Aug 152014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

The Ferguson Strip
As initial false starts toward cease fire sputtered in Gaza, we began to see scenes resembling the Israeli Defense Force at work in suburban St Louis. A Ferguson, MO police officer, whose identity remains undisclosed, shot and killed a young Black man, Michael Brown. There is no dispute about some essential facts–the victim was unarmed, was well liked and admired as a good student about to enter college, and had no arrest record. Multiple witnesses have said Michael Brown was holding his hands in the air–in a gesture of no resistance–when he was shot in cold blood.

Police killings of young Black men are not rare and seldom become national headlines. There was a recent incident in New York–captured on a cell phone video camera–where several cops wrestled an unarmed Black man to the ground, killing him with a “choke hold.” The crime of the dead man in this case had been selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk for six bits a piece without a license. The response by City Hall in the Big Apple managed to confine outrage to mostly peaceful protests.

Michael Brown’s family retained the same civil rights lawyer that took the case of the New York victim. The NAACP, and the National [Black] Bar Association got involved as well as national figures such as Al Sharpton. All called for protests to remain peaceful.

But the forces of law and order in Ferguson offered no olive branch. Beefed up with reinforcements from the St Louis County Police, they showed up as if mobilizing for war–decked out with helmets, flak jackets and gas masks, armed with fully automatic assault rifles, accompanied by an armored truck. It turns out most of this was a government surplus gift of weapons and accessories left over from the Iraq war. When they ordered everyone to go home after dark this provoked a response that, whether intended or not, was certainly predictable–what the media of course called “riots.” Wednesday night another young Black man was shot and critically wounded by police. Some reporters were roughed up–by the cops, not the “rioters.”

Riots are not new either. In 1967, President Johnson appointed a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission after its chair, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois, to investigate uprisings in Los Angeles (Watts) in 1965; Chicago, 1966; and Newark 1967. (Kerner was later sent to prison on corruption charges, but that’s a different story.) Within a few weeks after they issued their findings in February, 1968 Martin Luther King was murdered. More “civil disorders” erupted in many cities–including one in Kansas City provoked by KC’s Finest firing tear gas in to a church where civic leaders had organized a dance to keep Black youth off the streets. More studies were soon called for. In 1992 the so-called Rodney King Riots, sparked by an acquittal of cops filmed brutally beating King, led to 53 deaths, 2,000 injuries, and many millions of dollars in property damage. The overwhelmed police had to be bailed out by the National Guard and Marines.

The Kerner Commission stated some obvious truths–“Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal”–though the “moving” modifier was certainly unneeded. Their proposal of stepping up spying on potential troublemakers was not universally approved, however. One concrete suggestion that did have some success was,

“Providing employment for the swelling Negro ghetto population will require …opening suburban residential areas to Negroes and encouraging them to move closer to industrial centers.”

It worked so well in Ferguson that the formerly nearly all white suburb is now 63 percent Black. Of course, the suburban industrial centers of the Commission’s time have mostly either simply closed or moved along with the whites.

Some in the media have shown that the dramatic population shift has not shown up in the local government structure of Ferguson. Blacks make up 92 percent of those arrested in a town where the Mayor, Police Chief, and all but one on the City Council are still all white. That is disturbing to be sure.

But overlooked is that today the President of the United States, and the Attorney General he appointed, are African-Americans. Every major city either has or had a Black Mayor–as is the case in Kansas City, and in bankrupt Detroit today. Putting a Black person in a power structure created and controlled by rich whites has not narrowed the racial divide. By many important measures, African-Americans are worse off today than at the time of the Kerner Commission.

Capitalism did not create anti-Black racism–that was done by the class based on chattel slavery to justify their crimes against humanity. The capitalist class in fact led a bloody civil war to eliminate slavery. But they find the remaining race divide still useful. Discrimination in employment and housing can enhance profits. Racism among workers diverts our class in to fighting among ourselves rather than uniting in our own interests. It is a disease more deadly to us than ebola.

Those who trash and loot stores are not driven by mindless violence or petty theft. It is a desperate form of protest against unacceptable conditions in the only way they see open to them. We have no right to denounce them without offering a viable alternative. The alternative that we have to offer in the short-term is our solidarity in the fight for racial and class justice.

There were solidarity rallies hastily pulled together in a number of cities yesterday, including hundreds at the Plaza Fountain in Kansas City. And, in the face of the outcry against police excesses, the Governor replaced the local cops with the state Highway Patrol, with a Black officer who lives in the area in charge. This gesture toward justice was rewarded with peace.

This was an important victory–but an episodic one. A revival of an ongoing mass movement on the scale of the civil rights movement of the Fifties-Sixties, supported by the labor movement, is required for more substantial victories to close the gap of the race divide.

In Brief…
* The tar-sands are not the only environmental danger to the waters of western Canada. AFP reported last week, “A state of emergency was declared Wednesday in parts of westernmost Canada after effluent from a gold and copper mine tailings pond spilled into Rocky Mountains waterways. Spill estimates doubled since Monday when an earthen dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine sent waste water and mining debris from the pond into nearby pristine rivers and lakes. Up to 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of fine sand are estimated to have poured into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek and Quesnel Lake, said officials.”
* And in the other NAFTA partner AP says, “A [Mexican] civil defense official says that about 10 million gallons of mining acid leaked into a river that supplies water to tens of thousands of people. Carlos Arias, director of civil defense for the northern state of Sonora, said that the sulfuric acid spill last Thursday was detected by residents downstream the next day, and that the mine operators had not immediately notified state authorities. He attributed the problem at the Buenavista mine in Cananea, Sonora, to defects in newly built retaining ponds that hold the overflow of acids used to leach metal out of crushed rock. The operator of the mine, the Grupo Mexico, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.”
* Plans to expand the tourist streetcar line presently being built in downtown Kansas City suffered a big–and hopefully fatal–blow at the polls. The project was strictly a development scheme with little transit value. Kansas City voters rejected by a 60-40 margin a Transit Development Tax District that could have levied new sales and property taxes to benefit those who have friends in City Hall. That category doesn’t include transit riders or workers. Also statewide, Missouri voters nixed a proposal to impose a new sales tax to pay for road and bridge work instead of boosting the traditional funding sources from fees for trucks and fuel tax. These results make clear there is no sentiment for more regressive sales tax.
* From a Live Science story, “The steady melt of glacial ice around the world is largely due to man-made factors, such as greenhouse-gas emissions and aerosols, a new study finds. Humans have caused roughly a quarter of the globe’s glacial loss between 1851 and 2010, and about 69 percent of glacial melting between 1991 and 2010, the study suggests.”
* A Labor Notes story says, “On July 16, thousands of railroaders abruptly learned their union officers had held secret negotiations with BNSF, one of the country’s biggest freight carriers, and reached a deal to allow single-person train crews: a safety disaster. Ballots on the tentative agreement went out in early August, and are due back in early September. If the vote goes up, huge freight trains could rumble through towns across the western U.S. with just an engineer onboard, no conductor. This would be a first on a major railway, and a foot in the door for the whole industry. BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people.”

Somebody Doesn’t Like Us
A contributing factor to this WIR being late is the time I’ve had to spend responding to hacking attacks on the site. The attempts to gain control appear to have centered on our WordPress application that we use for the WIR. Since there would be no financial incentive for this criminal behavior I can only assume it is politically motivated.

So far, our firewalls and other security measures have defeated dozens of attacks and they have been further strengthened. There was never any danger of them gaining access to our mailing lists which are kept completely separate. Reader online financial contributions go through PayPal–about as secure as you can get.

My main objective is to track down the originating source of this criminal mischief so they can be put out of business.

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

Aug 032014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Labor and Gaza
The collective punishment of the people of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces–now over 1700 killed, mostly civilians, many children–has shocked the world. UN bodies have condemned these actions that have included shelling of hospitals. schools, mosques, and a university recently partially rebuilt after destruction during a 2009 Israeli invasion. A commission is investigating this targeting of noncombatants as possible war crimes. Even staunch allies have urged restraint–while still enabling the bloodbath, as captured in this Guardian headline, “US condemns shelling of UN school in Gaza–but restocks Israeli ammunition.”

Neofascist scum in Europe have used the outrage against Israeli brutality in Gaza as cover for launching a new wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jews in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere.

Historically, the mainstream leadership of American organized labor followed the State Department line of uncritical support for Israeli policies. But there are at least two brave current examples to the contrary.

The officers of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America (UE) recently issued a statement on The Crisis in Gaza. They explained the policies adopted by their last convention,

“In the resolution ‘For Peace, Jobs and a Pro-Worker Foreign Policy,’ last year’s UE convention said in part:

‘U.S. policy is outrageously one-sided towards Israel, perpetuates injustice and conflict, and risks further war in the Middle East. The $3 billion in annual U.S. aid to Israel (by far the richest country receiving U.S. aid) far exceeds aid given to any other country. U.S. policy allows the continued Israeli occupation of Palestine, including the construction of illegal settlements, an apartheid wall through the West Bank, and the continued military blockade of Gaza.’ The resolution went on to call for ‘An end to all U.S. military aid to Israel; An end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine; An end to the blockade of Gaza; The cessation of building, and the removal of all Israeli settlements from Palestinian territory….’”

They nailed the present situation, “We support an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, including withdrawal of all Israeli troops and lifting of the economic blockade of Gaza.”

I expected such a principled position from the UE, to which I once belonged. I was pleasantly surprised with the stand taken by the President of a union whose card I presently carry–the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981.

In the August NWU newsletter, Larry Goldbetter wrote extensively along similar lines of the UE. He also dealt with media coverage,

“There’s an old saying, ‘The first casualty of war is the truth.’ Nowhere is that more true than in the US corporate media’s coverage of Israel’s assault on Gaza….The NWU has posted on our social media about the murder of a Palestinian journalist by Israeli troops and how NBC pulled a reporter from Gaza after he reported that four Palestinian children were killed by an Israeli airstrike while playing soccer on the beach. A social media campaign convinced NBC to return Mohyeldin to Gaza.”

On a labor journalist listserv, Goldbetter reported on some vicious personal attacks in e-mail messages from Zionist hawks. That didn’t deter him from appealing to our members,

“I urge every member and chapter to join local actions and coalitions to end this brutal occupation now!”

The Washington Post reports that thousands of opponents of the Gaza invasion from around the country demonstrated at the White House yesterday.

I’m Lovin’ It!
The Fast Food workers fight for Fifteen and a Union got super-sized this week. In a New York Times article entitled McDonald’s Ruling Could Open Door for Unions Steven Greenhouse explains,

“The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s could be held jointly liable for labor and wage violations by its franchise operators — a decision that, if upheld, would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide. Business groups called the decision outrageous. Some legal experts described it as a far-reaching move that could signal the labor board’s willingness to hold many other companies to the same standard of ‘joint employer,’ making businesses that use subcontractors or temp agencies at least partly liable in cases of overtime, wage or union-organizing violations.”

I joined a big rally of Fast Food workers, along with union and community supporters, to celebrate this ruling at the McDonald’s at Myer & Troost in Kansas City during the Friday evening rush hour. Similar actions were held in many other cities.

Strawberry Fields Massacre
From the Guardian,

“A Greek court’s decision to acquit farmers who admitted shooting 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers when they asked for months of back pay has sparked outrage in the country. Politicians, unions and anti-racist groups condemned the verdicts, describing them as a black day for justice in a case that had shone a light on the appalling conditions in which migrant workers are often kept in Greece. ‘I feel shame as a Greek,’ said the Bangladeshis’ lawyer, Moisis Karabeyidis, after the ruling in the western port city of Patras. This decision is an outrage and a disgrace … the court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims.’”

KC Election Picks
I have no horses in the boss parties Primary races Tuesday but there’s a lot of bad stuff on the Issues Ballot in Missouri, and a couple just in Kansas City. I’ve posted my recommendations on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

AG’s Foul New Rules On Fowl Lines
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the new rules were the most significant change in food-safety inspections in nearly 60 years. As reported in the New York Times,

“The Agriculture Department released long-awaited poultry-inspection rules on Thursday that will give plant operators the option of conducting their own inspections for bird defects and feces on the processing lines.”

USDA inspectors who formerly did these inspections will be reassigned. The Ag also adopted a new maximum line speed of 140 birds per minute as a gesture toward reducing carpal tunnel syndrome, a serious problem for line workers. But this new limit is actually higher than the current industry average of about 130 birds per minute.

Not everyone is happy about the new rules developed by the friends of workers and public health in the current administration. The Times article quotes Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch,

“The one USDA inspector left on the slaughter line under this new rule will still have to inspect 2.33 birds every second — an impossible task that leaves consumers at risk. This is not a meaningful victory because there are not accompanying worker-safety regulations to deal with the musculoskeletal disorders and other work-related injuries that both the plant workers and USDA inspectors suffer every day working in the poultry slaughter plants.”

Also not pleased were animal rights groups and the union representing the inspectors.

Back to School
The Amalgamated Transit Union has acquired the campus of the former National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland for 31.4 million dollars. The Labor College scaled back to online courses only and put the campus on the market a few years ago. The ATU will use the campus as an educational and training center and will eventually move the International Union’s offices there as well.

A few weeks ago we wrote about Canadians from Windsor delivering a thousand liters of drinking water to Detroit residents who had their water shut off because they were behind on their utility bill. Aljazeera America reports,

“Environmental activists from West Virginia on Wednesday delivered more than 1,000 gallons of bottled water to residents of Detroit, where more than 15,000 of the city’s poorest people have had their water shut off — often for being unable to pay their bill — part of austerity measures imposed on the bankrupt city. Bill DePaulo, with Keeper of the Mountains Foundation, drove a U-Haul truck to carry 1,080 gallons of water paid for by donations from West Virginians. He arrived on Wednesday morning at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, one of four water distribution centers in the city.”

Now Detroit’s neighbor to the south needs water as well. Toledo’s drinking water has been polluted by toxins released by algae in Lake Erie.

The Acid Test
Commenting on a new report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration an AP story said,

“Ocean water becomes more acidic when it absorbs carbon dioxide released by human sources, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Increased ocean acidification could harm important Alaska commercial and subsistence fisheries and communities that rely heavily on them, according to the new research aimed at spurring discussion on how to address the changes.”

Maybe it would help if we stopped burning fossil fuels?

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