Week In Review November 24

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Nov 242014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Getting Right With the Law
The not nationally televised prime time speech by President Obama explaining his new executive orders for immigration “reform” occurred as massive numbers of workers and students were winding down an anti-government demonstration in Mexico’s capital. These two events have more in common than coincidental timing.

Since President Clinton drove through NAFTA, workers in all three countries involved have suffered. But Mexico most of all was destined for enormous social and economic upheavals that led to mass migration. Those newly impoverished in the countryside began moving to the cities, sometimes living in cardboard shanties. The population of Mexico City soared to over twenty million. Even the hundreds of thousands of union manufacturing jobs offshored from the USA and Canada couldn’t absorb all the displaced composinos and workers.

While NAFTA, and an alphabet soup of similar deals in other regions that followed, guaranteed unrestricted flow of capital across borders no such rights were granted workers looking for work. But to their mutual advantage, a lot of winking and nodding by both U.S. bosses and the Mexican government facilitated a new mass wave of “illegal” immigration–sometimes at great risk and expense to the migrants. This eased pressure on the Mexican government to do something about unemployment and the money undocumented workers sent back home to families became a significant component of the Mexican economy.

(If you want to learn more background about these issues I highly recommend two books by David Bacon, The Right to Stay Home and Illegal People)

While certainly you will find all kinds in a sample size of eleven million, these workers do not constitute a crisis for the security or well being of residents of this country. Quite the contrary. They have earned a reputation of being hard workers who get along well in communities urban and rural. No longer confined to farm work or day labor paid off the books, they are sought by employers in meat packing, construction, garment, hospitality and many other industries as well.

Even though it is said these workers are “living in the shadows,” in many cases they proved to be more combative in fighting for fair treatment in the workplace than native born workers who look and sound like me. In the December 14, 2008 Week In Review I wrote about a big battle at Smithfield’s mammoth hog operation, employing at the time 6,000 mostly Black and Latino workers in Tar Heel, North Carolina,

“In October, 2006 the company cooperated with ICE in a workplace raid that led to fifty workers being taken into custody–and many others ultimately quitting. In response, over a thousand workers, Brown and Black, walked off the job and rallied with community and clergy supporters. Smithfield agreed to back off their threat of more ‘no match’ roundups and guaranteed no reprisals against those who had protested. Getting nervous, the bosses filed a RICO suit, charging gangster tactics, against the UFCW and Gene Bruskin personally–but the union campaign carried on. Finally, in November, the company dropped the suit, and agreed to a fair election. Both sides pledged to refrain from public attacks. Last Thursday the votes were tallied and the union prevailed 2,041 to 1,879.”

This remains the biggest UFCW organizing victory in meat packing since World War II and a first contract was soon negotiated. The win in Tar Heel helped UFCW bargaining at other plants that had been acquired by Smithfield.

The “furtive” undocumented were highly visible in the Spring of 2006 when they and many allies mobilized strikes and mass marches in 102 cities demanding a path to citizenship. In places like Chicago and Los Angeles the demonstrations attracted a half-million. Unfortunately, the organizers of these mass actions–perhaps the biggest in U.S. history–were convinced by Democrat politicians that they had made their point and should now concentrate on lobbying and mainstream electoral politics. Of course, the undocumented can’t vote but tens of millions of Latino citizens can. There was initially great joy when a Presidential candidate who used a Spanish slogan popularized by the United Farmworkers was elected. But that hope soon faded as deportations escalated.

I’ve never been comfortable with the call for amnesty for these workers. Amnesty is usually granted to those who have committed crimes. Working to support your family isn’t a crime in my book. Exploiting, arresting, deporting such workers is, however, a crime against basic human rights in my view.

Our si se puede President expresses sympathy for the plight of immigrants–while deporting more of them than any previous administration. Just last year, the number expelled exceeded the population of Kansas City. He shares the view of the xenophobic right that these workers are law breakers who must be held “accountable” for their illegal acts. Unlike Ted Cruz and Kris Kobach, he is willing to show limited mercy toward as many as four-five million if they own up to their crime and get “right with the law.”

The lucky can do this by paying fines of several hundred dollars and obtaining proper Social Security numbers to track their paying all taxes–including Social Security and Medicare withholding though they will be ineligible for those benefits or any others. They still have no clear path to eventual citizenship and, of course, still can’t vote. If the next President cancels Obama’s stay of their deportation they will be on a ready made round up list.

I can’t fault whichever tough choice undocumented workers make. It’s a decision I will never have to confront. But I believe the injuries to these workers qualify as an injury to all. Regardless of our color, gender, religion, or place of birth we should all unite in support of a permanent end of ethnic cleansing deportations and demand the granting of all benefits they are entitled through their labor.

And, we should go a step further by demonstrating our moral and material support to the struggles of workers in Mexico to win not only freedom from murderous repression by the corrupt authorities but also a decent standard of living where they call home. Their victory is what is needed for a just solution to the boss-made immigration “crisis.”

Solidaridad obrera no tiene fronteras

An Impressive Win for Patients and Nurses
From an NNU press release,

“Following a worldwide day of actions of 100,000 registered nurses and health workers demanding substantial improvements in safeguards for the deadly Ebola virus, California officials have announced landmark mandatory Ebola guidelines that should be a model for federal and state action for all U.S. hospitals, National Nurses United said today. NNU, which has sponsored two months of actions to upgrade Ebola protections, and its California affiliate, California Nurses Association, praised the new standards released today by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) under the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown.”

I’ll have more to say about this inspiring campaign in coming editions.

Approaching Black Friday
Our Canadian readers get a jump on us Yanks by celebrating their Thanksgiving in October. Our turn comes Thursday. While I don’t offer thanks for blessings to a Higher Power I believe occasional expression of secular gratitude is in order. First on my list would be my wife Mary who has put up with me every day for more than sixteen years–and will be preparing our traditional Thanksgiving pasta fazul.

As a young man I often made foolish personal choices but one decision I’ve never regretted–I signed up for the duration to fight for our side in the class war. I get many forms of support from friends and comrades in the working class movement; some of these relationships go back a half century. Along with many readers of the WIR I have never met in person, they have nurtured my writing projects with suggestions, constructive criticism–and financial donations ranging from two figures to four. Danke.

I hope you feel similarly blessed. Whether you be vegan or turkey gobbler, I also hope you can have a special meal with friends and loved ones on Thursday.

I wish the many daughters and sons of the working class in uniform, especially those in harm’s way in places like Afghanistan and now again Iraq, could do the same. As we note their absence we should redouble our efforts demanding that they all be brought home now where they are loved and belong.

On the day after, so-called Black Friday, I expect to travel up to suburban Gladstone to show support for Walmart workers

During my holiday indulgence there will be no news updates on our companion Labor Advocate blog this Thursday and Friday. The news will return to normal schedule the Monday after.

Strike Two
Once more, I have reached my limit without including all the comments delayed last time and promised for this edition. Next time, for sure.

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 November 16

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Nov 162014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Bush & XI

The Promise of Beijing
It was a startling sidebar to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. The heads of state of two economic and military titans, who between them are responsible for nearly half of all greenhouse gas emissions warming our planet and altering our climate, announced measures to reduce them. President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed hope that their action will contribute to a new global climate accord, succeeding the expiring 1997 Kyoto Protocols, to be hammered out in Paris next year.

While this was the first formal joint declaration of the two on climate matters there is history of back channel collaboration going back to their division of labor in wrecking the most promising chance yet for meaningful international climate action–the Copenhagen Climate Summit five years ago. Neither government wanted to see binding quotas for reducing emissions adopted there. The Guardian reported at the time,

“After eight draft texts and all-day talks between 115 world leaders, it was left to Barack Obama and Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, to broker a political agreement. The so-called Copenhagen accord ‘recognizes’ the scientific case for keeping temperature rises to no more than 2C but does not contain commitments to emissions reductions to achieve that goal.”

At that gathering China was still pretending to be an “emerging” country, defending the right of poor nations to develop without restrictions imposed by the rich ones. The tensions of rich-poor are real and need to be addressed in a just way by the rich supporting sustainable development of the countries they have long exploited.

A token promise of help for the poor majority of humanity was made in Copenhagen by then Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, pledging the USA would help put together 100 billion dollars over twenty years. Not much has accumulated in that fund so far though President Obama announced Friday at the G20 (now 19) meeting in Brisbane that he was sending another three billion. That is less than half the amount he ordered for inspection and maintenance of America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

No one is any longer buying the cynical Chinese pretensions of being among the poor folks. China’s massive manufacturing, top level science and technology, and awesome military might they are not shy in displaying, has earned their permanent status in the UN Security Council and opportunity to be lavish hosts to Olympics and APEC summits. Their ruling party still calls themselves “Communist” out of tradition–but all who deal with these comrades know them to act like the very shrewd and successful capitalists they have long encouraged and nurtured.

Certainly, we will not have a satisfactory resolution to the climate change crisis without both China and the USA doing the right thing–and pronto. But what was dished up in Beijing wasn’t a healthy diet change plan for a world overdosing on carbon. The menu refined in secret over the past several months for the surprise celebrity chefs offered a few nutritious morsels. But once past these tempting appetizers it was more like the cheap Chinese buffets ubiquitous in urban America–known for leaving you hungry again an hour later.

United Nations officials, as you would expect, praised the two Presidents for their initiative. UN climate scientists were much more reserved in their comments–and no comments. The governments of Poland and Australia, who had earlier in the week rejected any reduction in the use of coal, didn’t rush to recant. The global warming denier Republican leadership in Congress, flexing their muscles after giving the President’s party a shellacking in the recent midterm elections, promised a fight to the finish against the White House “war on coal and jobs.”

Naomi Klein, who recently published a book entitled This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, promptly wrote a short piece for The Guardian, Some Very Initial Thoughts on the US-China Deal. You can read a useful review of her book by a Canadian eco-socialist John Riddell, here. In her book, Klein minces few words concluding, “Only mass social movements can save us now.” While duly noting the inadequacy of this deal, and reiterating the need for a climate movement, she is surprisingly nuanced in her Guardian piece, finding some positive attributes in “context.”

America’s most prominent environmentalist, Bill McKibben, called the promises at APEC “historic,” claiming they represented a limited victory for the movement. He wrote,

“Today is an achievement for everyone who’s held a banner, signed a petition, and gone to jail — and a call for many more to join us going forward!”

While I respect McKibben’s dedication and heartily endorse his call to swell the ranks of the climate movement, I suspect that he, and most other traditional environmentalists still have lingering illusions about Obama wanting to do the right thing and that our movement can help him to do so.

Just what was pledged in China? Aljazeera America summarized,

“President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would move much faster in cutting pollution, with a goal to reduce it 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels. Earlier in his presidency, Obama set a goal to cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

“Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country’s emissions are still growing as it builds new coal plants, didn’t commit to cut emissions by a specific amount. Rather, he set a target for China’s emissions to peak by 2030 or earlier if possible. He also pledged to increase the share of energy that China will derive from sources other than fossil fuels, such as solar and wind.”

In my view, paraphrasing Naomi Klein’s book title, this changes nothing. As China continues to build on average a new coal fired power plant every ten days, they also pledge to keep expanding use of solar and wind as well. They want all the energy they can get. Declining to quantify a cap on emissions fifteen years down the road means the cap will be whatever they are churning out at that time. In Midwest vernacular, President Xi is giving us snow in the winter time.

No less disingenuous is President Obama’s promise. The Republican Congress has made clear that among their top priorities is reversing the EPA authority to regulate carbon emissions. A bipartisan effort to guarantee approval of the Keystone XL pipeline–often called the Gettysburg of the North American environmental movement–has passed the House and may well be approved by the lame duck Senate, still controlled by the Democrats, Tuesday. There is zero chance of Congressional support for the modest Beijing pledge during the final two years of the lame duck President.

That pledge is a slightly enhanced version of the President’s carbon cap-and-trade initiative for power plants announced with great fanfare a few months ago. Its legality rests on EPA directives submitted by the White House that must go through a lengthy process of “industry and public comment” vulnerable to corporate filibuster. Like the Affordable Care Act, it would be structured around state or regional exchanges. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Obama selected a peak year for emissions as his baseline for reductions. As well as cuts in energy consumption during the Great Recession and weak recovery there has been widespread conversion of power plants to natural gas which produces about half of the carbon emissions of coal. This low hanging fruit has yielded quick results even before Obama’s plan has been launched–that may not be sustainable over the long haul.

In any case, the President’s cap-and-trade reform, that the electric utilities have indicated they can live with, is far less than even the European Community has agreed to. It is certainly nowhere near the actions climate scientists tell us are urgently needed.

Promise is a word that is found in the dictionary somewhere between two apt descriptions of the one in Beijing–phony and protracted. Too many who should know better are treating it like a good faith hesitant first step that should be welcomed and nurtured as we politely suggest more has to be done.

The only context for seeing the hype at APEC as promise is the lack of any previous goals. Its timing has helped divert attention from several new dire warnings from science calling for much more far-reaching measures now.

Bill McKibben was spot on on one point: we wouldn’t see their Beijing hype at all if they didn’t see the need to answer an insurgent climate action movement that in September brought hundreds of thousands in to the streets on all continents–as well as the growing, sometimes successful localized protests against pollution in China.

Obama and Xi are neither ignorant nor bashful. We don’t have to explain anything to them. They know full well as they advance the interests of their respective ruling classes they risk leaving an irreparably degraded biosphere for future generations. They frankly, dear reader, don’t give a damn.

Those who know the truth need to tell it like it is. I believe our task is to expose the scam at APEC and answer it with an action plan of our own. We address our plan not to the con artist politicians looking out for the climate wrecker class but to the workers, farmers, and students who have the material interest and power to save us from climate disaster. We must do as Naomi Klein says–build and unite mass class and social movements that are our only hope for salvation.

Once again I’ve exhausted my self-imposed limit on one important topic. The gains won by the massive one-day strike of nurses led by the NNU demanding greater protection for patients and health care workers during the Ebola threat will get attention next time. I’ll also look at some telling statistics about the midterm elections.

That’s all for this week.
Free digital subscription to the Week In Review is also 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