by Bill Onasch
The Murders In France
Of course, every decent human being is revolted by the mass murders Friday in Paris, likely the work of the monstrous criminals variously called ISIL, ISIS, Daesh. I was relieved to learn the few French worker activists that I know personally were not among the casualties. Their organization immediately issued an appropriate statement.
Will Columbia Be the Millnenial’s Berkeley?
I’m not referring to the prestigious private university on New York’s Upper West Side—which certainly had its share of activism over the years. The student radicalization that began with the Free Speech fight on the University of California campus in Berkeley in 1964 lasted through the Seventies around such issues as civil rights, opposition to the Vietnam war, a resurgence of feminism, and a new appreciation of ecology. The Columbia I’m talking about is in Missouri, venue of the main campus in my home state’s university system.
MU has long been noted for its School of Journalism and football teams but never before as a hot bed of radicalism. Even though Black enrollment is only about seven percent, the student body president is an African-American. So it was shocking to most when national attention focused on MU protests against racism.
These included a hunger strike, mass rallies, occupations of parts of the campus–and the varsity football team to a man deciding to strike until top administration officials resigned. Even more astonishing: once the “jocks” refused to suit up this demand was immediately met. Not only the chancellor of the Columbia campus but also the president of the whole state-wide system had to start sending out their resumés.
While events moved quickly they were not spontaneous last minute efforts. Nor was there a focus on a single outrage on the scale of the police killing of Michael Brown that led to weeks of protests and “riots” in the Ferguson suburb of St Louis last year. The organizers of this week’s victory had a deep sense of historical continuity in fighting pervasive racial insults and discrimination. Their adopted name—Students 1950—was a tribute to the first African-Americans to breach the color barrier at MU.
Prior to the 1950s Lincoln University in Jefferson City was the only college in the state open to Blacks. It was founded in 1866 by Civil War veterans of the 62nd and 65th Regiments United States Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry. It later got Land Grant College status and became fully accredited. Lincoln still exists today with an integrated, but still largely Black, enrollment of a little over 3,000.
MU was founded in 1839. The University was built mainly by slave labor and before the Civil War was largely overseen by slave holders. The Missouri state Constitution mandated segregated public schools—along with most other public facilities–until 1950s court rulings.
Ongoing tensions and incidents still remained after integration–and have escalated since the uprising in Ferguson. Administration indifference triggered the recent actions by African-American students with considerable solidarity from white ones as well. They tapped in to a wide and growing range of discontent about complicity of the university administration in advancing the reactionary agenda of a mean-spirited Right dominated state legislature. For example,
* They withdrew access privileges to the University Hospital for the only local surgeon performing abortions at the Planned Parenthood Clinic—making it impossible to comply with state law mandating nearby hospital access. This effectively eliminated safe, legal abortions in central Missouri.
* They ended a credit course in which medical students gained experience in basic women’s health care—though not abortions—at Planned Parenthood.
* They initiated an intimidating investigation of a demand by a legislator to reject a dissertation by a psychology doctoral student on the psychological effects of legally required 72-hour waiting periods for women seeking abortions.
* Instead of bargaining in good faith with graduate teaching and research assistants they unilaterally canceled their health insurance—with 13 hours notice.
* And they stonewalled their unionized maintenance and grounds workers leading to union protests at athletic events.
So while Black students are a small minority there were a lot more other unhappy campers on campus—and precious few backers of the administration. Still, the symbolic victory so far won could not have been so quickly achieved without the football team.
College football is a highly profitable business exploiting young athletes. Packed stadiums—and especially television contracts—are an important source of revenue for universities. Colleges, like baseball’s minor league “farm” teams, supply the NFL with ready to go talent. The only difference is that baseball owners have to pay their minor league players while the NFL gets theirs for free. The same goes for the NBA basketball teams.
There is growing awareness by student athletes of their exploitation. Football players at Northwestern University even tried to organize a union–but courts have ruled they are “amateurs” not covered by labor laws. To their credit, all of the MU players—and even their head coach—agreed to join the Black players in refusing to even practice until the top administration brass resigned. Ticket refunds and loss of lucrative television coverage for just the next “home” game to be played at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City would have run many millions of dollars. (MU wound up winning that game with BYU 20-16.)
During my generation’s youth rebellion the “jocks” were usually written off as reactionary louts. That was a mistake even then. Certainly today they must be recognized as having great social and economic weight in both the education industry and ultimately professional sports. MU shows they can grasp the importance of issues and have the courage to boldly act on their convictions.
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka—sounding more like a former Mine Workers leader of the same name—issued this statement,
“We applaud the courageous actions of students and faculty at the University of Missouri who have come together to demand change in response to racism and discrimination on campus. In particular, we commend the university’s football players for their brave stand at a time when college athletes receive too little credit for their enormous contributions to their universities. The labor movement knows the power of collective action through the strike and the significant changes that can be achieved when people speak up together. The AFL-CIO is deeply committed to racial justice and to changing a system that has been rigged against working people for far too long. Together with our allies, the AFL-CIO will continue fighting to ensure that the voices of the marginalized are heard.”
I don’t want to appear to be a Show Me State chauvinist. There were numerous other significant student-faculty-worker actions on many campuses around different issues this past week. On Tuesday, thousands of students around the country joined in solidarity rallies supporting strikes by Fast Food workers demanding 15 Dollars and a Union. On Thursday there were coordinated protests, dubbed the Million Student March, on over 100 campuses calling for free higher education, cancellation of student loan debt, and a 15 dollar minimum wage for campus employees.
The often maligned Millenials are starting to assert themselves around issues of great concern to the working class. They have much to offer in innovative ideas and boundless energy. I only hope that we can keep up with them.
‘I Am a Democrat Now’
The independent democratic socialist candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination picked up another major union endorsement last week from the American Postal Workers union. This delighted many of my friends and collaborators—including those, who like me, consider themselves socialists. A lot of good people are “Feeling the Bern.”
There is no question that Senator Bernie Sanders has raised important questions and “legitimized” discussion in public discourse of some reforms long raised by socialists and the now dormant Labor Party. But those who genuinely believe this is the beginning of the “Political Revolution” at the end of the day will likely be feeling the Burn.
On ABC’s Sunday morning political chat show This Week, Bernie clarified some parameters of his Revolution,
“I made a decision in this presidential election that I will run as a Democrat; I am a Democrat now.”
He went on to say,
“The idea that I’ve worked against Barack Obama is categorically false…. Barack Obama is a friend of mine. I think he’s been a very strong president and has taken this country … in a very positive way.”
This is a remarkable rehabilitation of the Obama legacy for any kind of politician—much less a socialist. Most of Bernie’s labor and socialist supporters have been battling Obama administration policies for the past seven years. War; health care betrayal; record deportations; attacks on public education; threats to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid; obstruction at climate summits; pursuit of more NAFTA-like deals; the GM-Chrysler bankruptcy; and very much affecting APW members, downsizing and privatizing the US Postal Service—add them all up and I concluded long ago the judgment should be this is the most reactionary administration in living memory.
If the Political Revolution means emulating Bernie’s White House hero then I am not a revolutionary.
While approved by a majority of production workers final ratification of the UAW-GM Tentative Agreement is still on hold because of rejection by the skilled trades. This effective veto can be sustained only if the UAW leadership determines their opposition is motivated solely because of changes in their work rules and conditions applying only to them and not around issues common to all UAW workers. Late Friday UAW president Dennis Williams issued a brief statement that included,
“Based on this feedback from the skilled trades membership, I have determined that further discussion with the company was needed. Such discussions are currently taking place.”
No further details were supplied. But it’s no secret that the trades were up in arms over major consolidation and dispersal of skilled classifications. Tuesday’s Detroit News summarized,
“Several workers and local union leaders have told The Detroit News that skilled trades workers are concerned over re-classifications of skilled trades that could require them to do multiple jobs; that they may lose seniority or shift preferences; that work may be outsourced; and that no buyout incentives were offered to skilled trades workers. Others believe not enough apprentices are promised, despite the fact that more than half of the 8,500 workers are eligible to retire.”
Rejection by skilled trades is rare enough—returning to the bargaining table to attempt to satisfy them is a first at General Motors. Meanwhile, nearly 53,000 Ford workers are in the process of voting on a TA that, if accepted, would complete Big Three national bargaining once a final settlement is reached at GM.
Early Bird Registration Open
These conferences are always worthwhile. Health and finances permitting, I will be there—and I hope you will be too.
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