Week In Review November 15

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Nov 152015

onaschoutsmall  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.

Uncharted Territory
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.

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 November 8

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Nov 082015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

It’s been a very eventful week.

‘One Goal in the Game, and We’re Way Behind’
That sober assessment of the President’s death sentence for the Keystone XL pipeline is from the title of an opinion piece in the Guardian by the most prominent figure in the long fight that spurred a revived climate action movement in the USA. Bill McKibben writes,

“Today was a good goal scored, but we’re still way behind. (If you want proof of that look at the hurricanes gouging the Arabian Sea, or look at the record temperatures month after month.) There’s no guarantee that we can beat climate change, but there’s every guarantee we’re going to give it a hell of a fight.”

The fight against KXL was a rear guard battle coming after TransCanada and Enbridge had already built and started operating extensive pipelines–with only mild objections from mainstream environmental groups. To their credit, McKibben and NASA Climate Scientist Emeritus Jim Hansen, regrouped for a Gettysburg-like last stand.

Protests in front of the White House became steadily bigger and bolder. Celebrity artists, clergy and intellectuals came to be arrested. Indian groups from both sides of the border pitched traditional tents on the Mall. Even the moderate Sierra Club made a rare decision to endorse and participate in civil disobedience as well as mass demonstrations numbering in the thousands.

Perhaps most encouraging was major national unions—such as the Service Employees International Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United–getting on board.

KXL was a powerful motivator for the People’s Climate March that drew 400,000 in the streets of New York in September, 2014—tens of thousands of them mobilized by their unions.

After a long period of playing coy the President decided not to kill KXL but to bury it alive in his desk drawer. That was viewed by the movement as a temporary victory of sorts. But recently TransCanada forced his hand by asking for a suspension of their permit requests. This tactical ploy would have allowed them to revive XL for final approval, instead of starting again from scratch, if the next occupant of the White House proved more friendly. Not willing to rile the climate movement on the eve of the Paris summit, the President finally delivered the coup de grâce.

This comes at a time when oil prices are for now the lowest in more than a decade because of a glut in the world market–and thousands of American oil workers are being laid off. The USA is at least temporarily in no need of big imports of light sweet crude—much less the filthy bitumen from the Tar Sands that requires much more processing to synthesize in to oil.

An added bonus for the White House is that Obama’s friend Justin Trudeau, the new Liberal Prime Minister of Canada, under pressure to continue the Tory push for KXL as the centerpiece of foreign policy, is now off the hook.

The decisive defeat of KXL doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of global warming. The Obama administration’s nurturing of fracked oil and gas, and even attempts at more offshore drilling, has more than offset the gains of stopping one new pipeline.

But this win for our side will inspire and energize growing numbers to participate in the globally orchestrated demonstrations before, during, and after the Paris Summit beginning November 30—the Road Through Paris. In this country actions are being coordinated by 350.org—where you can find information about local activities–and the Labor Network for Sustainability.

The November 29 Kansas City event will begin at the Nichols Fountain at 47 & Main at 2PM and will do a short march to All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church for an indoor rally at 3PM. Among the speakers at All Souls will be Javier Perez, International Executive Vice-President of the Amalgamated Transit Union and Lindsey Walker, Director of the Kansas City office of SEIU Local 1.

Fight for 15 November 10
Strikes and demonstrations by Fast Food and other low wage workers will take place in 270 cities this Tuesday, November 10. You can sign up to participate in a solidarity action in your area here. In Kansas City, supporters will gather at Barney Allis Plaza at 12 & Wyandotte at 5PM and will then march six short blocks across 12th Street to rally at 5:30 on the steps of City Hall. I hope to see KC readers there.

GM Sort Of Settled—Ford TA Submitted
For a while it appeared to be a cliff hanger but at the end of the day UAW workers approved the Tentative Agreement with General Motors 55.4 to 44.6 percent. But wait—a big majority of skilled trades, upset about changes in job classifications, voted no. This means at least a delay in ratification. The Detroit Free Press explains,

“Under UAW bylaws, union leaders are obligated to hear the skilled trades’ complaints in light of their overwhelming rejection. That will happen in a series of meetings. Until then, UAW President Dennis Williams can’t give GM formal notice that the contract is ratified.”

Even before the GM vote totals were released the UAW announced they had a TA with Ford. It apparently adds bigger bonuses and profit-sharing, and larger incentives for early retirement for some workers, on top of the deal with GM.

Ford also promises nine billion dollars in new investment. And, they plan to start building Ranger pickups at the same Michigan plant that will lose the Focus to Mexico. The Ranger had been produced at Twin Cities Assembly until Ford permanently closed the St Paul plant in 2008–and offshored the small truck to Thailand.

Teaching By Example
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported,

“Four candidates closely aligned with the district’s teachers union won a majority of seats on the St. Paul school board Tuesday in a rout that cranks up the heat on Superintendent Valeria Silva in the state’s second-largest school system. Political newcomers Zuki Ellis, Steve Marchese, Jon Schumacher and Mary Vanderwert were beneficiaries of a Caucus for Change movement critical of district leadership and powered by the organizing muscle and funding might of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.”

Socialist Reelected—And Not As a Democrat
Unlike socialist Senator Sanders Democrat race today, Kshama Sawant ran as the candidate of the Socialist Alternative Party in the 2013 Seattle City Council election—and won. She beat a Democrat 13-year incumbent. In her inauguration speech she declared, “I wear the badge of socialist with pride.”

Her victory gained national attention but most political “experts” considered it a fluke, that she would be a one-hit wonder. Surprisingly, the pundits got it wrong. Not only a persuasive agitator, she knew how to take care of business. Kshama brought the strength of a mass movement for 15 Now to bear on a reluctant City Council, soon driving through a model city minimum wage law that meant substantial raises for 100,000 Seattle workers. She also brought attention to the need for sick pay for workers, and the demand for lifting a state ban of rent control in a city where housing costs have run amok. And she was part of a successful move to rename Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples Day.

But neither did she neglect broader national and global issues, lending support to climate actions, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT rights. And, of course, she  never missed a union picket line.

Kshama had to face reelection after only two years. The Establishment went all out to oust her. They changed district boundaries and recruited a woman of color with civil rights connections as Kshama’s opponent. She was endorsed by a big majority of the outgoing Council and raised a campaign fund of 385,000 dollars—supplemented by tens of thousands more spent on her behalf by corporate PACs.

Kshama’s campaign rejected any corporate assistance. But they did raise almost a half-million dollars from nearly 3,500 individual donors. Her campaign was endorsed by over 30 unions and dozens of issue and community groups. Over 600 campaign volunteers visited 90,000 homes and made 170,000 phone calls. Even some of the divided Left—like the other SA, Socialist Action—chipped in. It proved to be enough to beat back the Boss challenge.

We can learn a lot from this working class victory in Seattle. Hats off to Socialist Kshama Sawant.

How ’bout Them Royals?
I don’t want to gloat; I have good friends in New York and Toronto. I don’t plan to feature regular sports coverage like once done by the old Daily Worker. But I can’t ignore the biggest story in Kansas City this week.

In a way, the baseball experts viewed the Kansas City Royals—who came within a hair of winning last year’s World Series—the same way political gurus estimated Kshama Sawant. Most of them had predicted last Spring my hometown “small market” team would finish no better than third in their division.

So it was a bit sweet when the Royals—with no super-stars like Cabrera or Trout–won the division title with the best record in the American League. Playoff victories over Houston and Toronto put them back in the World Series. When they won that Series Sunday night by beating the New York Mets 4 games to 1, fireworks erupted throughout every neighborhood. Some even went out to the airport to greet the team plane that arrived about 3AM.

But that was nothing compared to the victory parade through downtown and rally in front of Union Station on Tuesday. It’s estimated that eight-hundred thousand showed up. That’s about forty percent of the metro population. Thousands more gave up and turned around when they realized there was just no more room within walking distance.

This massive crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder for several hours could have been the makings of a disaster. But the cops reported only three arrests—to extract over exuberant drunks. It was a rare exhibition of good-natured joy.

It’s a tough act to follow and they will likely lose some key players to free agency. I don’t know what’s in store next year. But I can hardly wait for the now dismal part of the year with no baseball to pass so I can find out.

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