Jun 082014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

More Than Just Sizzle
In an excellent posting on Labor Notes about the Seattle 15 dollar minimum wage victory, Paul Bigman recalls the old adage comparing the unpleasant character shared by both law- and sausage-making, “Like the making of sausage, the making of the final plan involved some unsavory additions. Still, it’s the nation’s largest step yet toward establishing an adequate wage floor for the working poor.”

Bigman details the delays and loopholes attached to the unanimously adopted city ordinance. Most were recommended by a Mayor’s advisory committee a few weeks ago and reported in a past edition of the WIR. A couple of new ones–a “training wage,” and pushing back the effective date of the new law from January to April of next year–were inserted at the last minute.

15 Now! resisted these concessions to bosses right up to the vote in the City Council. This grass roots movement, inspired by Fast Food worker struggles for Fifteen and a Union and further nurtured by the successful City Council campaign by Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative Party, will be reviewing the tactical prospects for closing the loopholes through ballot initiatives. This will be democratically discussed and decided at a meeting later this month. For now they are hailing–as well they should–a victory that while incomplete is substantial and inspirational.

In another very good article on the Socialist Action site, Ann Montague gives us a useful nutshell history of how the struggle for 15 unfolded in the streets as well as the ballot box. And she correctly emphasizes the material gains for Seattle workers,

“When the $15 minimum wage is implemented, it will lift the wages of 100,000 workers—two thirds of whom are women. Over the next 10 years, it will also transfer $3 billion from businesses to workers who are at the bottom of the wage scale.”

Continuing our food metaphor–that ain’t chopped liver. It is a welcome, dramatic reversal in the prevailing trend of transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top.

Just as Fast Food workers have mobilized through national–even global–coordination to raise wages in their industry, 15 Now! hopes to build a national network to advance a class-wide minimum wage of 15 through local, state, and national action. Local conditions will vary. Not all will be able to simply replicate the exact same recipe of Seattle. But the general strategy and tactics that built grass roots power in the communities and workplaces of Seattle are applicable everywhere. There are already fifteen 15 Now! Chapters around the country. Exploratory discussions about launching a chapter in Kansas City have begun.

It’s time to wake up and smell the sausage.

Have We Recovered?
Perhaps we have entered a phase of the Great Repetition. The BLS May jobs report showed “little or no change” for the unemployment rate; number of unemployed persons; number of long-term unemployed; civilian labor force participation rate; employment-population ratio; involuntary part-time workers; marginally attached to the labor force. Nor did the jobless rate for any major worker groups change. Black unemployment remains more than twice as great as for whites. The rate for teenage workers still exceeds nineteen percent.

Yet this stand your ground report was hailed by many journalists as Mission Accomplished for Recovery. Their evidence is that the total number of jobs in today’s economy nearly exactly equals the number at the beginning of the Great Recession six years ago. But some expose this bogus claim.

David Cay Johnston, an investigative reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize while at The New York Times, submitted an opinion piece worth reading to Al Jazeera America entitled Americans fared better after Great Depression than today. One of the points he made anticipating the release of Friday’s report,

“….the news will be filled with stories about a record high number of jobs, breaking the old record of 138.4 million civilian jobs set in January 2008. But such stories will be misleading because in the last six years America’s population grew by about 14 million people. With population growth taken into account, America needs more than 145 million jobs to surpass 2008’s employment percentage. Furthermore, the share of working-age people who have work or are looking for a job —the civilian labor force participation rate — has declined. In January 2008 it stood at 66.2 percent but was down to 62.8 percent this April. Bringing the participation rate back up would require a few million more jobs.”

Johnston takes a critical look at last year’s wage gains cited in the 2014 Economic Report of the President and compares them to the early Seventies.

“the increase, after inflation, was just 12 cents an hour — a blip of about six-tenths of 1 percent. More revealing, the average hourly pay of $20.13 last year was smaller than in 1972 and 1973. Back then, the inflation-adjusted hourly average was about 6 percent higher. In other words, people in 2013 worked 52 weeks to make what they would have made in 49 weeks back in 1972 and 1973.”

He quickly tells us,

“Wait, it gets worse. The presidential report shows that in 1972 and 1973 the average private sector worker was paid for 36.9 hours of work per week, but in 2013 this was down to 33.7 hours because a growing share of people can find only part-time jobs. Combine lower pay with fewer hours, and the average weekly gross pay in the private sector dropped by 14 percent in four decades. That’s the equivalent of working 52 weeks in 2013 to earn 45 weeks’ worth of wages in 1972 and 1973.”

We can only hope for a quick end to this “recovery.”

Week One of the War on Coal
The official White House climate change initiative was released last Monday. In the last WIR I reported that it would seek to reduce carbon emissions by twenty percent by 2030. But the administration discovered that by selecting 2005 as the starting point they could boost their goal to thirty percent.

Like ObamaCare, this reform will be implemented by the states. It turns out that at least ten states have already exceeded the thirty percent target by converting coal fired power plants to natural gas. Vermont does not have a single coal plant. The state of Washington has only one. The District of Columbia has one very small coal plant solely dedicated to providing electrical power to Congress at the Capitol.

The common description of the President’s move as an “executive order” is a misnomer. It is actually a draft regulation for the EPA which must go through a lengthy comments period and will almost certainly be challenged in court. It’s unlikely it can become enforceable before the end of next year. The next President could easily undo it all with a stroke of her/his pen.

Getting the other forty or so states in compliance will depend on both their political will to act and natural gas remaining plentiful and cheap. Neither can be counted on. The White House is in effect promoting environmentally destructive fracking to provide an affordable substitute for coal.

Natural gas is hardly clean. It emits only half the amount of greenhouse gases spewed by coal
–but that remaining half means it will be impossible to comply with the call by climate scientists for developed countries to reduce emissions at least eighty percent by 2050.

A plan subject to reversal by the next administration, depending on implementation by the states and decades of cheap gas–what could possibly go wrong?

Most Pale Green leaders, while wishing for more, are again praising their “friend” in the White House. Even Bill McKibben, who has helped organize protests against the Keystone XL pipeline at the President’s home says, “ we obviously should be doing far, far more, but at least we’re finally started, and that’s to Obama’s credit.”

We have all paid dearly for the Affordable Care Act scam used by the President to derail genuine single-payer reform that was the most popular option in all the polls. The stakes are much higher on the climate crisis. I give the President credit as an able servant of the ruling class who groomed and selected him–but nothing more. We need a working class movement for an action plan to do what’s needed to save our biosphere. To be continued.

Fix It, Don’t Nix It
The main reason we are hearing about some chronic problems in Veterans health care is that privateers of both parties see recent scandals in record keeping as an opportunity to shift VA patients and tax-payer subsidies to the private sector. Those of us who must deal with for profit care providers would have to conclude that if what we have would be an upgrade the VA system must be rotten to the core.

A friend with some insight in to the health care industry recently sent me an illuminating article from the not so radical New England Journal of Medicine. The author, Dave A. Chokshi, M.D., writes,

“Beyond access to care, health system performance should be evaluated on the basis of health outcomes, the quality and safety of the care delivered, patient satisfaction, and costs. In many of these domains, the VA has kept pace with or surpassed private-sector health systems. A 2010 systematic review comparing the quality of care in VA and non-VA settings found that the VA generally performed better on quality measures for medical conditions (e.g., blood-pressure control and diabetes management).”

The VA held their own in interventional procedures compared to the much more costly private sector. And what about patient satisfaction?

“On a 2013 patient survey, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, VA health care earned overall satisfaction indexes of 84 (out of 100) for inpatient services and 82 for outpatient care, while the U.S. hospital industry scored 80 and 83 in those categories, respectively. When asked how likely they would be to return to a VA medical center for outpatient care, veterans responded with a score of 95 out of 100, indicating strong likelihood of return for care.”

The core problem with VA services is that their resources have not kept pace with the growing numbers they must serve. The indicated solution is to provide the VA with the resources they need–not to dump Vets in to a private sector that has the world’s worst outcome/cost performance record.

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


Jun 012014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

War On Coal
The Senate Minority Leader is bravely putting his reelection campaign in Kentucky on the front line of defense against the War on Coal he alleges has been launched by the Obama administration. Let me be up front–I have no belligerent feelings toward coal, nor to its fossil cousins petroleum and gas. On the contrary, I want to see them left securely under ground in their natural state rather than burning them up as quickly as possible as favored by the husband of former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Upon what evidence does Senator McConnell base his war charge against the White House? Coral Davenport opens a New York Times article,

“President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, which will spur the creation of a state cap-and-trade program forcing industry to pay for the carbon pollution it creates.”

Cap-and-trade is a hearty perennial. It was planted globally at the insistence of then Vice-President Al Gore representing the USA at the landmark Kyoto climate conference in 1997–though never submitted by Gore’s boss to the U.S. Senate for ratification. It has been a central climate strategy of most other industrialized countries since–and we know how well that’s worked.

Regional state C&T entities have been designed in this country, largely initiated by former Republican Governors such as Mit Romney (who recanted during his Presidential bid) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The introduction of these carbon credit markets that have been slowed by legal challenges could hit the ground power walking as soon as the new White House order is implemented, expected tomorrow.

The electric utilities are not showing as much alarm as Senator McConnell. The Times article quotes a vice-president of one with coal-fired plants in eleven states,

“We view cap and trade as having a lot of benefits. There’s important design considerations that would have to be factored in, to consider each state’s circumstances. But we think it’s definitely worth looking at. It could keep the cost down. It would allow us to keep coal units running for a more extended period. There are a lot of advantages.”

Market forces with no need of government intervention have already reduced coal usage in power generation. Environmentally destructive fracking has flooded the energy market with a glut of cheap natural gas that is marginally cleaner than coal. Coal is still tops but now produces only 37 percent of electricity. Natural gas is up to 30; nuclear 19. Only 14 percent comes from clean renewables such as hydro, wind, and solar.

This bargain gas bonanza is an unsustainable trend in the long run but will likely last beyond the present administration in Washington–unless Vice-President Biden’s son can win some new opportunities for gas exports to compete with Russia in Ukraine.

Already we are seeing a spike in domestic gasoline prices as the surge of fracked North Dakota oil, that has helped make America the world’s number one producer of fossil fuels, is finding its way in to the export of refined gasoline. Emissions through the refining process remain part of our new found “energy independence” but end use greenhouse pollution will be charged to some other country.

The President’s resurrection of cap-and-trade is restricted to electric power plants. There’s no initiative in the works for dealing with greenhouse emissions from transportation or manufacturing–not to mention the military.

The advertised twenty percent cut is limited to coal emissions. And that percentage starts not from the goals of the expiring Kyoto Protocols but from a very high 2005 level. It’s a deal we might once have said gives us snow in the wintertime–but global warming has pulled the punch on such sarcasm today.

While calling this Obama plan a war on coal is hyperbole, there will be some collateral damage to coal industry workers, their families, and their communities. If we were to adopt what’s really needed to take on climate change–a rapid reduction in use of all fossil fuels, with a goal of their near total replacement as we transition to a sustainable economy based on clean renewable energy–millions across various sectors of the economy could see existing jobs eliminated.

The President shows no more consideration about the plight of such workers than he did about the 100,000 jobs he and Rahm Immanuel eliminated during his “saving the auto industry” dictated bankruptcy at General Motors and Chrysler. Those car companies are again making robust profits. It’s just the jobs and the city of Detroit that didn’t get saved. Nor has America’s CEO exhibited any remorse about the tens of thousands of Middle Class jobs at the US Postal Service he has ordered axed. He relies on the Free Market Job Creators.

But we should not accept job elimination in the name of Austerity in the public sector, or to make private businesses competitive, or as an inevitable consequence of taking action–or more accurately, pretending to take action–to save our biosphere.

There is no need for austerity in the richest country in history. The public sector is the only avenue for taking charge of the key components of the economy responsible for creating the climate crisis and instead running them according to an ecologically sound plan of sustainable restructuring. And when we do that we will create many more good jobs than the number we will have to phase out.

We live in a time of crisis where the same old, same old won’t do. We can no longer be content with “less than perfect” gestures. We need bold alternatives and even bolder actions that will shake things up.

Regular readers have heard all this before. But there are always new readers not yet familiar with what we mean when we speak of class and climate justice. And a little repetition now and then doesn’t hurt. More on this topic next time.

Is the World Turning Right?
Some pundits have written that the results of the recent local and European Parliament elections across that continent are the harbinger of a global political shift to the right. But closer examination indicates this is largely wishful thinking.

To be sure, the success of some far-right groups advancing anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic bigotry is troubling and needs to be confronted. But there were other countervailing trends not so well publicized.

In Greece, the leftist Syriza party, riding a popular wave of anti-austerity sentiment, won big time.

The New York Times reported, “Ireland has taken a decisive step to the left in local and European elections, where early returns on Saturday showed that the big winners were Sinn Fein, formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and Socialist independent candidates.”

Even in Britain, where the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party made an impressive showing, it was mostly at the expense of the governing coalition Tories and Liberals. Labor and the Greens actually registered modest gains.

Meanwhile in the USA, where the cracked tea-pots have politicians of both parties trembling with fear, a Gallup Poll shows fewer Americans identify themselves as conservatives than during the last two election cycles.

The global trend seems to be instability. Where the left aggressively campaigned around working class issues and solidarity they mostly prevailed over far-right purveyors of hate.

On Hold
Al Jazeera America reported on Wednesday,

“President Barack Obama has ordered the postponement of a review of U.S. deportation policy until the end of summer, hoping to give legislative reform a better chance in Congress, officials said Tuesday.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka soon issued a brief statement entitled “Act Without Delay to End the Deportation Crisis.”

On Thursday, the New York Times reported,

“On the same day that White House officials revealed that President Obama had delayed for two months making any decisions on changing his deportations policy, enforcement agents fanned out in immigrant neighborhoods in Milwaukee, detaining 21 foreigners in homes and workplaces….some immigrants who were detained were longtime Milwaukee residents with no criminal histories other than migration violations because they had entered the country illegally.”

The previous week, a Times story reported,

“As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.”

Another reform from the si se puede President.

Silver Anniversary For Radio That Talks Back to the Boss
The award-winning Heartland Labor Forum has been a weekly mainstay on KKFI Community Radio in Kansas City for 25 years and it’s time to celebrate. Pacifica commentator Jim Hightower, and labor troubadour Anne Feeney are coming to town Saturday, June 14 for a festive event at the IBEW Local 124 Hall, 301 E 103 Terrace. There is a VIP Dinner at 6PM followed by a Program featuring Hightower and Feeney at 7. Tickets cost 30 dollars for both dinner and program, 15 for the program alone, and can be obtained from Brown Paper Tickets.

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