Week In Review April 29

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Apr 292015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Missed Opportunity
The 1970 first Earth Day in the USA was a big deal. Just in New York City alone, a million took part in a march down Fifth Avenue and a Rally-Festival in Central Park. There was also a giant action in Philadelphia and impressive ones in virtually every city and town across the country.

The focus of this massive mobilization, that far exceeded the expectations of organizers, was palpable water and air pollution generated by industry, cars, and chemical agriculture. This outpouring, far broader in demographics than its campus instigators, had a salutary effect. It was the driving force leading to the passage of the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts along with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Those historic gains were supplemented by OSHA, the Urban Mass Transit Act, and Amtrak, making the Nixon years more productive on environmental measures than any other administration. The USA briefly became a vanguard in such governmental regulation, a model soon copied–and improved–by most other industrialized countries.

But there was a letup after these swift and substantial achievements. Many in the fledgling ecological movement concluded that since they had now done the heavy lifting a system that seemed to still work could carry on with some occasional prodding and tweaking. The participation of some prominent politicians of “both” parties in the 1970 E-Day, such as Democrat Senators Gaylord Nelson and Ed Muskie, and Republican Mayor of New York City John Lindsay, gave some early credibility to this illusion. In this country Earth Day became a ritual observance, most years dispersed in to thousands of micro-gatherings focused primarily on green lifestyle adjustments. Big groups such as the Sierra Club, who ultimately grew to a million members, devoted most of their activity to lobbying, litigation and electoral endorsements.

In 1970, there were only a handful of scientists coming to grips with Global Warming. They did not yet have access to the satellite and computer technology that within a couple of decades allowed them to confidently construct models that proved troubling. They projected the planet was heading toward a climate change crisis chiefly due to accumulating Greenhouse emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Far from being alarmist, most climate science projections have erred on the side of caution. Today’s headline stories in the Guardian and New York Times about the melting of Arctic ice and PermaFrost; extreme weather events such as monster storms, droughts lasting years, massive floods and forest fires; rising sea levels—all were predicted but are coming much sooner than once expected.

The scientific consensus is bad news not just for every living thing on Earth; urgently needed remedial action to stop climate change short of climate catastrophe will also bury the economic system, and the class that rules over it, currently prevailing throughout the world–except for one island in the Caribbean. As Naomi Klein has accurately and aptly put it, this changes everything.

Capital doesn’t like any restrictions on the way they make profits. They carried out a sort of low intensity warfare against the environmental reforms of the Seventies championed by the first E-Day. But they mostly had to comply with a lot of things they didn’t like. They put scrubbers on smokestacks, cleaned up their waste water discharges, took lead out of gasoline, and equipped all cars with positive crankcase ventilation. And even with these despised burdens they figured out how to make record profits.

But climate change is a different kettle of endangered fish. To leave a sustainable biosphere for future generations, we have to make enormous changes in not only how we produce energy but how we travel, what we eat, where and in what kind of structure we live. Whole industries will be wiped out, replaced with new different ones. This biggest ever challenge to human civilization requires a democratically determined centralized plan of such scale only governments can undertake. It will not succeed in the very unfriendly confines of the capitalist market.

A Russian revolutionary once said that even if the capitalists were being led up the gallows they would try to sell rope to their hangman—and haggle over the price. His point was that the ruling class is so obsessed with the profit motive they will ignore their own mortal danger—never mind the rest of us. I don’t advocate stringing up all the bosses and bankers but clearly we must break their death grip on economy and government if civilization is to survive the climate change crisis.

Such radical treatment for a severely distressed planet has been too bitter a pill for Establishment greens in this country to swallow. Much like most of our unions, they have worked diligently for “partnership” with climate wrecking corporations, hoping to convince them they can become as green as the lucre they have hoarded. And they profusely thank politicians beholden to the Greenhouse Gang for any green platitudes occasionally inserted by speech writers. While you can find some good educational material on their websites, the deference of these Pale Greens to Free Enterprise undercuts their goals and ours.

It’s taken a long time to overcome this inertia. The first high profile protests in the USA linked to climate change came out of a rear guard stand against the Keystone XL pipeline. XL was a shortcut to be added to an extensive Keystone network already long in place transporting extremely dirty bitumen from Alberta to U.S. plants equipped to synthesize it in to gasoline. Bill McKibben’s social media-driven 350.org, backed by perhaps the most prominent climate scientist James Hansen, initially brought together student activists and prominent artists and entertainers for picketing and civil disobedience at the White House. They were eventually joined by some unions—and even the Sierra Club. Their actions have so far have kept XL in purgatory.

Last September an even broader ad hoc coalition organized a People’s Climate March in New York on the eve of a UN Climate Summit. This was part of a global coordination of simultaneous demonstrations in regional centers on all inhabited continents. 400,000 marched in the Big Apple, tens of thousands of them mobilized by unions such as SEIU, AFSCME, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United. While the demand for “meaningful action” was somewhat hazy the New York march—and numerous solidarity actions in other U.S. cities—was a big breakthrough.

Of course, no meaningful action in the UN venue has yet emerged. Most countries failed to submit requested but not required action plans by an informal deadline. Those received from the United States, the 28-nation European Union, Russia, Mexico, Switzerland, Norway and Gabon, are unsettling to say the least. A Reuters dispatch reported,

“The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), compiled by scientists, said pledges so far put the world on track for average temperatures in the year 2100 three to four degrees Celsius (5.4 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than they were in pre-industrial time. That is well above a U.N. goal of a maximum 2 degrees C (3.6F) rise.”

The last best chance for UN coordinated action will be a Paris gathering of all parties beginning in November. In light of this dismal present outlook, with time running short, the April 22 Earth Day, about half way between the People’s Climate March and Paris, should have been an occasion for more mass action to put the pressure on.

I monitored television news for E-Day coverage. The most prominent mention I saw was a commercial about a big Earth Day Sale at Nebraska Furniture Mart. NFM is one of the properties of the philanthropic multi-billionaire Warren Buffet whose holdings also include the BNSF railroad—showing year-over-year increased revenue mainly from hauling highly volatile fracked Bakken crude out of North Dakota.

Recently there has been some stirring around divestment campaigns seeking to convince institutions to withdraw extensive investments in fossil fuels. The Keep  It In the Ground initiative by The Guardian, partnering with 350.org, has been endorsed by over 180,000 signers, including me. The Guardian is focusing on two major charitable trusts—Bill and Melinda Gates, and Wellcome—while 350 goes after universities.

I endorsed not because I think we can bring the climate wreckers to their knees by cutting off their capital. No such campaigns in the past have succeeded on that level and it’s not going to happen now. But divestment is a useful educational and organizational tool, exposing the dominance of fossil dependency in even the most admired institutions. Divestment can be a complement to, but not a substitute for mass action.

In the Sixties and Seventies periodic mass demonstrations in the streets, around clear principled demands, won solid gains for civil rights, eventually helped force the government that speaks in our name to get out of Vietnam, and carved a place for ecology in our politics and culture. When the streets gradually became quiet in the Eighties and Nineties our side started taking a beating. And the Earth started heating up to today’s crisis level.

It is historical experience, not nostalgia for my youth, that convinces me that proven tactics must be revived. It is confidence in scientific predictions that instills a sense of urgency. Class and Climate Justice is not just a catchy slogan adopted by this website. It’s a goal indispensable to the future of civilization.

Some may want to say, “brother, you’re preaching to the choir.” I’m not a church goer but it’s my understanding that the sermons inspire the choir to sing. I’m certainly no singer and perhaps not much of a preacher. But I am a life-long agitator and if I’ve stirred you up that’s my job. I hope you will come back for more because we are just getting started.

Upcoming Events
Minneapolis, May 1

Twin Cities organizations plan a major march on Friday, May 1 — celebrated worldwide as International Worker’s Day – to call for workers’ rights. More than 30 local groups will join together for a march that begins at 2:30 p.m. from East Lake Street and Nicollet Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Participants will proceed to downtown Minneapolis for a 5 p.m. rally outside the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S. 6th St. Labor organizations sponsoring the march include AFSCME Local 34, AFSCME Local 844, AFSCME Local 3800, CTUL, Minnesota Young Workers (AFL-CIO) and SEIU Local 26. The event will be joined by participants in a Black Lives Matter march that will start earlier in the afternoon. Blacks Lives Matter is protesting the arrests of participants in a Dec. 20 demonstration at the Mall of America.

Chicago May 2-3
Electoral Action Conference
300 S Ashland
For details click here

That’s all for this week.
Free subscription to the Week In Review is available at 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 April 20

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Apr 202015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

‘Largest Protest By Low Wage Workers In US History’
That was the Guardian headline above a perceptive story about the 4/15 4 15 actions by Steven Greenhouse and Jana Kasperkevic. They wrote,

“Some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations…. The demonstrations were the latest in a series of strikes that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012. The movement has since attracted groups outside the restaurant industry: Wednesday’s protesters included home-care assistants, Walmart workers, child-care aides, airport workers, adjunct professors and other low-wage workers. It also sparked international support, with people protesting against low wages in Brazil, New Zealand and the UK.”

Before analyzing this historic mobilization it’s useful to review how it played out in some of the more than 200 cities involved.

Soles on the Ground
AFP estimated 15,000 took part in actions in New York City. Writing on the In These Times Working blog Andrew Elrod described some unexpected augmenting of Fast Food workers,

“From Canarsie, Brooklyn to Lincoln Center, workers in New York rallied in support of a $15 minimum wage on Wednesday. The most recent day of action in the nearly three-year old Fight for $15 campaign included protests from racial justice activists and workers across industries, and ended with a raucous finale in Midtown Manhattan, where an estimated 10,000 construction workers took the streets against the exertions of both police and union leaders ….warehouse workers at a UPS facility in Canarsie hosted their own rally with state and city elected officials to demand a $15 minimum wage. Workers say the Brooklyn loading facility is operated almost entirely by part-timers who earn a starting wage of $10 an hour.”

The Chicago Tribune centered on actions in support of adjunct college faculty, “The Fight for $15 campaign is rallying to unionize an estimated 8,000 part-time professors in the Chicago area, aiming to expand its initial focus on fast-food workers at chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, to child care, janitors and other service-sector employees.” A reliable friend on the scene reported about 5,000 participated.

From the Los Angeles Times, “Nearly 1,000 fast-food workers, Walmart employees and union members in Los Angeles joined nationwide protests Wednesday calling for a $15 minimum wage. The protest, which also called for unionizing fast-food workers, started in front of a McDonald’s on W. 28th and Figueroa streets and ended at USC. Protesters chanted ‘We want 15’ or ‘Sí se puede’ (Yes we can) to the beat of drums and the music of a full band that played on a truck parked outside the McDonald’s. Many protesters wore brightly colored union T-shirts, and three huge balloons with ‘$15’ or ‘#fightfor15’ drifted above the crowd.”

Minnesota Public Radio said “Workers and other supporters of a minimum $15 hourly wage, paid sick days and other benefits staged protests across the Twin Cities Wednesday, including at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and University of Minnesota. The U event drew an estimated 1,000 people.” Barb Kucera on Workday Minnesota described how the University action evolved in to massive, peaceful civil disobedience,

“At age 17, Keonna Laury attends high school – and works 33 hours a week at Burger King to help support her family of seven. Some nights she does not get home until after midnight, then must do her homework before arising early for school. She earns $9.25 an hour and has no sick time or other benefits. When she came down with the flu, ‘They told me to come to work or get someone else to take my shift — or I was fired.’ On Wednesday, Laury was on the back of a pickup truck blocking the main intersection in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis during the evening rush hour, telling her story to a huge crowd during a national day of protest. The demonstrators, who had rallied on the University of Minnesota campus before marching to Dinkytown, chanted and carried signs calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and paid sick leave.”

In Kansas City there was an ambitious schedule of action starting before sunrise and ranging well after sunset, including strikes at McDonald’s properties, campus protests, a press conference and a mass rally followed by a march. The 5PM rally in Theis Park was the main unifying event. A steady stream of folks getting off work, or picking up kids from child care, were able to grab donated hamburgers and/or grilled vegetables as they found a spot on the grass of the giant amphitheater. Still arriving to the end, I estimate there were 600-700 on hand. The majority were Fast Food workers and their families, mostly African-American and Latino. But at least forty percent were workers and students showing solidarity, many organized by unions and Jobs with Justice. Labor Party Advocates was visible with our signature banner and received many thumbs-up.

Speakers at the brisk KC rally included the Mayor; the president of the 6,000 member UAW Ford Local; two prominent clergy; and a Fast Food worker who read a poem she had written about the challenges of low pay. At the conclusion, most lined up for a march of a few blocks to the University of Missouri Kansas City campus where they were welcomed by a contingent of UMKC students as well as adjunct professors explaining why they were getting on board with the Fight for 15. The actions merited front page coverage in both the 4/15 and 4/16 editions of the Kansas City Star and were the lead stories on local television news.

The 15now.org website featured a round up of reports of 4/15 actions in a number of other cities including Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon.

15 and a Union—15 Now
These two slogans arise from different perspectives of complimentary movements sharing the same goal for a new wage floor. The testimony of the working poor proves they suffer not only from unconscionable low pay; they also face terrible working conditions, disrespectful and arbitrary treatment from management–and a high rate of on the job injuries. They need a union to effectively address those issues in addition to winning 15.

The 15 Now movement focuses on establishing city and state minimum wage laws with a floor of 15 for all workers, organized or not. As the UPS workers in Brooklyn made clear, there are union members doing hard work for highly profitable corporations for as little as 10 dollars an hour.

15 Now came out of successful struggles in Seatac and Seattle in 2013-14. It is a coalition of union and community groups as well as many individual activists. Socialists also play an important role there, especially after the election of Kshama Sawant of the Socialist Alternative party to the Seattle City Council. The new Seattle minimum means substantial wage increases for 100,000 workers in that city. Since then 15 Now has established 23 state or local chapters around the country. Recently San Francisco became the third city to pass a 15 minimum.

Both the 15 and a Union message promoted by organized labor and the coalition effort of 15 Now for minimum wage laws deserve our support.

Will History Repeat Itself?
U.S. unions went through their greatest period of membership growth and bargaining breakthroughs during the Great Depression marked by mass unemployment. These successes under such harsh conditions were only possible because insurgent unions came to be recognized as a broader social movement, advancing the interests of the entire working class.

Especially the newly formed CIO went after the low paid, unskilled factory workers in basic industries ignored by AFL craft unions—building from scratch what became the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, United Electrical Workers, United Packinghouse Workers, and others. They were assisted by generous financial support from one of the oldest unions—the United Mine Workers—who had the vision to understand organized labor had to grow to remain viable.

I believe a similar upsurge is possible and necessary. But I want to reiterate a crucial point made in the last WIR.

All talk about the de-industrialization of America is bogus. U.S. manufacturing production is second to none. But technology has greatly reduced manufacturing employment and industrial union membership has plummeted. Food and Retail are the dominant sectors of job growth today. Walmart is the biggest private sector employer in the USA—and the whole world. More workers toil under the Golden Arches of McDonald’s in this country than are covered by union contracts at General Motors, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Electric and Boeing—combined.

With much more vision and honesty than her predecessor, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry has staked her reputation and union’s resources on organizing today’s equivalent of Depression era factory hands—again so long neglected by mainstream unions. Reports filed with the Labor Department indicate SEIU has spent 25 million dollars so far on the Fight for Fifteen.

SEIU has also reached out to natural allies in civil rights, women’s rights, immigrant worker rights and student activist groups giving the Fight for Fifteen the character of a movement for social justice. The Guardian article mentioned above quotes Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University,

“In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.”

To be sure, sister Henry is not a paragon. SEIU is still politically devoted to the Democrats—a concealed lethal weapon of boss rule. But John L Lewis, who used the Miners union to enable the CIO, was no saint either. It’s still early days but the Fight for 15 is the most promising front for our side in the class war being waged against us today.

In Brief…
* My friend Andy in Brooklyn recently reminded me about the outrage of near slave migrant labor being allocated to build museums and university campuses for the likes of Guggenheim and New York University in Abu Dhabi. You can learn the facts, and sign on to a statement calling on these American institutions to do the right thing by their workers, at gulflabor.org.
* Being preoccupied with the April 15 actions has meant neglect in the WIR of some major development around climate and environmental issues posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog. I will start catching up next time.

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