Week In Review January 28

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Jan 282015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

An excuse for a nine day gap since the last WIR is that I accepted an invitation from my friends at Socialist Action to provide an article about the President’s State of the Union Address. You can view what I wrote here.

As I put the finishing touches on this edition Kansas City is experiencing a record high temperature for this date—expected to top out around 75F, about forty degrees above normal. I wonder what in the world can be going on?

Clock Watchers, Unite

Last Thursday the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists advanced the minute hand of their iconic Doomsday Clock two ticks. We are now just three minutes from Midnight Doom. This graphic warning has been adjusted forward and back eighteen times since its 1947 debut in response to the threat of nuclear war. Kennette Benedict, the executive director of the group that includes several Nobel Laureates, explained the latest move as reported by AFP,

“Today, unchecked climate change and a nuclear arms race resulting from modernization of huge arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity. And world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe.”

The article goes on to say,

“The scientists called on people to demand action from their leaders to curb fossil fuel pollution and to stop developing ever more modern nuclear weapons that are endangering the planet. ‘We are not saying it is too late to take action, but the window for action is closing rapidly. The world needs to be awakened from its lethargy and start making changes,’ Benedict said. Such actions should cap greenhouse gas emissions at levels sufficient to keep average global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, the group said.”

This group mainly comes from different disciplines than climate scientists responsible for UN studies but they have reached the same scientific conclusions. And, being relatively more free from political or corporate interference they certainly speak more plainly.

The concluding section of the last WIR identified a number of events and reports that justify alarm that is beyond alarmism. I promised this time to look at urgent responses. The best news is–this won’t take long.

The default leader of the “Free World” managed to say nothing new in the four paragraphs about climate change in his SOTU speech to Congress. While later irking Republicans by protecting additional Alaska wilderness from oil exploration he also authorized for the first time drilling off the Atlantic coast. Rationalizing the East Coast expansion the Interior Secretary restated administration policy, “The safe and responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources is a key part of the President’s efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

On a trip to India Obama applauded solar power initiatives in the world’s second most populous country–and a growing greenhouse gas polluter. While there he also promoted deals to provide them with nuclear power—with strict liability limits for U.S. companies in the event of a Fukushima like disaster.

This isn’t even rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is requesting a more upbeat number by the orchestra as the bow slips below the water line. The Pentagon—itself a world class polluter—has advised the President that climate change is a serious threat to national security. But there is no consideration of bold government action for a planned restructuring of the economy–as was successfully done to meet the proclaimed security threat of World War II.

What motivates the inadequate, even retrograde actions of political leaders so bluntly described by Ms Benedict in her reasons for advancing the Doomsday Clock? A perceptive and concise explanation can be found in a recent posting on the Climate & Capitalism site–400 parts per million and class struggle by Victor Wallis. Among many other good points, he says,

“While no one has a positive interest in destroying the environment, the capitalist class has an interest in blocking the measures that could protect it. Recognizing this class dimension to the environmental struggle is vital.”

This inseparable intertwining of class and climate can be ignored only at humanity’s peril. Pale greens such as the Sierra Club, with a million digital members, occasionally touch base with top layers of the union bureaucracy in the Blue-Green Alliance. Much more extensive are their “partnerships” with climate killing corporations. And they spend many millions of dollars trying to elect “pro-green” Establishment candidates—such as President Obama.

More hopeful is a new activist wing of the environmental movement that has largely focused on what they see as an achievable, sorely needed victory—stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. Many of their ranks are influenced by the increasingly anti-capitalist message of Naomi Klein. The social media driven 350.org played a key role in the 400,000 strong People’s Climate March in New York last September that attracted substantial union mobilizations of their members.

This is at least a modest start that has some potential for beginning to assemble the needed components for a mass movement to stop and reverse that ominous clock. An acid test for this fledgling movement will come if we get what we ask for by stopping KXL.

Some will say, “See, the system works. We should thank the President and carefully choose our next achievable goal.”

A yet to be determined number would more soberly reply, “Our victory, which came after several years of demonstrations, civil disobedience, as well as traditional lobbying, is mostly symbolic, having little impact on the growing global climate crisis. We cannot be content with such low hanging fruit. The future of our planet requires we take over the whole orchard.”

At the end of the day, our prospects depend on the active participation of our class—the working class majority. Unlike the capitalist ruling class, our class has no material interest in blocking the needed measures to stop climate change. Next time I’ll come back to the jackpot question of how to get our sisters and brothers on board. Before shifting topics let me say, with apologies to Donne and Hemingway, ask not for whom the Doomsday alarm clock bell tolls—it tolls for thee, and me, and all humanity.

In Brief…
* Some good news from the NNU site, “Registered nurses and nurse practitioners who work at 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and 65 clinics across Northern and Central California, the largest nurses’ collective bargaining contract in the U.S., have voted to approve a new three-year agreement that provides for substantial improvements in patient care, health and safety protections for nurses, and economic gains. The pact was overwhelmingly approved in membership meetings held Tuesday through Friday last week from Santa Rosa to Fresno. The California Nurses Association/National Nurses United represents 18,000 Kaiser RNs and NPs, part of an overall membership of 185,000 RNs nationally in NNU, the largest U.S. organization of nurses.” Unfortunately, thousands of Kaiser mental health employees in the National Union of Healthcare Workers are still battling for a new contract.
* Along with the rest of the world, I’ll be watching with interest the new anti-austerity government swept in to power by the workers of Greece.
* Breaking news from the New York Times, “In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets. But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom.”
* While union membership in the USA grew by 48,000 last year union density dipped slightly to 11.2 percent as the workforce grew at a faster rate. The most-unionized occupations were local government (41.9 percent), utilities (22.3 percent), transportation and warehousing (19.6 percent), telecommunications (14.8 percent), and construction (13.9 percent). Agriculture, finance, professional services and bars and restaurants were the least-unionized.

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

Week In Review January 19

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Jan 192015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch


Today is the observance of the Martin Luther King Jr Holiday in the USA. It’s a day off with pay for most bank, public sector, and many unionized workers but business as usual for most of the private sector.

The very creation of this symbolic gesture toward African-Americans was itself a hard won 32 year struggle. Accepted in some states, rejected in others, it was finally included in the Federal Uniform Monday Holiday Act for 2000. There are still some states that give it second billing to a different symbolism—it’s also the birthday of Robert E Lee, who led the Confederate forces defending slavery during the Civil War.

I have not yet seen the film Selma. The reviews have, of course, been mixed but I was impressed with a criticism from an unexpected source—Thomas Perez, the current administration’s Labor Secretary. His complaint was that the movie did not adequately depict the solidarity shown by sections of organized labor in Selma and elsewhere. The photo above illustrates both Black and white prominent union officials at Dr King’s side.

The connection between trade unionists and civil rights was not just long standing—it was seminal. Most historians view the Montgomery Bus Boycott, beginning in December, 1955, as the birth of the modern mass civil rights movement and it was through that struggle that Dr King first drew national attention. But he was not the instigator of that opening victory against Jim Crow.

The bold action was planned and launched by a group of Black trade unionists whose main strategist was an activist in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters—E.D. Nixon. They lined up support from some in the NAACP—including the local branch secretary Rosa Parks–who thought more was needed than the litigation and lobbying that was the focus of their national group. Through their union they had contacts throughout the country who were prepared to support a bus boycott—including later sending a fleet of station wagons to Montgomery to help transport those honoring the boycott.

But these relatively unknown workers thought it was essential to have a prominent respectable leader as their public face. In the Black community in Montgomery at that time that meant going to the clergy. The well established preachers were reluctant but they convinced an initially hesitant young Dr King, new to town, to be their public spokesperson. Once he committed, he never looked back—even as going to jail for two weeks on conspiracy charges, receiving credible death threats, and a later fire bombing of his home. The appeals of those arrested led to a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transit was unconstitutional and the boycott ended in victory after a little more than a year.

The fight for racial equality remained Dr King’s day job for the rest of his life. But he also early on broadened his vision for championing the interests of working people, especially the poor, of all colors. And he became an opponent of the Vietnam war and an advocate of nuclear disarmament.

Dr King’s efforts attracted international attention as well. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations he was often praised by the White House. But all the while, the attitude of America’s secret police—the FBI—was far different.

J Edgar Hoover thought Dr King was the most dangerous threat to his American Way. Hoover not only surrounded him with spies, including Dr King’s always nearby official photographer. Under Hoover’s personal direction a dirty tricks campaign, including anonymous red baiting and adultery allegations, was spread far and wide.

Dr King’s final mission was a trip to Memphis to support an AFSCME strike by mostly Black sanitation workers. He rallied the spirit of the strikers and summoned further solidarity that rattled the city bosses. But then he was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. An FBI investigation assured the nation that a racist gunman had acted alone. If you can’t trust the FBI who can you trust?

I do not share Dr King’s total devotion to nonviolence. More like another great Black leader of the day, Malcolm X—also the victim of a politically motivated murder—I believe in the right to self-defense by any means necessary. But I always admired and supported Dr King during his life and as historians and biographers have further documented his remarkable legacy my appreciation has grown.

Figures with the vision and devotion to duty of Dr King are rare indeed. His loss to the movements he helped lead was a blow from which they have not yet fully recovered. While we may not see another like him in our time there are surely those like E.D. Nixon and Rosa Parks. I remain convinced that collectively African-Americans–and all working people–can persevere to realize Dr King’s signature dream.

Need to Secure Boundaries
I’m not talking about stopping undocumented migrants crossing the border from Mexico. My reference is to a relatively new scientific approach to interaction between land, water, and air to measure the health of our planet. Within this model there are nine critical safety boundaries that should not be crossed. These are listed in a good nutshell summary of this Earth System approach in a posting on Climate & Capitalism.

If you are thinking this sounds like pretty heavy stuff I would agree—and a science teacher I am not. But when scientists tell us, as they did in a paper published in Science last week, that we have already breached four of these boundaries I take notice. A Reuters story opened,

“Climate change and high rates of extinctions of animals and plants are pushing the Earth into a danger zone for humanity, a scientific report card about mankind’s impact on nature said on Thursday. An international team of 18 experts, expanding on a 2009 report about ‘planetary boundaries’ for safe human use, also sounded the alarm about clearance of forests and pollution from nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizers. ‘I don’t think we’ve broken the planet but we are creating a much more difficult world,’ [said] Sarah Cornell, one of the authors at the Stockholm Resilience Center”

This grim big picture was supplemented by more bad news. Another Reuters report,

“Sea level rise in the past two decades has accelerated faster than previously thought in a sign of climate change threatening coasts from Florida to Bangladesh, a study said on Wednesday.”

From the New York Times,

“A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them. ‘We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,’ said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.”

Week before last in The Guardian,

“The north Texas birthplace of fracking has been rattled by 11 earthquakes in just over 24 hours, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said on Wednesday. All of the earthquakes, which ranged in magnitude from 1.6 to 3.6, occurred around the town of Irving, west of Dallas. The first earthquake, a magnitude of 2.3, struck around 7.37am local time on Tuesday, near the site of the former Dallas Cowboys stadium. No major injuries or damage were reported in any of the quakes. Until 2008, there was only one reported earthquake in what is known as the Fort Worth Basin. Since then, however, there have been more than 100 small quakes. Multiple scientific studies have connected similar quakes – in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and elsewhere – to the underground injection wells used to dispose of wastewater from fracked oil and gas wells.”

And last Friday AFP reported,

“Record-breaking temperatures scorched the planet last year, making 2014 the hottest in more than a century and raising new concerns about global warming, US government scientists said Friday. The much-anticipated report by scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was confirmed by an independent analysis from the US space agency NASA that reached the same conclusion.”

On the same topic in the New York Times,

“the vast majority of those who study the climate say the earth is in a long-term warming trend that is profoundly threatening and caused almost entirely by human activity. They expect the heat to get much worse over coming decades, but already it is killing forests around the world, driving plants and animals to extinction, melting land ice and causing the seas to rise at an accelerating pace.”

So what emergency measures are being taken to repair, or at least contain these breached boundaries? I’ll take a look at what’s out there in the next WIR.

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