Week In Review June 27

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Jun 272016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Way Out

That’s how the exit signs read in the London Underground, aka Tube, what us Yanks call the Subway. It’s not always clear where you will be once you reach “out.” But, as a visitor who more than once alighted at the wrong station, I can testify you can’t go back the same way.

52 percent of those voting on Brexit—a referendum deciding whether the United Kingdom should stay in or leave the European Union—could hardly wait to shake the dust of the EU from their feet on the Way Out. EU leaders promptly responded by asking them to make their exit brisk—and mind the door so it doesn’t hit you in the backside.

Brexit is making climate and environmental scientists and activists nervous. An article in Inside Climate News quotes one,

It leaves me shocked, disappointed and extremely concerned about the future of environmental protections in the UK,’ James Thornton, the chief executive of ClientEarth, a non-profit environmental law organization with offices in London, Brussels and Warsaw, said in a statement. ‘Many of the laws which my organization uses to ensure that nature and health are protected in Britain were drawn up with the UK’s agreement in Brussels. Now as the UK prepares to go it alone, we have no idea which laws will be retained.’”

Before commenting on developments in other countries I always check what cothinkers on the scene are saying. All of the “hard left” are resolutely opposed to both the British ruling class and the alliance of European rulers in the EU. But they were divided over Brexit. Some hailed it as a major disruption to neoliberal capitalism—patently true–and joined the far right supporting leave.

But the group I know best and most closely identify with—Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Fourth International—had, in my opinion, a more sober assessment of what’s going on while they supported a vote to remain. Here are some excerpts from their initial response to the vote,

The Brexit vote to leave the EU is a victory for the right-wing xenophobes and a disaster for the struggle against austerity in Britain. It is a victory for racism and a mandate to strengthen the borders of Britain against migration. We say that it is a disaster not because we have the slightest illusion in for the EU or its institutions—we regard it as a neo-liberal bosses club. Nor because we have any time whatsoever for the reactionary official ‘remain’ campaign led by [Tory Prime Minister] Cameron, who with his so-called renegotiation set out to worsen the conditions of workers in this country including migrant workers. It is because an exit from the EU at this time and in this way will push the political situation in Britain sharply to the right and weaken the struggle against austerity. It will also be a disaster for every migrant, refugee, and minority in the country….

Jeremy Corbyn [left-wing Labor Party shadow Prime Minister] played a principled role during the referendum campaign – calling for a vote to stay in but with no illusions in the EU or its institutions. His interview on Sky TV News in the final week, for example, was filled with opposition to xenophobia, privatisation and austerity in front of a predominantly young and engaging audience. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made a radical call against austerity and racism at a large ‘Another Europe is Possible’ rally in London…

If Labour is to win an election, likely to come at the end of the year, against a Tory Party led by a newly invigorated and right-moving Boris Johnson-Michael Gove leadership with a manifesto to curb immigration and claiming the authority of the referendum, it can only do so with a radical left programme that opposes austerity in all its forms and supports the right of migrants and all workers. If Corbyn is prepared to fight on such a platform, which we expect he would, the left should get fully behind him.”

This seems a sensible approach to me.

A Better Europe Is Possible” is a variation of a slogan once popularized by European socialists—For a Socialist United States of Europe. The European Union is certainly not that and it is structured to ensure it never will become that. Similar obstacles are incorporated in the “checks and balances” of the Federal government in the USA. Eliminating those roadblocks to allow the working class majority to govern in our interests will require a political and social revolution more thorough-going then the one led by democratic socialist Senator Sanders.

But let’s consider a scenario only marginally more far-fetched than Brexit. What if a right-wing racist, xenophobic, LGBT-bashing, anti-union state government—like North Carolina for example—moved to exit the USA? That certainly would disrupt the bosses’ rule. Would we then support it? Ignore it?

I think not. Just as the American followers of Karl Marx rallied around the first Republican President against secession of North Carolina and other slave holding states 155 years ago, we would fight their exit today from the protections of the Bill of Rights, civil rights legislation, OSHA, EPA, Fair Labor Standards Act, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc, etc.

Of course independence as expression of self-determination by those dominated by other countries is a different matter. The peoples of Scotland and occupied Ireland voted against leaving the EU—but want to exit the UK. I believe we should defend the right to an independent Scotland and a unified Ireland.

It’s hard to predict the depth and tempo of the ramifications of Brexit which will be felt far beyond Her Majesty’s jurisdiction. As a couple of wise Germans once advised groups like Socialist Resistance long ago—we should have no interests separate and apart from those of the working class. If in all countries we stick to this core framework we can figure out the most complicated questions—and ultimately our side will prevail.

What the Revolution Won In St Louis

The Democrat Platform Committee wound up their deliberations early Saturday morning. They absorbed a few demands of Senator Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution but they weren’t singing The Internationale with raised fists at the end. The Associated Press reported,

Democrats approved a draft of the party platform early Saturday that includes steps to break up large Wall Street banks, advocates for a $15 an hour wage and urges the abolition of the death penalty, reflecting the influence of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. Supporters of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton defeated measures pushed by Sanders’ allies that would have promoted a Medicare-for-all single-payer health care system, a carbon tax to address climate change and impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracking.”

Breaking up big banks is hardly part of the “democratic socialist” tradition Bernie claims to embrace. It is a muddle-headed “reform” that aims at size of institutions rather than class control of money. The Socialist Party of Gene Debs—whose icon graces Bernie’s office–called for nationalizing the entire banking system.

The 15 dollar demand is two bucks more than the presumptive nominee favored—and 4.90 more than the President proposed. The 15 minimum has already been won in a few states and numerous cities—with little support from Democrats. The victories were driven by strikes and demonstrations of low wage workers and 15 Now coalitions through mass pressure on politicians and ballot measures enabled by petitions in working class communities. There’s every indication that these independent efforts will continue even through the election campaign.

Opposition to capital punishment—a worthy reform–has, at times, been in previous platforms. Instead we got harsher sentences from Democrats, such as Three Strikes and Out, introduced by President Bill Clinton—receiving a supportive vote by Bernie.

The ruling class will not feel the least bit threatened by the Donkey Platform now that deal-breakers on health care and climate measures have been abandoned.

Denial In Coal Country

On Thursday, the United Mine Workers of America announced a tentative agreement with the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. Back in the day of John L Lewis, hundreds of thousands were covered by this contract. That was when railroads owned their own mines to keep their steam engines running and most homes, stores, and public buildings were heated by the most abundant fossil fuel. Picks and shovels were the main tools of union miners.

Miners Public Employees Rally

Today it includes only a few mines—all owned by Murray Energy. No details were released but union president Cecil Roberts was honest about its shortcomings—but less frank about the reasons for the decline of the coal industry,

We are pleased that the BCOA and UMWA have reached this very important tentative agreement, which will go a long way in ensuring that Murray American’s UMWA-represented employees are able to continue working, even in this very depressed coal marketplace. Indeed, over the past several years, the United States coal industry has been absolutely destroyed by policies of the Obama Administration and by the increased use of natural gas to generate electricity. Coal markets and prices have generally been cut in half. This tentative agreement provides the BCOA and UMWA with a path forward, even in these extremely difficult times.”

Brother Roberts neglected to mention new technology such as longwall automation and environmentally devastating mountaintop removal, and nonunion mines, introduced by the coal operators to slash labor costs. And most important—he skipped the inconvenient truth that continued burning of coal is now recognized as a major factor in global warming. All these factors led to massive loss of jobs and union members.

Those jobs aren’t coming back—nor should they. To have a shot at stopping climate change before it wrecks our biosphere we need to leave coal—along with oil, natural gas, and bitumen—in the ground. But as we do this for the better good of all we must assume an obligation to leave no coal miner, or their families, or the communities that have depended on coal, behind. We need to offer them not charity–but solidarity.

Coal miners need a Just Transition program to guarantee union wages, along with retraining and relocation help, to get them in to suitable new employment. And we need to guarantee the pension and health care plans for retired miners—in danger of imminent collapse. That’s a vital component of class and climate justice. I hope brother Roberts and the UMWA will come to recognize this is the way forward.


Short-seated SCOTUS deadlocked over a Republican suit challenging President Obama’s executive order delaying deportations—and offering possible work permits, even amnesty–to about five million undocumented workers. Since the GOP had prevailed at the previous level of appeal, the executive order has now been effectively quashed.

Though the White House said they would only actively work to deport immigrants who commit serious crimes, a New York Times article entitled Low-Priority Immigrants Still Swept Up in Net of Deportation cites disturbing examples to the contrary. One was among the many unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Honduras who turned themselves in to the Border Patrol. He had been sent to live with his parents in North Carolina. Now 19, he’s been ordered back to the dangerous land from which he fled.

The President had hoped to leave a legacy of “immigration reform” with the order struck down by the courts. Now he will have to live with a more accurate memory—the most deportations of any administration.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review June 21

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review June 21
Jun 212016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

More Hate Driven Terror

As the first funerals for the victims in Orlando were beginning, a Labor Party Member of Parliament was shot and stabbed in front of her constituency office in a small town in northern England. Horrified witnesses to the murder of Jo Cox reported the assailant shouted “Britain First!”

This manic utterance of Thomas Mair was a first clue to the motive of this shocking crime. Cox, born and bred in Yorkshire–and looking like it–would not be a typical target of racist xenophobes. But she offended the psycho-fascist on two counts.

Cox was a very active campaigner for Stay in Brexit—the highly divisive plebiscite scheduled June 24 on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union. While there are divisions even among the far-left, the Leave campaign has been largely shaped by the anti-immigrant far-right. They utilize the Britain First slogan–and that is also the name adopted by one of its most extreme components.

But this nascent revival of fascism doesn’t limit their hate-mongering to those born elsewhere. There are millions of people of color, some now fourth generation in Britain, who came to the UK from former colonies. One of this demographic group was recently elected Mayor of London on the Labor Party ticket. The Britain Firsters hate Muslim subjects of the Queen even more than the Irish Catholics who have long been able to reside and work in Britain.

Cox was preparing a report to be introduced in Parliament on violent Islamlamophobic attacks–which increased 80 percent last year in Britain. That alone would have made her an apostate and traitor to the crazed fascist gunman.

The shooter, who was soon tackled and arrested by police, had recently been a voluntary some-times resident of a Mental Health Care facility housed in a sixteenth century manor house looking like a scaled down version of Downton Abby. It turns out the Southern Poverty Law Center in the USA knew more about what was driving the assassin than the health professionals–or Britain’s equivalent of Homeland Security for that matter.

The SPLC have documented long-held ties between the murderer and neo-nazi groups in America and South Africa. These included purchase of literature with detailed directions for making bombs–and guns. These were provided by the same group that influenced Timothy McVeigh—the mastermind of the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building that killed 168, including children in a day-care center. There have been reports that the murder weapon appeared home-made. Guns are highly restricted in the UK, possibly leading Mair to DIY. Lack of confidence in his gunsmithing may explain why the assassin also used a knife as well.

Jo Cox had received death threats via “social media.” When she was in London she had protection provided by the Metropolitan Police. But she had no such security in Yorkshire. Only a 74-year old man tried to stop the attacker–and was himself injured. Undoubtedly, the workers movement will start giving more attention to defending our own.

Of course, the best defense against fascist scum is mobilizing class solidarity to defend those like the thousands of victims of race, ethnic, religious, and LGBT violence who seldom get headlines.

I offer this reminder to those in a country that I admire in so many ways knowing its credibility depends on me pursuing the same in my own land. I didn’t choose to be born in the most violent country in the world. Nor was I offered any options to select my skin pigment, gender, or sexual orientation. I’m not ashamed of my luck of the draw but I do renounce any entitlements some who look like me claim at the expense of others who don’t.

We don’t have Free Will to do whatever we want. But we can make meaningful choices in our limited alternatives. Once we understand the class forces at work in our society then we will recognize that as we work to promote the interests of our class as a whole we also advance our own self-interest—and take the moral high road to boot.

An injury to one is still an injury to all.

The Bust Is Still to Come

Last weekend’s People’s Summit that drew about 3,000 participants to McCormick Place in Chicago, was initiated by National Nurses United–and it was an addendum to the NNU national convention. They put together a diverse list of sponsors that included the National Union of Healthcare Workers, and the UE; 350.org and Friends of the Earth; Labor Campaign for Single Payer, Physicians for a National Health Program and Healthcare Now; and left groups such as Democratic Socialists of America, Communist Party, International Socialist Organization, PortSide, and Socialist Alternative.

NNU photo in The Nation

DD Gluttenplan closed a Nation article entitled “There Was No Clear Agenda at the People’s Summit—And That’s a Good Thing” with these inspiring words,

So if I left Chicago without a clear sense of which way the political revolution would be headed after November—still no certainty about what form it would take, or how much of it will survive—I also came away impressed by the creativity, energy, optimism, and willingness to listen of the people I met. We may all have to walk a while past the political graveyard. But we have good company—and plenty of tunes to whistle.”

While The Nation warned us to ignore all the talk about Bernie or Bust, the New York Times took a more balanced if still sanguine approach to various potential deal-breakers,

One of the last remaining questions of the Democratic presidential primary season is how many of the 12 million people who voted for Mr. Sanders will back his opponent, Mrs. Clinton, now that she is the presumptive nominee. And if interviews with about a dozen Sanders supporters who gathered here this weekend are any indication, the ‘Bernie or Bust’ component of his large following will survive past the summer, even if Mr. Sanders eventually endorses Mrs. Clinton.”

One of those interviewed by the Times minced few words,

Ethan Winnett, a 31-year-old from Waukegan, Ill., said that if Senator Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton after his decades as a progressive champion, it would amount to nothing short of ‘a betrayal of all of his principles.’”

But a lot of those in attendance were echoing the slogan of loyal Democrats “vote blue, no matter who.”

In the last WIR we commented on the fight for influencing the Democrat Platform. In his non-concession speech streamed to 200,000 supporters, Bernie urged continuing the political revolution by running progressive candidates in local contests. That seemed to spark a lot of interest among those anxious to have something to support in November.

In 2013, after Kshama Sawant was first elected to the Seattle City Council, her Socialist Alternative Party called for 150 independent labor candidates for Congress in the 2014 election. That was a worthy objective–but not a single union wanted to risk not voting blue.

Since then, even more Seattle unions have backed Kshama, and even some important national unions backed Bernie—at least until he was mathematically eliminated in his pursuit of the Democrat nomination. But Socialist Alternative, and ISO, now seek a “left,” not labor option. It appears that the Green Party meets their minimum left requirements even though they strive to be a multi-class party—and sometimes engage in “tactical voting” for Democrats.

Whether as Democrats, Greens or independents, new candidates at this stage probably won’t be able to get on the ballot. The time periods for petitioning for either primary or general elections have mostly expired. The 2016 political revolution will largely stand moot if not mute.

In his pre-concession speech, Bernie reiterated,

The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly.”

Clearly, neither Greens nor socialists are up to that time-sensitive task. Neither are the Democrats without most of those 12 million Bernie voters turning out for Clinton in November. The political revolution looks more and more like the same old, same old.

The People’s Summit missed a good opportunity for reviving, or at least discussing, the movement for a working class party—a labor party. This wasn’t the last chance. But it would have been better to start preparing while Bernie’s supporters recognize they have some potential power and remain in a fighting mood, rather than the glum prospect of at “best” a second Clinton in the White House.

In Brief…

* The Minnesota affiliate of the NNU are still taking care of bargaining business. Nearly 5,000 nurses are on strike at five Allina Health Hospitals in the Twin Cities. The NNU website describes the issues, “safe patient care staffing, inadequate planning by the hospitals to ensure a safe environment to reduce workplace violence, and hospital demands for cuts in health coverage for nurses and their families.”

* From the Guardian, “May was the 13th month in a row to break temperature records according to figures published this week that are the latest in 2016’s string of incredible climate records which scientists have described as a bombshell and an emergency. The series of smashed global records, particularly the extraordinary heat in February and March, has provoked a stunned reaction from climate scientists, who are warning that climate change has reached unprecedented levels and is no longer only a threat for the future. Alongside the soaring temperatures, other records have tumbled around the world, from vanishing Arctic sea ice to a searing drought in India and the vast bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. The UK has experienced record flooding that has devastated communities across the country and scientists predict that the flash floods seen by parts of the country in recent days will increase in future.”

* The insurance industry essentially wrote the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, but they claim they are losing money. The New York Times reports, “Get ready for big increases in premiums under the Affordable Care Act. A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation examined the most popular individual plans under the new health care law in 14 major cities around the country and found that insurers were asking for increases in 2017 that are twice as big as this year’s. There is wide variation, including some places where rates will go down, but the average requested increase is 10 percent.”

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.