Feb 022017

  by Bill Onasch

Playing Catch Up

I’ve got more than one excuse for the ten day interval in editions called Week In Review. The biggest was a deadline for an extensive article about labor and climate in the Trump era requested by my friends at Socialist Action. I’ll share some substantial excerpts of my draft with WIR readers:

The Trump administration wasted no time before launching a veritable blitzkrieg on all fronts in pursuit of an “alt-right” America First agenda. But resistance has been swift and massive.

In addition to various movements mobilizing we also heard from scientists. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported–“Comments by US President Donald Trump on nuclear weapons and climate change have helped make the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned …. moving its symbolic ‘Doomsday Clock’ 30 seconds closer to midnight.”

This heightened warning by atomic scientists about two overarching crises closely followed an announcement by climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that, for the third consecutive year, 2016 had been the hottest since record keeping began in 1880.

Trump replaces an Obama administration that offered token gestures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that are the prime culprit in heating our planet, while at the same time also promoting fossil fuel expansion through destructive fracking of gas and oil.

The 45th President has dismissed global warming as a job-killing hoax perpetrated by China to sabotage the American economy. Rather than presenting any of his signature “alternative facts” to bolster this fantastic conspiracy theory he has wisely focused on the job-killing argument. Jobs are rightly a big legitimate concern of the working class majority.

Making Nice to Some Unions

Largely overlooked in all the turmoil was Trump’s duplicitous reach out to sectors of trade union leadership, promising to save and create middle class jobs. He invited AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and Teamsters president James P Hoffa to the White House to celebrate his canceling of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by President Obama. All unions and environmental groups had strongly opposed TPP for good reasons. Like NAFTA and other such regional agreements, TPP is more about the unrestricted movement of capital across borders than trade. Trumka and Hoffa endorsed Trump’s action.

Trump also summoned leaders of several construction based unions to unveil his plans to create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure and reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects.

Of course, there’s plenty that needs to be done to repair or replace dangerous bridges and tunnels, deteriorating water and sewer lines, aging rail and urban mass transit systems, and much more long neglected through “deferred maintenance” imposed by austerity budgets.

But Trump’s scheme is no needed grand plan for useful public works. The last WIR exposed it as a scam to provide subsidies and tax breaks for profitable private developers. And the unions expecting to get such work should keep in mind that the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law—enacted during the Hoover administration–that has long guaranteed union jurisdiction on public projects is targeted for repeal by Congress.

The expansion of the 200,000 mile network of pipelines will exacerbate climate change and inflict major environmental damage. Leaks are inevitable. Over the past decade 38 million gallons have polluted land and water.

KXL would move not oil but bitumen—a hydrocarbon often used as an ingredient in asphalt. It is mined in the Tar Sands of Alberta and injected with chemicals to create a sludge suitable for flowing through the pipeline to special refineries that convert it in to a synthetic oil. Unlike oil, bitumen is heavier than water and when it leaks in to rivers and streams it does more damage by sinking to the bottom. It is the dirtiest fuel on the planet. Mass protests by climate activists pressured Obama to consign the project to purgatory.

The Dakota Access Pipeline would transfer shale oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from the Bakken in North Dakota to also special refineries in Illinois. Bakken oil has a very high methane content. Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. It also makes the oil much more volatile. Currently Bakken oil is shipped by rail and there have been numerous fiery, sometimes deadly transport accidents.

Trump promises KXL will generate 10,000 short duration jobs building the pipeline. Once completed, the owners expect to operate it 24/7 with only about 30 regular employees.

DAPL is already mostly complete—except for the vital missing link planned to go through the Sioux Nation Standing Rock Reservation. Mass peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience at Standing Rock led Obama to put the project on pause, essentially handing it off to his successor. The acting Secretary of the Army has ordered the Corps of Engineers to immediately grant an easement for DAPL through the Reservation—certain to face a court battle. Protesters have already returned and more than seventy were arrested on Wednesday.

If DAPL is ultimately completed one way or another, it too will provide only a few dozen long term maintenance and inspection jobs. But a substantial number of rail jobs will be lost once the pipeline is flowing—creating an overall net loss of middle class union jobs.

Some Unions Not Welcomed

Among those pointedly not invited for a White House chat with the Denier-in-Chief are such major unions as the Service Employees International Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United. Those unions have made a good start in educating and mobilizing their members around climate issues. They built mass actions around KXL and DAPL with member participation and material contributions. NNU nurses cared for those peaceful protesters at Standing Rock injured by police pepper gas and rubber bullets.


These unions are affiliated to coalitions like the Labor Network for Sustainability in North America, and the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. This labor wing of the climate justice movement understands the working class majority is the only force with both the material interest and potential power to defeat capitalist climate wrecking and replace it with a sustainable economy.

These climate conscious unionists realize that overcoming the threat of job loss is task #1 in winning over workers. They have revived and adapted the long promoted principle of Just Transition. In a nutshell, this means when workers lose their livelihood for the good of society, society must guarantee their living standards and, if necessary provide retraining and relocation expenses, until they find suitable new work.

This principle can apply to many areas such as the armaments industries and workers in the billing and advertising departments of health insurance companies. The required restructuring of the American and world economy to stop global warming short of global disaster will mean eliminating and replacing tens of millions of jobs.

Just Transition is a necessary first step in unifying the struggles for class and climate justice that can secure a peaceful, democratic, sustainable future. The working class needs to lead the discussion and planned implementation of this goal that is indispensable to the survival of human civilization.


Down But Not Out

There were high expectations in organized labor when Obama took office eight years ago. Their hopes centered on labor law reform. But no significant legislation was passed during his administration, not even during his first two years when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

There were some beneficial new Labor Board rulings about overtime coverage and “joint responsibility” of national corporations for workers in franchised workplaces. Those rules can, and most certainly will, be reversed by Trump appointees. Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is CEO of the Hardy’s fast food chain who will undoubtedly strangle “joint responsibility” in the crib.

Instead of a resurgence in union strength, the final annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a decline in union numbers and density on Obama’s watch to a new low since reporting of such stats began in 1983. In 2015, unions represented 16, 441,000 workers, 12.3 percent of the workforce, of which 11.1 percent were actual union members. In 2016, representation declined to 12 percent, union membership, 10.7. The new figures in the private sector show only 7.3 percent represented, 6.4 percent dues-paying members.

The discrepancy between union represented and union membership is primarily due to free-riders choosing not to join the union in those states where so-called “Right to Work” laws ban union shop agreements. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council has succeeded in getting RtW passed in several new states in recent years including union strongholds in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky–and passage in Missouri appears imminent. It is possible Congress will pass a national version.

Despite declining members polls show the number of Americans who view unions favorably is on the rise. A new Pew Poll shows a sixty percent approval rating. Both the positive public perception of unions and the employer drive to get rid of them are undoubtedly influenced by wages. Full-time union workers had a median usual weekly paycheck of 1,004 dollars last year. The same measure for nonunion workers was 802 dollars.

On the East Side

I continue to post links to monthly schedules of events at the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul not only for the benefit of our Twin Cities readers but also as examples other areas may find useful. I’m sure that the founders/directors of this rare gem—Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff—will welcome any emulation. You can find the February schedule here.


Anniversary Greetings

I congratulate the Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus on the tenth anniversary of his very informative Climate & Capitalism website.

That’s all for this week.

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