. This oil-rich state that still inspires many to chant Drill Baby Drill is described in the Times article,

“Alaska in particular is hard hit. Glaciers and frozen ground in that state are melting, storms are eating away at fragile coastlines no longer protected by winter sea ice, and entire communities are having to flee inland — a precursor of the large-scale changes the report foresees for the rest of the United States.”

There is no new science in the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday. It’s methods rest on the able work of UN climate scientists. But it graphically demonstrates the impact that global warming has already had on every part of the country and warns what we can expect here in the homeland if we don’t soon change our ways on a global scale. In that respect it does an excellent, needed job.

But it could wind up as an autopsy report explaining the cause of death of civilization as we know it. There can be no acceptable long-term adaption to the human created malignancy aggressively spreading throughout our biosphere. Like the global UN assessment it regionalizes, the NCA falls far short of the mark in championing effective countermeasures it mentions–while we still have a chance.

A typical bullet about mitigation from the NCA power-point style online executive summary: “To be effective, decision support processes need to take account of the values and goals of the key stakeholders, evolving scientific information, and the perceptions of risk.”

Hardly the crisp marching orders for a “war-time response.” It is the language of endless dither, a dialect of, by, and for bureaucrats and politicians covering their backsides until retirement.

This is not the first grand-standing rodeo for the commander-in-chief. Early on in his first term he had an energy bill that promoted ethanol, new nukes, along with the already discredited cap-and-trade scam. When it got in the way of his battle for compulsory private health insurance he dropped that climate measure like it was a hot isotope.

In a fleeting visit to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit, the new Nobel Peace Prize winner used a superpower veto to nix a promising international agreement. Mimicking Rockefeller who used to amuse himself by watching the poor scramble for dimes he tossed on the sidewalk, the leader of the Free World promised hush money to impoverished nations who agreed not to squawk–promises mostly unkept.

So far, the President has taken three bounds off this new “launching pad” for his climate agenda.

He took an interview with metrologist laureate Al Roker that caused quite a stir among weatherpersons across the land.

He also returned solar power to the White House. Jimmy Carter had installed solar panels there in 1979 but President Reagan ordered them removed when he replaced Carter. The current occupant has flipped the switch on an array matching a typical family home installation.

On Friday Hail to the Chief was played at a Walmart in Mountain View, California as the President gave a little speech praising the world’s biggest private employer for expanding use of solar power in their facilities. He also announced a blockbuster new regulation–improved energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers.

Some ungrateful environmentalists saw this as “greenwashing” a retailer heavily dependent on contracting production in sweatshops in the dirtiest carbon polluters in Asia, transported across the Pacific Ocean.

Of course, Walmart runs their own sweatshops here in North America and are a target of labor campaigns. Unionists were furious about their “friend’s” promotional visit. An AP article quotes former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, “What numbskull in the White House arranged this?”

Offending his allies didn’t gain the President any credit with the Republicans who denounced the Climate Assessment as “alarmist.” And the AP reported on Thursday,

“Wyoming, the nation’s top coal-producing state, is the first to reject new K-12 science standards proposed by national education groups mainly because of global warming components.”

The “stakeholders” in charge of the fossilized global economy are not going to be part of the solution–they are the problem. Part of the “war-time response” to the challenge of climate change has to include taking political power away from the class that rules. Science has given us all the ammunition we need for this conflict. Our job is to mobilize the working class majority as an unstoppable infantry that can secure a sustainable future for humanity . When there’s no safe place for flight we have to fight.

New CLC Leadership
There was a big shake up in the top leadership of the Canadian Labor Congress at its recent Montreal convention. Hassan Yussuff, who had been Secretary Treasurer, defeated incumbent President Ken Georgetti who had held the post for fifteen years by 40 votes —2,318 to 2,278 for Georgetti.

Yussuff, an immigrant from Guyana who had held various union positions since hiring on as a diesel mechanic in a CAW shop, becomes the first person of color to hold the federation’s top spot. Barb Byers, who was previously one of the CLC’s two executive vice-presidents, was elected to replace Yussuff as Secretary Treasurer.

The nearly fifty-fifty split among delegates undoubtedly registers widespread dissatisfaction with the state and prospects of organized labor. A Globe & Mail article quotes Yussuff, “They feel the [labour] movement has to pull itself together and start to push back. There’s a sense among the whole membership, including the private sector, that you’ve got to collectively start pushing back to change the direction, otherwise this movement is going to be in peril.”

But little was put forward in terms of a concrete program fundamentally different than Georgetti’s. As an observer removed from the scene, I see similarities to John Sweeney’s victory in the only contested election for top office in the AFL-CIO. The Sweeney camp projected more energy but in office didn’t do much different to change course.

Unions affiliated to the CLC represent 3.3 million workers. Considering the difference in population ratio that is the equivalent to about thirty-two million in the USA–double the actual U.S. union rolls.

RESPECT In Seattle
An excerpt from a message from Lee Sustar to the Center for Labor Renewal list,

“In union elections that concluded May 8, the opposition RESPECT slate came within a whisker of capturing the top position in the Seattle Education Association, with MAP test boycott leader Jesse Hagopian coming just 45 votes behind incumbent president Jonathan Knapp. RESPECT candidate Dan Troccoli will now advance to a runoff election after placing second in a three-way race for union treasurer. Further, RESPECT—which was initiated by the Social Equality Educators (SEE) caucus—captured six of the 20 executive board seats that were voted upon in this election, ensuring a strong voice for union activism and opposition to the growing attacks on teachers, their unions, and public education. The election shows widespread union support for SEE’s strategy for both defending the teaching profession and fighting for fully funded—and equitable—public schools.”

The Passing of Nat Weinstein
I just learned that Nat Weinstein died Saturday at Veterans Hospital in San Francisco after a long illness at the age of 88. Nat played a prominent role in trade union and socialist struggles for more than seven decades. He was introduced to both movements as a teenager doing his military service as a merchant seaman during World War II. I will pass along information about a memorial meeting as it becomes available. Messages can be sent to his daughter, Bonnie Weinstein at giobon@sbcglobal.net

In Brief…
* Paul Bigman has an excellent on the scene update of the 15 Now struggle in Seattle on the Labor Notes site.
* The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) has called for emergency anti-war actions against U.S. Intervention in Ukraine, May 9 – May 26.
* An AP story reports, “Labor organizers say they’re planning another day of fast-food protests next week, with coordinated actions expected in the U.S. and more than 30 countries this time around. Union representatives from countries including Argentina, Hong Kong, Italy, New Zealand and Panama gathered in New York this week to share tips and strategize for the demonstrations slated to take place on May 15. Organizers plan to announce the global actions at a news conference outside a McDonald’s in New York on Wednesday afternoon. The protests calling for pay of $15 an hour in the U.S. have gained national media attention since they began in New York in late 2012.” There will be several events in Kansas City this Thursday. Unfortunately, the organizers have chosen to list them only on a proprietary network rather than a proper open web page. You can, however, view their Face Book schedule without registering here.

***
In my spare time I have started working to move the Week In Review e-mail list from Yahoo to Mail Chimp. If you receive a message from me in the not too distant future inviting you to opt in to the new list please do so and put us in your address book to keep it out of your spam box. As Yahoo subscribers sign up they will be dropped from the Yahoo list and that list will eventually go away.

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 042014
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Two Tiers Good, Four Tiers Better
I was sitting in a tiny pre-recording studio at KKFI-FM, along with four others from Kansas City who had attended the recent Labor Notes Conference, waiting to report on that gathering on the Heartland Labor Forum show when we heard some exciting news–Seattle’s Mayor had just announced agreement had been reached on passing a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage in that city. But as so often with breaking good news, details that followed modified our enthusiasm.

Seattle has become one of the most expensive places to live in the USA. Last November, voters in the suburb of SeaTac–home to the giant airport of the same name serving Seattle and Tacoma–approved a fifteen dollar minimum wage for their town. At the same time in Seattle, a socialist City Council candidate who had made Fifteen a central plank in her platform won a stunning upset election victory, ousting a veteran Democrat incumbent. Such public sentiment has prodded nearly all of Seattle’s movers and shakers to agree “in principle” that a boost from the present state minimum wage of 9.54 an hour to fifteen is justifiable and doable–a remarkable achievement.

But there have been major differences advanced among bosses who will have to foot the bill–over the time line for reaching that goal; whether some businesses would be shown special consideration for the new burden they would have to accept; how to deal with employees who presently depend on earnings from tips; and whether to credit the cost of benefits such as health insurance toward the fifteen target.

The Mayor appointed representatives from SEIU and UFCW–two unions closely identified with the movement of fast food workers for Fifteen and a Union Now–to an income inequality committee. He also named Kshama Sawant, the new socialist on the City Council and a spokesperson for the 15 Now movement. But business interests big and small dominated this advisory body.

With the backing of some labor forces, Kshama Sawant offered a proposal to immediately implement 15 Now for corporations with more than 500 workers while phasing it in over three years for all others. It did not provide any bonus perks for bosses included in the Mayor’s May Day announcement such as deducting tip earnings from the fifteen or giving credit for health insurance. But this fair offer was never taken up by the City Council.

Instead they will soon be voting on a confusing one coming from the Mayor’s committee. The good natured haggling among those brought together by the Mayor–including union officials–produced a uniquely American style complicated compromise consensus.

First, all employers were divided in to two big groups–more than, or less than 500 employees, like the Sawant-Labor deal did. The 500 threshold would include a company’s workforce beyond the Seattle city limits. But it is not clear from news accounts where individual operators of national chain franchises–such as in hotels and food–would be slotted.

But if two tiers were good they thought four tiers would be better. There was further breakdown in to two schedules within each major group, including a schedule B for those with employer provided health insurance. I don’t have the space available here to follow all of the special complexities of this four tier approach. Here are some benchmarks:

* In 2015 Schedules A, B, C would go to eleven dollars an hour, D would go to ten.
* Schedule A is projected to hit fifteen in 2017. But D wouldn’t make that goal until 2021.
* Raises beyond fifteen would be governed by the CPI.
* It will take eleven years for all four schedules to come together at the same minimum wage.

Union contracts typically have a range of different pay rates based on factors such as skill levels and seniority. But the goal of a minimum wage is to make sure every one who works can stay out of poverty. Schedule D workers get no breaks from their landlord, or where they buy groceries, or on the bus they ride. They need every bit as much as those on Schedule A to live on.

Genuine small businesses and nonprofits made arguments persuasive to many that they need some time to build higher wages in to their budgets. That’s why the Fifteen Now proposal allowed them–and only them–a three year phase-in. But eleven years to equalization is clearly stalling, not adjustment. The cave-in agreed to by the liberal Mayor and “reasonable” union officials restricts and delays needed relief for the working poor while gaining nothing new for them in return down the road.

My friend and volunteer Northwest Correspondent Ann Montague wrote in an e-mail message,

“I rarely use sports analogies but to me it was the corporate forces agreeing of a long complex implementation as a sort of time out to stop the momentum of the other team. I thought the end of The Stranger article made a good point. Who is going to oversee this complex implementation? It will probably fall back on workers to fight for their rights under this proposal (also if passed it will only be legislation by this particular city council and the Charter Amendment will change the City Constitution). I am sure this has taken some of the air out of the movement, but they have able leadership. I just got a text message from $15 Now and they are calling people to deluge City Hall as the first hearing is scheduled and Sawant is calling for the head of Starbucks to come tell the council why they cannot end poverty wages on January 1, 2015. I’ll be sure to give you updates as the struggle continues.”

This scenario was anticipated by the 15 Now coalition who held a day long strategy conference attended by about 500 activists last weekend. While recognizing they have already won some important gains they will not accept without a fight the big concessions to business interests granted by the Mayor. They are launching a drive to insert 15 Now in to the City Charter through a ballot measure in the November election. The first step in this campaign is obtaining fifty thousand signatures on a petition.

This ambitious initiative will be bitterly resisted by the bosses, along with the accommodating liberal politicians and union bureaucrats backing the four tier solution. If 15 Now can pull it off it will not only bring substantial improvement in the daily lives of thousands of Seattle workers; it could become a catalyst and model for similar mass efforts across North America. They deserve our solidarity, including material support as they battle against well funded opponents.

Meanwhile, the Democrat majority in the U.S. Senate was unable to get even a symbolic vote on the White House proposal to increase the national minimum wage to 10.10.

May Day Forward
Hundreds of thousands around the world–including tens of thousands in cities in the USA–marched in the streets on the May 1 International Workers’ Day. A halt to deportations of immigrant workers and demands for a fifteen dollar minimum wage were common themes in this country. In some areas there were significant contingents of climate activists as well. You can find a number of news stories about these actions on our companion Labor Advocate news blog and some continue to trickle in.

ATU_1287_logo-200x210

May has also been declared Transit Action Month by presidential executive order–that is by Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union. It is the first phase of a sure to be long struggle against the twin dangers of austerity and privatization, threatening even present inadequate levels of transit service, in both the USA and Canada. A union media release describes the initial push,

“May will be a month of action, excitement and mobilization, the likes of which have never been seen in ATU history. Throughout May members will be reaching out to riders across North America to let them know we stand with them in the fight for more, better and safer public transit. It will be a month of action to call for more funding for public transit. A month of action to call for a stop on attacks on transit workers. And a month of action to promote safety and overtime protections of over-the-road bus drivers. Locals will be holding events at bus stops, train stations and other transit venues to engage riders in our campaign…. Why are we doing this?—because we are in the fight of our lives for our livelihood and our children’s future!

I’ve seen enough training and commitment of resources to convince me the union leadership is serious about this fight and the ranks are welcoming the initiative. As a retiree member of the ATU as well as a life long transit advocate I’m signing up for the duration. If you live in the Kansas City area and are interested in transit action I’d like to hear from you. You can drop me a line to billonasch[at]kclabor.org or call my landline at 816-753-1672. Readers in other parts of the USA and Canada can find ATU locals in your area through this directory.

In Brief…
* A front page headline in the Saturday Kansas City Star ably captured the essence of the monthly BLS employment situation report, “Jobs Up, Workforce Down.” The accompanying article by Diane Stafford looked beyond the hype of 288,000 new jobs and a .4 percent decline in the official unemployment rate, to the troubling fact that “joblessness fell because about 806,000 fewer people said they were working or looking for work in April than in March….The labor force last month was composed of only 62.8 percent of the 16-and-over population, a rate about as low as it’s ever been.” She also quoted an economist,“Today, there are over 1.8 million more jobs in lower-wage industries than there were before the recession. There are nearly 2 million fewer jobs in mid- and higher-wage industries.”
* From Al Jazeera, “Nearly half of all Americans still live in areas where pollution has rendered the air unhealthy to breathe, with the impact of climate change threatening to undo advances in cutting down harmful emissions, a new report has found….The report credits the Clean Air Act and the switch to cleaner fuels for the reduction in particle pollution, but warns that more than 147 million people still live in counties with unhealthy air. Though many of the 25 most polluted U.S. cities were shown to have reduced levels from previous years, air quality in all of them violated health-based standards.”

That’s all for this week.
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Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is available through RSS and Yahoo Group Mail.

Our sole source of 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