August 12 Week In Review

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Aug 122016

onaschoutsmall  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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Week In Review August 1

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Aug 012016

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

The 9 Percent Solution

Though their outcome was predetermined, both boss party conventions went through the motions of approving presidential nominees. The winners of the longest and most expensive primary battles in history were decided by nine percent pf those eligible to vote.

The two gatherings attracted thousands of protesters for numerous causes, confined in First Amendment zones well away from each heavily guarded perimeter. In Cleveland those doubled as Second Amendment zones where state law protected the right to pack ’em if you’ve got ’em.

There was commotion inside as well. All the faithful in the GOP pews quickly learned any mention of Hillary Clinton from the altar was cue for responding “lock her up.” Ted Cruz was literally booed off the stage when he urged his Republican comrades to vote their conscience.

Melania, the current Mrs Trump, was picked to present a “softer, more feminine” contrast. She got an enthusiastic reception from all assembled as she testified her spouse was a rock solid family man as well as a genius in business and political vision. But it didn’t take long for critics to expose some of her remarks plagiarized a speech by–Michelle Obama. When it was soon discovered she had also lied about her claim of a university degree the digital barn door was finally closed on Melania’s personal website.

The decisive, if Pyrrhic victory of a far-right megalomaniac can perhaps best be judged by who didn’t show up. Nobody named Bush, Romney, or Kasich was present at the Cleveland conclave. That’s not a good sign for mobilizing the traditional party apparatus in November.

Trump’s billionaire peer and Manhattan neighbor, former Republican Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, spoke at the other convention–endorsing Clinton. Trump promptly tweeted an insult about “little” (5-8) Michael Bloomberg and later, clearly aiming at this apostate class brother, told a cheering campaign rally he would like to “hit him so hard he would never recover.” Jail and debilitating beatings for opponents–No, this is not your grandfather’s party of I Like Ike.

As the donkey delegates were beginning to arrive in the City of Brotherly Love, Wikileaks released an ugly cat among the pigeons—intercepted e-mail showing the “neutral” Democrat National Committee had been working hard to secure Clinton’s nomination, threatened by the Bernie Sanders insurgency. Mrs Clinton expressed shock that there had been gambling at Rick’s and tried to shift the topic by alleging the Russians were responsible for hacking the messages. The DNC Chair said she was resigning early, effective the end of the convention. But when she was greeted by boos and cat-calls wherever she showed her face in public she had to hand the gavel over to a Vice-Chair.

The forty-some percent of elected delegates pledged to Senator Sanders were not in a good mood even before the e-mail scandal confirmed the dirty tricks they had long suspected. They were particularly upset over Clinton’s veto of inclusion of single-payer health care in the platform and the watering down of their free public college education demand.

Perhaps the proverbial last straw for many was Clinton’s choice of a running mate. Instead of reaching out to the Sanders camp that garnered 12 million votes she certainly needs in November, Mrs Clinton chose a lad raised in a Kansas City suburb who boasts of his Jesuit education. A former Governor, now a Senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine favors “right-to-work” laws.

Candidate Clinton appears to have as much hubris as her GOP opponent in what is becoming known as an unpopularity contest. Each is working from a once successful but now obsolete playbook.

The Republican plan is to win over enough disaffected white male working class Democrats to join traditional Republicans, and Christian zealots–as Ronald Reagan did in 1980. The millions of “Reagan Democrats” felt, justifiably, that they had been hosed by Jimmy Carter in a period of plant closings, the beginnings of deregulation and austerity, along with runaway inflation. But 36 years of attrition has taken its toll. In the last election Romney won an even bigger share of this dwindling group than Reagan did—and got whipped by an incumbent Black Democrat.

Hillary Clinton is convinced, like her husband was in his turn, that the unions and social movements have no alternative to supporting her. She calculates she can safely tack to the right to broaden her base—a formula that worked well for the first Clinton and the current President.

Both of these plans ignore the big changes in overall demographics. Millenials of all colors and genders are beginning to assert their presence. Young workers and students were the shock troops of the Sanders “Political Revolution.” They also helped win over many from older generations, including most of the still lucid Sixties Radicals. Most remarkably, they inspired the leadership of several important unions to Feel the Bern.

As he had all along explained he would to anyone who paid attention, on the eve of the convention Senator Sanders endorsed Hillary Clinton and called for unity to defeat Trump. He also tried to take some of the sting out of nixing single-payer by joining Clinton in a joint endorsement of the lame duck President’s call to add “public options” to the Affordable Care Act.

The Senator was rewarded for his good sportsmanship with a prime time speech. Most of the unions that had endorsed him had already tried to board the victor’s bandwagon. But the ranks of Bernie’s revolutionary army weren’t ready for unconditional surrender. Long after their commander requested they stand down, his troops continued to fight with the only weapon available—noisy disruption on the floor and in the corridors.

But this gut-level last stand was an emotional response, not a viable strategic alternative. As I predicted early on, it was the last gasp of Political Revolution. The great unanswered question coming out of the Democrat convention is how many of Bernie’s army will follow their leader in to the same old, same old “lesser evil” campaign? Nominee Clinton may have burned a bridge too far by assuming they have no other options.

That’s my take on how the next leader of the Free World got picked.

Red + Green = Gray

Left groups like Socialist Alternative–who can claim the only elected socialist in this country–and Solidarity, with some significant influence in the labor and climate movements, actively supported the Sanders effort while urging him to run as an independent. Now, instead of calling for this movement to start building a new broad working class party, or even running what the old-timers call a “propaganda campaign” around a socialist slate, they are urging the “Sandernistas” to join Dr Jill Stein’s Green Party campaign. That makes them twice wrong in my opinion.

To be sure, there are many good people in the Green Party and I’ve had positive experience collaborating with some on various issues. Unlike the Democrats and Republicans they are not a party of the ruling class. But they do not claim any class identity—and that’s a big problem for those of us who have class awareness.

There was a major effort to turn the Greens in to an advocate for the working class in the 2000 election—which became their by far biggest electoral success. Without joining the party, Ralph Nader accepted the Green nomination for President. At the convention that selected him, Nader invited his long time friend and collaborator Tony Mazzocchi to speak about the Labor Party program. Even though Tony frankly explained the Labor Party could not endorse any other party’s candidates, the delegates overwhelmingly adopted his suggestion to incorporate the Labor Party program in to the Green election platform.

Nader’s 2000 campaign resembled the recent Sanders effort in many respects. He spoke to a number of “super-rallies” attracting thousands of mainly young people. His name recognition got him some media attention. The UE and the California Nurses Association endorsed the campaign. In the end, he won about 2.9 million votes, 2.74 percent of the total. His “coat-tails” helped elect a record number of Greens to local office—though some later defected to the Democrats.

That election was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court blessing Bush II’s theft of the White House. Nader was MIA, having moved on to his next book project. The liberals, union leaders—and Al Gore–decided not to pursue a constitutional crisis. Instead, they denounced Nader, the Greens, and even the Labor Party as “spoilers.”

Dr Jill Stein

That baseless charge had its effect. Since then the Greens at times have adopted “tactical voting.” This means voting Green in those states where one of the major parties has a lock on winning—while voting for the “lesser evil” in the “battleground states.” In 2012, Dr Stein was on the ballot in dozens of states and won 0.36 percent of the vote.

Green activists can remain important allies in issue movements. But they are not the answer to breaking the ruling class monopoly of all things political.

Write Your Own Ticket

Regular readers know I promote a revival of Labor Party Advocates. We need a party based on our mass organizations but open to all who agrees with its working class program. It should be a party that also supports the struggles of our class in the workplace and our communities.

While there is some new interest in this project there will not be a labor party option in November. If I wanted to stoop to the level of cynicism exhibited by boss politicians I could call for a boycott of the elections–confident that the working class majority would support me. But ignoring elections at best is a silent personal protest that doesn’t advance the interests of our class.

I’ve seen only one campaign platform that clearly shows the way forward on the labor party:

Socialist Action is part of the historic tradition that works simultaneously for a revolutionary socialist party and for a party based on the foundation of our only class-based mass organizations—our unions. We think that a labor party will come about as the outgrowth of a reborn democratic, fighting union movement. A labor party will be a giant step forward toward breaking the ruling-class political monopoly and will work toward putting a government in power that is run by and for the working class.”

Jeff Mackler

To be sure, this is a “propaganda campaign,” a write-in effort by a small socialist group. I’ve known and respected their presidential candidate, Jeff Mackler, going back to the movement against the Vietnam war. The “historic tradition” referred to is that of the great Eugene V Debs, who worked for a labor party while also ably representing the Socialist Party in presidential elections. I’m going to accept his oft-quoted advice–“It’s better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want—and get it.”

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. Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

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

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.