Jun 222014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Piping Hot
TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project, to send bitumen goo from the Alberta tar-sands directly to Texas Gulf refineries to turn it in to synthetic oil and gasoline, lingers in regulatory purgatory for at least another U.S. election cycle. While continuing to pray for XL’s deliverance, an impatient Tory Harper government in Ottawa, who may be given the boot by voters next year, has also approved a second syncrude front solely within Canadian borders–Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, a 730-mile, 7 billion dollar proposed pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.

Bruderheim, about thirty miles from Edmonton, is a village of 1200-some residents of mostly German ancestry. Before their selection as the starting point for Northern Gateway they were best known for a spectacular meteorite that hit near there in 1960.

Kitimat, on the North Coast of the BC mainland, has a population of about 8,000. It has few roads but it’s home to a big aluminum smelter and a giant hydropower plant to supply the smelter’s ravenous appetite for electricity. What Enbridge finds attractive is an ice-free deep water harbor–which they hope will accommodate supertankers.

In the USA, opposition to XL has focused on the impact of the dirty tar-sands on climate change. But we can’t neglect the grave environmental dangers also associated with moving the stuff whether by pipeline, rail, or on water. Bitumen is much denser and heavier than petroleum. When it spills it doesn’t stay on the surface–it sinks. Clean up after inevitable leaks is more akin to PCBs than oil.

Certainly the peoples of the First Nations in the path of the Northern Gateway are not ignoring the hazzards. While it starts in the plain, most of the proposed pipeline would cross mountainous terrain of old growth forests and pristine streams. The intrusion of construction followed by leaks puts the ecology of the region, long well managed by the First Nations, at risk.

A coalition of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, and B.C. Assembly of First Nations said,

“Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills. This project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety, and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province.”

Al Jazeera America wrote,

“If legal challenges do not derail the project, First Nations in B.C. have promised direct action, promising that, despite Harper’s approval, the pipeline would never be built. ‘We are the wall that Enbridge and Harper cannot pass,’ chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Terry Teegee said in a news release Tuesday. Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told Al Jazeera that if Enbridge attempts to break ground on the pipeline, ‘We will take whatever measures are necessary to prevent that from happening.’”

And the CBC reported,

“Members of Hartley Bay First Nation have stretched a 4.6-kilometre long crocheted rope across B.C.’s Douglas Channel in a symbolic blockade of the future path of oil supertankers in northern B.C. About 200 people from the coastal community gathered at the narrow channel Friday to make the point that they will do everything they can to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline project.”

More than a thousand staged an emergency rally Tuesday in front of the CBC news agency in Vancouver. Recent polls have shown that three-quarters of B.C. respondents oppose it. The federal NDP labor party has said they will reverse the decision if they form the next government.

We need cross-border solidarity to stop KXL and Northern Gateway–and all other destruction emanating from the tar-sands.

Lowering the Boom
Being a war baby, I beat the rush to early retirement ten years ago. Now the Baby Boomers are signing up like there’s no tomorrow. In 2007, 2.6 million began collecting their Social Security benefit. Last year that number was 3.3 million–a 27 percent increase. We know there are a lot more coming soon.

Some of those short-timers are Social Security Agency employees. Twelve percent of them left over the past three years and another third are expected to retire or to otherwise depart over the next decade. There are no plans to replace 30,000 of these vacated positions. How does the Agency intend to deal with this shrinking workforce in the face of surging Boomer retirements?

Following the lead of our private sector they aim to close most of the 1200 community offices that served 43 million applicants and recipients last year. They have already arbitrarily shut down quite a few. The idea is to deal with all applications, questions and complaints on the Internet or toll-free robo-powered, dial-a-menu telephone. Most online readers know as I do how efficient this method is in getting an answer not covered in FAQs.

But most of those 43 million visitors to Social Security offices are old, or disabled, or poor–sometimes all three. Many are not computer savvy and may not have broadband access. They might not even have a phone. Unless they have a relative or social worker to be their advocate they may lose out on benefits to which they are entitled.

The president of the American Federation of Government Employees is correct in saying this is another way Social Security as we have known it is being drastically changed–and without much public awareness. But I would remind brother J. David Cox Sr that this, and many other attacks and threats against Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, are being carried out by the “friend” he worked so hard to keep in the White House.

No Burnt End For the Free Lunch
A river boat cook by the name of Henry Perry decided to settle down in Kansas City in 1907 and introduced Hickory smoked beef, pork, and occasional wild game, lathered with a spicy tomato based sauce, that became the model for Kansas City style barbecue. It was an instant local success, widely imitated, and went on to be the global gold standard for that culinary art form. From the ranks of cooks Perry trained two highly successful chains, still prosperous today, were launched–Arthur Bryant’s and Gates & Sons. (I prefer Bryant’s but Gates is pretty good too.)

While the preparation of the barbequed meats is a slow process that can’t be rushed, filling customer orders is polite Fast Food on steroids. Workers at the Gates location at Linwood & Main joined workers at national Fast Food chains in a one-day strike last summer advancing their demand for fifteen dollars an hour and a union. Soon after they returned to work management posted a notice: “There will be no employee meals, no loans no tabs. Don’t ask.”

There were numerous incidents of illegal retribution by Fast Food bosses against the legally protected strikes. Most complaints were settled without going to trial but paternalistic Gates wouldn’t budge. The Thursday Kansas City Star reported,

“A one-day strike last summer by some Kansas City workers at the Main Street restaurant of Gates & Sons Barbeque led to unlawful discrimination against restaurant employees, an administrative law judge ruled Tuesday. The decision by Paul Bogas, a judge with the National Labor Relations Board, orders the restaurant to reinstate a long-standing free-meal benefit for workers that was taken away shortly after the labor action on July 30, 2013….The order resulted from an unfair labor practices complaint filed by the Workers’ Organizing Committee of Kansas City.”

The fight for Fifteen and a Union continues but, as the bosses do a slow burn, the free lunch–a sandwich and one side–for Gates workers is legally secured.

Remembering 1934
An excellent documentary produced for a Twin Cities PBS affiliate about the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes was aptly entitled Labor’s Turning Point. Along with strikes of similar character during the same period in San Francisco and Toledo, it was the first major labor victory during the Great Depression and helped inspire the new union upsurge of the CIO that soon followed.

The strikes and the powerful militant Teamsters Local union that emerged from them became deeply ingrained in Minneapolis culture. There were significant celebrations of the Seventieth and Seventy-Fifth anniversaries and the Eightieth next month may be even bigger. For the first time, Teamsters locals are actively participating in a weekend of activities.

On Saturday, July 19, Teamsters Local 120 will host a picnic and rally on Boom Island park from 1-3PM and will then shuttle participants to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune building. From there they will march to Third Street & Fourth Avenue North–the site of a police ambush that killed two pickets and wounded many more. There they will join the Remember 1934 Committee’s Street Festival for the Working Class featuring speakers and music from 4-10PM.

On Sunday, there will be a family friendly, union friendly Picnic in Wabun-Minnehaha Falls Park in Minneapolis from Noon-4. More information can be found on a FaceBook page.

Lisa Luinenburg has a good article in Socialist Action about the challenges the organizers had to overcome to get permits for the activities.

Any Kansas City readers interested in car-pooling to Minneapolis for the anniversary celebration please give me a call at 816-753-1672.

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.

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

Jun 172014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Cynical Perversion of Civil Rights
The mostly proud history of the American labor movement has never been immune to the poisonous effects of racism, sexism, and xenophobia peddled by the dark side of the class that rules in order to keep the working class majority divided. For more than a century, many craft unions in the building trades, rail, and transit were clannish white male job trusts.

When the CIO took on the task of organizing the diverse workforce of mass production industries in to industrial unions they had to also confront and neutralize color and gender divisions in order to succeed. Their victories in the auto, steel, rubber, meat packing, and electrical industries brought substantial improvements in living standards in all communities and to this day more African-Americans consider themselves pro-union than whites.

Some of the craft unions resisted such changes right in to the Sixties and Seventies. Their hostility to inclusion led the civil rights and feminist movements to use new laws to sue these self-perpetuating white males only bastions, demanding quotas for color and gender diversity in the skilled trades.

As a general rule, class conscious workers are suspicious of any outside intervention in internal union matters. But the mainstream unions–then directed by George Meany, a plumber’s son who briefly also worked in that trade before his career as a full-time union official– proved incapable of putting their own house in order on this vital question. Justice was on the side of the plaintiffs–and they won some important gains. If we are serious about working class unity we cannot deny victims of discrimination the right to use any means necessary–in the courts or in the streets–to win their fair share.

But the purported “civil rights” victory in a California court decision last week, declaring teacher tenure to be unconstitutional, is a different, and very smelly kettle of fish. The nominal poor, minority student plaintiffs in the suit yielding this shocking ruling were represented by a front group called “Students Matter.” It is bankrolled by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who sees educational “reforms” leading to enhanced diversion of public funding to the private sector. Their argument was that tenure protects hoards of bad teachers who deny minority students the quality education guaranteed by the Brown versus Topeka Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in American public schools.

It is the latest and most ominous yet in a wave of attacks on tenure ranging from Republican state legislatures to the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top.” It slanders teachers and poses a mortal threat to the existence of teacher unionism. A New York Times story predicted,

“The landmark court decision on Tuesday finding California’s teacher tenure laws unconstitutional is likely to lead to a flood of copycat lawsuits in other states, shifting the battleground on the issue from the legislatures to the courts.”

The protection of tenure begins only after successful completion of a probationary period that can sometimes take years. Unlike what many judges enjoy, it is not a lifetime job guarantee. Tenure can be revoked if just cause is proven–and through elimination of the position. Without tenure teachers would become “employees at will,” vulnerable to arbitrary assignments or even dismissal without recourse. Dignity and respect at work would be lost along with job security.

In higher education, not nearly as unionized as K-12, tenure is fast disappearing. As tenured professors retire their load is typically shifted to adjunct instructors, usually hired on temporary contracts a semester/quarter at a time. There is no upward career path. They don’t get vested in any pension plans. Often they don’t even get health insurance. As tuition and student loan debt soars instructional labor costs are squeezed. That is an ultimate union-busting goal of educational “reformers” of both parties for K-12 public education as well.

The problems of education in the USA are many and legion. Most are rooted in social and economic problems outside the class room. Those issues will continue to be ignored if we get lulled by the mantra of “bad teachers.”

There are certainly frustrated teachers. Some may suffer burn out. But by and large, teachers are well qualified, dedicated to the interests of their students, and do the best that can be expected. It makes no more sense to blame teachers for the failure of our education system than to blame highway workers for our deteriorating roads and bridges or bus drivers for overcrowded buses. To sully them in the name of civil rights is particularly despicable by even current deplorable standards of discourse.

We, of course, need a comprehensive program for more a revolution than reform of our troubled schools. Some, such as the Chicago Teachers Union are discussing the broader questions of what can be done.

In the meantime, we should all rally in solidarity to defend tenure, to save teacher unions.

This WIR is a bit late and short. This is because of time sensitive demands on my schedule. I hope to be back to normal by next time.

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