Week In Review January 17

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Jan 172016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

A Holiday Worth Fighting For
Tomorrow is the Martin Luther King holiday in the USA. Obstruction to its establishment was nearly as tenacious as resistance to his struggles for civil rights, peace and economic justice. Even today most private sector employers do business as usual in silent rebuke of what Dr King stood for. Eleven years ago I wrote this tribute to the man known for having a dream.

More Than Just a Dreamer
Dreams are essential to humans. Those deprived of REM sleep are unable to function for long.

What goes for individuals applies to classes within society as well. Without the capacity for dreaming, imagining something better, we will stumble along, condemned to present circumstances–or even relapse to worse.

Of course dreaming can also be promoted as a form of not advance but escape from reality. Many clergy, especially among those who actively promoted the “moral values” of the Bush campaign, urge their flock to be laborers worthy of hire, and render unto Caesar, in the present–in exchange for the dream of eternity in heaven. “Work and pray, live on hay, you’ll get pie in the sky when you die” was an apt description of this branch of theology summed up in an old IWW song.

But there are men and women of the cloth who have gone beyond such safe and simple minded adaptation to our present class society. While having faith in a better hereafter they also dream of a better here and now.

Martin Luther King Jr made such a dream famous through a combination of powerful oratory–and audiences sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands. He captured the imagination and inspired the most downtrodden among American society–African-Americans. Along the way he shook up a lot of white folks too.

He wasn’t content, however, to stop with this dream. He also acted. Maybe he didn’t go as far or as fast as some of us would have liked to have seen at the time but his contribution was enormous. He helped mobilize masses of people in the streets to fight for civil rights. He supported workers in trade union struggles. He spoke out against the Vietnam war.

Martin and Malcolm

Such leaders are all too rare. There was another Black clergy, of a different faith, who also was developing a mass following among African-Americans struggling for justice in the Sixties–Malcolm X. Both of these greats died from assassin’s bullets. Their movements, while continuing, have never fully recovered from this loss.

The cynical Establishment has given us a King holiday–just as we have holidays commemorating Washington, Lincoln, and Columbus. They hope as the years go by, and our memories fade, MLK will become the same kind of irrelevant icon as the “Founder of Our Country,” the man who “freed the slaves,” and the man who “discovered America.” They envision a day when the malls will have Martin Luther King White Sales.

Both King and American working people of all colors deserve better. We should take this occasion to review his dream and to incorporate it into our vision of a better world. More than that, this should be a time to honor his action-packed life cut short with re-dedication to struggle for justice for all working people in the here and now.

Foul Enterprise at Work
It’s been called the airborne equivalent of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf. The leak at a huge SoCal Gas underground storage facility in Los Angeles was first detected October 23. Residents of the Porter Ranch neighborhood at Ground Zero immediately complained of headaches, nausea, and nose bleeds and hundreds of families were quickly evacuated. They were certainly reacting to at least big doses of mercaptans—the smelly stuff added to odorless methane so we can tell there’s gas in the air. But also present were more dangerous toxic pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide and benzene.

That was pretty bad for those in nearby Porter Ranch. But also since October, every week thousands of tons of methane have been released in to the atmosphere. Methane, of course, is a greenhouse gas dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide. So this localized environmental threat is still growing as a major climate disaster as well.

Early attempts to plug the leak apparently did more harm than good. The current plan is to create a relief path through sideways drilling to divert the gas back in to underground containment until the surface breach can be permanently fixed. That’s expected to take 3-4 months.

Soon after Rick Snyder was elected Governor of Michigan in 2010, he started ousting elected local governments, replacing them with appointed “emergency managers” charged with implementing drastic austerity policies. Public services were slashed, union contracts gutted. They brought misery to the poor and joy to bankers.

Flint, an already long suffering city of 100,000 that was the birthplace of General Motors, the venue for the most famous sit-down strike, and the subject of Flint native Michael Moore’s award winning documentary Roger and Me, was on the Governor’s hit list. One of these local potentates decided Flint didn’t need the fancy water they were buying from Detroit. Instead he turned to a cheaper local source on the good old Flint River—a depository for a century of industrial dumping and agricultural run-off.

My wife is an environmental engineer with some background in municipal water supplies including developing countries. She believes a mix of additives could have made Flint River water acceptable. But this would require monitoring the health effects on human consumers and corrosive impact on pipes and equipment–and adjusting additives as indicated.

Flint Tap Water

There’s evidence that Flint’s engineers understood these requirements and actually had developed a best practice plan—that was never implemented. The cost of the strict protocols needed would have more than wiped out the cost advantage of forsaking tap-ready Detroit water. The Governor’s appointees proved they were risk takers—with the health and property of the people of Flint. After brown smelly water started flowing from kitchen faucets, and General Motors and hospitals started complaining about rust traced to corrosive city water, the overseers also proved they were pathological liars.

Eventually, their bluff had to be called and Flint was allowed to get Detroit water again. But enormous damage had already been done. They will be drinking bottled water in Vehicle City for the foreseeable future. Now that serious health monitoring has begun it’s clear that lead poisoning is wide spread including children whose body and brain development will be stunted. And the corrosive Flint River water that leeched lead in to the system has wrecked most of the water infrastructure, not to mention customer machinery. It may turn out that all the piping in Flint will have to be replaced at an estimated cost of more than a billion dollars.

The Tappet Brothers on the old Car Talk radio show constantly reminded us that it is the stingy person who winds up spending the most. But the parsimonious state representatives of the banks will not be out of pocket at all. The tab for their despicable criminal behavior will be paid by the working people of Flint—and working class tax payers around the country.

As you have undoubtedly heard, Governor Snyder has been forced to go hat in hand to hated Big Government, asking for help. Reuters reported on Saturday,

“President Obama declared a state of emergency in Michigan on Saturday and ordered federal aid for state and local response efforts in the county where the city of Flint has been contending with lead-contaminated drinking water. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had asked the president to declare both an emergency and an expedited major disaster in Genesee County to protect the safety of Flint residents. Obama is authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts there, the White House said in a statement. The action is being taken to ‘lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Genesee County,’ it said.”

Of course, we should show solidarity with the victims of greed in Flint. But we should also use the disasters in Flint and Los Angeles as teachable moments to expose how Free Enterprise and their politicians on retainer can never be trusted guardians of the very air and water we need to live. We need to take control of our environment and climate away from their greedy hands.

As a Matter of Fact…
Long time New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was famous for the bon mot. My old friend Mark Dudzic, national coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care, opened a recent e-mail blast with a good one–Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

Mark’s message is the best concise explanation I’ve seen of what single-payer is and why it’s a reform workers should be fighting for today. Its context is the factual distortions and exaggerations in the Wall Street Journal about Canadian-style health care proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders–soon utilized by Hillary Clinton in an attack on her main rival for the Democrat presidential nomination. The WSJ, looking only at the expense side of the ledger pegged the cost of the Sanders version of single-payer at 15 trillion dollars over ten years. Clinton told Politico that was equal to a nine percent tax increase on the Middle Class.

First of all, the 15 trillion is an inflated figure. It also includes considerable funds already being spent on Medicare and Medicaid. And it completely ignores the vast sums of out of pocket expenses, charged to virtually every insured American, currently going to insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-pays that would be eliminated under single-payer.

Mark writes,

“This is how real, Medicare for All healthcare reform would work. You replace a complex system of private insurance with a single-payer system of social insurance. Everybody pays into the same pot and everybody gets the same standard of care. Instead of a confusing array of co-pays, deductibles, insurance premiums and additional taxes, there is an equitable public funding mechanism based on ability to pay. Everybody in. Nobody out.

“This is an irrefutable fact: nearly all economists agree that, even after extending coverage to everyone and eliminating co-pays and deductibles, billions would be saved and 95% of all Americans would pay less under a single-payer Medicare for All system.”

Even though I don’t have a horse in the race for the donkey party nomination, I applaud Mark’s clear refuting of falsehoods circulated by the Wall Street Journal and Bernie’s friend of Wall Street opponent.

I came to know Mark Dudzic when he was national organizer of the once promising, now defunct Labor Party. Mark was not responsible for the party’s demise—far from it. He helped keep it going on starvation rations from unions for a remarkable run. His present job is complementary to the old party’s goals.

Bernie was never a part of the labor party movement. He has been a loyal member of the Democrat caucus first in the House, now the Senate. While today he is again out front for single-payer, I haven’t forgotten that when push came to shove in President Obama’s second try to pass his signature “health care reform,” socialist Bernie caved and cast the decisive vote for the Abominable Care Act. And that’s a fact.

This is a familiar tale in the narrative of American politics. The working class can’t depend on fickle friends in boss parties. We don’t need heroes to follow. We need a party of our own where candidates—and especially elected officials–are responsible to us—and us alone. We’re not going to win even such popular worthwhile reforms as single-payer—much less Bernie’s vaunted “political revolution”–without a labor party.

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 January 10

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Jan 102016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Can We Bank On Bernie?
Aljazeera America last week ran a sympathetic article titled Bernie Sanders vows to break up banks during first year in office. In covering what is described as a “major policy address,” they say,

“He vowed to create a ‘too-big-to-fail’ list of companies within the first 100 days of his administration whose failure would pose a grave risk to the U.S. economy without a taxpayer bailout. Those firms would be forced to reorganize within a year… And he vowed to cap ATM fees at two dollars and interest rates on credit cards and consumer loans at 15 percent.”

Apparently he expects to accomplish these ambitious goals through executive orders. The current President, who Sanders thinks is a good one, has encountered many formidable obstacles from Congress and the courts in his use of this tactic. Since the “political revolution” Sanders promotes is mostly a one-man crusade there’s little reason to expect support from the next Congress for cramping the bank’s style.

Be that as it may, compared to the no less dubious promises of his primary opponent for the Democrat nomination the Senator known as Bernie sounds pretty radical. He’s as far out as Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and the ensemble at The Nation, looking out for the elusive Middle Class. Those with low FICO scores would appreciate a break on fees and interest rates—though such reforms don’t mean much to the millions of working poor who don’t even have a bank account.

But the junior Senator from Vermont also styles himself as a socialist while seeking the nod from the governing capitalist party. He even has an ikon of the great Eugene V Debs hanging in his Capitol Hill office. How do the two compare?

Eugene V Debs

First off, unlike Bernie, Debs ran for President on the Socialist Party ticket against Democrats—including one who later arranged for Debs to run his final election campaign from a cell in the Atlanta Penitentiary, an effort that still garnered nearly a million votes.

Debs Red Special With Band

Also in contrast to Senator Sanders, Debs was not a solo act. He used his electoral campaigns to convince workers to join the Socialist Party—and to join unions. His agitation on the campaign trail helped other Socialists to actually win election as Mayors, members of state legislatures, and even a few to Congress.

It might also be instructive to take a look at the positions of the Socialist Party on banks articulated by Debs during the high point of socialist influence in the USA.

Debs did not think the problem with banks was that they were too big for their britches. Socialists had long noted that finance capital had inserted themselves as integral, if not always welcome partners with industrial and merchant capital in the post-Civil War ruling class. They were not inventors like Bell and Edison. They didn’t implement new work methods like Armour and Carnegie. But they played an essential role in enabling the USA to become the premier industrial power.

That was because even the richest capitalists can’t write personal checks to build a new railroad, or bring access to electricity and telephones to every home. They needed help from bankers like JP Morgan, and Wall Street investors to grow so big and so fast. Even the smallest capitalist proprietors, and working farmers, came to depend on a line of credit to expand in good times—or keep them afloat during bad. Later, consumer credit led to massive expansion of the housing, auto, and appliance industries. Today student loans are the single biggest source of debt other than mortgages.

Even a working class government dedicated to an ultimate goal of a classless, and moneyless society, will have need for banks and bonds in the transition. That’s why instead of calling for breaking up the banks the 1912 Socialist Party platform upon which Debs ran—and won six percent of the vote—clearly demanded,

“The collective ownership and democratic management of the banking and currency system.”

The fundamental mission of collective ownership of the financial sector would be far different than present capitalist institutions. This is particularly true today for public sector finance. Just the interest payments on the Federal “national debt” are projected to be 126 billion dollars in 2016. Puerto Rico is in loan default. New York City has still not paid off the debt they incurred to finance their 1953 acquisition of the BMT and IRT private subways.

The current austerity and privatization demands by bankers globally have also sharply curtailed even maintenance of essential infrastructure in the world’s biggest economy. Illinois postponed such cuts for a while by robbing public worker pension funds—and now is demanding big cuts in pension benefits as well as infrastructure. In Flint, Michigan a penny-pinching administrator imposed by the Governor created a huge environmental and public health crisis as the city’s newly acquired water source proved to be so corrosive that it rusted machinery and leeched lead in to drinking water. The list of such outrages is still growing.

Public ownership and democratic control of finance would put a stop to transferring wealth from the workers and farmers to the cavernous pockets of the ruling rich. Government services and the social safety net could be restored and improved. And new projects vitally needed for the good of society could be advanced.

Image result for Public Ownership of Banks

To meet the challenge of climate change we need to soon drastically restructure what we produce, what we consume, our housing, our transportation—and the fuel sources that provide our energy. Some industries will have to be shut down while others will need to be converted or expanded to become ecologically sustainable. And because we won’t leave any worker behind, we will have to provide a Just Transition of uninterrupted income and needed retraining as workers losing old jobs prepare for shifting to the millions of new jobs that will need to be filled.

The dollar sums required just for start-up costs of this transformation are “astronomical.” We can acquire what’s needed by reclaiming some of the ill-gotten gains of those who cause and profit from climate wrecking. To organize the investment in a planned, climate friendly economy we need a socially owned, and democratically run financial sector.

That new mission for finance is what I would expect to hear from a socialist admirer of Debs running for the highest office in the land—not the “break up” of banks that would be no more beneficial for the working class majority than was the breaking up of Standard Oil or Ma Bell’s telephone monopoly.

I will grant that Bernie has demonstrated some financial expertise—he raised nearly as much in campaign funds in the last quarter of 2015 as his major favored opponent who is correctly identified as a friend of Wall Street. But somehow that’s just not enough to lure me to cross the class line to vote for him.

The one positive unintended consequence of the Bernie campaign is that it demonstrates that it’s not just Trump fans who are eagerly looking for an alternative to Establishment politics. Millions of young people are attracted to a Senator even older than I, who for decades has caucused with the Democrats in both houses of Congress–but speaks as a socialist advocating political revolution.

And he has excited many good veteran union people as well–including some who once played an honorable role in the now comatose Labor Party. Among their number are some who consider themselves socialists and communists.

I don’t question the motives of those I respect who have put together the impressive Labor for Bernie support group—only their judgment. We’ve seen this movie before: McCarthy’s antiwar campaign in 1968, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow effort in 1988. The political revolution that has aroused Labor for Bernie will end no later than the Democrat convention. Socialist Bernie is pledged to support the nominee of his adopted capitalist party—and it’s not going to be Bernie. The Democrats will successfully capture many of those who sought to capture them. For others today’s enthusiasm will collapse in to a return to disaffection.

And that you can take to the bank.

In Brief…
* Tomorrow, Monday 1/11, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. It is an attempt by anti-union forces behind several California teachers to essentially reverse a principle once upheld by the Court: allowing public sector unions to assess nonmembers representation—or fair share-fees–in lieu of dues. The hook used by boss stooges this time is that compulsory support of a union violates government worker First Amendment free speech. The same Justice who recently said that it was okay for the government to say this country is a Christian nation has in the past expressed support for Friedrichs’ twisted concept of free loading on the backs of the union majority is protected in the Bill of Rights. A loss by the CTA would be a severe financial blow to all public sector unions.
* From a statement by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka–”The AFL-CIO has consistently urged the Obama administration to designate those fleeing violence in Central America as “refugees,” and to honor its legal commitments to ensure that individuals who are eligible for protective status will not be returned to danger. Instead, the shameful response of our government has been to erode due process protections by expediting legal proceedings and to lock families in remote detention facilities with little access to counsel. Now, in an inexcusable escalation and without any transparency, the Department of Homeland Security has begun conducting armed home raids in order to deport vulnerable women and children back to some of the most dangerous countries in the world. These devastating and disgraceful raids have instilled fear in communities around the country, tearing hundreds of families apart and causing already traumatized parents to stay home from work and keep their children home from school. The AFL-CIO and our affiliates will work with faith and grassroots partners to ensure that members of our communities who are seeking refuge will not be deported back into harm’s way. Whether that means providing support for rapid response efforts, helping to ensure that communities are organized against deportations, or identifying places of sanctuary including our union halls, the labor movement will stand strong with Central American refugees until we see an end to these raids and a real commitment to ensuring full and fair legal proceedings.”

That’s all for this week.

Registration is now open for the 2016 Labor Notes Conference

The WIR is available by RSS

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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