Week In Review July 15

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Jul 152015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Protecting Those Who Did No Wrong
A Kansas City Star article recounted,

“For two months, the City Council has debated the merits of a grass-roots petition initiative that seeks to raise the minimum wage in the city to $10 per hour by Sept. 1 and to $15 per hour by 2020. Advocates for low-wage workers say an increase is essential to lift people out of poverty, while fast-food and other retail owners vow to fight the move in court, saying such a drastic change will only drive jobs and businesses out of the city. Among key elements of the revised plan the council discussed Thursday:

▪ The minimum wage would rise to $8.50 per hour on Aug. 24; to $9.15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2017; and then in 65-cent increments annually to $13 per hour by 2023.
▪ The wage would apply to all employers with more than 15 employees and more than $500,000 in annual gross revenue, although [Mayor] James said that definition of small business may change.
▪ Failure to comply could result in Municipal Court prosecution with a maximum fine of $1,000.”

As noted in the WIR at the time, at an April 15 mass rally of low wage workers and supporters Mayor Sly James–then running for reelection–declared his unwavering support for a city minimum wage of 15. Soon 15 advocates submitted a petition to put the question on the ballot in an August election along with other issues.

The Council, knowing this popular just demand would certainly be approved by voters, trashed the petition while promising instead to pass an ordinance in July. Time is of the essence because of a new law passed by the reactionary, ALEC-dominated state legislature barring city minimum wages. That bill has now been vetoed by the Governor but may be overridden in a September Veto Session.

But justice has not only been delayed—it’s being chipped away and may even be denied. The Mayor, once a backup singer in his youth, now reelected sings a different tune backing up the local Establishment on 15. He’s quoted in the Star,

“’The goal in my opinion is to do some justice to those who need it, without doing damage to (business) people who have done no wrong,’ Mayor Sly James told his colleagues as he unveiled a more modest wage increase schedule.”

For His Honor, just some justice is good enough for the working poor. The Mayor’s sympathetic attitude toward those who pay their workers less than a living wage is somewhat different than that of Pope Francis who earlier in the week declared “unbridled capitalism is the dung of the Devil.”

While I share the outrage expressed by His Holiness, I don’t believe the evil that keeps millions of hard working women and men in poverty in the richest country in history is driven by a supernatural force. Corporal bosses large and small and their political servants keep capitalism inhumanely unbridled. They will not be restrained by Holy Water or exorcism. But stopped they can be.

Our adversaries who wage class war against workers here and abroad are not Demons or Titans—they are flesh-and-blood mortals like you and me. Our side has great numerical superiority—and we do the work. Once we have mastered and applied this truth through broad class solidarity in action it will be us who become unstoppable. The movement of the low wage workers has become a school of remedial education helping current workers to reacquire class awareness once better understood by my parent’s generation.

Both nationally and in Kansas City we’ve seen a revival of such needed solidarity initially sparked by the Fast Food workers fight for 15 and a Union. Along the way, Home Care workers, Adjunct Professors, and Airport Service workers have got on board in many areas. This drive for unionization, led by the Service Employees International Union, has attracted significant support from other unions, Jobs with Justice, and Faith-based Social Justice groups for numerous short strikes, civil disobedience, and mass rallies.

The movement for a 15 dollar minimum wage guaranteed to all workers grew out of, and complements unionization efforts. The first big breakthrough came in the Seattle area. It began with voter approval of a ballot measure in the suburb of SeaTac. About the same time a leader of the lively 15 Now coalition, Kshama Sawant of Socialist Alternative, was elected to the Seattle City Council. 15 Now was the centerpiece of Sawant’s campaign and it propelled her to victory over a veteran Democrat incumbent. This political upheaval made it possible to win a city ordinance for a minimum wage progressing in stages to 15 that provides needed substantial raises to 100,000 Seattle workers.

While the 15 and a Union fight by Kansas City Fast Food workers has won national prominence the minimum wage effort here is a much more recent development and is still being fleshed out. To their credit, they have so far refused to endorse the Mayor’s partial justice plan. There have been some big rallies and a vigil of “Roving Fast” teams is being maintained on the steps of City Hall until the crucial Council vote this Thursday, July 16.

Unlike Seattle, KC workers have few, if any friends on this Council just elected to new four year terms. It’s a Council that has imposed a wage freeze on its own low wage City workers and is carrying out a union-busting privatization attack on ATU transit workers.

The 15 coalition has called for a Victory Rally after the Thursday Council meeting in front of City Hall at 3PM. I hope it is a solid victory for 15. If it’s the Mayor’s Justice Lite compromise, that can be a down payment on what’s needed as the Fight for 15 continues and escalates. Should the Council renege on their promise to pass any minimum that would be a betrayal that should never be forgiven nor forgotten.

In any case, this is another lesson to be absorbed. The tiny minority of bosses, bankers, and developers use their monopoly of the political system to stymie the aspirations of working people. We’ve seen progress in fighting back in the workplace and the community. It’s high time to engage the exploiters on the political front with a party of our own.

In Brief…
* Workday Minnesota reports, “The first marker to commemorate the 1934 Minneapolis Teamsters strikes, one of the great watershed moments in the history of the American labor movement, is being installed in downtown Minneapolis. The marker will be unveiled on Saturday, July 18, in a ceremony beginning at 11 a.m. at 701 N. Third St., in the Warehouse District. ‘There are virtually no memorials in the Twin Cities related to historical moments in the local labor movement,’ said Dave Riehle who chairs the Remember 1934 Committee, a group of labor activists, historians and sympathizers who organized and raised funds for the marker. ‘The ’34 Teamsters strikes were a critical moment in the American labor movement and we believe the time is long overdue for a memorial.’”
* There was a brief historical recollection of another epic Minnesota labor battle in last Sunday’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The strike by UFCW Local P-9 at Hormel’s Austin, Minnesota plant was not a major victory like the 1934 Teamsters but it was bravely fought with both traditional and innovative tactics and inspired widespread solidarity. It was well documented by Peter Rachleff who is not only a scholar of history but also played a leading role in the P-9 Support Committee in the Twin Cities. I highly recommend his book, Hard-Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement.
* From the Detroit Free-Press, “Worker advocates launched a 2016 ballot drive today to require that all Michigan employees earn paid sick days, a move they said is necessary because the Legislature has ignored a pressing issue.” Organizers are confident they can garner the needed 253,000 signatures.
* Here’s a Shocker from the Wichita State University paper, “The KanCare Ombudsman’s office in Topeka is establishing a KanCare Ombudsman Volunteer Program for individuals interested in providing a community service by assisting KanCare members who have questions or concerns regarding their health care coverage….They also will provide KanCare consumers with guidance and information on the appeals, grievances and State Fair Hearing processes. Volunteers are asked to serve 3-10 hours per week.” KanCare is the Sunflower State’s privatized Medicaid. It currently has one paid Ombudsman for the entire state. It wouldn’t be fair to ask the owners of “managed care” plans to pay a bunch of people threatening their profit margins. Governor Brownback’s state government already has gained national notoriety racking up a revenue shortfall of 400+ million and counting due to tax breaks for business and is “balancing” the budget by slashing school funding—in defiance of rulings by the Kansas Supreme Court. Of course, Kansas is one of the majority of states that refused additional Federal money for state run Medicaid provided in the Affordable Care Act. Hence the need for a revival of rugged Prairie Volunteerism.

I apologize for the tardiness of this WIR. Various factors have slowed my output but I hope to be back in sync soon.

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 July 3

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review July 3
Jul 032015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

White Skies, Red Moon
Monday was a rare dry day in what has been a very wet 2015 in Kansas City. There was nary a cloud in sight–but neither was there any blue sky. And when a waxing gibbous rose after dark it was as red as Mars.

The haze refracting sun and moon light was not of local origin. Riding the jet-stream was smoke from hundreds, perhaps thousands of wildfires in Alaska and western Canada where heat waves and drought have produced vast swaths of tinder-box conditions. With different smoke paths, similar fires have hit areas of Washington, Oregon and California as well. Those of us in the middle of the USA, from the Gulf to the Great Lakes, likely got the West’s precipitation—and now their smoke.

While much of Mid-America is concerned about flood dangers the West is running out of water. A June 24 Reuters article,

“The largest capacity reservoir in the United States has hit its lowest water level in history following years of severe drought that have dramatically reduced flows from the Colorado River….A water level of below 1,075 feet projected for January would translate to water cutbacks in 2016 for two U.S. western states, Arizona and Nevada. An announcement would be made this August.”

It’s not just American surface water that’s disappearing. A June 25 New York Times story,

“From the Arabian Peninsula to northern India to California’s Central Valley, nearly a third of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being drained faster than they are being replenished, according to a recent study led by scientists at the University of California, Irvine. The aquifers are concentrated in food-producing regions that support up to two billion people.”

Of course, heat waves and droughts were around long before humans arrived on the scene. But never in recorded history have they been so severe, long lasting, and simultaneously present on every continent. This is one of many indicators that Global Warming caused primarily by burning fossil fuels—predicted by American, European, and Soviet scientists over a half-century ago–has begun in earnest and is bad news for all living things. As the warming lingers and intensifies climate changes too.

There is no effective, democratic framework for conserving and rationing water where it is in short supply. Posh country clubs built around eighteen lush golf greens are not volunteering to switch to desert landscaping. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) gets all the water they want to extract more fossil fuels while many farmers have to abandon parched fields and orchards. States are suing one another over shares of the flows of big river systems like the Colorado, Columbia, and Missouri and thirteen states have challenged Federal regulation in court too.

This malpractice in treating a symptom of the broader life threatening danger to our very biosphere unfortunately reflects the perspective of capital and most governments on a global scale. There is a pivotal international climate summit—COP 21—meeting in Paris November 30-December 11. It has been billed as the last hope for limiting global warming to a planetary average of 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Anything beyond that benchmark will cause severe, irreversible damage to the climate that has nurtured human civilization.

Every country was supposed to submit a plan for reducing greenhouse emissions. Most have by now sent in something. None from major players come close to what’s needed. Some are so dilatory as to be downright insulting.

The number one offender, China, has reaffirmed they will continue to increase emissions until 2030. Number two USA’s meager goals are based on Presidential executive orders—which can be canceled with a stroke of a pen by the next occupant of the White House. Obama’s orders rely on the cooperation of state governments—a formula that worked so well for him in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Already there are Republican legislative and court challenges to the American climate plan and at least five Governors are refusing to comply. It’s likely the real motivation of the “green” President is to defend his legacy by shifting blame for failure to GOP obstruction.

The malignant neglect of those often described by the media as the world’s movers and shakers through 19 Conferences of the Parties, even in the face of increasingly dire findings by their own scientists, was confronted last year by a fledgling mass movement on all continents demanding action. The 400,000 strong Peoples Climate March in New York City was the biggest environmental demonstration since the 1970s, and many times larger than any previous ones with a climate theme, in this country.

Just as important as the size was its composition. Traditional environmentalists were for the first time joined in large numbers by the real movers and shakers of society—working people. Thousands of them had been mobilized by their unions. Many others came through their church, mosque, or synagogue.

Though I am not religious, I recognize that involvement of both the class and faith based institutions with majority worker memberships are crucial to building truly mass movements that can win important victories. I saw this at work around civil rights in the 60s, against the Vietnam war in the 60-70s, and opposing U.S. military intervention in Central America in the 80s.

Still, I confess I wasn’t all that excited when I heard Pope Francis was preparing an encyclical about climate change. But only us pessimists can be happy when we’re wrong. The Bishop of Rome got my attention by not only signing off on a pretty good document but also taking steps to use it to shake things up.

His Holiness began by reaching out for help to Naomi Klein. Klein, one of the more perceptive social thinkers and commentators around, does not observe any faith. But her excellent book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, became an international best seller and she serves on the board of a major climate action network, 350.org. She is a go-to person if—and only if—you are serious about tackling the greatest challenge yet faced by humans.

With neither hesitation nor genuflection, she accepted the offer by the nominal spiritual leader of nearly a billion persons. Her first assignment was lecturing Vatican bankers about the need to divest church holdings in fossil fuels—which will prove to be a tough sell. But it may be the opening round in discussions that can filter down to parishes around the world.

It’s already sparked some secular discussion, added to the remarkable program of activities of the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul. An e-mail update from ESFL founders Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff reports,

“Pope Francis has issued a letter, Laudato Si, with a call to action on climate change. Join us at the Freedom Library this July for a series each Wednesday, beginning July 8 at 7 PM, Each event will offer a different group of local perspectives on climate issues as they impact us where we live, and how we can join in common cause with others for change. These conversations welcome all people to learn and share about how our choices impact this important international issue. Specific attendees and topics will be announced on the website and social media as they are finalized, so please keep in touch with us there!”

Discussions in union halls, places of worship, campuses, and community forums and study groups lay the foundation for a movement that can also periodically mobilize mass demonstrations to pressure governments and corporations–and attract even more activists to the climate justice cause. If we want our progeny to be able to see blue skies, and have sufficient water to drink, building this movement should be our central focus in the run-up to COP 21 in Paris—and beyond.

In Brief…
* 750 ATU bus drivers and mechanics are in a three-day strike against the privatized management of Milwaukee County Transit. The main issues are resisting introduction of 50 part-time jobs and working conditions such as rest room breaks.
* Neil Irwin nailed it in comments in the New York Times about the June BLS employment situation report, “It’s a billowy white cloud hiding some more ominous hints of where the economy stands…” The new post-recession low unemployment rate of 5.3 percent was mainly driven by a shrinking labor force of many drop outs and early retirements. And average hourly wages remained unchanged.
* In an instructive article on the Aljazeera America site Ned Resnikoff answers the question Who Is Really Being Bailed Out In Greece? “Greece needs a cash infusion 50 billion euros ($55 billion) over the next three years to recover from its debt crisis and stabilize the economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday. But Greece already received 240 billion euros ($265 billion) in bailouts in the last five years—a sum greater than the country’s GDP. Yet that massive injection of cash has done little to mitigate the suffering of the Greek people. More than a quarter of the workforce remains unemployed, food insecurity is on the rise, and financial analysts say the country’s public infrastructure is badly underfunded. In effect, Greek citizens are still waiting for a bailout. So where did all that money from Greece’s first two rescue packages go? Back to creditors, mostly….It is difficult to track Greece’s expenditures with precision, but multiple analysts say roughly 90 percent of the nation’s bailout cash has been eaten up by financial institutions.”
* First union contracts for home care workers have been won in Minnesota and Massachusetts.
* Both UE and IUE/CWA members have ratified new four-year national contracts with General Electric.

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