Week In Review July 28

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Jul 282015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Whose Lives Matter?
Netroots Nation bills its live body gatherings as the biggest conference of Progressives–by which they mean liberal Democrats. At their recent conclave in Phoenix they featured a presidential candidate Town Hall Meeting that included the two top long-shot challengers to Hillary Clinton for the Donkey Party nod—Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who for the past quarter-century has caucused with the Democrats, and Martin O’Malley, who just completed two terms as Governor of Maryland and prior to that served two terms as Mayor of Baltimore. They came prepared to give their stock spiel to a friendly audience. But that was not to be.

A vocal contingent from the movement in formation known as Black Lives Matter insisted the Democrat hopefuls respond to their issues. I’m sure that as a former Mayor of Brown Town Baltimore this was not O’Malley’s first exposure to edgy African-American dissent. But, after first demonstrating the stereotype that white people can’t get the hang of rhythmic clapping, he appeared flustered and blurted, “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.”

While few would challenge such banality about the sanctity of life in general, O’Malley got a reminder that context rules. The BLM agitators were there because Black lives are being taken in alarming numbers by those charged to protect and serve them. The Guardian has been updating a running count of those killed by police in the USA, along with their color. As I write, the total for this year is 648. Broken down by fatalities per million of their color’s population: 4.12 Black; 1.77 Latino; 1.58 white.

If the numbers and colors were reversed, if unarmed suburban, middle class white youth were being gunned down by Black cops, it would undoubtedly be considered a national crisis. Clearly in America today Black lives don’t matter as much. But few white liberal politicians are willing to explicitly acknowledge this—much less take any meaningful action to end this disgrace.

And what about the “socialist” who has been drawing big crowds—including 11,000 at a rally in Phoenix—in his quest for the Democrat nomination? One of Bernie’s most avid supporters, Joe Dinkin, national communications director of the Working Families Party, wrote in that venerable organ of liberalism, the Nation,

“Both candidates did damage to themselves; Sanders was defensive, and O’Malley’s response included the words ‘white lives matter.’ But Sanders had far more to gain by getting this right. I approach this incident as a fan of Bernie Sanders. But when he had the opportunity to rewrite his own narrative and broaden his own base, he failed….With the protest, Sanders was presented an opportunity on a silver platter: He could overcome his perceived negatives and grow his base. All he would have had to do was act with a little humility. But instead, he talked over the protesters, got defensive about his racial-justice bona fides, and stuck to his script. Essentially, he appeared to be arguing that economics and class trump all. For an audience mourning the death of Sandra Bland, a woman who was arrested at a traffic stop on the way to her new job before mysteriously dying in police custody, the jobs program Sanders suggested just didn’t seem like a sufficient answer.”

Dinkin makes some good points but you will note that his perspective begins with Bernie’s missed opportunities. He thinks a few well chosen humble words might have got his candidate off the hook. CYA is what “getting this right” means to politicians—not engaging in genuine dialog with African-American activists about what needs to be done both in the short-term and long-run.

Class and economic issues are key to the goal of eliminating racism root and branch. Whites don’t need to explain this to Black workers who understand it much better than their pale pigment class siblings. Black leaders from Frederick Douglass, through A Phillip Randolph, down to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, have taught African-Americans to be much more pro-union, and more inclined to advance their struggle through mass action, than most white workers who have much more to learn.

The Black Lives Matter movement is focused on an immediate tactical objective while Class and Economic Justice is a long haul strategy. They can build one another—synergy. Nothing good comes from counterposing them.

Patently, despite great expectations, there has been no progress on any aspect of racism on the watch of the currently governing ruling class party with an African-American President in charge and Black Attorneys-General overseeing Justice. A recent feature in the New York Times begins,

“Seven years ago, in the gauzy afterglow of a stirring election night in Chicago, commentators dared ask whether the United States had finally begun to heal its divisions over race and atone for the original sin of slavery by electing its first black president. It has not. Not even close. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week reveals that nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad, and that nearly four in 10 think the situation is getting worse. By comparison, two-thirds of Americans surveyed shortly after President Obama took office said they believed that race relations were generally good. The swings in attitude have been particularly striking among African-Americans. During Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, nearly 60 percent of blacks said race relations were generally bad, but that number was cut in half shortly after he won. It has now soared to 68 percent, the highest level of discontent among blacks during the Obama years and close to the numbers recorded in the aftermath of the riots that followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers charged in the beating of Rodney King.”

The once optimistic commentators referred to in the Times included virtually all participants in Netroots Nation. The Nation held a symposium speculating on what President Obama might accomplish in his First Hundred Days—an historical reference to FDR taking office during the Great Depression, warmed over by Bill Fletcher Jr in the Black Commentator.

Joe Dinkin is right to be wary of a non-nuanced “economics and class trump all” but that formulation is spot on concerning the first Black nurtured by the ruling class to become President. The only problem is that the economic policies of the current Administration are not in the interest of our class—and especially not the doubly oppressed Black sector of the working class.

The 100,000 jobs eliminated at the peak of the Great Recession by the bankruptcy/bailout restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, imposed by the White House, impacted African-Americans hardest of all. The attacks on public education through the Race to the Top enriched testing and text book companies as well as charter schools while hitting Black communities with massive school closings and attacks on teacher seniority and pensions. Pro-privatization policies have also axed tens of thousands of good jobs largely held by African-Americans at the US Postal Service. The disparity in Black/white unemployment and wage rates remains firmly entrenched—helping to make racism profitable for the employers of wage labor.

But there was still little criticism of the President at Netroots and most unions and civil rights organizations swallowed their tongues long ago. Even the “socialist” in their midst avoids denunciation of the reactionary character of the Administration winding down its second term.

Ruling class strategists appear to favor a “bump” from a first woman president taking the launch codes from the first Black. The real first choice for the Netroots Nation would be Senator Elizabeth Warren—who has firmly declined the offer. Hillary Clinton—a loyal and highly visible part of the Establishment for as long as any Millennial can remember—is a tougher sell. Netroots hopes Bernie can at least force her to trim “left.” She has in fact already out bid the socialist by promising to put solar panels on every American home within ten years of taking office.

The Rev Jesse Jackson ran an issue campaign for the Democrat nomination in 1988. It resembled in some respects the Bernie Sanders effort with one important exception—Rev Jackson played a leading role in mass movements while the socialist’s resume is mostly based on winning elections in Vermont. When Rev Jackson gave his concession speech at the convention that nominated Dukakis, he reminded the delegates that the party needs “two wings to fly.”

Though it was not his intention—perhaps not even his understanding—this famous quote explains why American politics revolves around sentiment, rhetoric, and personalities masking the underlying divisions of class and color. It’s what enables a tiny ruling class to run government without any effective opposition. Those who do not yet understand this are not entitled to lead us. If you’re not part of the solution—you’re part of the problem.

I’m confident that, whatever organizational forms my evolve, the struggle for Black Lives Matter will continue. So will the Fight for Fifteen by low wage workers who, at least in urban areas, are overwhelmingly Black and Latino. We are seeing the early stages of a mass movement around climate change. These are battles that deserve the support of all workers.

It seems inevitable that in the course of these game-changing struggles will come recognition that our side needs a party of our own to challenge a political monopoly that benefits from racism, sexism, economic exploitation—and has put us in danger of wrecking our biosphere. Then—and only then—will working people have a stake in the elections.

That’s all for this week.
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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review July 22

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Jul 222015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

At Least the Catering Should Be Good

Marlowe Hood opened a July 18 AFP story,

“Foreign and environment ministers and other high-level officials from 45 countries are set to gather in Paris Monday seeking to re-energize climate talks mired in technical details and political squabbling. Just four months ahead of a UN conference in the French capital tasked with producing a historic climate pact, US scientists this week said 2014 was a record year for sea level rise, land temperatures, and the greenhouse gases that drive dangerous global warming. But overwhelming consensus on the urgency of the problem has not translated into significant progress on united action to prevent the planet from overheating.”

The referenced American findings are based on contributions from 413 scientists in 58 countries and include detailed data updates on numerous global climate indicators—virtually all bad news.

Suzanne Goldenberg wrote in the Guardian,

“Global sea-level also reached a record high, with the expansion of those warming waters, keeping pace with the 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year trend in sea level growth over the past two decades, the report said. Scientists said the consequences of those warmer ocean temperatures would be felt for centuries to come – even if there were immediate efforts to cut the carbon emissions fuelling changes in the oceans. ‘I think of it more like a fly wheel or a freight train. It takes a big push to get it going but it is moving now and will continue to move long after we continue to pushing it,’ Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, told a conference call with reporters. ‘Even if we were to freeze greenhouse gases at current levels, the sea would actually continue to warm for centuries and millennia, and as they continue to warm and expand the sea levels will continue to rise,’ Johnson said.”

Ongoing tracking of surface temperatures were released Monday showing 2015 to be hotter yet and June was the hottest month ever in recorded history.

Certainly some of the impacts of these trends—droughts, wildfires, flash floods—are headline news but the science explaining their cause contained in these reports not so much. The mainstream media in the USA was instead focused on hanging on every word of GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump; a video slandering Planned Parenthood made by “Right-to-Life” crooks fraudulently posing as representatives of a bio-science company; and promotion of Israeli condemnation of a deal with Iran. They reckon we won’t think about what we don’t know about. That’s why we have to rely on sources based elsewhere, such as AFP, Aljazeera, and the Guardian, even for details of a definitive report compiled by our own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While “technical details and political squabbling” are palpable obstacles to meaningful action they are symptoms–not the core malignancy posing a mortal threat to our biosphere. The bickering is inevitable as long as the futile goal is trying to contain the damage from Global Warming without harming Global Capitalism.

Assuring an ecologically sustainable future for human civilization will require changes in energy production, transportation, housing, and agriculture on a scale far beyond the capabilities of a market economy. Only governments engaged in international collaboration can effectively do the job. It means planning not for corporate profits but for the health of our planet and all creatures great and small upon it. It will be action united not by consensus of the climate wreckers but through the assertion of the worker and farmer majority of humanity.

Unions and working class parties throughout Europe will play a major role in mass demonstrations in Paris before, during, and after the COP21 climate summit November 30-December 11. There is some union participation in preliminary discussions about national and regional mass actions in North America as well.

A friend in the Bay Area has been sending me information about the progress of the Northern California Climate Mobilization. In an e-mail blast they say,

“Please join us for this third planning meeting aimed to coordinate a mass march and rally in the East Bay on November 21st as a lead up to and the Paris UN COP21 climate meeting (Nov 30 – Dec 11). We are activists from various groups who organized the Northern California People’s Climate Rally in Oakland on September 21, 2014, in solidarity with the People’s Climate March in New York on the same date. Based on discussions at our first two meetings we have drafted points of unity for our coalition…”

Among their unifying demands are Keep Fossil Fuels in the Ground and 100 Percent Clean, Safe, Renewable Energy. The venue for their planning meeting is the SEIU Local 1021 Hall in Oakland. This 54,000 member public sector Local has a Climate Justice page on their website.

SEIU is among the few unions, along with AFSCME, ATU, and National Nurses United, who have mobilized for past climate actions. They could do more and it’s high time the rest of the labor movement heeds the warnings from science. We will not win the battle for climate justice without the heavy battalions of organized labor. Preach!

A Victory Substantial, Incomplete, Tentative

Last Thursday, demonstrators on the steps of City Hall greeted Kansas City MO’s City Council members as they arrived for a Noon session to finally take a vote on a municipal minimum wage. A victory rally was scheduled for 3PM. But waiting advocates for the working poor were kept baking in a 100+ heat index until after 5 before the vote was taken. After more than two months of palaver the city’s first local minimum was approved 12-1.

What makes this breakthrough tentative is certain court challenges by the other NRA—the National Restaurant Association—and other supersized exploiters. Such suits have been rejected in other cities—but you never know.

The new law—if it survives employer litigation—will mean significant raises for tens of thousands of low wage workers in Kansas City. Credit for this victory belongs solely to the mobilization of those workers themselves who, with impressive solidarity from unions, civil rights groups, churches, and Jobs with Justice, won the battle for public opinion.

But they deserved more. They had submitted a petition signed by thousands of registered voters calling for a 15 dollar minimum wage such as has been won in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, among other cities. The Council rejected the petition and instead, under the guidance of Mayor Sly James, whittled down its demands. The new ordinance falls short of the 15 dollar minimum.

According to the the City’s official website, the new progression will start this August 24 at 8.50. That will be followed by annual January 1 raises in 2017 to 9.82; 2018 10.96; 2019 11.98; 2020 13.00. After 2020 there will be annual cost-of-living adjustments based on the CPI-W. Workers under age 18 will not be covered.

While understandably disappointed with the stinginess of the Council most Fight for 15 activists correctly see their achievement as a victory. The local NPR station KCUR noted this view by a leader of an SEIU-backed Fast Food worker organization,

“….low-wage workers and advocates at the vote were thrilled. Dana Whitman of Stand Up KC said that the advocate group will continue to protest in favor of workers. ‘$13 an hour is a decent start, but we’re fighting for $15,’ Whitman said. ‘We’re also fighting for the right to form a union. We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep organizing, [and] we’re going to keep striking until we get that.’”

In the vernacular of my youth—right on, Brother! In my opinion, treating the partial victory as a down payment while pursuing collection in full is spot on. So is the two front approach of union organizing while advancing a livable minimum wage. The win in Kansas City will undoubtedly inspire those in a similar fight on the other side of the state in St Louis.

In fact such actions are underway across the country. My friend Ann Montague, an SEIU retiree activist in Oregon, has posted a useful update on the Socialist Action site. Since she wrote her article hundreds marched on City Hall in Minneapolis demanding a 15 minimum for that city.

The low wage workers continue to be the most combative sector of the American working class—and they are winning some real gains. They deserve our solidarity—and merit emulation.

That’s all for this week.

Subscription options for the WIR include:

RSS Google Groups Yahoo Groups

You can follow Bill Onasch on Google+

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