Week In Review May 30

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May 302016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Back on Duty

As long as I suppress my first encounter with air travel in five years, our vacation was just what the doctor ordered. With the help of my partner’s patience with both me and the dysfunctional airline industry, I endured the long security lines and cramped seating so we could celebrate the 75th birthday of our Seattle friend Joan Sandler. Joan is an accomplished strings musician, vice-president of AFM Local 76-493 and also involved in the lively broader labor and other social movements in her city. Dozens from as far away as North Carolina showed up for her party.

This big event was organized by the family of Joan’s long time companion, and now legal spouse, Rita Shaw. Through our connections in the Labor Party and socialist movements Rita and I go way back and it was through her that I came to know Joan. I got reacquainted with some old-timers I hadn’t seen in many years and met some Next Gens for the first time.

While we were in Seattle, we found time to visit with Mary’s cousins and peruse Pike Place Market. The local paper reported on civil disobedience by climate activists that shut down oil refineries and there was a major action by Black Lives Matter—but I remembered I should avoid arrest while on vacation.

It’s beneficial to have a break like this once in a while but—now back to my day job, already a day late.

A Memorial Day Reminder of Indescribable Injustice

On the Coal Tattoo, there’s a video slideshow remembrance of the 29 miners killed by corporate greed at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia April 5, 2010.

Can the Unthinkable Happen Again?

My wife, Mary Erio, does a monthly Safety First feature on the Heartland Labor Forum radio show. After Thursday’s show, volunteers gathered for one of their occasional social get-togethers and I accompanied Mary as her guest. I’ve known the host, Michael Savwoir, even longer than I’ve known Mary. We were Kansas City delegates to the Labor Party Founding Convention twenty years ago. Now a retired UPS driver, Michael is still a national co-chair of Teamsters for a Democratic Union as well as a faithful radio volunteer. He’s also a super-fan of Michael Moore and treated us to a viewing of Moore’s latest, Where to Invade Next.

If you haven’t seen it I won’t spoil what one critic described as “Funny—but also as serious as a heart attack.” But I will disclose that he visited a number of countries with working class benefits, living standards and culture far superior to those in the wealthiest country in human history. Most of these advantages were secured by mass socialist or labor parties. One of the most impressive examples documented by Moore was France—now under attack.

In commentary about the Bernie Sanders campaign the WIR has noted there are many varieties of those calling themselves socialists. No where is this more apparent than France. Since World War II the same mainstream Socialist Party that established so many pro-worker reforms was also often in charge of bloody, and ultimately futile attempts to hang on to the French colonial empire in Madagascar, Vietnam, Algeria and, along with the British and Israelis, Egypt’s Suez Canal. Today they are involved in numerous military interventions in other people’s countries in Africa and the Middle East while they also face big battles with a domestic enemy—and I’m not talking about ISIL terrorists residing in France.

The atrocities committed by jihadist bombers in Paris last year were used by the Hollande government as an excuse for undemocratic emergency powers that have targeted the main enemy—the French working class. Recently, Hollande used an obscure constitutional provision he had often denounced while in opposition, to ram through long threatened “labor reforms” that scuttle hard won job security laws, end national industry wide wage rates and working conditions, and gives short-shrift to the 35 hour work week.

The response of the French workers—so often slandered as lazy by multinational corporations–was swift, massive and is ongoing. Hundreds of thousands have gone on strike and demonstrated in the streets. All of the country’s oil refineries were shut down and they were joined by much of the public electricity provider EDF. Airport workers will join in this week and unions are calling for unlimited strikes in rail and transit. June 14 has been designated as a national day of strikes.

Some of these protests spilled over in to Belgium where 60,000 marched in Brussels against schemes under discussion for similar “reforms” to be implemented throughout the European Community. Some socialist and syndicalist activists in the streets distinguished themselves from the neoliberal faux socialists by displaying the slogan “Kill Capitalism.”

Clearly, these are more than the symbolic one day protests that are routine bargaining chips in negotiations over government policies. Nothing has been seen on this level since May-June 1968 when France was on the verge of a socialist revolution. Like 1968, university students—the youth who are told they will benefit from the “reforms”–are playing a prominent role along side the workers.

The 1968 upsurge was defused by the Socialist and Communist parties who negotiated additional reforms from the deGaulle regime. Today it’s the Socialists in power and as yet they show no inclination to negotiate. I’m not predicting the present struggles will progress to the1968 stage that so inspired me in my youth. Their final destination is yet to be determined. But as the activist intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre said in ’68–”What’s important is that the action took place, when everybody believed it to be unthinkable. If it took place this time, it can happen again.”

The Truth Is Still Rather Inconvenient

It’s now been ten years since former Vice-President Al Gore released the film An Inconvenient Truth that, for the first time in the USA, stimulated wide public discussion about climate change. For this popular explanation of basic climate science Gore deserves some recognition. But he offered little useful guidance about what needs to be done to tackle this overarching crisis.

A decade after the milestone film, and six months after the adoption of the “historic” Paris climate treaty, Bob Berwyn writes in Inside Climate News,

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not just rising, it’s accelerating, and another potent greenhouse gas, methane showed a big spike last year, according to the latest annual greenhouse gas index released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. CO2 emissions totaled between 35 and 40 billion tons in 2015, according to several agencies. Some of that is absorbed by forests and oceans, but those natural systems are being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new CO2. As a result, the inventory shows, the average global concentration increased to 399 parts per million in 2015, a record jump of almost 3 ppm from the year before. Methane levels jumped 11 parts per billion from 2014 to 2015, nearly double the rate they were increasing from 2007 to 2013. Methane, and other greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide and tropospheric ozone, are measured in parts per billion because the concentrations are lower.”

Considering there has been an economic slowdown in China, marginal growth in solar and wind power in a number of countries, and near record transit and Amtrak ridership in the USA, these trends are particularly disturbing.

The sharp increase in methane is driven by two developments—release of some long buried methane as Arctic PermaFrost melts; and especially the growth of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in extraction of both oil and natural gas.

Along with price wars initiated by the Saudis, the new abundance of cheaper oil and gas has led to a revival in road and air travel. And seven years after the Obama administration’s Cash for Clunkers program to stimulate demand for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles the most popular model in the USA is still the Ford 150 pickup truck, closely followed by other trucks, SUVs, and vans. There are about one million plug-in electric vehicles in service throughout the world. There are more fossil-hogs than that sold every month in the USA. Patently, the numerous meager market measures calculated to reduce emissions have been total failures.

The already anointed presidential nominee of the official opposition boss party recently rolled out his energy/environmental policy. Donald Trump has promised to make American coal great again; will approve the Keystone XL pipeline; and will promote drilling and fracking everywhere. He has even made the amazing claim that despite little rain or snow for four years there is no drought in California. Trump sees water conservation as a tree-hugger conspiracy to send fresh water in to the sea to save some three inch fish. He has pledged to divert all the water that the parched giant corporate farms in the Central Valley need from the Sacramento River—an environmental nightmare.

Trump is not stupid. His cynical message is crafted for workers and farmers who feel threatened by change and want to believe the billionaire con-artist can return America to a mythical greatness. More seriously, Trump hopes to convince the vulnerable energy capitalists that his reality TV shtick can make him their savior.

Early on, Trump could have been laughed off the stage—but not any more. Even as they parse every outrageous and bigoted ad lib coming from his king-size mouth the liberal media promote Trump’s credibility as the possible next leader of the “Free World.” They calculate such an obnoxious foe will motivate the majority to come out on election day to support an unpopular lesser evil Hillary Clinton. Which ever way that plays out our side—and the future of our planet—will lose.

Next time I will deal with a couple of alternative options. One is an article by Jeremy Brecher on the Labor Network for Sustainability site, the other a much longer, more comprehensive look at inter-related crises in the world by Naomi Klein in the London Review of Books. That’s your optional homework.

In Brief…

* As you have undoubtedly heard, an “agreement in principle,” brokered by the Secretary of Labor, has ended the strike by 39,000 CWA and IBEW workers at Verizon. As I write, few details have been released other than some job guarantees and a first contract for a few wireless retail stores.

* In an unusual move, the Service Employees International Union has invited Fast Food workers who have been battling for 15 Dollars an Hour and a Union to become SEIU members even though the union doesn’t yet have certified bargaining rights. These new members will not be required to pay dues until they have secured union contracts. SEIU has been a major backer of these struggles—and those of many other low wage workers. This organizational innovation is promoted as a way for the workers to have greater participation in planning strategy and tactics.

* Of course, McDonald’s is the biggest Fast Food employer. At least a couple of thousand Fast Food workers and supporters rallied in torrential rain outside a McDonald’s shareholders meeting in suburban Chicago earlier this past week. Inside, Ed Rensi, who had been the company’s CEO in the 1990s, fired a warning shot via Fox Business News, “…it’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who’s inefficient making $15 an hour bagging french fries.”

Ken Loach with his producer Rebecca O’Brien and jury president George Miller as I, Daniel Blake wins in Cannes.

* Congratulations to the veteran British socialist film maker Ken Loach for winning the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The film, I, Daniel Blake, centers on the struggles of an aging widower to survive the Tory version of the welfare state. One reviewer said, “ There are shades of Dickens and Orwell in this emphatic drama about a disabled man strangled by the red tape of the benefits system” giving it four stars.


* This Thursday, June 2, the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul will mark their second anniversary. In a message to co-founder Peter Rachleff I said, “Your project is a wonderful best example of a rebirth of working class education and culture on the community level that hopefully will inspire emulation as well as praise.” The event will run from 5 to 8PM. If you are in the Twin Cities I suggest you drop by.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review May 10

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May 102016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Red Caps Under Hazy Skies

Last Thursday, was Stand Up to Verizon Day. There were solidarity picket lines and rallies at Verizon retail stores across the country in support of 39,000 CWA and IBEW workers on strike in eastern states from Massachusetts to Virginia. I arranged for my my long-time friend and fellow retired bus driver, Tony Saper to give me a ride to the Kansas City action at a revamped shopping center called Blue Ridge Crossing.

It was a bright sunny day with nary a cloud as I waited for Tony—but with a high, milky haze. The local weatherpersons had explained the haze was actually smoke from a mammoth forest fire nearly two thousand miles away in Alberta, Canada—more about that another time.

Considering that there are no actual strikers in the Kansas City area, and it was scheduled at 11AM on a weekday, there was a respectable turnout for the Verizon action. A few dozen of us had no trouble covering all the frontage of the store and for about an hour no one entered or left. We made quite a bit of noise and union bus and truck drivers saluted us with their horns. We got the attention of the local Fox channel—but saw neither hide nor hair of KC’s Finest or even Mall Security.

Such demonstrations help maintain striker morale. Photos and video were taken for posting on the strike website to show them the breadth of support they enjoy across the country. Besides a big contingent of CWA folks there were delegations from the UAW Local at the Ford Claycomo plant, SEIU janitors, Jobs with Justice activists, some faith-based groups, and three of us from the ATU.

All in all, it was a worthwhile action. Undoubtedly there will be more such Verizon Days if, as likely, the strike is prolonged. The strikers deserve no less than an hour or two of our time once in a while.

However, while it was worthy there was nothing remarkable to distinguish it from hundreds of similar routine actions I’ve been to over the years. But informal discussions with CWA members before and after the demonstration were a different matter. They provided additional anecdotal evidence of some big shifts in mood and perspective among American workers today.

Jobs with Justice had asked those coming to the Verizon event to wear red. Tony and I opted for bright red baseball caps with “Labor Party” and a union bug emblazoned in white. If we had been accompanied by more hands we would have brought along the Labor Party banner we generally display at solidarity actions.

As we arrived at the Crossing a bit early, our head gear proved to be a good conversation starter with the CWA stalwarts already there with signs to distribute. Larry Cohen, past president of CWA, heads Labor for Bernie, and has written a strategy piece entitled 3 Next Steps in the Political Revolution. Along with the Amalgamated Transit Union to which Tony and I still belong, CWA is one of those unions very actively supporting the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders–and the lads we met genuinely Feel the Bern. They were curious about this Labor Party that they had never heard of and wanted to know what we thought of Bernie. Some readers may have similar questions.

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for discussion before and after the event that brought us together. We told them we agreed with many of the issues raised by Bernie such as single-payer health care, free public college education, and a 15 dollar minimum wage. Enhanced versions of those proposals were part of the comprehensive Program adopted by the 1400 delegates attending the 1996 Founding Convention of the Labor Party.

But Bernie’s strategy of winning such needed substantial reforms through the Democrats was for us a deal-breaker. Many before him have sought to capture this Establishment party only to find themselves in solitary confinement. Tony and I are old enough to have experienced the popular antiwar crusade of Senator Eugene McCarthy in 1968—losing to hawkish Vice-President Humphrey who in turn went on to a humiliating loss to Richard Nixon. Another “peace candidate” George McGovern actually won the Democrat nomination in 1972—but was abandoned by the party apparatus and even most unions, handing Nixon a lop-sided reelection victory. Rev Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow campaign in 1988 attracted a lot of support. But at the end of the day Jackson settled for recognition at the convention that the party needed “two wings to fly.” Bush I needed only one wing and won that election.

That was about as far as we could get in the parking lot before we all had to go somewhere else. Names and e-mail addresses were exchanged and hopefully these discussions can be continued. It’s unlikely future historians will determine that these encounters at Blue Ridge Crossing marked a historic turning point for American workers. I’ve devoted this diversion from the main topic of Verizon as additional anecdotal evidence that many workers are beginning to question not only the greedy economic injustice of a particular employer but are also starting to reclaim their stolen class identity.


Three years ago, a declared socialist was elected to the Seattle City Council and Kshama Sawant has since been reelected. A lot of pundits dismissed this as an example that “all politics is local,” and that Seattle is unique. But in this far from traditional national contest for selecting presidential nominees it was a candidate who described himself as a “democratic socialist” who drew the biggest crowds at rallies—and at times raised more money than his Establishment opponent.

Of course, there are nearly as many varieties of socialists as there are competing Christian, Islamic, or Jewish sects. While seldom mimicking crusades or jihad, the differences among socialists are not unimportant–though they tend to get magnified during periods of isolation.

I’m a much different kind of socialist than Bernie Sanders. But I recognize that his campaign has revealed that there are millions in the USA today who are open to socialist options—something we haven’t seen in this country for generations. We’re not on the verge of revolution, political or otherwise. But we have a precious opening that we can’t afford to squander.

The trademark Political Revolution of the Sanders campaign has a shelf life that will expire in a couple of months. Unless some scandal bigger than an e-mail server knocks out Hillary Clinton, Bernie will not be the choice of the bosses’ donkeys. Some will follow Bernie in holding their nose to vote for a second Clinton as a lesser evil than Trump. Others will cast a protest vote for the Greens. Still others will rest their posteriors on election day.

If you think those alternatives don’t seem to be a whole lot better than past elections—don’t feel lonesome. This is not a year for the working class to win, place, or show in national elections. To do that we need a party of our own.

There are some conferences and union conventions between now and the election where there needs to be discussion—in the corridors if not from the stage–about this need. One of those is the People’s Summit in Chicago June 17-19, with a broad list of endorsers from the labor, climate, and other social movements and a final agenda and speakers list not yet finalized.

I’m a Eugene Debs kind of socialist who believes that we should follow the models of other English-speaking countries by working simultaneously for a broad based working class labor party as well as a socialist movement. The best and most recent effort for a labor party was the one launched twenty years ago—and terminated about five years ago. You can find my assessment, and those of others, of that labor party effort here.

Some of us who went through that Labor Party experience have attempted to maintain some continuity through local Labor Party Advocate groups in Oregon and Arizona as well as Kansas City. We signed up for the duration in the class war but we’re short timers now. We’re in urgent need of fresh reinforcements, if not replacements, in the coming decisive battles on the picket lines, in the streets–and ultimately at the ballot box.

Coming Events

St Louis

The Union at St Louis University Hospital After 3 Years

Jay Coomer, RN, National Nurses United

Thursday, May 19, 6:30PM

Ethical Society 9001 Clayton RD Hanke Room

Sponsored by Missouri for Single-Payer

St Paul

The Immigrant Past and Present of Payne Avenue

May 22 2-4PM

Join labor historians Dave Riehle and Peter Rachleff for a walking tour of Payne Avenue. We will focus on the street’s role as a center of immigrant working-class life, from the Swedes, Italians, and Germans of the 19th century to the Hmong, Mexicans, and Salvadorians of the 21st century. The tour begins on Payne Avenue, across the street from Yarusso Bros Italian Restaurant, and proceeds about 11/2 miles to the East Side Freedom Library, where refreshments and restrooms will be available.

So Far Behind I’m Taking a Break

Normally, the WIR publishes on Sunday—this one is on Tuesday. Usually I respond to e-mail within a few days—some of you have been waiting for a fortnight. Partially this is the result of some extra writing projects on deadline. But also, starting with this past weekend, there’s a long string of events of a more personal nature—a friends’ 40th wedding anniversary, a special birthday celebration for a special person, a high school graduation for a young woman we have known all of her life—to name some. Two of these require travel to other cities.

So I’m biting the bullet and taking some personal time off. I will post news updates on the Labor Advocate blog tomorrow, Wednesday, May 11 with the next posting slated for Monday, May 23. Hopefully refreshed and all caught up, I’ll post the next Week In Review Sunday, May 29.

That’s all for this week.

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