Week In Review January 10

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Jan 102017
 

  by Bill Onasch

Counting On Trump I

This coming weekend there will be a National Single-Payer Strategy Conference in New York City. With yet another health care crisis looming, such a conclave could be useful. Unfortunately, travel and hotel costs for the Big Apple, plus a registration fee, is a budget buster for those of us who would have to pay our own expenses. We will have to follow and comment on the proceedings from afar.

A key player in pulling this conference together is National Nurses United. Usually I have only good things to say about the NNU and their leadership. They are a militant adversarial union also deeply involved in several social movements. They were early and enthusiastic supporters of the now defunct 1996 Labor Party project Their record of activism and solidarity earned their executive director Rose Ann DeMoro a seat on the AFL-CIO executive board.

I have expressed some criticism over their political drift since the Labor Party’s death by starvation. Apparently discouraged with one false start for a labor party, DeMoro and the Nurses have opted for an umpteenth effort to transform the Democrats in to a worker friendly progressive force. They were strong backers of Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Donkey presidential nomination and support Rep Keith Ellison from Minneapolis in his bid to chair the Democrat National Committee.

To be sure, DeMoro pulls no punches in her criticism of Democrat congressional leaders—including their uncritical rearguard defense of the indefensible Affordable Care Act. These party bigshots failed to stop Trump in the election and will now seek to block Trump using the same harassing tactics used by the GOP to successfully stymie Obama’s agenda since the 2010 election. Outraged liberals have been playing the same tune in a different key throwing unprecedented amounts of cash to any and all nonprofits and publications proclaiming Stop Trump!

But at least on health care, DeMoro doesn’t say Stop Trump—just the opposite in a Politico article entitled Head of nurses union ‘counting on’ Trump for single-payer system. Politico was clearly astonished by some of DeMoro’s remarks that I also find disturbing. For example, referring to single-payer, she says,

I think that Donald Trump is not about either party; he’s about something very different. He’s the one who can actually rise above this and do what’s right, and he knows as a businessman, it’s the most cost effective,”

Later in the article she adds,

‘People say he agrees with the last person he listens to,’ DeMoro said of Trump. On the issue of health care, she said, ‘I’m hoping I’m the last person he listens to.’”

I double checked to make sure I wasn’t on The Onion site. Politico gave no indication that DeMoro’s remarks were tongue-in-cheek.

Her description of Trump closely resembles how old-timers explained Bonaparteism to me. A strong leader rising above class and partisan divisions, knocking heads together “to get things done.” It’s not a perfect analogy. The Bonapartes arose out of the military; Trump’s academic pursuits, and bad feet, kept him out of Service. But he has surrounded himself with Brass Hats in key positions. And he has an advantage in communication of his commands not available to Napoleon or Louis—Twitter.

Of course, there have always been “businessmen” who have recognized the cost efficiency benefit of single-payer. Lee Iacocca, who at times headed two of the Big Three automakers, often pointed to the substantial health care savings in Canadian plants where single-payer is in place.

But the health care capitalists are a formidable foe. Single-payer would be a death sentence for the Insurance Robber Barons and they will not go quietly. And even those involved in actual care delivery—increasingly dominated by giant national and regional chains—will not welcome negotiating their exorbitant charges. The American Medical Association says they would welcome a return to market driven fee for service. And the drug pushers of Big Pharma would lose many billions if they had to bargain a reasonable price as they must do in most other countries.

Single-payer emerged as a compromise that sought to defuse opposition from medical providers by gaining most of the big cost savings from scrapping insurance. That physician tolerance clearly hasn’t happened. Perhaps it’s time to go for the whole tamale—after removing the inedible insurance husk.

The NNU was a big promoter of Michael Moore’s 2007 film SiCKO. Moore visited several countries examining how they provided medical care. All were superior to commodity health care in the world’s richest country but two in particular stood out—Britain and Cuba. In those nations every aspect of medical, dental, mental, and optical care are socialized. The cost is paid out of the government treasury with never any charges to users. It is truly universal and overall cheaper to operate than single-payer systems—and about half the GDP cost of the Affordable Care Era in the USA. Socialized Medicine was introduced in Britain by a Labor Party government. In Cuba it took a revolution.

Guerrilla warfare isn’t in the cards for the USA—but a labor party can and should be. It’s well known that it is unwise to show up for a gun fight carrying only a pocket knife. It is equally futile and dangerous to engage in a political showdown without a party of our own. In my opinion, the revival of the movement for a labor party should be the centerpiece of any discussion and debate about strategy for health care—and all the other great issues confronting the working class today.

Counting on Trump II

America’s infrastructure is literally crumbling. We are occasionally reminded of this by catastrophic failures like the collapse of the I-35-W bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis, or multiple exploding gas pipelines in California, or the lead poisoning of Flint’s drinking water. Some were the result of lean construction with insufficient redundancy. All were weakened by “deferred maintenance” imposed by Deficit Hawks. There are hundreds of thousands of such time bombs relentlessly ticking away in bridges, tunnels, and buried pipes and cables.

The President Elect has a plan—or at least a concept–to spend a trillion dollars to make our infrastructure great again. It is being received with polite interest on both sides of the aisles in Congress—and with some enthusiasm by sectors of the labor movement. The legislative director of the Steelworkers said,

For Americans who face crumbling, often unsafe, infrastructure in their lives as they go to work, drive home, and engage in daily activities, they are desperate for his campaign promises to turn into reality.”

The general president of the Ironworkers was also upbeat,

The Ironworkers union applauds Donald Trump’s infrastructure program. We have to have a sustainable maintenance program that recognizes that the existing bridges need to have ongoing maintenance and quite frankly politicians in both parties have done us a disservice.”

Well shame on those past politicians of both parties—but it will be shame on the brother from the Ironworkers if he gets led down the same garden path again. Those unionists hoping to get good jobs from Trump’s project should also keep in mind that the Republicans in Congress will likely scuttle Prevailing Wage requirements—just as they did in repealing a state version in Kentucky last week, along with passing a “Right-to-Work Law.”

A more sober, though admittedly partisan assessment of Trump’s “plan” appeared in a Washington Post op-ed piece by Ronald A Klain. Klain headed up the Obama “shovel-ready” stimulus plan from 2009-11. He writes,

Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems.


“Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. These projects (such as electrical grid modernization or energy pipeline expansion) might already be planned or even underway. There’s no requirement that the tax breaks be used for incremental or otherwise expanded construction efforts; they could all go just to fatten the pockets of investors in previously planned projects.”

It’s good to spot a scam. But none of these viewpoints address the real crux of the crisis we face: our infrastructure was, and still is designed to support an economy and life style driven by fossil fuels. While the President Elect doesn’t concur, science tells us this is wrecking our climate. In many cases, instead of fixing degrading structure we need to replace them with sustainable alternatives.

Instead of big highway projects and expanded airports we should build a new network of high speed, electrified rail lines. Instead of pipelines and refineries we need solar arrays, wind farms, and turbines powered by tides. To get a better handle on residential infrastructure we need to stop and reverse Urban Sprawl, reclaiming pre-suburbia wetlands and farm lands, rebuilding and repopulating our neglected Urban Cores. As we ensure a livable planet for future generations we would also provide generations of full employment in decent jobs.

This is not pie-in-the-sky. It’s doable right now with existing science, technology, and material resources. The obstacle is a ruling class that clings to their profitable destructive ways. Our class has the duty and the power to replace them. No body else can do it for us.

That’s all for this week.


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Week In Review January 3

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Jan 032017
 

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

I had happy holidays, shared with some of those I love and cherish, and I hope you did as well. Now it’s time to return to duty in the war for Class & Climate Justice.

Transition From Lame Duck to a Lame Excuse

There’s plenty of reasons for anxiety about the President-Elect. But there is no reason to feel nostalgic about the legacy of his predecessor.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate leaves with no end in sight for a 15 year war in Afghanistan; creation of a failed state in Libya; a return of troops on the ground in Iraq and their introduction in to Syria—and launching a new era of drone warfare.

The Environmental President championed Fracking that is a major contributor to record Global Warming as well as triggering earthquakes and deadly train and pipeline accidents.

This President set a new record for deporting immigrant workers.

He quashed a promising movement for single-payer health care to instead drive through a mis-named Affordable Care Act, written by experts on loan from private insurance companies. It provides no actual care—only subsidized insurance with unaffordable co-pays and deductibles. The literal decisive vote for this scam was provided by the “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders.

President Obama’s biggest claim of success has been turning around the economy since he inherited the Great Recession from Bush II. No one seems to recall that early on he imposed a “pre-approved” bankruptcy at General Motors and Chrysler that led to the permanent loss of 100,000 auto related jobs. And far too little is being said about his decimation and downgrading of jobs in the oldest and most successful public sector—the US Postal Service.

But there are even more transformative trends in the recovery of the world’s biggest economy, summarized on investing.com,

A new study by economists from Harvard and Princeton indicates that 94% of the 10 million new jobs created during the Obama era were temporary positions. The study shows that the jobs were temporary, contract positions, or part-time ‘gig’ jobs in a variety of fields. Female workers suffered most heavily in this economy, as work in traditionally feminine fields, like education and medicine, declined during the era.

The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%.

Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. ‘Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,’ said Krueger. Under Obama, 1 million fewer workers, overall, are working than before the beginning of the Great Recession.”

I appreciate this study by two prominent economists. But I am astonished they were surprised by their results. The Ivy League has not been immune to these trends as demonstrated by resistance among the blue collar workers who feed and clean, the exploited casually dressed graduate teaching and research assistants, and adjunct professors in elbow patched jackets who can’t find steady work and adequate compensation even with a PhD attached to their name.

Yes, the next President will be even worse, perhaps much worse—though nothing can be really worse than stuck in the lesser evil feed-back loop. It’s time to say good riddance to the old—and a fight to the finish against the new.

Good News, Bad News From SEIU

In recent years, the WIR has often had good news to report about the two-million member Service Employees International Union. They have played an exemplary role in championing long neglected low wage workers. The Fight for 15 Dollars and a Union has become the most important and inspiring class struggle effort in the USA. Beginning with Fast Food workers it has come to also embrace Airport Service workers, Home Care employees, Adjunct Professors, and Childcare workers. They have carried out one-day strikes along with marches, rallies, and civil disobedience that have attracted wide solidarity by other unions and working class communities.

These efforts have now won union recognition, and some first contracts, for thousands of workers. The Faculty Forward “partner” of SEIU has won recognition for Adjunct Faculty on twenty campuses. Recently SEIU Local 32BJ negotiated a first contract covering 8,000 baggage handlers, airport security officers, wheelchair attendants, skycaps, cabin cleaners and terminal cleaners at JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York City and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

In coalitions with others, SEIU has been in the forefront of winning increases in state and local minimum wage laws boosting pay for millions. A year-end report from the National Employment Law Project stated, “When combined with increases approved in recent years, on New Year’s Day 2017, workers in at least 41 states, cities and counties will receive raises – followed later in 2017 by raises for workers in another 21 states and cities.” Even the boss-backed American Enterprise Institute acknowledges these advances in the minimum are the biggest component of the minuscule national increase in wages.

Of course, these new minimums are uneven. Even the 15 dollar goal is 5 dollars less than the average blue collar wage. But it’s more than double the current Federal minimum and full-time at 15 can provide a modest living rather than poverty. And if the 15 is accompanied by a union contract there is a path to further improvement.

But it’s not just low wage workers who have money problems and that’s where the bad news from SEIU comes in. A December 28 article in the The Guardian about an internal union memo they had obtained was titled “SEIU, one of the largest US unions, plans 30% budget cuts in wake of Trump win.”

The union’s concerns are not paranoid. While the Obama administration was certainly no faithful friend of labor, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is a Fast Food CEO, with a personal interest in smashing the Fight for 15 as well as being a class enemy of all unions. There is also a serious threat of the new Congress enacting a national “Right to Work Law” banning union shop contracts, that would result in some lost dues revenue.

SEIU was undoubtedly already feeling a financial squeeze. SEIU in Texas had to file for bankruptcy after an employer won a judgment of 7.8 million dollars in a lawsuit arising from a Justice for Janitors strike in Houston. And it’s estimated the union has spent 25 million dollars over the course of the Fight for 15 campaign.

The 25 million was well spent. But the hundreds of millions of dollars collectively spent by unions, and union PACs—including SEIU—on the last election was waste bordering on malfeasance. Nearly all went to Democrats who are not only faux “friends” but are such inveterate and inventive losers they failed to win an election while receiving the most votes.

Some of those funds should have gone to sustain and expand organizing successes like the Fight for 15. The rest could have been used to finance the launch of a party of our own—a labor party.

Safety First

My wife, Mary Erio, is a self-employed environmental engineer and Certified Industrial Hygienist, mainly doing workplace health and safety plans and monitoring for companies big and small. She also does a monthly Safety First feature for the Heartland Labor Forum on KKFI, 90.1, community radio in Kansas City. Every January she picks the most egregious stories, usually involving preventable fatalities on the job, from the previous year.

I won’t reveal in advance what I know about her picks for 2016. If you live in range of KKFI you can tune in Thursday evening at 6PM Central, or you can hear a live stream on the KKFI website. Archived shows are available online later.

I will say there’s concern among professionals in her field about what to expect from Trump appointees—and the new Congress—concerning changes in laws and regulations, and scope of enforcement. The rail carriers have a long shopping list and the trucking industry would like to roll back recently mandated expanded rest times for drivers—until they can convert to driverles vehicles.

Worth Reading

* I had promised to write more extensive remembrances of Jerry Gordon and Frank Rosen, two outstanding working class leaders that influenced me over decades of collaboration, who passed away last year. I’ve since discovered extensive articles about each of them containing many facts new to me about these men I thought I knew well. Instead of reworking them with only anecdotal additions I’ll offer you links to those articles. Jerry Gordon’s widow Bonnie’s contribution can be found here. For an appreciation of Frank Rosen by the Bill of Rights & Dissent Defense Committee go here.

* A Call to Arms: Join Me in Our National Contract Fight is an informative and suitably titled letter/article addressed to the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen by their national president Dennis R Pierce.

Upcoming Events

* More information at the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Healthcare

Women's March on Washington

* More information here

* As they do every month, the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul has an impressive schedule of events for January. Included is a screening of the film Love and Solidarity, an exploration of nonviolence and organizing through the life and teachings of Rev. James Lawson. Lawson provided crucial strategic guidance while working with Martin Luther King, Jr., in southern freedom struggles and the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.

I resumed posting this morning on our companion Labor Advocate news blog.

That’s all for this week.


 

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Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

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