Week In Review January 31

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Jan 312016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Sick Teachers In Detroit
They’re not getting sick from the water like their colleagues in Flint may be but recently poor health days have at times closed 88 schools. The Detroit Free Press gives a good diagnosis of what ails them,

“Teachers have been using the sick-outs to call attention to poor building conditions, low wages, crowded classes and their concerns about pending education reform legislation.”

There are 46,000 enrolled in Detroit Public Schools. DPS has been run by a string of Michigan’s trademark “emergency managers” appointed by the Governor since 2009. One of them was a former Kansas City Superintendent, Dr John Covington, who made his bones by closing nearly half the schools, and eliminating 700 KCPS jobs in my home town. It’s estimated DPS will run out of funds by April. Near zero job satisfaction among classroom educators is hardly shocking news.

Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder undoubtedly would like to have unions outlawed too. But he knows Rome wasn’t completely sacked by vandals in a day. He has taken measured steps in eliminating effective collective bargaining and requiring unions to beg for their dues. He thought he had this latest impertinence by public servants covered too and quickly ordered his minions in Detroit to take the sickos to court.

Normally in labor disputes the employer finds a Black Robe to grant, for just the asking, at least a Temporary Restraining Order against the workers. During a 1979 strike at Litton Microwave I received a telegram warning me I was already in contempt of court for violating a TRO that the UE’s lawyer hadn’t yet had a chance to show me.

But Snyder’s shysters had the bad luck to get a judge who wanted to see some evidence before pounding her gavel. Perhaps the credibility of Snyder’s helpers had been somewhat compromised when they included among the defendants a teacher who was on an approved FMLA leave battling cancer.

It didn’t hurt that at a second hearing the courtroom was packed with teacher supporters wearing red with at least 100 more loudly demonstrating outside. In any case, Her Honor has postponed any action until yet another hearing on February 16. Steve Conn, former Detroit Federation of Teachers president—and a defendant—was quoted by Al Jazeera America, “The governor and the school district’s emergency manager should be put on trial, not teachers.”

The teachers have won an initial defensive victory in their resumption of hostilities with the right-wing boss government.

The Supreme Emergency Manager residing in the Governor’s mansion in Lansing has to fend off popular demands for his resignation—if not prosecution—over the poisoning of Flint’s water supply. He will be somewhat distracted.

But the cracked tea-pots running the legislature have their leader’s back in his time of need. They have to pass an education bill soon. So far, they had been talking about splitting the district in to two separate but unequal parts. One would return to an elected school board– and would inherit a more than 300 million dollar debt. The other would be governed under rules set by the state and the Mayor of Detroit and would get start-up funding of 200 million. Now there is discussion of adding new draconian anti-worker measures as well. Kind of makes you feel—sick.

The teachers have earned praise for reviving struggle against ruthless austerity that has been felt one way or another by every worker and their families in Michigan. They are taking great personal risk that could mean not only being fired but blacklisted. They deserve active solidarity by all workers public, private, and jobless in their state—and beyond.

New Issue, Old Debates
During my formative years there were two truly massive social movements that had enormous impact on American society. What became known as the civil rights movement confronted institutionalized racism with some success from the mid-Fifties through the late Sixties.

The movement against the Vietnam war involved literally millions in a variety of protests from the mid-Sixties to mid-Seventies–and played a major role in finally ending that criminal conflict that claimed the lives of at least two million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans.

Relax. I’m not about to pursue a lengthy dissertation about the history of these historic movements–much less a personal sentimental journey down memory lane. I believe we have the potential and obligation to build an even bigger mass movement today around an even more crucial issue for all humanity, all living things on our planet—climate change.

The new movement is forming with resources that were in the realm of science fiction during the old—powerful desk top computers, connected to laser printers, supplemented by lap-tops, tablets, and mobile “smart” phones are ubiquitous. We no longer think twice about placing a long-distance phone call. And above all—the Internet.

As different as this new issue, along with new technology may be, we see old debates from those movements of my youth already again shaping up in the fledgling climate movement that must win the minds and hearts of Millennial youth–and the broader working class.

Some disputes may be over core principles whose outcome could be deal breakers for some. But most will center on strategy and tactics that will ultimately be tested and judged in action. While in no way discouraging innovation, it would be foolish to ignore the successes, limitations, and outright disasters of past mass movements. Here are some examples of old questions that are again relevant to a new movement:

Is the new movement going to focus on climate change like, for example, 350.org and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy or be multi-issue such as Avaaz? Should the main tactic of the new movement be periodic mass, peaceful demonstrations or dramatic acts of civil disobedience? What about lobbying and electoral endorsements? Should the movement’s demands be statements of sentiment or offer concrete alternatives to present fossil-based economies? And what is an appropriate structure to decide these and many other questions in a way that is both democratic and unifying?

For now, I am just suggesting how I think discussion and debate about the character of a mass climate action movement should be framed. In subsequent WIRs I’ll give my views on specific topics. But I would also like to hear from readers on these questions.

A cryptic note inserted by WordPress near the bottom of the WIR says, “Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.” I frankly don’t have time to moderate comments which are often spam, hate mail, or less than rational rantings. But serious comments sent to the same e-mail address listed below for signing up for e-mail subscriptions will at least be acknowledged and probably mentioned in the WIR.

As always, we should discuss in order to decide—and decide in order to act.

No Worm—Just 45 Bucks
There’s only a couple of weeks left to take advantage of Early Bird registration for the April 1-3 Labor Notes Conference in Chicago. For now you can sign up for 105 dollars; after February 15 it goes up to 150. These biennial conferences sponsored by the informative magazine are always the biggest collection of labor activists under one roof in North America. You can get all the information you need here.

East Side Freedom Library

Northern Light
From time to time I like to remind readers in the Upper Midwest about a Twin Cities treasure—the East Side Freedom Library. Initiated by two retired professors, Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff—who seem to work well together—the repurposed branch library on St Paul’s diverse East Side has established a valuable archive of historical records of several waves of immigration. On February 10 they will celebrate the consolidation in their venue of several collections of Hmong “artifacts, artwork, documents and more that tell the stories of the Hmong people, in all their lands including Minnesota.”

But ESFL serves more than historians. They host public forums, film showings, live music, book discussions, story telling, and more. In February, they are marking Black History Month with five “Black films” that escaped the attention of the Motion Picture Academy.

If you are in that neck of the woods, check out the ESFL. I’m sure you will be motivated to return—and maybe give them a few bucks to help this worthy project to live long and prosper.

In Brief…
* After months of boss filibuster, the Chicago Teachers Union has reportedly received a serious contract offer from Chicago Public Schools. The union’s 40 member Big Bargaining Team will meet Monday, February 1 to discuss whether it meets the requirements of a Tentative Agreement to be submitted to the full membership. No details will be released until after Monday’s meeting.
* A headline in The Guardian caught my attention—Vladimir Putin Accuses Lenin of Placing a ‘Time Bomb’ Under Russia. The apostate Communist, ex-KGB officer and current strongman in the Kremlin’s denunciation of the principal leader of the Bolshevik revolution centers on the heritage Lenin established of guaranteeing the right of self-determination for non-Russian nationalities. The Donald Trump admirer did, however, reassure reporters there are no plans to remove the macabre display of Lenin’s embalmed remains that are still a major tourist draw.
* The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened an announcement, “The United States could slash greenhouse gas emissions from power production by up to 78 percent below 1990 levels within 15 years while meeting increased demand, according to a new study by NOAA and University of Colorado Boulder researchers.” No new secrets were revealed—this rapid reduction can be accomplished by expanding readily available clean renewable sources like solar and wind.
* Flint native and activist film maker Michael Moore is asking well meaning folks not to send bottled water to those who can’t drink from the tap in his town of origin. To find out what he suggests instead, click here.

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our new e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to:

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

Week In Review January 25

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review January 25
Jan 252016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Telling It On the Magic Mountain
Oxfam does admirable work in providing assistance to victims of both natural and economic disasters. From time to time, they also issue well-researched reports on the Bigger Picture. Their latest on wealth distribution is powerful.

From 2010 to 2015, the wealth held by the least prosperous bottom half of the world—about 3.8 billion persons—plummeted 41 percent. In 2010, the richest 338 individuals had as much wealth as that lower half. Today just 62 obese cats have a share equal to the sinking 50 percent. And a mere one percent of the world own as much as the other 99 percent!

Oxfam offers a three-pronged approach to spreading the wealth—eliminating tax-havens for the One Percent; big investment in the public sector; and substantial wage hikes for the working poor. Though not nearly enough, there’s nothing wrong with any of these reforms. But how they can be achieved is worthy of discussion, debate.

Founded by Quakers, Oxfam favors conflict resolution. They believe rational and respectful discourse, combining moral appeals with explanations of the benefits of enlightened self-interest, can modify the behavior of the ruling class. And they purposely released their report on the eve of the World Economic Forum hoping to spark some dialogue.

Magic Mountain of Davos

The World Economic Forum is an annual conclave of the movers and shakers of global capital and their governments held in Davos, Switzerland. Davos is a remote, well secured town in the Swiss Alps noted for its skiing, skating, hot baths and sanatorium. It was his experience in Davos that inspired Thomas Mann to write his Nobel prize winning biting critique of bourgeois society, The Magic Mountain.

Other than servants waxing skis, there is no reason to think those gathering in Davos this year saw wealth distribution as a major problem. Moral arguments there bring polite temporizing sympathy—but will not convince the uber-rich that they should not get richer yet. This year there was a lot of buzz about something called The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Its meaning was a bit hazy but they were convinced they would recognize it when they see it.

For now, Austerity still dominates every continent. Greek sailors are on strike protesting the sell-off of public ports to pay usurious interest on public debt. Puerto Rico is in default. Austerity in Flint not only brought economic depression but also a poisoned water supply—for which customers are still being billed. The net effect of belt tightening in both rich and poor countries alike is transfer of still more wealth from those who work, or would like to work, to the bosses and bankers.

It’s good to have moral arguments on our side and we thank Oxfam for their report—even though it was sent to the wrong address. Even more important is using these fact-supported calls for justice to arouse those who have the power to end these injustices. As a couple of wise, forward looking Germans suggested 168 years ago, our task is still—workers of the world unite.

No Exit From the Kitchen
Harry Truman said—if you can’t stand the heat then get out of the kitchen. But at least until Stephen Hawking’s call for space travel can be implemented, the open floor plan of planet Earth allows no escape from the fossil fueled oven producing global warming.

Privatization has diminished NASA’s efforts in aiming to go where none have gone before but they are playing a leading role in climate science today. Along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the British Met Office, NASA announced Wednesday independently arrived joint findings that 2015 was the hottest year—by far– since record keeping began in 1850. Their conclusions are based on thousands of daily temperature readings on land and sea across every sector of the world’s surface.

These surface temperatures would be considerably higher if oceans, along with old growth forests, were not absorbing big quantities of carbon emissions. That is what led to a brief “pause” in the rate of warming that deniers once cynically claimed was a new “global cooling.”

But the capacity of these natural offsets is strained. Big swaths of the Amazon rain forest are being cleared on both ends—one side for oil extraction and for crops and grazing on the other. In Brazil indigenous peoples are being chased off their ancestral lands and environmentalists are being murdered.

The “dilution is pollution solution” benefit of our oceans is coming to an end as well. Warmer, and more acidic oceans is having a devastating impact on living things in the sea. It is also expanding the volume of water contributing to rising sea levels. And the much warmer waters of the Pacific have made the El Niño that began in late 2015 the fiercest on record.

Shortly before Christmas residents of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington were enjoying being outdoors in shirt sleeves. Many trees and flowers were tricked in to believing it was Spring and started to bloom.

This past weekend snow in that same region was being measured in feet. The Jersey Shore, hit so hard by SuperStorm Sandy, again suffered storm surge flooding. In the Big Apple, all public transit was shut down and only first responders and snow plows were allowed on the streets. More than ten thousand airline flights around the country had to be canceled.

Global warming does not advance in a steady straight line. It is producing wild swings in often severe weather. Unstable weather enhances a changing climate. Even with the “pause,” each of the last four decades have been warmer than the preceding one.

The 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit established a goal of capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Summit last month set a more ambitious target of 1.5C. It’s now been documented that 1.0C has been breached. Current trends are leading in to uncharted territory where there will be no going back.

The NASA et al Wednesday reports merited a full fifteen seconds of coverage on the most watched NBC Nightly News. The Democrat presidential front runners chose to respond by Twitter. Nearly all GOP hopefuls hold that global warming is a job-killing hoax staged by money grubbing climate scientists. It is hard not to sound alarmist in commenting on this level of discourse.

The fledgling global climate action movement is beginning to debate future strategy and tactics. This will be a topic in the next WIR.

For now I will note the two brutally honest reports I’ve mentioned have a common connection. The ruling rich who take care of business as usual in their pilgrimage to Davos are responsible for both the pauperizing of humanity and irreversible damage to our biosphere. They are the conscious enemy of our class and the de facto wrecker of the prerequisites for human civilization.

Certainly, the climate action movement should be a big tent, accommodating Oxfam, Pope Francis, even the Sierra Club. But to win it must become a workers movement. Debates, in my view, should include how we can take out the climate wrecking ruling class–replacing their rule with that of the working class majority, while we still have something left to fight for.

In Brief…
* The smallest of the major industrial unions in the USA registered two big victories last week that warrant substantial comment at another time. For now I will refer you to UE accounts of a final back pay settlement in a struggle that began with a sit-down strike in Chicago seven years ago; and dismissal of a NLRB charge by a right wing Zionist front group in Israel that UE was conducting an illegal secondary boycott by adopting a resolution at their convention in solidarity with oppressed Palestinians.
* As usual, a lot has been happening in the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Nurses Association negotiated an early wage reopener for 6,000 hospital members that preserved current health and pension benefits. Tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota have filed for an election to authorize SEIU Local 284 to represent them. And 4,000 SEIU janitors whose contract expired December 31 have authorized a strike.
* I will greatly miss Aljazeera America when it goes dark for economic reasons in April. They have been an excellent source of news and analysis of interest to working people in America and around the world. One story they reported last week began–”Walmart Stores Inc. unlawfully retaliated against workers who participated in strikes in 2013 and must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled on Thursday. Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the board’s website that the U.S. retailer violated labor law by ‘disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike.’”

That’s all for this week.
The WIR is available by RSS

If you want to be on our new e-mail list send your name and e-mail address to:

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