Nov 182013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

And the Winner Is…
A Saturday AP dispatch reports,

“Seattle voters have elected a socialist to city council for the first time in modern history. Kshama Sawant’s lead continued to grow on Friday, prompting 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin to concede…..Conlin was backed by the city’s political establishment. On election night, she trailed by four percentage points…. But in the days following election night, Sawant’s share of the votes outgrew Conlin’s.”

41-year old Sawant was raised in Mumbai, India. She moved to the USA with her computer engineer husband and become a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2010. Sawant holds a PhD in economics from North Carolina State University and teaches part-time at Seattle Central Community College and Seattle University.

The victorious Socialist Alternative candidate first gained public attention through her participation in the Seattle edition of Occupy Wall Street  in 2011. She won the city council contest on a platform that included a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, rent control, and a tax on millionaires to finance public transit.

Hats off to Kshama Sawant and her dedicated campaigners.

Double Hit In Philippines
Peter Moskowitz writes on the Aljazeera site,

“Most climate scientists agree that increasing global temperatures will cause more-intense storms in the future. And while it’s hard to pinpoint the causes of any one storm, many agree that there will be more Haiyan-strength storms to come because of climate change. That has put the Philippines and other developing nations in a bind. While poor countries often bear the brunt of climate change’s effects, their lackluster economies prevent them from funding infrastructure and education, which could help mitigate the damage of disasters like Haiyan. Now many in the Philippines, as well as environmental advocates and climate experts, are pushing for affluent countries, including the United States, to pay to help lessen the impact of climate change across the globe. They say that industrialized nations should not only foot the bill because they can but also because they are largely responsible for climate change.”

Both the science and logic of this argument is irrefutable. But even past puny pledges of help, such as those offered by President Obama and others at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, have mostly been unfulfilled. Nor have philanthropists such as America’s second richest man, Warren Buffett–who recently purchased 3.45 billion dollars of shares in ExxonMobil–shown much interest in helping the poor island nations survive extreme hurricanes/typhoons, tidal waves, and rising sea levels caused by burning fossil fuels.

Even though the Ecuadoran Supreme Court drastically reduced a damage award against Chevron for environmental destruction in the Amazon Valley–a region that greatly affects global climate–the U.S. oil giant rejects any payment as “illegitimate and unenforceable.” And since Copenhagen, right-wing governments in Australia, Canada, and Japan have abandoned their little more than token goals for reducing carbon emissions and sent the weak from birth Kyoto Accords off to hospice.

Some island nations have found ways to minimize death and destruction from severe weather. Fidel Castro, who in medical retirement has written extensively on climate issues, always made weather emergency plans a top priority and this has continued on his brother’s watch. Despite their own hardships, mainly resulting from a half-century of U.S. embargo, Cuba is also usually the first to come to the aid of others when disasters strike in their hemisphere–as they did with doctors and engineers in Haiti within hours of the horrible earthquake there. But few vulnerable countries have such effective regimes.

The Philippines sent an able spokesperson to the COP19 UN Climate Conference now meeting in Warsaw. Naderev Saño told the delegates,

“…What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness…We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons become a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to. … Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to delay climate action.”

But the effects of the climate disaster in the Philippines have also been greatly compounded by widespread corruption and incompetence of the authorities. Even now, little relief has reached inland areas who are essentially out of medicine, food, and potable water. As medical personnel can only helplessly watch, victims with easily treatable injuries, such as broken legs, are dying days after the storm from malnutrition and dehydration.

Some of the One Percent’s wealth, and more governments with the Cuban approach, could help mitigate climate disaster somewhat. But an even more important task is to stop fueling extreme events that flow from a planet stressed by global warming. That will require replacing fossil fuels with clean renewables and modifying wasteful consumption promoted in the capitalist marketplace.  No lamb’s blood on the door will prevent climate calamities from ultimately reaching all homes if we fail to act–and soon.

On Saturday there were some mass climate actions in the streets worth noting–and emulating. The Guardian reports,

“An estimated 60,000 people have attended rallies across Australia in one of the largest ever displays of support for action on climate change. Labor and Greens politicians, alongside volunteer firefighters and environmental activists, took turns at the Climate Action Day to lambast the Coalition government, which will table bills in parliament on Monday to dismantle carbon pricing.”

Considering the population differential this is equivalent to a half-million in the USA.

And the CBC tells us about rallies across the Canadian state in 130 cities and towns. In Edmonton, capital of the Alberta province that is home to the notorious tar-sands, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the Legislature with a wall of 55-gallon oil drums.

It’s now the turn of us Yanks–number one per capita generators of greenhouse gasses–to stir things up while there’s still something left to stir. 

Bay Area Rapid Threat
After six months of bargaining, and two strikes, the tragic death of two track workers hit by a train being used to train strike breakers finally led to a contract settlement last month between Bay Area Rapid Transit and their two main unions. The deal included some give-backs by the workers, though not nearly as severe as long held out for by BART management. The strikers went back to work and soon ratified their new contracts. They decided to live with concessions and fight another day.

Or so they thought.

An AP report,

“BART management says a provision that it never agreed to was somehow ‘inadvertently’ included in the final agreement and signed off on by both transit and union officials. Board Director James Fang confirmed Thursday that the sticking point is family medical leave, which allows workers to take time off to care for a family member with a serious illness. The new contract would give 3,200 BART workers six weeks of paid leave each year, while prior language required workers to use sick leave and vacation time first. ‘It’s very unfortunate,’ Fang said, adding: ‘We’re going to discuss the options and one of them is to not to approve the contract.’”

The unions responded to this threat of a literal deal breaker with the contempt it deserves. If BART reneges a third strike is likely. AP quotes ATU Local 1021 President Antonette Bryant,

“‘BART management is now attempting to go back on agreements it made in July and August and that were part of the final deal,’ she said. BART officials first signed off on the family medical leave clause in July, she added. ‘We feel that this is a valid contract,’ Bryant said, ‘and we expected the board would ratify it.’”

No Inadvertence At Boeing
When workers hear an employer wants to renegotiate an existing union contract they are always suspicious. There is no known instance of a boss saying, “Our profits have exceeded our wildest expectations. We want to share this windfall with our loyal workers who made this possible by writing generous raises in wages and benefits  in to our labor agreement.”

Boeing did not break such new ground either in at first secret negotiations with IAM officials representing 31,000 of their workers in the Seattle area. In fact, there wasn’t much that could truly be called negotiating. The multinational aerospace giant issued an ultimatum specifying  nonnegotiable conditions for considering keeping work on a new product line–the 777X, for which they already purportedly have 95 billion dollars worth of orders–in Washington.

Boeing wanted to extend the current contract, which still has more than two years left, another eight years. But starting in 2016, there would be major new take-aways. The present defined benefit pension would be replaced with a 401(k); paycheck deductions for health insurance would increase  substantially; new hires would have to work twenty years to get to the top pay grade; and general raises would be limited to one percent every other year. The company did offer a ten thousand dollar bonus for each worker if this deal was approved.

Local union officers trying to explain this boss hubris soon recognized this dog wasn’t going to hunt. The President dramatically tore up a copy. But those on the International payroll dutifully tried to sell it and organized a vote. They not only got a lot of verbal abuse from the livid ranks but were handed a two-to-one vote to reject as well.

The Democrat Governor and legislature are desperately trying to bribe good corporate citizen Boeing–who in the past outsourced and offshored much production work as well as moving their corporate headquarters to Chicago–to keep the new work in their state. Jenny Brown writes in a good piece on the Labor Notes site,

“In another rushed move, Washington Governor Jay Inslee called legislators to the capital for a special session to discuss incentives to keep the 777X in Washington last week. In the past, Boeing has taken state money—and union concessions—and then built wings in Japan and a new 787 factory in right-to-work South Carolina. On Saturday, legislators approved $8.7 billion in tax breaks for Boeing over the next 16 years. It’s the largest state tax subsidy in U.S. history, according to critics who point to a revolving door between the state’s government and Boeing.”

The Spirit of Athens Polytechnic
Every November 17 Greek workers and students mark the 1973 Athens Polytechnic Uprising, initiated by students and soon supported by thousands of workers, against the military dictatorship then ruling Greece. Though it was suppressed by AMX tanks it was considered pivotal in the movement that finally brought down the Junta the following year.

Yesterday’s commemoration was bigger than usual bringing tens of thousands of workers in to the streets of Athens and Thessalonika. It also attracted thousands of cops and police helicopters hovered constantly. Tear gas was used when some protesters threw rocks at the headquarters of the fascist Golden Dawn party.

The anniversary coincided with a visit of IMF and EU Bank officials monitoring the progress of the austerity they have imposed on Greece in exchange for loans to keep the government afloat. They should be pleased. Reuters reports,

“Greece’s bailout has come at a price of tax rises and cuts to wages and pensions and the crisis, the country’s worst during peacetime, has forced thousands of business to shut, pushed up unemployment and eroded living standards. Nearly six in 10 young Greeks are without work, homelessness is on the rise and many have seen their incomes and wages shrink to levels not seen in decades.”

The Greek workers and youth are down–but far from out. Their legacy of tenacity and resilience lives on.

That’s all for this week.

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