Dec 162013

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Rappelling Down
Last year at this time there was much consternation about a looming plunge off a Fiscal Cliff. Now there Is lavish praise of a compromise partial budget deal “splitting differences.”

A compromise initially seemed within reach last year as well. House Speaker Boehner was ready to say yes to a tentative bold deal with the President that would have begun to seriously chop once untouchable Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But Instead of being cheered for this historic deal the Speaker was called out and humiliated by the House GOP caucus–bullied by an intransigent minority Tea Party faction that would accept nothing less than Obama’s unconditional surrender. The Speaker was forced to recant and repent.

The loony right draws their power to intimidate through major funding by ruling class mavericks such as a couple of the Koch brothers. This year they dictated an agenda of sequestration, obstruction, and eventually even a government shutdown. They repealed the Affordable Care Act dozens of times–nearly equaling the record low number of bills actually becoming laws in this session of Congress.

The mainstream of the One Percent is not pleased with this performance. They want a government that works for them—not one that doesn’t work at all. They prefer two reliable parties who can take turns being in and out. Instead the majority is rejecting both parties as never before in living memory.

The latest compromise is likely a modest first step in a long uncertain journey to rehabilitate the credibility of the Establishment parties as fit to govern. When the cracked tea pots tried to again veto the latest bargain even the mild mannered Speaker fired some warning shots across their bow—and majorities on both sides of the aisle sealed the deal.

Now talking heads ranging from Fox News to the Comedy Channel are praising the “adult behavior” of party leaders moving ahead in the tradition of bipartisan compromise. But many coming to the table looking for more than good manners are leaving hungry.

On December 28 extended unemployment benefits for the long term jobless will be terminated. 1.3 million workers will be cut off immediately, another two million axed over the next couple of months.

Mimicking the private sector, the petite compromise takes more money out of Federal worker paychecks to give back to their employer for their pensions—effectively a 1.2 percent pay cut.

The Federal workers will now finally get a raise in January after enduring a wage freeze since 2010—a whopping one percent.

But sequestration is far from dead. These furloughs and job eliminations previously mandated by bipartisan agreement will be reduced by half in 2014, a quarter in 2015. In 2013 92,000 Federal jobs vanished and many more are targeted. Head Start, for example, continues to have a big bull’s eye on their back as does the program to house 58,000 homeless veterans.

If this be the adult approach to government then call me a juvenile delinquent. Had this mature method prevailed last year we would already be taking bigger hits on our few social benefit entitlements. We won’t gain from more honest, efficient, splitting the difference government as long as it is dominated by bosses, bankers, and brass hats. We need an uncompromising party of our own to fight for a government that will serve the interests of the working class majority.

A New Final Offer
Even though Boeing is boasting that they have received attractive bids for their new 777x project from 22 states they called the IAM in Seattle back to the table for a new “final offer.” It is somewhat improved over the first final one rejected by a 2-1 margin in a rank-and-fie vote. The new proposal ups a signing bonus from ten to fifteen thousand dollars, drops the demand to lengthen the time needed to get to the top pay grade in a classification, and adds some new dental benefits.

But the most contentious demand remains—termination of the defined benefit pension. Nor did the company back off take-aways in health coverage. And they are sticking to paltry one percent general raises every other year over the eight year contract extension.

The two sides differ on what was said at the table. IAM Local negotiators maintain the company made the offer contingent on the union leaders recommending approval to the membership—a condition they could not accept. The company denies that contention and insists the union side rejected the offer with no intention of letting the ranks vote.

Regardless of who said what and when, it seems likely the offer will go to a membership vote. Not coincidentally, a three-sided campaign by the IAM International leadership, leaders of the one third in the Local membership who had voted in favor of the first offer, and the Democrat Governor, immediately swung in to action in support of this “last chance” to “save thousands of jobs.”

The pressure on the Boeing workers will be intense. They are fighting to maintain past gains that most unions—including IAM Locals—surrendered long ago. Retirement and health care are seldom part of collective bargaining in most industrial countries—they are instead guaranteed by law, along with other important issues such as standard working hours, vacations and paid sick leave. But the employer monopoly of politics in this country forces a battle around such vital questions over every contract in every bargaining unit.

Boeing’s take-back demands are the ransom demanded for jobs being held hostage. But give-backs in other aviation contracts—not to mention the Big Three automakers, General Electric, Harley-Davidson and many others—have not saved jobs. There’s no good reason to expect that Boeing’s Seattle area workers will get job security in exchange for concessions over the long run either.

Boeing workers need and deserve active solidarity from unions and the working class community in this time of crisis. They are also yet another compelling example of the need for working class political action. They are fortunate to have one genuine ally among public officials—socialist Kshama Sawant recently elected to the Seattle City Council. The labor movement has the potential for a party that can elect a majority of working class advocates to complement and advance mass struggles in the workplace and communities.

I thank our valued though unpaid Northwest correspondent Ann Montague for keeping us up to date on the main front of the class war.

In Brief…
* One of the most popular acts by a President of Mexico was when Lázaro Cárdenas, in support of a 1938 oil workers’ strike, nationalized foreign-owned oil companies and declared all mineral and petro reserves found in Mexico to belong to the Mexican nation. This act has long been commemorated as a civic holiday. This past week, the Mexican Senate completed the last legal step in perhaps the most unpopular act in their country’s post-1910 history—opposed with mass strikes and demonstrations—beginning to sell off the nation’s energy assets to foreign investors once again.
* Meanwhile north of the border what is still technically a Crown Corporation continues to follow the example of their U.S. counterpart in dismantling a once proud public institution. Canada Post/ Postes Canada announced plans to cease delivery to the door of five million residences still served in the traditional way and will cut 8,000 postal jobs. That would be equivalent to about 80,000 jobs in the USA. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is rallying against the cuts.
* Canadian researchers have found a newly discovered gas known as PFTBA has a greenhouse effect seven thousand times more potent than carbon dioxide and will likely remain in the atmosphere for 500 years. Not found in nature, it has been used unknowingly in the electrical industry for more than a half-century. Fortunately concentrations so far are very low but warrant close monitoring.
* A couple of good news stories on the ethical/sustainable agriculture front. The FDA took initial steps to ban the massive use of antibiotics in livestock that has contributed to mutation of super-bugs that threaten all living beings. From now on antibiotics will be restricted to animals diagnosed as actually needing them—not as a cost effective preventive and body builder. And those of us who drink organic milk were pleased to learn it contains healthier fatty acids than those in cows kept in cramped quarters and fed commercial livestock feed.
* Government Executive reports, “Federal employee unions saw an uptick in membership after the government shutdown, and the number of members has been growing consistently over the last several years…. Overall, AFGE has 284,715 active, dues-paying members, the largest its rolls have been in more than 50 years.”

Wrapping It Up
As has been my custom the past thirteen years, I’m taking a year end break. Barring some unforeseen momentous event, this will be the last WIR for 2013. Our news updates on the Labor Advocate blog will also be suspended until Monday, January 6.

Our household is not religious and the only little ones around have four legs and a tail. But we  try to embrace a secular festive spirit by getting together with friends and family over food, beverage, and gossip.

But not all of my longer than usual break will be fun and games. In addition to completing some hardware and software upgrades I’m working on a much needed renovation of my attic office—things difficult to fit in to my normal routine.

I wish you and yours a happy holiday season and a new year better than this one.

That’s all for this year.


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