Week In Review February 9

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Feb 092015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Hip Hype
Stellar Performance. Solid Growth in Jobs and Wages. Those were typical headlines about the January Employment Situation report released by the BLS on Friday. But unless you read Fortune, you didn’t see this headline, “Job cuts soared as the U.S. energy sector, particularly in Texas, trimmed payrolls.”

These January cuts are not related to the strikes at refineries that began eight days ago (more on the strike below.) Forty percent of these layoffs are directly attributed to a glut in supply and collapse in oil prices—and this is likely just the beginning according to the Fortune article and other sources,

“Lower oil prices also led to job cuts in the industrial goods manufacturing sector, which supplies materials to oil drillers. Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Halliburton and ConocoPhillips are among the firms that announced job cuts last month… ‘We may see oil-related job cuts extend well beyond those industries involved with exploration and extraction,’ said John A. Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm. He warned the retail, construction and entertainment sectors in regions that have benefited from the oil boom could face challenges.”

You probably did hear about yet another anecdotal cloud over Morning in America redux, as reported in the Thursday New York Times,

“For years, RadioShack — the retailer that helped bring personal computers to the masses — outlasted untold predictions that it would buckle in the face of bigger rivals and online competitors. But its clock has finally run out. RadioShack, a long-ailing 94-year-old electronics chain, filed for bankruptcy protection on Thursday after striking a deal to sell up to 2,400 of its stores to the wireless service provider Sprint and a hedge fund that is its biggest shareholder.”

Sprint, which has laid off thousands of its own workers during “recovery,” has not yet indicated
its plans for the current Shack workforce.

On a smaller scale, ConAgra is closing the RyKrisp plant in Minneapolis. Currently the only plant making the best platform for Limburger cheese, this means the end of a storied brand that began in St Paul in 1899 as well as permanent job loss for members of Local 22 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union.

The recent media hype about the explosive creation of new jobs convinced many discouraged drop outs to reenter the job search market. Just as they reduced the unemployment rate when they stopped looking their return increased the unemployment rate in January by one tick.

The “real” unemployment numbers, that include the involuntary part-time and marginally attached to the workforce categories added to “official” unemployed, remain about eighteen million.

Most news accounts report the average wage went up twelve cents an hour in January. But this is using a skewed average that encompasses virtually everyone in the private sector including management and professionals with seven or more figure annual earnings. A more accurate measure of typical wage workers is the “nonsupervisory and production” average. The January gain for our group was seven cents. In December we lost six cents—so are today a penny an hour ahead of where we were in November. Don’t spend it all in one place.

Early History

Tony Mazzocchi

I’m referring to another excellent piece by my prolific friend Steve Early in the Bay Area webzine Beyond ChronTony Mazzocchi’s Spirit Haunts Big Oil Again. Steve writes,

“As a top strategist for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW), Mazzocchi pioneered alliances between workers concerned about job safety and health hazards and communities exposed to industrial pollution generated by companies like Shell, Chevron, and Mobil.

“In 1973, members of the OCAW (who are now part of the United Steel Workers) conducted a national contract campaign and four-month strike at Shell Oil over workplace safety rights and protections. As Mazzocchi’s biographer, Les Leopold notes, ‘the strike helped build a stronger anti-corporate movement’ because OCAW members learned ‘that you can’t win these fights alone.’ To win—or even just battle Big Oil to a draw—workers had to join forces with the very same environmental organizations long demonized by the industry as the enemy of labor and management alike.

“Four decades later, echoes of that struggle could be heard on the refinery town picket-lines that went up in northern California, Texas, Kentucky, and Washington state this week. Thousands of oil workers walked out, for the first time in 35 years, over issues and demands that Tony Mazzocchi helped publicize and build coalitions around for much of his career.”

These initial nine facilities were joined by two more in Whiting and Toledo yesterday and may well go national, affecting plants that produce about two thirds of the nation’s refined petroleum. If that happens it could be a long one with salaried workers getting dirty trying to keep the highly automated plants running for perhaps a few months without blowing them up.

Marathon bosses got an undeserved boost when building trades unions doing work at their Catlettsburg, Kentucky facility announced they would return to their jobs today after honoring picket lines last week. This comes as no surprise as many of the well compensated bureaucrats in the Trades still resemble the Wobbly cartoon figure Mr Block.

But solidarity was quick to come on other fronts. The Labor Network for Sustainability issued a statement that began,

“The Labor Network for Sustainability today called for environmentalists and other allies of organized labor to support oil refinery workers who went on strike this week. Joe Uehlein, Executive Director of LNS, said, ‘Oil refinery workers are in the front line of protecting our communities against the environmental hazards of the oil industry. Their skill and experience is critical for preventing devastating explosions, spills, and releases. The oil companies are creating conditions that make it impossible for refinery workers to protect us. Their strike is about making conditions that are safe and healthy for workers and communities. They deserve the support of environmentalists and everyone concerned about the rights and wellbeing of working people.’”

It includes a quote from Steelworkers International Vice-President Gary Beevers, head of the Steelworkers National Oil Bargaining Program,

“This work stoppage is about onerous overtime; unsafe staffing levels; dangerous conditions the industry continues to ignore; the daily occurrences of fires, emissions, leaks and explosions that threaten local communities without the industry doing much about it; the industry’s refusal to make opportunities for workers in the trade crafts; the flagrant contracting out that impacts health and safety on the job; and the erosion of our workplace, where qualified and experienced union workers are replaced by contractors when they leave or retire.”

Thirty years ago the old OCAW made a powerful short film about the workplace and environmental record of the oil industry entitled Out of Control. The USW has now made a sequel—Still Out of Control—worth watching.

As part of emergency measures needed to stop climate change the WIR has long advocated the nationalization of the entire energy industry and operating it in society’s interest, under worker management, guided by science. That’s the most effective way to truly tame the out of control bosses; the arena for beginning rapid conversion from fossil and nuclear fuels to clean renewable sources–and that’s how we can guarantee a Just Transition that leaves no worker behind.

We’re not there yet and until we have a strong mass movement and a party of our own to reach that goal unions remain our primary form of self-defense. Hats off to Steve Early for reminding us of the Mazzocchi legacy. We also should emulate as well as applaud the example set by the Labor Network for Sustainability in forging labor-environmental solidarity with embattled oil workers today.

In Brief…
* The National Retail Association condemned both the Pacific Maritime Association bosses and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, for ever growing delays in getting both imports and exports through 29 congested West Coast ports—especially Los Angeles-Long Beach and Oakland. The port bosses blame an alleged union slow down while the union charges incompetent port management. The PMA canceled dock work this past weekend and has threatened a lockout. According to AP, “The union responded to his lockout warning by saying that while a contract deal was close, it would not be bullied.”
* In his two widely separated stints as Governor of California, Democrat Jerry Brown has cultivated a green reputation. But an AP story notes, “in his second go-around as governor, conservationists are among his harshest critics…. because he has refused to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil, protesters, or ‘fracktivists,’ have dogged Brown for more than a year, even interrupting his speech at the Democratic Party convention last spring. ‘Climate leaders don’t frack,’ said Kassie Siegal of the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that praises Brown’s programs to boost renewable energy. ‘The oil and gas boom threatens to undercut all the other progress that our state may make on climate.’” Thousands, including an impressive labor contingent, turned out Saturday for a Don’t Frack CA march in Brown’s hometown of Oakland.
* Yourerie.com reports, “General Electric is interfering with the free speech and labor rights of more than a thousand workers at its diesel engine factories here, according to a complaint issued this week by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)…The NLRB complaint, which cites multiple labor law violations by GE, is scheduled for a hearing in Pittsburgh on March 25. The violations alleged include prohibiting the posting and distribution of information about labor unions and interfering with workers’ plans to conduct a secret-ballot vote on GE’s overtime policies. ‘We’re happy to see the Labor Board standing up for our rights,’ said Steve Gallagher, president of UE Local 601, Grove City United Employees. ‘The right to free speech and the right to organize are basic American rights that GE should respect.’”

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.
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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review February 1

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Feb 012015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Getting Our Class On Board
The American working class, along with workers in most other countries as well, has long been taking a beating from the boss and banker class that commands both the economy and government. Class inequality is the greatest in living memory. We could go on and on preaching to the choir.

Bad as these attacks are on the living standards of working people all of these could be stopped and reversed in the long run by a rejuvenated labor movement and labor party. But the long run approach won’t do for the overarching climate crisis that is collateral damage from the ruling class exploitation of workers and our environment. Much of the serious damage already done to the fragile biosphere that has allowed humans to prosper cannot be reversed. Left unchecked, climate change will render civilization as we know it unsustainable and will even threaten the very survival of our species. There would be no sequel.

Some of the wealthiest elite in history talk “green” on occasion while others denounce climate change as a hoax. But, as noted in the last WIR, none are prepared to take needed bold action that conflicts with the material interest of their class.

Our class does not share this material interest—or many other interests for that matter—with the ruling capitalist class. But a lot of workers are in jobs that contribute to global warming big time. I got an e-mail blast from Mark Dudzic early Sunday morning informing his friends of a strike at nine oil refineries that could escalate in to the first national strike in the oil industry since 1980.

As a class aware worker I, of course, believe we should show solidarity with the oil workers in their struggle with the boss. As one who has paid attention to and accepts the findings and alternatives offered by science to prevent climate catastrophe I also believe we should work to wind down the oil, gas and coal industries to near zero as quickly as we can. I’m convinced this seeming contradiction can be satisfactorily resolved with full employment and quality living standards. This is possible and essential if our class—who do the work, and make up the big majority of society—mobilizes to replace the rule of climate and job-killing capital with the rule of workers and our allies, guided by science.

But clearly, while many are disillusioned with the present Establishment and their political parties relatively few have been galvanized in to class and climate actions. I promised last time to review some approaches to motivating our fellow workers. I am a strong believer in recycling, including reusing past remarks by a source I trust explicitly—myself. I offer some extended excerpts from a report I was invited to give to the Socialist Action national convention in Minneapolis last October:

While preparing this report I recalled a conversation I had twenty years ago with the late Tony Mazzocchi when he visited Kansas City promoting Labor Party Advocates. I happened to mention how reading Rachel Carson’s popular 1962 book The Silent Spring had sparked my lifelong interest in environmental questions. I could tell Tony was not impressed, and I asked him why. He responded, “Carson did a great job in exposing the damaging effects of DDT on soil, water, and birds. But she mostly neglected what it did to those who manufactured it, sprayed it in the fields, or harvested those crops.” It was a fair criticism of not only Carson but of too many environmentalists for whom workers are a transparent part of the process.

Mazzocchi was a somewhat maverick leader in the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, whose remnants today are in the Steelworkers. Despite the headaches he often caused for more conventional union bureaucrats, he was selected to direct labor’s successful fight to get OSHA passed. From his own early shop-floor experiences in a cosmetics plant to his work with Karen Silkwood to expose radiation poisoning at Kerr-McGee, Tony came to understand workers are the frontline victims of the environmental crimes of capitalism where we work and where we live. He believed workers shouldn’t be part of the environmental movement—they should lead it.

That was incorporated in to the Program adopted at the 1996 Labor Party Founding Convention in Cleveland attended by 1,400 mainly union activists. It said in part, “the Labor Party calls for the creation of a new worker-oriented environmental movement — a Just Transition Movement — that puts forth a fair and just transition program to protect both jobs and the environment. All workers with jobs endangered by steps taken to protect the environment are to be made whole and to receive full income and benefits as they make the difficult transition to alternative work. The cost of this Just Transition Income Support program will be paid for by taxes on corporate polluters.”

Unfortunately, this once promising Labor Party initiative was steadily weakened as mergers and leadership changes in affiliated unions withdrew material support. Though some state and local bodies are still functioning—the South Carolina Labor Party is running a candidate for Congress—the national party was placed in a sort of medically induced coma a couple of years ago. We believe there will be a revival of a labor party movement, and remain alert for any openings within the unions…

The single biggest obstacle to winning working-class support for the far-reaching restructuring required to stop climate change…is fear of job loss. Such anxiety is not totally irrational. Millions of present jobs will need to be eliminated in the conversion to a sustainable economy.

That is why Just Transition is of such crucial importance to our class and climate program. We pledge to leave no worker behind. If you lose your livelihood for the benefit of society we will provide retraining and relocation if necessary, while maintaining your living standard until you find a suitable new job.

This is a promise not of charity but of solidarity—and we can back it up because we know suitable jobs will become abundant. While we will make some big changes in wasteful consumption, we can’t, even if we wanted to, go back to living like Little House on the Prairie.

We will still use electricity—but generated from clean renewable sources such as solar and wind. That requires manufacturing and installing solar panels, wind turbines, and a new grid.

We will still transport people and goods in powered vehicles. But for presently dominant fossil-driven, inefficient internal combustion we’ll substitute superior electric motors, either hooked up to wires on the renewable power grid or to a new generation of batteries which will make them virtually emission-free. And we’ll mostly replace wasteful personal car dependency with trains, buses, and bicycles in urban areas.

As we convert to organic, sustainable farming methods instead of poisoning our environment with chemical saturation, agriculture will become much more labor intensive. In collaboration with unions such as the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, we’ll allocate resources to ameliorate the often back-breaking working conditions today imposed in the fields.

More clearly demarcating urban and rural, we will start to roll back insidious urban sprawl. We’ll repair, renovate and rebuild our deteriorating urban cores, making them livable and ecologically sound, while restoring the surrounding forests, wetlands, and farm land wrecked through irresponsible “development.”

We can and must do all these things and a whole lot more while stopping global warming and extending a quality standard of living to all. But it will require all hands on deck for generations to come, working to implement the democratically determined centralized plan we envision….

Particularly encouraging is growing, substantial official union participation, first around the Keystone XL pipeline, then around fracking in some regions, and most impressively around the People’s Climate March in New York and the other support actions around the country. Unions such as the Service Employees International Union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, AFSCME and National Nurses United devoted financial and staff resources to mobilize thousands of their members to march about climate change. Doing this during a midterm election season is a truly remarkable development….

It’s the early days for a mass climate movement, but changes can come quickly. When the Kansas City Royals can make it to the World Series, we are reassured that anything is possible. We want to be at the stop, fare in hand, ready to board as we recognize our bus finally rolling in.

The attentive audience of workers, students, and retirees showed enthusiasm for the class and climate justice approach in a lively discussion. I was not surprised that they sounded like pretty smart folk; most workers are a lot smarter than their boss, or even sometimes themselves, are willing to admit. And, just as Dylan told us “you don’t need to be a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing,” you don’t have to be a climate scientist to recognize climate change. As for the class justice struggle, once you try it, it comes pretty naturally.

My generation that listened to Subterranean Homesick Blues at 45rpm are confronting an energy crisis of a more personal nature. But, at our own pace, with our own style and idiom, we each and all have ability and duty to mobilize the working class to resolve the greatest crisis humanity has yet faced.


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