Week In Review December 13

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Dec 132017

  by Bill Onasch

Why Are There So Many____?

I call a perceptive reader in Chicago an old friend even though he is more than a decade away from the 75 I marked last Friday. For over thirty years we have had more or less monthly Sunday morning telephone chats of some length about matters both political and personal. I often use his suggestions for topics in the WIR.

But I have so far neglected one he has raised more than once—in addition to big overarching issues like climate change, war, and human rights we should also note the increasing difficulties in ordinary daily life of working people.

A headline over a useful article in the Tuesday New York Times read–Tax Plan’s Biggest Cuts Could Be in Living Standards.

A story on the Monthly Review site examines A Grim Picture of Working Class Finances.

Another friend in Los Angeles who I came to know through our efforts in the old Labor Party Advocates, and who has been a diligent supporter of the KC Labor project since we went online nearly eighteen years ago, also contributes ideas for stories. A few days ago she sent me a Guardian link that might have been ignored by algorithms searching for class and climate topics—Why Are America’s Farmers Killing Themselves In Record Numbers?

Of course, farmers are not part of the same class as wage workers. Some are rich and exploit farm workers–and identify with the capitalist class. They are not the suicidal ones.

But those who actually work their land are fellow toilers who can and should be allies of the working class in fighting for justice for both. The working farmers are being shafted by the AgriBusiness complex and the banks as well as being at the mercy of weather and nonhuman pests. And in the midst of “prosperity” many of them cannot keep up. Blaming themselves, some fall in to despair. In my opinion, that is the principal reason why so many farmers are killing themselves—more than any other occupational group, more than even homeless veterans suffering from PTS.

This deadly crisis for American farmers has been exported through Globalization resulting in even more alarming numbers in other countries. Agricultural suicides average one a week in Britain, every four days in Australia, every two days in France. In India, more than 270,000 farmers have taken their own lives since record keeping began in 1995.

These deaths should not be chalked up to personal failures. It is cruel to brand them as committing the one unforgivable sin, as some religions do. Culpability for their demise mostly belongs to capitalist greed.

We can save lives by helping working farmers understand their plight is caused by the system, not their incompetence. We can also offer hope for the future. With our solidarity, workers and working farmers united can create a new, just system.

I plan to deal more often in the WIR with such problems of every day life.

The Answer Is Not Blowin’ in This Wind

While I strive to be better than they are, it’s difficult to suppress a feeling of comeuppance when the one percent get punished for their luxurious indulgences. The current round of wild fires in southern California inflicted some damage in Los Angeles suburbs with mansions of the rich and famous–even when protected by their own private fire brigades. One “tragedy” in particular caught my attention.

Rupert Murdoch built a chain of Australian newspapers he inherited from his knighted father in to a global multimedia empire. In addition to being a reactionary, union-busting, misogynist he is a dyed-in-the-wool climate change denier, denouncing it as “alarmist nonsense”–and that line is fed to tens of millions of readers and viewers every day.

Since becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985 Murdoch has maintained homes in both Britain and America. He doesn’t have a residence in tony Bel-Air but he does own a winery there he purchased after reading it was for sale in the pages of his Wall Street Journal. Murdoch’s winemaker earlier this year claimed climate change was actually enhancing their sauvignon blanc. But sadly last week the Guardian ran a story, Rupert Murdoch’s winery scorched as California wildfire rips through Bel-Air.

But we shouldn’t let any guilty pleasure about seeing “what goes around comes around” divert our attention to the very real tragedies of loss of life and homes of all classes. We need to determine their cause and develop a remedial response.

The media attributes most of the blame on fierce desert Santa Ana winds being squeezed through passes in the mountains overlooking Los Angeles. While their force is palpable they are symptomatic, not causal. Those winds have arrived with seasonal regularity since long before any humans arrived in present day SoCal without such catastrophic effect. Nor do they explain other less publicized outbreaks of wildfires throughout the western U.S. and Canada that haven’t yet menaced major population centers.

All of these fires have resulted from tinder conditions created by a combination of years of inadequate precipitation with current unseasonably high temps and low humidity–fed by strong winds. They cannot be explained as weather or seasonal events. This is climate change. As California Governor Jerry Brown acknowledged this is the “new normal.”

I don’t think it is alarmist to sound an alarm about a clear and present danger. NASA is one government agency Trump has not yet been able to silence. A recently released chart clearly shows the steep rise in carbon emissions in the greenhouse zone of the atmosphere continues threatening even more disastrous newer normals.

Governor Brown is projecting himself as the American leader of the movement to stop overheating our planet. But he is the second generation of a political family that played a prominent role over the past several decades in shaping ecologically destructive policies that promoted urban sprawl, car dependency, and ubiquitous oil wells even in metropolitan areas. Even today, while vowing to continue Obama’s cap-and-trade Clean Power Policy repudiated by Trump, Brown is giving his blessing to new fracking ventures in California.

But all is not yet hopeless. I had an opportunity to join an online national conference call of the Labor Network for Sustainability last week. The participants and agenda confirmed some progress is being registered in building a working class component of the climate movement. A major project near and dear to me is a nationally coordinated Transit Equity Day February 5. The WIR will provide more details as they become available.

In Brief…

* After a week-long strike by 2,000 members of SEIU Local 1021, whose picket lines were honored by a thousand other unionists, the city of Oakland, California agreed to mediation efforts to resolve their contract dispute. Their contract expired June 30. Wages are the big issue in one of the highest cost of living areas in the country. The union is seeking a 2 year contract with 4 percent raises each year. In their last offer management accepted 4 in the first year but only 1 in the second.

* It didn’t involve many but it was an initial breakthrough when workers at the Dollar General store in Auxvasse, Missouri voted 2-1 to be represented by UFCW Local 655. The company says they are “evaluating the situation.”

* The management Railway Age reports a tentative agreement has been reached in the second of three national contract negotiations with rail craft unions. While no details are specified it purportedly mirrors the first settlement that included union give-backs on health care. More resistance is expected in the final deal being negotiated with the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees in the lead of crafts representing 20 percent of unionized rail workers.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review December 4

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Dec 042017

  by Bill Onasch

Accept No Substitutes

There’s a lot of stuff in the U.S. Constitution the ruling class doesn’t like but the Sixteenth Amendment ratified in 1913 is near the top of their gripes,

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

They especially detest the “progressive” form that it took—the more you make, the more you pay. Between the World Wars, most workers and many family farmers didn’t have to pay any income tax. During World War II, the nominal top rate for the wealthiest was 93 percent. Taxes haven’t been that “astronomical” since but the rich still resent being penalized for their success in exploiting us.

Unlike the ideological war on the “deep state,” vigorously pursued by the Trump administration, most fat cats recognize the need for an effective government that they control. It takes a lot to maintain the might of the one remaining super-power. They need courts and prisons to defend their property and keep the rowdy lower class in check. Their class benefits from subsidized research done at both public and private universities. It’s just that while spending what’s needed for what they perceive to be worthwhile they prefer that others pick up most of the tab.

While all capitalists certainly welcome keeping more of the wealth that our class produces there has been no apparent urgent need for the nearly 500 page Senate “Tax Cut and Jobs” bill passed 51-49 in the wee hours of Saturday morning.

* The official unemployment rate is near a record postwar low.

* The Dow-Jones Industrial Index set a new record high last week.

* During the recovery from the Great Recession corporations accumulated a mountain of cash on hand of more than 2 trillion dollars. That didn’t stop some of the richest from accepting offered interest-free loans from Obama’s Federal Reserve.

* When they have spent some of this windfall it’s been mostly to acquire other big corporations and/or to buy back their own stock to reward the real owners.

There are few economists outside ultra-right “think tanks” who believe the melding of the Senate and House bills will stimulate sufficient new growth to compensate for lost revenue from corporate tax-cuts. Nor will the super-rich use their breaks to buy enough yachts, or build more mansions, to provide new “middle class” jobs. And the weekly paycheck gains for the typical middle class family of four will allow them to share a large pizza every week—though even that is temporary.

Most economists think substantial, sustained growth depends on raising real wages that have been stagnant for decades and transforming the growing “gig economy” in to real jobs with stable wages and needed benefits. Trump promises that corporations will share their permanent tax-cut windfall by raising wages. A New York Times piece reports a challenge to this pledge by the Communications Workers of America,

‘President Trump and the Republican Congress have been trying to sell this corporate tax cut to working families by making big claims about wage increases, investment and job growth that don’t seem to be supported by the evidence,’ said Chris Shelton, the president of the union. ‘We’re going straight to the people who know how corporations plan to spend the billions of dollars being handed over to them — the C.E.O.s — and asking them if they intend to keep the promises that Trump is making on their behalf.’”

As could be expected, not a single top boss of any of the telecommunications, media, airline or appliance manufacturers CWA bargains with were willing to endorse Trump’s promise.


Present and past students are among the biggest losers in “reform.” Deduction for interest on student loan debt is eliminated. Grad student teachers and researchers who get their tuition waived will now have to pay income tax on its dollar value instead of just the usual modest cash wages they actually receive. Many such programs will no longer be viable—a loss that should also concern many capitalists whose industries depend on university research.

Many objectives of these bills go far beyond tax “reform.” For example,

> It advances Trump’s ecological warfare by opening up the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling and with measures discouraging expansion of growing solar and wind energy vital to tackling climate change.

> A prize was awarded to theocracy allowing churches and synagogues to endorse, stump from the pulpit, and contribute church funds to candidates for office without losing their tax-exempt status.

> In another attack on public education, the Senate, with a tie-breaking vote by Vice-President Pence, allows tax-advantaged 529 savings accounts for college expenses to also be used for private and parochial K-12 schools and even home schooling. The House version also specified these accounts could be established for unborn children—“in utero.”

> The biggest conflict between the two versions is on health care. The House decided not to take another bite out of that sour apple. The Senate bill eliminates the so-called “individual mandate” that requires those who choose not to enroll in an available approved plan to pay a penalty when they file their tax return. Its impact is estimated to lead to 13 million more uninsured and a ten percent hike in insurance costs.

I admit that, like most members of Congress, I have not read the two bills in their entirety. The list of injustices and absurdities covered in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian are too numerous to review in the WIR. Some will have to be modified for a common bill to be sent back to both houses. It’s possible the damage by the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.


After inviting the minority leaders to the White House to discuss the legislation still being fleshed out, Trump sent out twits to his forty-some million followers denouncing the Dems for their many crimes and misdemeanors and declaring no deal with them was possible. When they understandably didn’t show, 45 posed for the cameras sitting between Chuck and Nancy’s two empty chairs.

But that feel good moment was probably the biggest favor he could have awarded the Democrats. Excluded from any input they needed only to follow Nancy Reagan’s advice to young people about drugs and premarital sex—just say no! They can’t take credit for weekly pizzas but they evade culpability for inevitable disasters.

Knowing their boss wouldn’t like the answers, Trump’s Treasury department didn’t bother to cost out either bill. The congressional bean counters of the Joint Committee on Taxation, after subtracting a very generous estimate of economic growth, predicts the Senate bill would add a trillion dollars to the deficit. One independent estimate goes as high as 1.39 trillion.

Leaders on both sides of the aisle know full well such hemorrhaging can’t be sustained for long. That suits the Republican ambition to pursue even much deeper cuts in useful public services, programs to help the poor—and the so-called entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Obama doggedly tried to convince the GOP to join him in a Grand Bargain of mutual protection while gutting entitlements. But visceral hatred of President 44 guaranteed that potentially historic victory for the ruling class would be rejected. The irrational, unpredictable behavior of President 45 precludes for now any bipartisan collaboration that remains the goal of the official opposition party.

Of course, there are Democrat Senators such as the “socialist” from Vermont, and the one vilified by Trump as “Pocahontas,” who say some good things on occasion. But they continually prove their loyalty to the boss party that is having more success than they have earned in preempting “resistance” to Trumpism.

The present bleak situation will become increasingly ominous until the working class builds a party of our own. The indicated foundation for such a structure remains our only class-based mass organizations—our unions. A Labor Party can be the advocate for the unorganized and the ally of the social mass movements, coordinating battles for class and climate justice in the workplace, the streets, and at the ballot box. We should accept no substitutes.

Transit Equity Day

While ridership has been on the rise in recent years there is a veritable transit crisis in many American cities big and small. New York City’s subways moving 5 million passengers a day is on the verge of collapse and their buses aren’t doing much better. Washington DC has neglected even routine maintenance on the Metro and is moving to privatize the Red Line. Union negotiations remain highly contentious in Chicago and the Twin Cities.

But the most hopeful communication I received last week was a brief one from the Labor Network for Sustainability announcing a Transit Equity Day February 5. The initial save the date call is sponsored by the Amalgamated Transit Union, Jobs with Justice, and the Institute for Policy Studies as well as the Labor Network. The date is linked to the legacy of Rosa Parks whose protest against segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama was a pivotal event in the civil rights movement. Transit Equity Day aims to link the struggles for civil rights, workers rights, and climate justice. More details are promised soon.

I forwarded the message to a local officer and some fellow retirees in ATU Local 1287 in Kansas City and included International Executive Vice-President Javier Perez who lives in KC. I was pleasantly surprised that this led to an initial informal Saturday lunch meeting to discuss how we can approach not only transit unionists but also community, church and environmental groups. More to follow.


Twin Cities readers should check out the December events scheduled at the St Paul East Side Freedom Library.

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 +

Powered By Blogger 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.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.