Mar 042014

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

Looking For the Good Guys?
In 1977 I was part of an American trade unionist two week charter tour of the Soviet Union. In addition to extended stays in Moscow and Leningrad we spent a day and a night in Kiev.

As soon as we arrived in Ukraine’s capital it was clear we were in a different nation and  culture. Pedestrians we passed on the crowded sidewalks of Moscow invariably kept their eyes down and their faces grim. In Leningrad they tended to be more relaxed and observant though still quietly aloof. In Kiev you often saw families and friends walking in groups with arms linked singing and laughing.

The two big Russian cities had fantastic art collections in museums–mainly visited by foreign tourists. In Kiev ubiquitous brightly colored mosaics, frescos, and murals brought joy to all who passed.

These memories made it particularly painful for me to watch television coverage of the recent bloodshed and destruction in Kiev.

When the Soviet Union began to collapse Reagan/Bush I and Iron Lady Thatcher gave moral support and lots of money to “pro-democracy reformers.” But these “reformers” didn’t come out of the ranks of those who published underground samitzdat literature. Gorbachev’s  glasnost quickly gave way to rule by KGB SOBs who had filled the  gulags and mental wards  with dissenters.

First there was the drunken fool Boris Yeltsin who demonstrated his commitment to democracy by sending tanks to lob shells in to a parliament that displeased him. His Free Market reforms quickly delivered things common in the West but long unknown in the Soviet Union–such as unemployment, pornography, and a mafia whose ruthless brutality would have shocked the Godfather. After the dismantling of socialized medicine the average life span of Russians took a precipitous plunge.

Yeltsin’s 1999 replacement is no fool–but no more democratic either. He may have offered asylum to Edward Snowden but Russian union militants share the same fate as Pussy Riot. Continued repression did not prevent Putin from being welcomed in to the G8 club of capitalist powers or gaining the prestige of hosting the Olympics in his favorite vacation resort.

But Putin is no compliant comprador and his recent initiatives usually reserved for superpowers–such as around Iran and Syria–irritated his new best G8 friends. When Putin convinced the Ukranian government to cancel negotiations for admission to the European Union and instead become indebted to Russia, they became infuriated. It was time to look for some new forces of “democracy” in Ukraine.

Post-Soviet Ukraine has been dominated by a clash of “oligarchs,” each with strong ties to the rulers of neighboring countries who have historically tried to subjugate Ukraine–Russia and Poland.

The Polish rulers who restored capitalism owe a debt of gratitude to not only the CIA but the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center as well in subverting the Solidarnos’c’ trade union movement through the apostate Lech Walesa. Today Warsaw has thrown their lot in with the European Union and stand to gain from Ukraine’s membership.  

There is clearly widespread dissatisfaction in Ukraine and many have bought the bogus promise of European integration as salvation. Unsavory neo-fascist forces have worked to exploit that sentiment, acting as provocateurs. The elected government readily met provocation by gunning down protesters. Far from quelling the trouble that sealed the government’s doom and has even raised the threat of war between Russia and Ukraine.

Ukranian independence should be defended and the rights of Russian and Jewish ethnic minorities should be respected. But such lofty ideals are not the driving force of this crisis. It’s a battle between oligarchs and superpowers over economic and geopolitical advantage.

War to choose between the introduction of European austerity such as exhibited in Greece, or indebtedness to Russia, is not in the interest of working people anywhere. None of the characters currently occupying the stage are good guys. Our people–the workers and farmers of Ukraine–are still to be heard from.

Keystone Cops
The Washington Post reported, “More than 500 protesters chanting, ‘Hey, Obama! We don’t want no pipeline drama,’ marched to the White House Sunday, demanding that President Obama stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline extension that would daily carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast. About 200 protesters, who marched from Georgetown University, through the streets of D.C., stopping in front of the house of Secretary of State John Kerry to drop ‘a fake oil spill,’ were arrested after they used plastic zip ties to lock themselves to the White House fence.”

Opponents aren’t the only ones getting antsy. Missouri’s Democrat Governor Jay Nixon joined our Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill in urging the President to give quick approval. And the American Petroleum Institute spiced up their TV commercials for green fossil fuels with a fresh plug for new pipelines. AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka is also anxious to unleash the job creators.

Not all AFL affiliates follow their fearless leader on this one though. Amalgamated Transit Union, National Nurses United, and Transport Workers have been actively involved in protests against KXL as has SEIU.

The dangers exposed by the KXL movement is raising fresh concerns about even  existing pipelines. Particularly worrying is one built in 1953, operated by Enbridge, that runs under the water separating upper and lower Michigan. A Guardian article notes,

“The straits of Mackinac epitomizes a potential worst-case scenario for a pipeline accident: an iconic waterway, ecologically and economically significant, that could be fiendishly hard to clean up because of swift currents and deep water that’s often covered with ice several months a year. The 5-mile-wide straits link Lakes Huron and Michigan and flow near Mackinac Island, which is famed for its horse-drawn carriages and fudge shops. Several villages draw drinking water from the straits and cargo freighters and passenger ferries use it as a passageway. Sport anglers chase salmon and trout, while commercial crews harvest whitefish and perch for restaurants. Hundreds of activists attended a rally to protest the pipeline last summer. Local residents haven’t paid it much attention over the years, but a packed crowd grilled Enbridge representatives at a community meeting this month.”

It’s too late to stop that pipeline but it’s not yet too late to shut it down and leave it in the ground.

In Brief…
* After more than a year of bargaining punctuated by brief strikes and job actions, AFSCME Local 3299 has secured a four year contract with ten campuses of the University of California for 8,300 custodians, food workers, gardeners and other campus service workers. The deal includes a an immediate 4.5 percent pay increase as a signing bonus and then three percent raises annually through 2016.
* Elizabeth Thiel writing in Labor Notes, “After coming to the brink of what would have been the first strike in their union’s history, Portland, Oregon, teachers are instead voting this week on a contract that reduces workload significantly. Up till the end, administrators had refused to budge on workload, the teachers’ top priority. But the district agreed to hire 150 teachers for next school year, potentially reducing class sizes by more than 5 percent. Teachers in St. Paul, Minnesota, reached a settlement the same week, averting their own strike vote over similar issues.
* Trip Gabriel opens a New York Times article related to the disastrous coal ash spill reported in the ;ast WIR, “Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers. ‘The General Assembly doesn’t like you,’ an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors called to a drab meeting room here. ‘They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.’ From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. ‘If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.’ But when the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in early February, those big changes were suddenly playing out in a different light. Federal prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the spill and the relations between Duke and regulators at the environmental agency.”

That’s all for this week.
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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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