by Bill Onasch
Confession Of a Repeat Rule Breaking Offender
That would be me. All communication experts strongly advise to never begin with an apology. NCIS Special Agent Gibbs is even more adamant in warning to never apologize because it is a sign of weakness. A good friend in Chicago was taught early on in England to “never explain, never complain” (though he does a lot of both, as do I.)
Regular readers are probably thinking “there he goes again.” From time to time I get jammed up and friends and supporters begin to feel like they are being blown off when I fail to acknowledge messages and even financial contributions. But never since I started sending out these weekly missives has my proverbial plate been so overflowing.
It is you who should complain. While there are no excuses, I’ll briefly explain. A few months ago, I agreed to help out my friends at Socialist Action on logistics for their national convention (open only to delegates and invited guests—no TV coverage) that will be held in Kansas City–now coming up soon. I also agreed to give the delegates a report on my take of the situation in the trade union movement. I’ve already done quite a bit on these tasks but they are escalating fast. Recurring heat waves that have limited my hours in my attic office hasn’t helped. And I keep getting reminded that I don’t have the same energy and stamina levels at age 73 as I did even at 63.
I can’t really stop the clock but I am calling a time out. The next WIR will come out around the Labor Day weekend. And there will be no more news updates on our companion Labor Advocate blog until after Labor Day. By then I hope to have made my peace with all of you who may feel ignored.
Adapting War Time Measures to Serve Sustainable Peace
In the July 26 WIR I reviewed an interesting article, A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers. The article did a pretty good job in explaining the concept of Just Transition and they made an effort to show how it could be applied to one industry, even calculating costs. But I criticized it for a very narrow and too gradual approach even in their target industry—and little to offer as to how their expectation that millions of new “green jobs” will or could be created.
I also recently criticized the Green Party’s approach to a new ecologically sustainable society.
To be sure, the Greens have a lot of good, workable demands that most of us would support. But the Green’s ethical approach to political economy, heavy on individual choices in life-styles, leads them in to some strange detours. I take exception to Platform passages such as these:
“Creating alternative, low-consumption communities and living arrangements, including a reinvigorated sustainable homesteading movement in rural areas and voluntary shared housing in urban areas….The creating and spreading local currencies and barter systems.”
I agree that single-family houses with yards need to be phased out as part of reversing Urban Sprawl as we repopulate, renovate and rebuild our urban cores. But no individual or family need give up their privacy by sharing an apartment unit with others as some will infer from this language.
Of course, we need to reduce wasteful and frivolous consumption promoted in the capitalist consumer market. We might leave some rare earth metals for the next generation by foregoing the latest smart phone enabling us to play Pokemon Go. But even in the richest country, even prosperous individuals who have already accumulated some assets cannot mimic Little House on the Prairie and barter with nearby homesteaders.
Most of humanity—those described by Frantz Fanon, quoting from the opening lyrics of the Internationale, as the Wretched of the Earth–are not consuming too much. They are ill-fed, ill-housed, ill-clothed, under educated, and have little access to health care. These miserable material conditions often drive people in to depression and despair—or crime and terrorism. They are the real reason why 80,000 troops and cops are defending the Coca Cabana at the Rio Olympics. The world didn’t consume ourselves in to climate change and we won’t eliminate this mortal threat to our progeny’s biosphere by becoming frugal shoppers, and decentralizing production.
The Greens are among those who popularized the catchy slogan Think Globally—Act Locally. There are some modest things many of us can do—recycling, organic gardens, rain barrels, better windows and insulation in our homes and in some areas even residential solar panels for those who can afford the investment.
We also have some choices as individual consumers. My wife and I pay a bit more to support our coffee addiction by buying only organic, shade-grown Fair Trade from Cafe Campesino. Mary likes a mild blend from a worker-owned co-op in Mexico while I prefer a more robust French Roast from Nicaragua. Those co-ops belonging to this global network do less environmental damage and earn a little more for their labor. But we have no illusions that this less than heroic choice amounts to even a drop from a Mellita drip pot in our carbon-sink oceans in the struggle against climate change. We need global actions to stop global warming.
The ethics of a Class and Climate Justice movement will neither ignore nor accept continued wretched conditions for our class sisters and brothers anywhere. We can restructure what and how we produce our needs to be not only ecologically sustainable but also at the same time provide a decent living standard for everyone on this planet. The science and technology has long been available. It’s political economy and class politics that caused the crisis–and blocks adequate solutions.
The required restructuring cannot be accomplished by the vagaries of the capitalist market. Nor can it be done through a reincarnation of Owenism’s randomly decentralized economy resurrected by the Greens. We need a highly centralized, planned global effort with democratic input from all levels, including workers in the workplace. And we need it pretty damn quick.
In April, 2009, the KC Labor site, in partnership with Labor Note’s Troublemakers Schools, organized a conference in Kansas City themed New Crises, New Agendas. It was our first major effort in linking the class struggle of workers to the overarching issue of climate change.
I gave a talk about an irony of history–that the best example of an emergency planned, centralized total retooling of production is provided by a capitalist power waging the most terrible war of all time.
World War II is usually dated as starting in Europe in September, 1939. Actually, the Japanese Empire had begun conquests in Manchuria and China even earlier. There was overwhelming opposition among the American public to getting involved in these wars. Prominent figures like Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford were none too subtle admirers of Hitler. Both Ford and General Motors had extensive operations in Germany—supporting the needs of the Wehrmacht.
These factors prevented the FDR administration from weighing in on the side of the British Empire. They couldn’t even get much funding for expanding and modernizing the relatively small U.S. armed forces. But Roosevelt imposed sanctions, along with hard ball negotiations, that adroitly maneuvered Japan in to firing the first shot with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The next day, their German and Italian Axis partners declared war on the USA. That, as they say, changed everything.
Though the risks for defeat of Washington’s long sought war were palpable early on the rewards for ultimate victory in this most pivotal conflict in history would be rich indeed. They had supreme confidence in their preliminary plans. I guess it’s not hubris if it works.
The U.S. began with a huge industrial capacity still greatly underutilized because of the Great Depression that had lingered on since 1929. The war administration didn’t patiently wait for the market to respond to the need for enormous quantities of ships, planes, tanks, and other military needs to pursue a war that would be fought on all inhabited continents and every ocean. Instead they took charge of the economy and essentially dictated what and how much would be produced. They imposed rationing of most consumer items along with price and wage controls and obtained a no-strike pledge from nearly every union. And they soothed the instinctive resentment of Big Business to this unprecedented control of “Big Government” by rewarding them with very lucrative “cost-plus” contracts.
The government bureaucracy that directed the war economy proved to be remarkably efficient—especially when you consider they had no computers or even calculators. They were spearheaded by a talented group of recent college grads known as the Whiz Kids who functioned in an unpretentious office simply known as “statistics.” Some of them would later become famous. Robert McNamara became an auto industry executive and was LBJ’s Secretary of Defense during the early stages of the Vietnam war. Tex Thornton went on to found Litton Industries, once a giant conglomerate, now merged with Northrop-Grumman.
Almost instantly, mass unemployment gave way to a labor shortage. Of course, some of this was because of the millions who volunteered or were drafted in to the armed forces “for the duration.” But the demands of the war economy far exceeded the vacancies created by those doing the fighting. The iconic Rosie the Riveter was created to lure unprecedented numbers of women in to heavy industry. And though the armed forces remained segregated throughout the war, pressure from Black leaders such as A Philip Randolph eventually got large numbers of African-Americans in to “middle class” jobs that had long been denied them—but not without some major racist resistance in places like Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago.
Most Americans strongly supported the war effort. They mostly accepted the need for rationing. They pitched in with reuse, repair, recycle efforts to conserve precious resources.
This restructured economy built thousands of ships, more than 100,000 planes, millions of small arms, billions of rounds of ammunition. It not only kept U.S. forces well supplied and well fed but also contributed much of the needs of Soviet and British allies–who had been on the ropes at the time of American entry in to the war. It was the mobilization of this industrial might that determined the outcome of the war. Instead of Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich it was to be hailed, at least for a while, as the American Century.
I won’t digress much further on this important juncture in history. The end product of this industrial miracle was seventy million dead; much of the economy and workers’ homes in Europe and Asia left in rubble; and the introduction of horrible atomic bombs through their so far only use on humans—civilian victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of this enriched war profiteers and opened up vast new markets for U.S. corporations and banks in the postwar period. Nothing of this is anything we want to replicate today.
The one worthwhile lesson for us is highly relevant today—in a time of great crisis even a bosses and bankers government put aside their ideology of the market because they recognized the inherent superiority of a centralized planned economy. The proven success of that desperate emergency war-time measure of the ruling class can be adapted to the goals, and democratic traditions of the working class in the global fight for class and climate justice.
Like the Manhattan Project that initiated nuclear war, we can gather the best scientists to develop new breakthroughs in producing, storing and delivering clean renewable energy. We can put the scientists at Dow and Monsanto to work on better methods of organic farming instead of poisoning our land, air, and water with chemicals. We can put experts from different disciplines on the big job of reversing Urban Sprawl, restoring the forests, wetlands, and farm land once surrounding our cities before being destroyed by reckless “development.” Architects and engineers can design urban housing and transportation that could make people want to return to a more sustainable urban core. To pull all these and many other pieces of the puzzle together we can recruit our own whiz kids and equip them with super-computers. And there must be democratic discussion and decision at every stage of the emerging plan.
There is some discussion about such a perspective in formations like Trade Unions for Energy Democracy and the Labor Network for Sustainability. My long digression on the Second World War was intended to frame those discussions. But I have far exceeded the bounds of introduction and will have to postpone a fresh look at those groups after my time out.
That’s all for this week.
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