Week In Review June 14

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Jun 142016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Orlando

Though I should have known better, I delayed posting this WIR to respond to the mass murder at a Gay Club in Orlando. Initial reports are always confused and old axes are inevitably brought out for grinding. While truth remains elusive, some things can be said with certainty.

Regardless of any real or vicarious connections of the psychopathic shooter to ISIL, this was a homophobic hate crime.

Both the jihadist terrorists, and many “allies in the war on terror,” such as Saudi Arabia, kill LGBT folks when they can find them. They justify this as a literal interpretation of holy texts shared by all Abrahamic faiths.

Certainly the majority of Christians, Jews, and Muslims don’t condone murdering Gays. But too many pious people in the USA join with the far-right in whipping up bigotry—and attempts to deny basic human and civil rights to the tens of millions of LGBT Americans. To be sure, the intolerant have been losing ground but their hate still encourages the mentally unbalanced to murder—just as other Christian extremists influence those who shoot doctors and bomb clinics “killing babies.”

Some will use Orlando to beat the drums for more effective security measures against terrorists. Others will argue for greater gun control laws. The more tolerant faithful will pray. These have become as routine as they are ineffective after every such outrage.

Whether hate crimes, terrorist acts, drive-by shootings, or road rage—epidemic violence is a symptom of a degenerating society whose history has always been soaked in blood–through slavery, Manifest Destiny accompanied by genocide against the indigenous and a war of conquest against Mexico, and now as a super-power based on ability to destroy most of humanity in a few hours. All of this is glorified in films, television and savage video games.

Donald Trump, nailed by the “social conservative” Mit Romney for peddling “trickle-down racism,” promises to Make America Great Again. Without overt bigotry, Hillary Clinton makes a similar pledge keep America great.

I view my country from a different perspective, one ably stated by a working class hero from my hometown of Kansas City—James P Cannon—in a 1948 speech entitled The Two Americas. Cannon said,

One is the America of the imperialists—of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the America the people of the world hate and fear.

“There is the other America—the America of the workers and farmers and the “little people”. They constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions—its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against kings and despots—its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed.

“This is the America which must and will solve the world crisis—by taking power out of the hands of the little clique of exploiters and parasites, and establishing a government of workers and farmers. The workers’ and farmers’ government will immediately proceed to change things fundamentally.”

I believe that other America will be heard from—and only then will we be truly great for the first time. It’s only our America, preaching and practicing solidarity instead of hate and implementing social justice, that can achieve peace in our world and our neighborhoods.

La lucha continúa?

The expression “the Struggle Continues” has been used at various points in history to inspire ongoing popular insurgency in many parts of Latin America, Palestine, Basque country, Ireland and elsewhere. When the goal is national liberation, or social revolution, “struggle” is self-defining. But its recent adoption by Senator Bernie Sanders is more ambiguous.

Certainly the struggle for some of the most popular reforms endorsed by the candidate known as Bernie—single-payer health care, 15 dollar minimum wage, free public college education—are continuing, as they did before and during the primaries and caucuses. But these independent worker and student battles are not what Bernie has in mind for more lucha.

Now recognizing, if not yet acknowledging, there’s no longer a plausible path for him to become the next President, Bernie is shifting to a fight over the Democrat platform. The Democrat National Committee purportedly offered Bernie proportional representation on the Platform Committee—but there have already been dust-ups over that tenuous gesture of unity.

Sanders nominated Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the biggest nurses union for the Platform Committee. In addition to their exemplary record in organizing and bargaining, National Nurses United plays a leading role in the fight for single-payer. Once a Labor Party affiliate, they were among the earliest and strongest supporters of Bernie. That wasn’t the kind of resumè the DNC was looking for and they vetoed her nomination.

In reality, elected politicians pay little attention to their national party’s platform. Bernie himself has been less than resolute in fighting for single-payer, and delivered a crucial vote to enable the passage of the Orwellian named Affordable Care Act. He knows the platform—which at times mentioned single-payer in the past—doesn’t amount to a hill of bubkus. But this squabble over an issue bitterly opposed by the presumptive nominee isn’t just mean spirited.

Neither Trump nor Clinton is stirring much voter enthusiasm and a majority would like to see a new party. The Democrats need Bernie’s supporters to vote for them. Bernie is dedicated to beating Trump at all costs but he needs some perceived improvements in his adopted party’s program to convince reluctant supporters to actually vote for the donkeys in November. That’s his struggle to continue.

I’ve received numerous requests the past couple of weeks to sign petitions, and send messages, to the DNC denouncing their undemocratic methods. Of course, the DNC practices are undemocratic. Some of the requests come from good people with whom I have collaborated in the past—and hopefully will again. But I have ignored all of them.

First of all, I don’t think it would be proper for me to try to intervene in an internal dispute within a party that I don’t support. But my unrelenting opposition to the Democrats is based on much more than just their scandalous treatment of dissidents.

I learned long ago that the Democrats provide one of two disguises masking a political monopoly of the ruling class of bosses, bankers, and brass hats. That class is the enemy of my class, the working class majority. They not only rob us through the economy they own but have kept the world in a state of perpetual war. They use racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamaphobia to divide us. Their addiction to fossil fuels is wrecking our very biosphere. Choosing a lesser of these two masked evils only guarantees evil.

Yes, a struggle must continue. But not Bernie’s effort to save the currently governing ruling class party. Nor is it the perhaps better intentioned Greens who are trying to build a multi-class party based on “core values.” The struggle to which I remain dedicated is one for class and climate justice which will be fought on many fronts.

In the USA, we remain defenseless on the electoral front. Last week marked the twentieth anniversary of what appeared at the time to be a promising remedy to that weakness. The Founding Convention of the Labor Party was launched by 1400 labor activists with many just complaints–but especially riled up about NAFTA and other anti-worker policies of President Bill Clinton.

Unfortunately, within fifteen years that impressive effort was kaput. But that wasn’t because it was conceptually flawed. There were a number of factors that led to its demise but the final cause of death was starvation. Affiliated and endorsing unions didn’t or couldn’t sustain the party’s material needs.

Both the need for, and popular interest in a labor party is even more palpable today than in 1996. This is not just confirmed in opinion polls; it was dramatically expressed by hundreds of thousands of young workers and students who swelled Bernie’s rallies, many of whom donated time and money as well. They weren’t lured by the Democrats—they liked Bernie because he denounced the “billionaire class” and advocated reforms they urgently need and deserve. This youthful upsurge also inspired several national unions and numerous local ones to throw their support to the self-described socialist.

Unlike the Labor Party project, the amazing Sanders campaign that undoubtedly exceeded even Bernie’s expectations is fundamentally flawed in several ways. The most important of these was a deal-breaker for many of those who have been around the block a time or two. Instead of using this campaign to establish a new class-based political alternative, the top-down Feel the Bern has been and is solely focused on influencing and supporting the more “inclusive” boss party.

As often cited in the WIR, there’s certainly nothing new and innovative about this strategy. It has a long, well documented disastrous track record of assimilating and taming mass movements from the Populists, through the New Deal, the Cold War, ad nauseam.

The dog needs a tail for balance, communication of moods, and shooing pesky flies. But the tail can never wag the dog.

In the next few weeks currents like Labor for Bernie, the Progressive Democrats of America, and some socialist groups who have sought to turn The Bern to the “left” will have to make some sober decisions. So will thousands of others whose participation in Bernie’s campaign was their first exposure to political activity.

After failing to capture the enemy’s party will they build a bridge for Hillary Clinton–as prisoners of war were directed by their own officers to construct over the River Kwai? Or will they take the next indicated step by declaring their class independence from the evil twin parties of capital?

Of course, there is not enough time to launch a new working class party capable of running a competitive slate of candidates in the November election. But reviving a precursor like Labor Party Advocates, that did the necessary advance education and organizing to found the 1996 Labor Party project, is achievable–and long overdue.

I urge those who want a real political revolution to call a conference to pull together a new effort to resurrect a movement for a labor party.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review June 5

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Jun 052016
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Verizon Gets a Shock

Strikes are the most basic and common expressions of clashes between workers and employers. Cartoonists often illustrate these fights as heavyweight boxers slugging it out in the ring. But within this metaphor there are few knock-outs. Winners and losers are usually determined on points for the best punches and most adept footwork. For quite awhile, most decisions—with occasional important exceptions–have gone to the boss.

The boss class has some inherent advantages in these conflicts during “normal” times. Especially in the private sector, they own the workplace and their property rights are vigorously enforced by courts—backed by armed police, sometimes even military forces.

They have the legal right during “economic” strikes to permanently replace strikers with strike-breakers. Many of the most effective strike actions—such as mass picketing to block access to their workplace, secondary boycotts of other companies doing business with the struck employer, and “hot cargo” embargoes enforced by rail and truck workers refusing to move goods to and from strike locations—are illegal under the Taft-Hartley Act covering most private sector workers. Many public sector, agricultural and domestic service workers have no legal rights at all to collective bargaining. Major industrial corporations today have alternative sources of production to reduce a strike’s impact on their “bottom line.”

These formidable challenges have not eliminated strikes but they have succeeded in greatly reducing their numbers and length.

But some extraordinary perceived strike victories over the past few years—Temple University Hospital nurses; Chicago teachers; oil workers national agreement; Kohler—have inspired some unions to continue this tactic even as all the pundits tell them that their shrinking unions are now irrelevant and strikes are futile.

The Borg-like so-called “management” of Verizon apparently believed their own ruling class propaganda. After months of dilatory “bargaining,” they presented an outrageous “last, best and final” offer to the Communications Workers of America, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, representing 39,000 workers in Verizon’s landline sector, in eastern states ranging from New England to Virginia.

The Verizon bosses may have expected the workers would capitulate. Their last strike had to be wound up after only two weeks—with little to show for the effort. Labor experts retained by Verizon undoubtedly counseled them that historically unions have been reluctant to call major strikes during a presidential election year. The bureaucracy that sits atop most American unions don’t want to embarrass their Democrat “friends.” In fact, their top priority over the next five months is hustling votes for the Donkeys. Verizon’s hubris essentially challenged the unions to “bring it on.”

Though not a hormonal response to a bully’s trash talk, the Verizon workers did indeed bring it on. First of all, they remembered what the company tried to ignore—the boss had been paying them because their work was needed. The landlines can’t be moved to Mexico and there aren’t enough qualified white shirts to keep up with installations, repairs, or even the call centers for long. And efforts to employ “temporary replacements” fell far short of expectations.

The striking unions demonstrated their numbers and determination from Day One with rallies of thousands in the major cities served by the landlines. And their goals of saving and expanding good jobs were well received by the working class public.

The unions also recognized the vulnerability of the Verizon “brand” in the highly competitive national wireless market. CWA, along with Jobs with Justice, and other union and community allies, conducted informational pickets at Verizon wireless retail stores across the country.

The unions didn’t exactly try to shield their Democrat friends from a boisterous strike. CWA is a strong backer of Bernie Sanders while the IBEW is for Hillary Clinton. Both candidates were obligated to make well publicized visits to the picket lines.

About half-way in to the six-week strike articles started appearing in papers such as the Wall Street Journal reporting that Verizon was taking a hard hit from the strike. To both mend some fences with unions–and to give Verizon a dignified path to ending the strike–the Obama administration intervened. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez—who has been mentioned as a possible running mate with Hillary Clinton—personally brokered mediation talks that led to the settlement.

The deal was not completely free of union concessions. Before the strike, the unions had agreed to additional “cost-sharing” of health insurance. But virtually all of the take-aways in the company’s “final offer” were dropped and some substantial gains for the workers were won. These include:

* Instead of more outsourcing of call center jobs 1300 new jobs will be added.

* Instead of a cap on pensions there will be 3 one percent increases in defined benefits.

* A modest number of both retail store workers and technicians in the wireless division are now included in the contract for the first time.

* Some contracting out in progress will be reversed leading to a 25 percent increase in union pole jobs in New York City.

* There will be 1250 dollar signing bonuses and a guarantee of at least 700 dollar annual profit-sharing.

* A 3 percent raise in wages takes effect immediately and there will be three more 2.5 percent increases over the life of the four year contract.

What do the ring-side judges think of this bout? The bosses’ media, other union officials, and socialist commentators all seem to join in a unanimous decision that the striking unions win on points.

This is an important, inspirational battle won—but the war at Verizon will continue. The company will intensify their efforts to spin-off the landline division to concentrate on the more profitable wireless sector. And they will likely bitterly resist union efforts to expand the beachhead they now have in wireless through further organizing. But the bosses will now have to deal with more seasoned and self-confident unions.

Of course, strikes are not always appropriate in every situation. But Verizon is a fresh example that well-prepared and led strikes can still be effective in beating back boss attacks and can even win gains in pay and conditions.

It is attempts by too many unions to seek “partnership” with the employer, dividing workers in to “tiers,” and granting concessions to “save jobs,” that have been proven futile.

Hats off to Verizon workers and those who stood with them in solidarity.

Once Again on Nukes

Though I am a longtime opponent of nuclear power plants my joy was restrained as I read a New York Times article about Exelon’s plans to close two nuke plants before the end of their projected useful life. Since there is no Just Transition plan available for the displaced workers, pulling the plug on the Clinton Power Station and Quad-Cities Generating Station will have a big adverse impact on these relatively small towns.

The company says the plants are no longer profitable because they can’t compete with cheap, fracked natural gas that has become the favored fuel in the power industry. Exelon’s request for a bailout by the state was rejected. It’s likely the closing announcement is a ploy to get some public money after all. The Times article notes,

The announcement comes as the Obama administration and state and federal lawmakers are suddenly working to help support the flagging industry as part of the effort to reduce carbon emissions and stem global warming. Nuclear plants produce the country’s largest share of electricity without emitting carbon dioxide and can operate as needed. Their proponents are pursuing different ways to maintain the plants despite unresolved questions over waste disposal, safety and the potential for converting their operations to make weapons.”

An otherwise supportive reader who disagrees with my no nuke position wrote me after reading the Times article that I had posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog,

It’s not profitable but it’s the only carbon free source of energy that amounts to anything. Anyone who is serious about global warming must oppose the premature elimination of nuclear energy.”

Our reader’s nuclear zeal leads him to not only ignore the rather serious “unresolved questions” about nukes mentioned in the Times article; he also, like the Times, fails to acknowledge the vast amounts of zero emission hydro-electricity supplied around the country—including his home base in the Los Angeles area.

But even more important is the lack of recognition of the well kept secret of the great advances in truly clean renewable alternatives–succeeding wherever they have been seriously implemented.

This Is What Insurgency Looks Like

On most days, Danish “wind farms” produce 140 percent of that country’s electricity needs. They share their surplus with Norway and Germany who have also made considerable advances in solar and wind. Germany is confident that they will meet their Paris treaty pledges even as they phase out all of their nuclear power.

A Guardian report from Portugal,

Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm the following Wednesday….News of the zero emissions landmark comes just days after Germany announced that clean energy had powered almost all its electricity needs on Sunday 15 May, with power prices turning negative at several times in the day – effectively paying consumers to use it.”

A June 1 BBC story began,

New solar, wind and hydropower sources were added in 2015 at the fastest rate the world has yet seen, a study says. Investments in renewables during the year were more than double the amount spent on new coal and gas-fired power plants, the Renewables Global Status Report found. For the first time, emerging economies spent more than the rich on renewable power and fuels. Over 8 million people are now working in renewable energy worldwide.”

I don’t question the motives of my pro-nuke friend. He shares the view of some eminent climate scientists who are alarmed about the lack of progress on climate measures and are reluctant to abandon any non-fossil alternatives—especially any that appear viable within the present capitalist market. I understand—but cannot accept.

The modest but rapidly growing steps toward the needed goal of 100 percent clean renewables are not chopped humus. Nukes are not the only alternative to fossil fuels; because of the many “unresolved questions” they are not even an acceptable solution.

Rather than bailing out the corporations running a dangerous as well as unprofitable industry we need to socialize all energy, transportation, and finance to prepare for a planned restructuring of an ecologically sustainable economy–instead of one wrecking our biosphere.

That’s the biggest challenge of our time—in fact, of all time—and one we can’t afford to lose.

***

Some of you may be thinking about now—When is he going to say something about the Jeremy Brecher and Naomi Klein articles he assigned as optional homework? I thought it best to deal with some timely issues instead. To avoid future preemption, I will put together a stand-alone “extra” with extended remarks on these two important pieces.

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.