Week In Review December 6

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Dec 062015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Special Notice to Readers—Our List Is Moving
An e-mail service I used for years to distribute the WIR has made me an offer I can’t refuse to get me back. Later this week I will send a message to current Yahoo and Google subscribers explaining the very simple procedure needed to move with us to the new, double opt-in list at iContact. It shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes of your time. BOLO and thanks in advance for your cooperation.

Two Health Crises—Nurses Hit Both
National Nurses United is a major supporter of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Health Care addressing that American crisis. More about that later. They are also out front fighting to resolve an even more ominous threat to the very biosphere nurturing the health of all species on our planet. A posting on the NNU blog from their California affiliate began,

“More than 1,200 California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee registered nurses, environmental and healthcare activists, and students on Dec. 3 marched and rallied in Los Angeles to demand that the world’s leaders, now convening in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, adopt a binding and enforceable climate treaty, commit resources to fund the transformation to clean, renewable energy including a just transition program for those who now work in the fossil fuel industry, and call on wealthy, developed countries to provide resources for the less-developed countries to act on climate….”

They went on to describe climate change from their perspective as health care professionals,

“The public health dimensions of the global climate crisis are extensive and far-reaching, nurses say. According to the World Health Organization, more than 8 million deaths worldwide are directly attributable to air pollution, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels and lack of access to clean energy. Infectious and vector-born diseases, such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and Lyme, will spike as temperatures increase. Further global warming and climate change will magnify the already catastrophic health impacts of: fossil fuel pollution, hunger and malnutrition due to desertification and devastation and displacement from severe weather events and sea level rise.”

That’s a pretty good description of how global capitalism is dangerous to all living things. We can’t see the greenhouse gas accumulation in our atmosphere. But we can’t avoid seeing our species suffering from disease, malnutrition, and the casualties from heat waves, floods, and extreme storms–driven by global warming. Hats off to the nurses for popularizing the connection.

The other crisis is one that too many in the labor movement like to pretend was already fixed by their “friend” in the White House through the so-called Affordable Care Act. After a long decline in annual increases in health care spending—actually beginning in the Bush II administration–last year’s bump of 5.3 percent was the biggest of the Obama years. That’s more than double the inflation rate, and it ate up 17.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product—by far the highest share in the industrialized world.

2016 insurance premiums are again a crazy quilt–in and out of the government exchanges, varying not only state by state but even among counties within the same state. Overall, premiums for the ACA “benchmark” second lowest Silver plan will rise 7.3 percent. But the 100,000 with benchmark plans in Kansas City will see an average 20.1 percent increase. My much younger and self-employed wife Mary is still comparing the various permutations of higher premiums and higher deductibles.

Health outcomes have not kept pace with this rebound in increasingly unaffordable care. Many are still being left behind due to class and color inequality. Blacks lag whites in almost every measure—in infant mortality their numbers are close to those in what used to be called Third World countries.

But the perceptive chronicler of the working poor, author of Nickle and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich, notes a perverse trend toward equality in an article entitled Dead White and Blue: The Great Die-Off of America’s Blue Collar Whites,

“While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years….It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of color, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to health care, safer neighborhoods, and of course freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker-skinned. There has also been a major racial gap in longevity — 5.3 years between white and Black men and 3.8 years between white and Black women — though, hardly noticed, it has been narrowing for the last two decades. Only whites, however, are now dying off in unexpectedly large numbers in middle age”

A big factor in the boost in health care costs is prescription drugs. Some companies have done minor tinkering with old relatively cheap generics—and posting new astronomical price increases. I dropped Etodolac, an arthritis drug that’s been around for decades, after a three month supply went from 12 dollars to 90. I can get by popping more off-brand aspirin but many have to give up meds much more needed.

Some new drugs actually represent real breakthroughs. Every evening while watching the news I see commercials hailing a new treatment that is very effective in curing Hepatitis C. One big group who could benefit are men and women of my generation who were unfortunate enough to serve in Vietnam but lucky enough to come back alive. Many of them returned with Hep C, acquired in various ways “in country.”

The often unfairly maligned VA is eager to use the new treatment for thousands of former GIs with Hep C who depend on them for medical care. Unlike Medicare, the VA can negotiate prices with Big Pharma. But the best deal they have been able to get is 85,000 dollars for the full treatment needed. That’s a budget buster that Congress is unlikely to alleviate. Once again we see how nothing is too good for our Vets—and that’s what most with Hep C will get.

The main accomplishment of what has become known as “ObamaCare” is adding new customers to the rolls of the insured by making private insurance mandatory and providing taxpayer subsidies to those who can’t get coverage through their employer or public assistance. As we have seen, this “reform” has actually led to health care costs rising substantially above the inflation rate—with no relief in sight. The Bronze and Silver options in the government market saddle the working poor with deductibles and co-pays they can’t afford to pay. The few decent union plans still around are subject to a hefty tax penalty.

The NNU nurses favor adopting Canadian style single-payer where the government would replace insurance company gate-keepers. The government monopoly of payments would give some leverage in negotiating prices with doctors, hospitals and drug companies. Canada spends somewhat less than America on health care and has better health outcomes.

This is a substantial reform that deserves our support. But it is not a complete solution. It still leaves intact health care as a commodity controlled by the medical-drug capitalists rather than a social right to best available care at reasonable cost for all.

The slogan often advanced by single-payer advocates—Medicare for All—rings hollow to those of us enrolled in Medicare. The AMA initially fought Medicare—but then quickly figured out that they would get millions of new customers backed by government deep pockets. This partial reform has contributed to inflated costs of medicine.

The billing was kept private from the beginning. Now there is a huge privatized sector—Part C, the so-called Medicare Advantage plans–that drain more public funds than traditional Medicare. My Part B premium deducted from my Social Security isn’t going up next year—but only because my Social Security payment is frozen. Some deductibles and coinsurance are rising.

Medicare doesn’t pay all medical expenses. The premium for my Medigap “F” plan from Blue Cross will rise to 308 dollars a month. Along with my Part B deduction this reasonably complete coverage will devour nearly forty percent of my Social Security—and, like nearly half of all retirees, that’s my sole regular source of income. It’s not something I wish for younger people.

While single-payer would be a worthwhile transitional improvement a far better permanent solution would take the British National Health Service as a model. The socialized medicine won by the British Labor Party provides all medical, dental, vision, and mental health services, along with prescription drugs, glasses, hearing aids, and all other devices needed, at no out of pocket cost to users. It’s financed out of general government revenues. It works well for little more than half what is spent in the USA.

Neither single-payer nor socialized medicine will be achieved through the present two party system. That is even more true about the climate crisis that requires a massive economic restructuring leading to a head on confrontation with the bosses and bankers.

The nurses should be emulated as well as praised for their actions in the street. They were early supporters of the now dormant Labor Party. I hope they will become convinced once more that building a working class party that can contest for power is literally a life and death question.

In Brief…
* Just as was done on the eve of the Paris Climate Summit, there will be demonstrations at its conclusion this Saturday in just about every country except where socialist presidents have banned them. You can get more information, available in three languages, here. In Kansas City, there will be a gathering at the Nichols Fountain, 47&Main, 2PM, Saturday, December 12.
* The jury came close to being hung but finally delivered a split verdict in the trial of Don Blankenship who was aptly described in the Guardian, “the ‘outlaw’ former coal executive and enemy of environmentalists.” We might add deadly enemy of coal miners, scofflaw of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and sworn foe of the United Mine Workers. Blankenship was convicted of conspiracy in safety violations leading to the deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia in April, 2010. Incredibly, this is only a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year. The jury couldn’t agree to convict on two related felony charges.
* The Arizona Star reported, “Union miners rallied Tuesday afternoon at Asarco’s Tucson headquarters to protest what they say are unfair contract negotiating tactics by the copper-mining company. The United Steelworkers, the lead among eight labor unions representing about 2,000 Asarco workers, said Asarco has announced its intent to unilaterally implement the company’s ‘last, best and final’ contract proposal on Tuesday, calling the move illegal.”’ Asarco is owned by notoriously anti-union mining giant Grupo Mexico. Their “offer” included a wage freeze, cuts in pensions, and curtailment of bonuses. There will be a January Labor Board hearing on the unions’ unfair labor practice charges.
* Commenting on the richest of the recent Big Three contracts, Ford said they expect increased labor costs will be below the rate of inflation.
* David Cay Johnston’s opinion piece on the Aljazeera America site, The wealthiest dozen Americans own more than the bottom half, is worth a read.

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 December 2

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Dec 022015

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

COP and Cops In Paris
COP21, the twenty-first UN-sponsored gathering of governments, corporations, and respectable NGOs to discuss climate change, is under way in Paris. 147 heads of state are among the 20,000 with credentials to admit them to the proceedings. They are being watched over by 3,000 journalists and 2,800 armed cops on site. 8,000 additional police and paramilitary forces are maintaining a safe perimeter around them. It is estimated they will leave a carbon footprint of 21,000 metric tonnes of CO2.

But one group always attracted to past climate conclaves is missing in Paris—demonstrators, outdoors and usually outnumbering conference participants, demanding urgent action instead of endless talk. The French government that encourages people to go as normal to soccer matches—one of the recent targets of ISIL terrorist attacks—has banned street demonstrations. For good measure, they placed many organizers of the mass march scheduled last Sunday under house arrest.

Granted, they didn’t go to the extreme of neighboring Belgium where terrorists won an unprecedented victory as virtually the whole country went on lock-down for a week. While few, if any actual terrorists were apprehended, dozens of climate campaigners, trade unionists, and socialists were detained without warrants.

When the French New Anti-Capitalist Party challenged the demonstration ban in the streets they were mercilessly met with pepper gas and clubs of the tactical cops–sent by a “socialist” President. As Naomi Klein observed,

“…the Hollande government has made a series of decisions that reflect a very particular set of values and priorities about who and what will get the full security protection of the state. Yes to world leaders, football matches and Christmas markets; no to climate marches and protests pointing out that the negotiations, with the current level of emission targets, endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions if not billions of people…Once again, the message is: our security is non-negotiable, yours is up for grabs.”

Fortunately, comrade Hollande could not ban the 2300 events in solidarity with the outlawed Paris march that took place in 175 countries, involving more than 785,000 participants. There were big ones mobilizing tens of thousands such as those in London, Sydney, and Quezon City, Philippines. Others were tiny—such as scientists in Antarctica.

Coming during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and numerous winter-like storms, didn’t help in the U.S. In Kansas City 100 troupers marched in a cold, pouring rain through an upscale shopping district to the All Souls church where they were greeted by about an equal number for an indoor rally. The speakers were mainly elected officials and clergy who mostly had kind words for President Obama’s tardy and quite modest climate goals. The two labor speakers—Javier Perez, International Executive Vice-President of the Amalgamated Transit Union and Lindsey Walker, director of the Kansas City office of the Service Employees International Union Local 1—were certainly the liveliest. Both described the dedication of their union to climate actions. Lindsey, in her remarks pointed out the natural connection between climate justice and the labor, Black Lives Matter, and 15 Now movements.

Of the English language mass media only Aljazeera America and especially the Guardian, gave prominent attention to the global scope of these grass roots actions. Much more coverage in other outlets was devoted to Republican threats to renege on any commitments made by President Obama at COP21.

Of course, any “treaty” coming out of Paris to replace the expired 1997 Kyoto Accords will be sans binding commitments on anyone. All agreements must receive unanimous consent. There will be only voluntary goals that have already been set by nearly every major player. Even in the unlikely event all of these goals were met they would fail to comply with the generous benchmark of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrialization levels. Beyond 2C–climate change increasingly becomes climate disaster for most living things on our planet.

Though little progress can be expected from the well guarded palaver in Paris it is important to follow it, expose it, and present needed alternatives. The climate movement projects a course along the Road Through Paris. Our companion Labor Advocate blog has dozens of links to news stories relating to COP21 and that will continue.

It’s not surprising to hear Democrat politicians being upbeat about Paris. They follow their leader, the President. It is more difficult to understand the continuing optimism expressed by the traditional environmental groups. Their faith in the Free Enterprise, two-party system that rules America to reverse course and do the right thing is seemingly boundless.

Fortunately, the experiences of the climate action movement over the first 20 COPs have led global currents such as 350.org to recognize a truth too inconvenient for even Al Gore—those who run the social-economic-political system that created and still promotes the conditions for climate change are too deeply vested in the status quo to cease and desist without a fight to the finish.

And, most importantly, we have also seen the emergence of a working class response within the trade unions in a number of countries that see the need to connect struggles for class and climate justice. In the USA major national unions such as SEIU, ATU, and National Nurses United have taken important first steps in this direction. The Labor Network for Sustainability is helping to pull together a coherent program and strategy for further advances in the labor movement. Especially crucial is their popularization of Just Transition as an answer to boss threats that saving the biosphere will destroy jobs.

It is these vanguard trends today that, despite the bleak prospects for COP21, gives us reasonable hope for the future.

Revived Connections
African-American trade unionists have a long history of impact on both the civil rights and labor movements. In 1941, it was the threat of a mass March on Washington by A Philip Randolph, leader of the all-Black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, that moved a reluctant FDR to issue an executive order forbidding discrimination in war industry hiring. It was local leaders of that same union who planned the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott and convinced Dr Martin Luther King to be their spokesman—the first prominent action in the revival of a mass civil rights movement.

This movement was not warmly received by white craft union bureaucrats—especially when Blacks sought entry in to crafts from which they had long been excluded by bylaws or custom. Such tensions have not yet completely disappeared.

But industrial and public sector unions with significant Black membership were a different matter. The UAW and AFSCME, among others, contributed both moral and material support to civil rights. Martin Luther King was in Memphis supporting an AFSCME strike when he was assassinated. African-Americans began climbing the leadership ladder in many unions.

After Dr King’s murder, mass mobilizations of Blacks and the poor began to give way to electing African-Americans to public office and litigation around affirmative action. But even the election of a Black man to the highest office has not brought improvement in the lives of people of color. In many important measures conditions have grown worse. This has led to two significant mass responses.

The rising of low wage workers, beginning in the Fast Food industry and spreading rapidly to others, is the single most important worker struggle in the U.S. today. In most areas these workers are overwhelmingly people of color. SEIU has made enormous contributions of staff and money to the fight for 15 Dollars and a Union. AFSCME and the UFCW have also been active on a more modest scale.

Many of these workers also became involved in a new movement still being shaped—Black Lives Matter–that has focused on police repression. They have helped organize the anger to go beyond spontaneous “riots.” And in many cases they have got their unions involved.

A good example, still ongoing, is in Minneapolis. A recent article in Workday Minnesota reported,

“Underscoring the connection between labor rights and human rights, more than 200 Twin Cities union members and leaders rallied outside the Minneapolis 4th Precinct to support community demands for justice for Jamar Clark, the 24-year-old African-American man shot and killed by police.”

Among the speakers at this rally was Cathy Jones, a Vice-President of the Minneapolis NAACP and a member of the Letter Carriers union. She emphasized, “Community issues are union issues.”

Linda Hamilton, president of the Minnesota Nurses Association (NNU) opened a public statement,

“The Minnesota Nurses Association supports members of the Black Lives Matter movement and their peaceful demonstration of grievances to protest the very real and harmful inequities that continue to be imposed on people of color. Nurses everywhere see how racism results in reduced access to healthcare, poorer health, and threats to basic safety. We urge all departments of the City of Minneapolis to work together to swiftly conclude the investigation behind the death of Jamar Clark and the shootings of BLM protesters to restore calm to the community.”

Similar developments are occurring in Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities as well. I noticed in television coverage of BLM protests of a police murder in Chicago, staged in the elite Miracle Mile shopping district, a number of signs reading “We Are One—Amalgamated Transit Union.”

That’s a good slogan. Our class is diverse in many ways. We come in all sizes and colors. We encompass many different cultures and languages. We like it that way. But in the face of attacks by bosses and racists on any of our component parts–we must be one.

That’s all for this week.

Registration is now open for the 2016 Labor Notes Conference

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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