Week In Review February 28

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Feb 282016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

We Need More Than a Bernie
The raucous Questions for the Prime Minister in the British House of Commons televised on C-SPAN look like scholarly civil discourse in comparison to the so-called “debates” that have winnowed the field of Republican presidential hopefuls. The now ignored one time front runner Dr Ben Carson politely asked if someone could please insult him. As those still standing dwindles, differences center on who sweats the most, who may have a bladder control problem. Some ad libs had to be bleeped to protect the ears of any innocent children who might be within hearing.

Unfortunately, this is not another foul-mouthed stand-up comic competition so rife on cable television. All this shooting from below the hip is a dress rehearsal for making America Great Again.

Those most disturbed by bullies competing for the bully pulpit are not the radicals and liberals but the majority of the ruling class elite. They see the once preferred of their two parties becoming a raging rogue elephant. The Saturday New York Times has a good process story about how even the Koch brothers aren’t up to either taming or stopping Trump.

It appears the presidential election is the Democrats’ to lose—as well they may. The big majority reject the bigoted bluster of Trump but his base is sure to vote. Over the past few years, polls have shown American working people have lost faith in the traditional two parties and would like to see a new party. But so far we have only seen polarization of the right and “left” in the old ones. The Democrats need to convince the working class majority to turn out for them.

This degeneration of stable two party political rule is what opened the door for the Political Revolution of the Senator known as Bernie. The few popular reforms he advocates—single-payer health care, 15 dollar minimum wage, free public college education–were won decades ago in most other industrialized countries where there are mass workers parties–but they are fresh and inspiring to young American students and workers. The youthful, vibrant pinkish tinge of Bernie’s campaign is a sharp contrast to the beige, aging New Democrat moderates of the Clinton family era.

Bernie’s palpable appeal also explains why the boss controlled mass media, who long sought to make even Liberal a dirty word, is now remarkably tolerant of a socialist interloper in the presently governing ruling class party. Their embrace is not warm but it is symbiotic. They can’t stop Trump without Bernie’s followers. Bernie is trusted to live up to his pledge to work to unite the party behind who ever is nominated. Since that nominee will likely be Hillary Clinton it remains to be seen whether he can deliver.

Undoubtedly, Hillary Clinton, who has so far picked up the most union endorsements, would extend her put-down of single-payer as pie-in-the-sky to the other reforms of Political Revolution. She stresses that she played a major role in shaping policies of the Bill Clinton administration. That’s when we got NAFTA, Three Strikes sentencing of the poor, and the End of Welfare As We Know It. As a Senator she praised Bush II’s launch of the Iraq war. As Secretary of State she backed Israel’s brutal repression in Gaza and the West Bank, sold the policy leading to a failed state in Libya, and tried to advance the Keystone XL pipeline. Like most “friends of labor” her allegiance is to Wall Street where she is often paid to speak and listen. She will be a bitter pill for Bernie’s followers to swallow.

In any case, the election will mark the definitive end to the Revolution. The Revolutionaries that stick it out that far will be commanded to stand down until the next election cycle. Even if the Democrats win with Bernie’s help it will be a demoralizing experience for many who felt the Bern.

Instead of Bernie’s one man crusade to influence and elect the party of our class enemy we need not only a new party—we need a new type of party. One that will recover our stolen class identity. One that is democratically controlled, with office holders responsible to those who worked to elect them, not vice versa. One that is more than just an electoral machine but is above all part and parcel of ongoing working class struggles in the workplace, in the communities, on the campuses, and in the streets. One that can also pave the way for replacing the pro-boss Establishment with an elected working class government.

I once was a member of such a party. I was part of an exploratory group called Labor Party Advocates initiated by the late Tony Mazzocchi of the old Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers that, after determining there was substantial interest within the union movement, called a Labor Party Founding Convention in Cleveland in June, 1996. 1400 mainly union leaders and activists showed up to hammer out a program and structure. While it could use some updating and expansion after twenty years I believe the Call for Economic Justice still stands the test of time.

Jeremy Corbyn, a left socialist elected last year as leader of the British Labor Party after the crushing electoral defeat on the watch of “New Labor” leaders still mimicking Bill Clinton, was an enthusiastic observer at the Cleveland convention. Labor Beat recently released a 25-minute video, Jeremy Corbyn In America featuring interviews and a moving speech in Cleveland.

1400 attended a second convention two years later in Pittsburgh. The gathering registered significant growth in both union affiliations and community chapters that were open to the unorganized, unemployed, and retired. There were now thousands of individual dues paying members and a quality party newspaper. That convention launched a Just Healthcare campaign for an advanced single-payer plan and adopted an Electoral Policy.

We were feeling wind in our sails leaving Pittsburgh but important set backs were soon to come. In a period of merger mania, two key affiliates—the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers, and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees [rail] were absorbed by bigger unions hostile to the Labor Party project. Membership losses in the United Mine Workers and United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers forced them to cut their financial and staff support—and many local union affiliates disappeared through plant closings. And, after Bush stole the 2000 election from Gore, most union officials were wary of “spoiler” campaigns and tried to forgive and forget their complaints about the Democrats.

Dedicated leaders and ranks continued to do some good work with diminishing resources for more than a decade including collecting thousands of signatures to establish official recognition and ballot access for the South Carolina Labor Party. But eventually the lack of union material support led to a desperate and destitute situation. Reluctantly, the Labor Party was put in a sort of medically induced coma.

It was a necessary step. You can’t have a real labor party without labor backing. But it was taken at a time of growing attacks on workers that required a political response. Some of us argued for reviving the party’s precursor formation—Labor Party Advocates–but that approach has been taken on a modest scale in only a few local areas.

Over the last three or four years we have seen some resurgence in worker political action outside the Establishment institutions. Most inspiring has been the election—and reelection—of a socialist to the Seattle City Council. Kshama Sawant won because of respect she earned in local mass movements—especially the fight for a 15 dollar municipal minimum wage. Her presence on the City Council helped drive that big boost in wages for the working poor in Seattle—an example that inspired similar victories in dozens of other cities and even states.

Kshama and her small Socialist Alternative Party are constantly involved every day in worker struggles—not just at election time. She has won significant support from the local union movement. I don’t believe this is some curious local anomaly. Neither did Bernie Sanders.

Bernie has skillfully tapped in to this new political awakening of workers and students. But Bernie is trying to shape it in to a support movement for his political advancement—diverting it back in to the perfidious Democrats.

In my opinion, it is high time to revive the movement for a labor party. We won’t be able to build a credible labor party before the election this November. But, if we do nothing—or worse support the Democrats—we will never have the desperately needed party of our own.

We should begin with modest efforts to revive Labor Party Advocates to educate, agitate, and organize in our only class based mass organizations—our unions. But we also should reach out to those other forces in motion against our common class enemy in the mass movements that have emerged among low wage workers, socially conscious students, Black Lives Matter, immigrant rights defenders, womens’ right to choose, LGBT equality—and those awakening to the urgency of the climate change crisis.

Yes, we need a lot more than a Bernie.

That’s all for this week.
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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.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Week In Review February 21

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Feb 212016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Boots (and Skechers) On the Ground
¶ In Madison, tens of thousands trudged through snow cover to the Wisconsin state Capitol and as many as could fit went inside to pack the multi-level rotunda. The scenes—absent from national network news—recalled the month long occupation of that building, accompanied by weekly mass marches five years ago. Then the issue was gutting public sector labor laws. Thursday’s action was billed Dia sin Latinos–A Day Without Latinos–that included the closing of nearly all Latino operated businesses around Wisconsin. It was a protest against two new attacks on immigrant workers. Many non-Latino students and trade unionists joined in solidarity.

¶ The Polar Vortex failed to cool down class struggle in the Twin Cities. On the St Paul side on Wednesday, Workday Minnesota reported, “Parents, students and community members rallied with members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers outside school buildings across the city Wednesday morning, demanding progress in contract talks between SPFT and the St. Paul Public Schools….Wearing hats and scarves in SPFT’s signature red, participants chanted and carried signs expressing support for the teachers’ bargaining priorities, including measures to improve school climate, reduce class sizes and beef up staffing among school nurses, librarians, social workers and other support positions.”

¶ On the same day, in Minneapolis as well as St Paul, 4,000 SEIU janitors launched a series of rolling brief unfair labor practice strikes beginning at MSP Airport and concluding with a mass rally at US Bank Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. They were joined by many unorganized retail cleaners who had just recovered over 400,000 dollars in stolen wages through a class action lawsuit. On Thursday, janitors and supporters blocked downtown rush hour traffic with an impromptu march. The SEIU janitors, who have been working without a renewed contract since last October, are seeking improved wages—including a 15 dollar floor—better working conditions, and adequate benefits. Negotiations resume Monday, February 22.

¶ Also on Thursday, 15 Now brought a lot of folks to Oregon’s state Capitol in Salem to protest a bipartisan deal to water down a new state minimum wage while denying cities the right to set a higher one. They also supported relief from soaring housing costs. They began protests at the Governor’s office but she declined to meet them. From there they moved to disrupt a session of the state House taking up S1532 that establishes a phased in tiered minimum wage with different rates for Portland and smaller towns. State troopers were called to the scene but made no arrests. After making their point with the lawmakers, the protesters joined others in a public outdoor rally.

Such a convergence of uncoordinated big, lively worker actions would be unusual anytime. They are particularly rare in an election year when most movement leaders subordinate everything to hustling votes for Democrat “friends.” They’re another example of the restlessness of workers eager to fight back against attacks by bosses and government. This is good news for our side—not so much for perfidious “friends.”

Red Flag Raised In Kansas City
Most television meteorologists step outside before their weather forecast. I’m not a certified ologist of any kind but I often comment on the prognosis of climate scientists and I think it prudent to look in my own backyard for any hints of local verification of their global predictions.

Unfortunately, the Red Flag lead doesn’t refer to the traditional scarlet banner of worker struggle. It was a weather service warning of extreme fire danger from strong winds gusting to 50mph, near record high temperatures, very low humidity–and tinder dry vegetation. Its wisdom was soon confirmed as a spark from a mowing machine on Bureau of Prisons land ignited a grass fire that consumed a thousand acres before being brought under control.

If this had happened later in Spring or Summer it wouldn’t rate a mention in the WIR. Even the temporary fire danger by itself could pass as an anomaly more curious than alarming. Except for the ban on outdoor grilling, Kansas City residents mostly welcomed May-like weather before baseball’s first exhibition training games in Arizona and Florida.

But over the past several years “anomalies” have become more common. The high temperature in KC Thursday was 76F—32 degrees above normal, tying the record for the date. It was 74 on Friday and 75 on Saturday–a new record for February 20, breaking the previous high set just five years ago.

Only twice this season have we seen snowfall of as much as an inch. The principal plant producing road de-icer for the region, with a mountain of inventory, closed for the season two weeks ago—the earliest in memory.

Meanwhile, most of the country to the north and east of us were coping with opposite extremes–blizzards and/or sub-zero temperatures, along with a knockdown punch of gale force winds in the Chicago Loop Friday. To the south of us tornadoes and flash floods claimed lives.

None of these individual incidents can be conclusively linked to anything but fickle weather. But while there is no smoking gun evidence there’s too many deviations from the norm to ignore. Something different is happening. The old weather patterns are no longer reliable. Our climate is beginning to change—becoming unstable. This is consistent with what climate scientists have long predicted will mark the early stages of climate change.

Science has also determined this is not a natural cycle beyond our control. It is driven by global warming created by accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, in the upper atmosphere. They are mostly produced by the burning of fossil fuels—coal, oil, natural gas.

But industrial negligence often contribute significant amounts. This past week a leak at a SoCal Gas corroded line in the Los Angeles area, that had been spewing thousands of tons of methane every week since October, was finally plugged.

Cutting or burning of old growth forests re-releases carbon dioxide they had absorbed.

Melting PermaFrost in the Arctic regions creates another feed-back loop of massive methane release.

Climate scientists can confidently project the impact of this greenhouse effect on the human biosphere in various scenarios—and depending on levels of timely, effective response already late in the game, they range from grim to collapse. But you don’t need a computer model to measure the volume of these gases, shown by these charts that can be viewed more clearly here.

The biggest climate action network, 350.org, took their numeric name about ten years ago from a goal of limiting concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million. 350 was a red line that once crossed would lead to irreversible unwelcome changes in climate. The carbon escalator only goes up. It hangs around for centuries. As the charts reveal, current CO2 concentrations are at 403ppm—and all greenhouse emissions are still rising.

Last week the Pacific archipelago nation of Fiji became the first country to formally ratify the Accord adopted at the Paris climate summit last December. Climate change has long been a concern of theirs because rising sea levels caused by warming threaten them with submersion. On top of that, later last week they got hit with a storm, unprecedented for them in destructive force, with 180mph winds flattening most structures serving tourists.

The obstructionist party controlling Congress is in a full court press (including the Supreme Court) against the meager commitments President Obama made in Paris. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blustered, “The President made promises he can’t keep, and wrote checks that can’t be cashed.”

Those who deny the cause and effect of climate change are either ignorant because of flawed teaching and outright lies in schools and the media—or malevolent frauds fronting for those who reap profits from a fossil fuel dependent global economy. Both are dangerous. We need to educate the ignorant, mobilize the aware–and remove the greedy from power. The workers’ red flag should be raised high–not just as a warning but as a promise of hope for humanity.

Oh, Henry
Regular readers know I’ve had a lot of good things to say about the Service Employees International Union since Mary Kay Henry replaced the rotten regime of Andy Stern. SEIU has been out front on climate issues and immigrant rights. And their commitment of major resources to the Fight for 15 and a Union—beginning with Fast Food workers and now extending to other low wage workers—is exemplary.

But I’m sad to say that when it comes to Democrat politics sister Henry doesn’t seem much different than Chairman Andy. It was bad enough when she rushed to endorse Hillary Clinton last November without any consultation with leaders, much less the ranks, of the union. Even more disturbing is her union’s outright lying to their members and other unionists in the contest with Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses to select delegates for the Democrat nominating convention. Annie Karn wrote in Politico.

“Ahead of Nevada’s Democratic caucuses, the Service Employees International Union is distributing literature to members touting Hillary Clinton’s support for a $15 hourly wage for workers. But Clinton, who won SEIU’s endorsement in November, has not actually endorsed a federal $15 minimum wage. Clinton has said since the beginning of her campaign that she backs a federal minimum wage of $12 an hour. ‘Hillary Clinton supports our fight for $15 and a union,’ read the SEIU fliers, which were distributed in English and Spanish.”

Just a week before the caucuses Clinton had again said, “As president, I will work to raise the federal minimum wage back to the highest level it’s ever been — $12 an hour in today’s dollars”

When questioned by Politico about this patent inaccuracy in the union’s literature SEIU’s Nevada state director Brian Shepherd replied, “The fight for $15 is about creating a movement of people to talk about the inequality in America. That’s been the focus of the fight for $15.”

I tend to think most low wage workers who have been striking and demonstrating for 15 and a Union were expecting more than striking up a conversation about inequality. My guess is that they want at least fifteen dollars an hour for all workers. Bernie Sanders supports a Federal minimum of 15—Hillary Clinton backs 12. That’s why SEIU members were tricked in to ringing doorbells, and making phone calls to promote a big fat lie about their candidate.

I don’t Feel the Bern but I do feel disgust with the dirty tricks employed by SEIU leaders against not only Bernie–but the union’s rank and file.

As my fingers stiffen and your eyes grow weary I’ve decided to defer the promised ideas about political options for workers until next time.

That’s all for his 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