by Bill Onasch
Start the Clock
My time-out is over. There’s a lot to catch up on and this edition is almost double our normal length. The WIR should again appear weekly until the year-end holidays. Posting of news articles on our companion Labor Advocate blog will resume our Monday-Friday by 9AM Central schedule Tuesday.
A Labor Day History Encore (From 2014)
He understands us and we can understand him. There are few scholars who warrant such praise but Peter Rachleff earned it through decades of teaching and writing about the history of working people–while finding ways to participate in our contemporary struggles as well. His latest timely gem is Looking back at Labor Day’s turbulent origins.
Peter’s narrative logically begins by examining the pressures that led, six score years ago, to the creation of a national holiday dedicated to those who work. The spectacular growth of industrialization from the Civil War on was marked by both ruthless exploitation of labor and worker resistance that at times led to big strikes and even local rebellions–such as the St Louis Commune examined in the last WIR–often influenced by socialist and anarchist ideas brought to this country by European immigrants.
In 1894, a Democrat “friend of labor” in the White House–who had just used the Army to violently break a rail strike–was eager to divert this persistent radicalization in a way that might also refurbish his grossly tarnished image. What better way than to grant a day of leisure to those whose muscle and nerves needed a break? What better time than the end of summer to encourage those who labor to disperse for a last shot at swimming, fishing, picnicking? That timeline, already in place in some areas of the USA and Canada, seemed far more suitable to Grover Cleveland than the May1 International Labor Day–with its American roots–that was beginning to signal the launch of annual spring worker offensives abroad.
In a few compressed paragraphs Peter also describes how the subsequent celebrations of Labor Day have reflected the ups and downs of class warfare. He concludes,
“As we mark the 120th celebration of ‘Labor Day,’ the labor movement is in an extraordinary period of change. The movement is pressed by changes in the structure of the economy and the organization of work, on the one hand, and by virulent anti-union hostility typified by the Koch brothers, the Tea Party, Walmart and many other corporate giants, on the other. But labor is also energized from within by fast food and retail workers who demand a living wage, immigrants who seek to be recognized for their work and paid appropriately for it, public employees who know that their work contributes to the public’s quality of life and are sick of being scorned in the political pulpits and mass media, college professors who want full-time jobs with economic security and the opportunity to control their own classrooms, and home healthcare and daycare providers who want to throw off their invisibility and be appreciated, in our society, for the important work they perform. A great history lies ahead. Happy Labor Day!”
An early celebration of the holiday on Thursday, featuring readings from historic labor speeches, music and current solidarity was one of the first events held at the repurposed East Side Freedom Library in St Paul. Peter and Beth Cleary are renovating an old Carnegie Library that will be stocked with books, films, and other resources, and offer meeting rooms, for the use of the diverse East Side working class community. You can learn more about this worthy project–and a chance to make a financial contribution–by clicking here.
‘Our Only Hope Is to Mobilize Like We Did in WWII’
This quote is from the title of an article by Bill McKibben in the New Republic. First through his books and articles, and increasingly through promotion of demonstrations and civil disobedience, he has earned recognition as the most prominent American environmentalist. Among his achievements was his leading role in the successful fight to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. With the help of tech-savvy Millennials, he initiated 350.org utilizing the power of the Internet and “social media” to create a global network of information and coordination linking hundreds of thousands of climate activists.
The views McKibben expresses in his latest article are an important advance for him and will likely stimulate interest and debate about a strategy that is vital to the very future of humanity. That is why I am devoting considerable space to a critical look at this piece. And though he didn’t get the idea from me, it was gratifying to see his article published just a few days after the last WIR which was largely devoted to the same theme.
“It’s not that global warming is like a world war. It is a world war. And we are losing.”
The current headlines he cites about “natural” disasters across the world and in our own country, supplemented with excerpts from scientific studies, establish a prima facie case to support his assertion. This prize-winning author emphasizes his declaration of war is more than an attention grabbing metaphor,
“By most of the ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal: Carbon and methane are seizing physical territory, sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties, and even destabilizing governments….Its first victims, ironically, are those who have done the least to cause the crisis. But it’s a world war aimed at us all. And if we lose, we will be as decimated and helpless as the losers in every conflict–except that this time, there will be no winners, and no end to the planetwide occupation that follows.
“The question is not, are we in a world war? The question is, will we fight back? And if we do, can we actually defeat an enemy as powerful and inexorable as the laws of physics?”
He immediately begins to reply,
“To answer those questions—to assess, honestly and objectively, our odds of victory in this new world war—we must look to the last one….Defeating the Nazis required more than brave soldiers. It required a wholesale industrial retooling.”
McKibben, who is a pacifist and doesn’t have a class perspective, more or less accepts the narrative we are all taught in school and pop culture that WWII was a battle between freedom and evil totalitarianism—a yarn much flawed to say the least. But “wholesale industrial retooling” was key to the victory of the Allies over the Axis—and a similar emergency restructuring is likely the last chance for defeating Global Warming. We can’t and don’t need to defy the laws of physics. But, in my view—though not the other Bill’s–we can and must replace the laws of the global capitalist market.
McKibben relates some important findings of scientists who have taken the initiative to calculate both what it would take to stop Warming and whether we have the required material and other resources to do the job. The most advanced and remarkably detailed assessments have been done by the Atmosphere and Energy Program at Stanford University chaired by Mark Z Jacobson. They have concluded that we have enough of everything needed to implement near total replacement of fossil fuels with existing clean, renewable energy technology before the present crisis becomes irreversible disaster.
If we have the science, technology, and material means to win this war then why are we still losing? McKibben’s failure to recognize the role of classes in society prevents him from drawing some essential conclusions. Through a combination of education and protest movements he seeks to convince the present decision makers in government and the economy to do the right thing.
But those in charge are selected by the ruling class. The capitalists became the ruling class through the Industrial Revolution they led. In this country they also had to fight a bloody Civil War to eliminate their slave holder competition. And their Industrial Revolution, first fueled by coal, later adding oil and natural gas to the mix, also launched Global Warming.
Swedish scientists postulated Global Warming caused by what we now call Greenhouse Gases in the Nineteenth Century—though they thought it would take centuries to develop. Shortly after World War II, oil company scientists became concerned not only about smog-producing car exhausts but possible long range damage from carbon emissions accumulating in the atmosphere.
In 1964 government scientists briefed President Johnson on the basics of Global Warming. LBJ told them to keep their theories to themselves and soon proceeded to launch the Vietnam war. His former Air Force Chief of Staff advocated bombing Vietnam back to the Stone Age—and American jet fighters and bombers, one piloted by Lt Commander John McCain, dropped more tons of bombs on that small country than were used by all sides throughout World War II.
At least the inner sanctum of the class that rules were well aware of their climate wrecking ways long before science teachers had even heard the term Global Warming. Of course, destruction of our biosphere is not their goal. But they see that as a collateral danger for future generations. In the here and now, fossil fuels and the industries that depend on them are the linchpin of the global economy that has made them the richest elite in history. Rational arguments for change are not persuasive. Like Simpleton in the German fairy tale, they will never voluntarily surrender their Golden Goose, to which so many have become stuck—even if in the end we all get our goose cooked.
While McKibben likely understands how ruthless some capitalists may be he has been a slow learner about those who serve them in government—and as he acknowledges, it’s only governments that can mobilize on the scale needed.
Much like the motivational psychology many apply to children, McKibben has in the past urged us to thank President Obama for the watery soup sold by the White House as nourishing a global plan to reduce carbon emissions. Just a few weeks ago, McKibben was Bernie Sanders’ point person on climate in the Democrat Platform negotiations. In the early stages of dealing with the veto-happy Clinton team he was like a Vegan finally observing how sausage is made. But then he writes,
“To my surprise, things changed a couple weeks later, when the final deliberations over the Democratic platform were held in Orlando. While Clinton’s negotiators still wouldn’t support a ban on fracking or a carbon tax, they did agree we needed to ‘price’ carbon, that wind and sun should be given priority over natural gas, and that any federal policy that worsened global warming should be rejected.
“Maybe it was polls showing that Bernie voters—especially young ones—have been slow to sign on to the Clinton campaign. Maybe the hottest June in American history had opened some minds. But you could, if you squinted, create a hopeful scenario.”
And later he adds,
“…the Democratic platform asserts, ‘We are committed to a national mobilization, and to leading a global effort to mobilize nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II.’ The next president doesn’t have to wait for a climate equivalent of Pearl Harbor to galvanize Congress.”
I’m willing to give McKibben the benefit of the doubt on being naive, not cynical. Major party platforms are hardly a line of march to secure objectives over the next four years. They are mostly bait-and-switch—or bait-and-forget—to lure certain voter groups. The enhanced climate plank in the Democrat Platform is calculated to draw in millions of reluctant Sanders supporters who might otherwise vote for the Greens or stay home on election day. It wasn’t a hostile Congress that led to President Obama quashing a promising agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Summit during his first year in office, with his party controlling both houses of Congress.
To use an idiom familiar to The Donald–fat chance of a climate friendly Trump administration. There is only a slim chance of any part of the Democrat climate program being seriously pursued by a President Clinton.
To get the wartime mobilization that McKibben ably advocates will require a change in which class rules. The dominance of the bosses and bankers who got us in to this war—and who prevent the needed counter-attack—must be replaced with a government of and for the working class majority. That’s the only force with both the class interest and the economic and social power to get the job done.
After this justified timely diversion, next time I will finally take a promised look at the vanguard of the Class & Climate Justice movement among organized workers—the Labor Network for Sustainability and the global network with which they are affiliated, Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.
A Class Choice On Michigan Ballot
I first heard of the effort from my friend Larry in Detroit. Now, after a lot of hard work collecting 50,000 signatures, the new Working Class Party is on the November general election ballot in Michigan. They have adapted an old Labor Party slogan, The Bosses Have Two Parties, the Workers Need One. Most of their candidates for Congress and Community College Districts are active or retired trade unionists.
* Open Ended Nurse Strike Set in Minnesota—On August 31, Workday Minnesota reported, “Nurses and supporters gathered Wednesday at a Minneapolis park for a solidarity rally before Monday’s scheduled strike by 4,800 nurses against five Allina Health facilities. The unfair labor practice strike is set to start at 7 a.m. Monday, Labor Day. Picketing will take place around Abbott Northwestern, Mercy, Phillips Eye Institute, United, and Unity hospitals as well as Allina’s headquarters, the Minnesota Nurses Association said. ‘This is an open-ended strike,’ said Rose Roach, MNA executive director. ‘These nurses have never felt more disrespected and more devalued by this employer in their entire careers. They are mad.’ Nurses have been in talks with Allina Health since February. Hospital negotiators would not offer new proposals or address outstanding nurse proposals without demanding concessions on nurses’ health insurance plans, the union said. Several unions, including Education Minnesota, AFSCME, SEIU and the United Steelworkers, announced last week that they would picket with nurses in the event of a walkout.”
* New Milestone In Low Wage Workers Movement—My friend Ann Montague, a long time SEIU activist in Oregon, has written an excellent piece on the convention, and mass march of thousands of low wage workers and union allies from across the country that opens-“In Richmond, Va., on Aug. 12-13, the new chapter of the Fight For 15 and a Union movement once again expanded its reach and broadened its scope. The first Fight For 15 and a Union Convention was called to bring together low-wage workers from across the country to energize the Fight For 15 and embark on a plan of uniting fast-food workers with 20 different industries—including not only home care, child care, and airport workers but also cell phone companies, truck companies, nail salons, and universities.”
* Private School Grad Students Win a Major NLRB Ruling–In a reversal of policy set by a Bush era Board, the NLRB has ruled that grad student teaching and research assistants at private schools meet the definition of employees in the Taft-Hartley Act covering most private sector workers. This means they can organize unions and they can’t legally be fired for taking collective action in their interests. It’s estimated this ruling gives rights to at least 100,000 TAs and RAs. The status of such grad workers in public schools depends on state labor laws.
* Labor Friend Shoots Down 15 in Minneapolis—When labor-backed 15 Now and allies collected 20,000 signatures to put a 15 dollar minimum wage Charter amendment on the November ballot they encountered more opposition than just the Chamber of Commerce. Democrat Mayor Betsy Hodges argued the city didn’t have authority for such a measure under state law. After her objection was rejected by a Hennepin County judge, the city legal department found a friendly black robe on the state Supreme Court to prevent the proposal going to voters. Polling indicated this boost in wages for 100,000 working poor would have won 2-1.
A Happy Holiday Weekend to All!
That’s all for this week.
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