Week In Review September 30

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Sep 302014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Recovery For Whom?
Last Tuesday, President Obama took a break from rounding up coalition partners for an unholy war against the jihadist Islamic State to play his role as top banana at the Climate Summit portion of the annual United Nations General Assembly. He used the bully pulpit provided to preach to the mostly converted about the urgency of climate change. He bragged about reductions in carbon emissions in the USA on his watch. He recommended as an example to the rest of the world his new cap-and-trade initiatives–though they have not yet cleared all legal hurdles at home. He urged others, such as China, to take similar bold action.

But it turns out even this unnourishing thin soup bubbled from a stock with more than a pinch of deceitful exaggerations and omissions.

* The very day before the President spoke the World Bank issued a declaration in support of a global carbon price aimed at making emissions more expensive for polluters. Hundreds of corporations and governments signed on to what was clearly a PR gesture toward the Summit binding them to nothing. They included that corporate guardian of the environment Shell Oil. Among the 72 governments endorsing before the President’s appeal to them was the Peoples Republic of China. Missing from the 72 was the government of the United States of America. While the planet may be warming, putting a market price on carbon is deemed an issue too hot to handle by the President’s embattled party in the Midterm elections a little more than a month from now.

* In his speech the President declared, “The United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth.” It could be expected that the morbidly obese USA, who until being eclipsed by China about a decade ago was long the number one carbon polluter, could slim down their tonnage quicker than most. But U.S. capitalism hadn’t joined Weight Watchers. A crash belt-tightening coinciding with Obama taking office was an unintended consequence of the Great Recession–now being followed by a return to their previous gluttonous habits. A report released Friday by his own Energy Department shows the President’s boasting to be bogus. From Joby Warrick in the Washington Post,

“The Obama administration appears to be losing ground in its efforts to cut U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases, according to new government figures that show pollution levels rising again after several years of gradual decline. Data released Friday by the Energy Department show American factories and power plants putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the first six months of 2014 compared with the same period in each of the past two years. The figures confirm a reversal first seen in 2013, when the trend of steadily falling emissions abruptly halted. The higher emissions are primarily a reflection of a rebounding economy, as American businesses burned more gas and oil to meet higher demand.”

Of course, some of the higher demand is abroad. The USA has not just achieved a goal of energy independence but is now a net exporter of fuel. This was achieved through an epidemic of fracking of both natural gas and oil–a process that not only contributes to global warming but a host of other environmental problems as well.

China has been a hungry customer for metallurgical coal found in the Appalachians. Using a method accurately labeled Mountaintop Removal has greatly reduced the labor costs required in underground mining–and have left a fouled wasteland behind.

And American refineries handle the lion’s share of turning bitumen from the Alberta tar-sands in to oil.

The railroads have prospered from this energy bonanza as well. A recent McClatchy story datelined Kansas City reported.

“Missouri’s largest city has become a crossroads for trains carrying a type of crude oil that has ignited in multiple derailments, according to state documents that the railroads carrying the cargo didn’t want made public. Each week, as many as 10 trains pass through Kansas City, each carrying at least 1 million gallons of Bakken crude from North Dakota, reports released this month by the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency show. The railroads initially required states to sign agreements that they wouldn’t make the information public.”

BNSF, owned by Warren Buffet, leads all carriers in hauling this oil. As mentioned in the last WIR, BNSF had proposed a deal to the UTU/Sheetmetal Workers to allow one person crews on most trains. The union ranks rejected.

Many readers will recall that when the price of gasoline seemed headed for five dollars a gallon just before the Recession became apparent the Big Three auto makers signaled a u-turn to more fuel efficient smaller cars. Many people in a panic sold off their thirsty pickups and SUVs at a loss convinced they would save money on fuel with the new economy cars. An early move of the Obama administration–in conjunction with the truly job-killing bankruptcy imposed on General Motors and Chrysler–was the Cash for Clunkers program that subsidized sending gas-guzzlers to the junk yard when new replacement vehicles deemed fuel efficient were purchased.

Those days are long gone. Highly profitable pickups and SUVs, loaded with DVD players, GPS units and computer interfaces, again dominate suburban driveways. There was much joy in my hometown last week when Ford announced they were adding 1200 new jobs at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, bringing total employment up to over 6,000. A new line has been added to build Transit vans in addition to the ever popular F-150 pickup truck. Ford estimates this new Transit model will get 14 mpg in city driving and 19 mpg on the highway.

Short term job creation is a poor trade off for permanent damage to our biosphere. In any case, the hiring at Ford is not typical in a recovery that has been slow to add jobs and new ones are usually low wage, or part-time, often both. Even the Ford expansion would not have happened without substantial subsidies and tax breaks provided by state and local governments–a new norm.

In fact, the recovery hasn’t much benefited anybody outside the One Percent. A New York Times article by Neil Irwin entitled The Benefits of Economic Expansions Are Increasingly Going to the Richest Americans presents some useful charts to back up the assertion in the headline. In the recovery from the 1949 recession 99 percent of the income gains went to the bottom 99 percent. In the present recovery 95 percent of income gains have gone to the top one percent.

An AP story posted today entitled School spending by affluent is widening wealth gap says.

“Wealthier parents have been stepping up education spending so aggressively that they’re widening the nation’s wealth gap. When the Great Recession struck in late 2007 and squeezed most family budgets, the top 10 percent of earners — with incomes averaging $253,146 — went in a different direction: They doubled down on their kids’ futures. Their average education spending per child jumped 35 percent to $5,210 a year during the recession compared with the two preceding years — and they sustained that faster pace through the recovery. For the remaining 90 percent of households, such spending averaged around a flat $1,000, according to research by Emory University sociologist Sabino Kornrich.”

We are not actually faced with an agonizing choice of saving jobs or saving our environment. The ruling class is degrading both. The working class is taking a beating economically as our climate is changing in ways that if not soon stopped will make civilization as we know it unsustainable.

The UN Climate Summit failed to acknowledge global capitalism’s culpability for our dilemma much less come up with an adequate action plan alternative. The Peoples Climate March did an admirable job of forcing climate change back in to public discourse. But the march also failed to identify perpetrators or advance any concrete demands.

My friends at Socialist Action asked me to submit a brief article for a special issue of the paper distributed at the Peoples Climate March events. Others wrote some good pieces on fracking and distressed oceans. My topic was We need a plan to forestall climate disaster. It is a plan that includes full employment and a quality living standard for all. Its theme is familiar to regular readers of the WIR. If you continue to read this column you will hear a lot more about the urgent need to combine the struggles for class and climate justice.

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

Week In Review September 23

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review September 23
Sep 232014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Some Expectations Exceeded
As the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York, with dozens of heads of state attending, they can hardly claim that the climate change crisis had slipped their mind. The Time website estimated there were four hundred thousand reminders greeting them in the streets of the Big Apple Sunday–the main arena of a global Peoples Climate March. Hundreds of thousands more demonstrated in solidarity in cities on every inhabited continent.

Every major news outlet in the English speaking world–except the Kansas City Star–gave prominent coverage to these actions, some noting their breadth and diversity as well as impressive numbers. This included unprecedented participation by organized labor. In a Labor Notes piece posted on the eve of the actions Jenny Brown wrote,

“The labor support is unparalleled for a U.S. climate action. Sixty labor organizations have endorsed, including six international unions. Several big locals in New York have been engaging their members for months. Building Service workers union SEIU 32BJ has been phonebanking members and holding meetings in neighborhoods where members live. New York nurses have been holding meetings at hospitals. 1199SEIU, representing hospital workers, translated materials into Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. Public workers with AFSCME have been fliering members and the public. A coalition of New York unions called ALIGN sent mail to 50,000 people living in Zone A, the city’s designation of flood-prone areas most affected by Sandy. They followed up with calls, said ALIGN’s Tomás Garduño, and identified 3,800 new supporters—‘activated, we hope, beyond Sunday,’ he said….’As labor, we’re very late to the party,’ said John Lyons, chair of the Transit Workers (ATU) in New York, representing bus drivers in Queens and Staten Island. ATU has been outspoken in support of a ‘Green New Deal’ and even took a stand against the Keystone XL pipeline, incurring the wrath of the building trades unions that signed an agreement with the pipeline company to do the work. The pipeline would carry carbon-intensive tar sands slurry from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for processing and export. Transit jobs are green jobs, Lyons pointed out. ‘Safe, fast, reliable, clean public transit gets people out of their cars, greatly reducing emissions,’ he said.”

This labor mobilization that swelled the numbers of assorted footwear on the ground warrants praise and gratitude. More than that, it is a reminder of the inherent power of our only class-based mass organizations, weakened and disoriented as most may presently be. The positive lessons of labor’s prominent role in making the Peoples Climate March an inspiring success can and should be a harbinger of better days ahead for a reviving working class movement on other fronts as well.

Mass demonstrations do make a difference and are sometimes decisive in forcing change–but it usually takes more than one. I attended a New York demonstration of similar size as the Peoples Climate March in April, 1967 calling for U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. But, even though there were at times even bigger protests to come, direct U.S. intervention went on for nearly seven more years after that.

Some got “tired of marching” and opted for trying lobbying or civil disobedience instead. There’s no one tactic that is right for all occasions but periodic organizing around mass, peaceful protests helped win over an increasingly visible and vocal majority against an unjust war. Unions and civil rights groups started getting on board. And most important of all–so did veterans and even active duty GIs in harm’s way. That movement played a powerful role in convincing the American ruling class they could do no better than the French in “pacifying” Southeast Asia–or dissent at home.

Those who made the magnificent parades the world watched Sunday possible are entitled to some joy. But it should be clearly understood that the world leaders gathering for the annual pilgrimage to New York have not been napping through the dire warnings by UN climate scientists. They need more than a wakeup call. Many of them–including the rulers in our land–have a vested interest in a highly profitable status quo. They will not do the right thing without a fight.

I hope the fledgling climate action movement can achieve some meaningful victories more quickly than antiwar movements have done. Except possibly nuclear war, there is no greater threat to our planet than climate change already well under way.

Those victories are not likely to begin with the climate summit U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon–who was at the head of the march–is trying to pull off today. As this is written no details have been disclosed about initiatives to be announced today by President Obama. It is known none will exceed what he is capable of doing through executive order. Since only Congress can appropriate new funding little of substance can be expected.

The only other climate summit briefly attended by the President was in Copenhagen in 2009. There he vetoed proposals from poor nations most immediately threatened by climate change and instead offered vague promises of money–mostly never delivered. He is clearly more focused today on winning some coalition partners willing to put troops on the ground in his new war on the Islamic State.

To paraphrase a war monger of the old British Empire, history will look back at the Peoples Climate March not as the beginning of the end of capital’s menace to our biosphere but perhaps the end of the beginning to put together a mass movement to fight back. And that’s a good piece of work.

In Brief…
* The Labor Campaign for Single Payer held its largest ever strategy conference August 22-24 in Oakland, CA. Over 300 attendees packed the joint session at the historic ILWU Local 6 Hall, which was co-sponsored by Healthcare-NOW! and One-Payer States. And California labor was in the house with 88 delegates and messages of support from the Bay Area Labor Councils and leaders of CNA, CSEA, CFT, CTA, ILWU and NUHW. You can find out what happened there on the Campaign website here.
* A New York Times story datelined Kansas City, where what the locals here call the bomb factory is a major employer, opens, “A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines. It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars. This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for ‘a nuclear-free world’ and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy.”
* Preventable work related death was taken up by James R. Carroll in the Louisville Courrier-Journal, “Coal miners in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are contracting serious cases of black lung disease at rates not seen since the early 1970s — just after preventive regulations were enacted, according to a study published Monday. Only 15 years ago, progressive massive fibrosis — an advanced form of black lung for which there is no cure — was virtually eradicated, health researchers say. But now, the prevalence of the disease in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is at levels not seen in 40 years….Black lung is caused by the excessive inhalation of coal dust.”
* More bad news about workplace hazards in a LiveScience article that begins, “Workers who handle livestock may carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses after they leave the farm. A small study of hog workers in North Carolina found that many carried staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) and some carried drug-resistant strains of the bug, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Over the past several decades, it’s become standard practice for farmers to give animals, such as chickens and pigs, regular doses of antibiotics. This is not done to fight bacterial infections, but rather to promote the animals’ health and speed up their growth. However, the increasing use of antibiotics has encouraged the evolution of drug-resistant strains of bacteria.”
* After a nineteen year effort the Communications Workers of America have won bargaining rights for 9,000 customer service agents, mainly in southern state call centers, at the new American Airlines. The election was triggered by American’s acquisition of US Air.
* From the NNU site, “National Nurses United today announced that it has received a major donation from Kappler Incorporated, an Alabama-based garment manufacturer, of 1,000 Hazmat special protective suits for embattled nurses, doctors, and other health workers heroically fighting to stem the Ebola crisis in West Africa. NNU, the largest U.S. organization of nurses, is now working with international relief organizations on delivery of the critically needed suits. Lack of protective suits is a major problem slowing efforts to contain the spread of Ebola as thousands of nurses, doctors and other health workers have been infected, and many have died, in what has been called an ‘unprecedented’ rate.”

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