May 182014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

Solidarity on the Chow Line
Short strikes and demonstrations by fast food workers began about a year and a half ago in New York City. In sharp contrast to the prevailing trend of yielding give-backs to the boss, they are organizing through once common but now “nontraditional” methods for a big raise and dignity and power on the job. The positive public response to the first lunch-time job actions in Midtown Manhattan inspired local movements around the country. They are supported by groups like Jobs with Justice, worker centers, and unions such as the Service Employees International Union.

Last Thursday, this movement escalated in to a global day of action with protests in thirty countries, as well as 150 cities and towns across the USA, coordinated by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations–a world-wide labor group representing 12 million workers.

“We’re going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to come out here and fight. We’re going to let them know we want $15 an hour and a union.” That’s what a striking McDonald’s worker told a Channel 9 reporter covering a 6AM protest at a Golden Arches at 14 & Prospect in Kansas City, Missouri. That big early bird demo became much more visible as it spilled on to the Prospect Bridge spanning I-70. It was the first of four Kansas City area events over a twelve-hour period Thursday.

Early afternoon I was at another action in Shawnee Park, near a McDonald’s target in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas. Firefighters were there donating food and labor to give the activists on hand a hearty lunch. I started far back in the chow line, much closer to the speakers booming out recorded hip-hop than the grub. I was trying to lip-read the comments of fellow retired bus driver Tony Saper next to me, when I was made aware that someone behind me was trying to get my attention.

I almost missed her when I turned around because this young woman hardly stood up to my shoulder level. She was wearing the red shirt uniform of the fast food workers and old-fashioned black framed glasses that have become trendy again. Hardly the image of a union thug.

I cupped my ear to listen to a voice as diminutive as her height warmly thanking me for coming out to support them. She had noticed the Amalgamated Transit Union jacket I was wearing on that unseasonably chilly day. The decibel level of the music precluded any lengthy discourse about solidarity. I mumbled something to the effect that we were proud to be with their inspiring struggle–and I meant it.

By no means are all fast food workers young, nor are most as shy and soft-spoken as the sister who expressed gratitude. They are diverse in the best sense of that overused term. But they all show some important common traits–courage, focus, tenacity–reviving attributes that faded in our largely bureaucratized unions over the past few decades. These fighting as well as working poor signify hope for the future of the American working class. Their victory can help turn the tide of class war. They deserve our continuing support for Fifteen and a Union Now.

This concludes our good news section.

Chutzpah, Hypocrisy Accompany Death in the Mines
It’s customary for heads of state to visit the sites of big workplace disasters to express sorrow for loss and promises for increased safety. But when the Prime Minister of Turkey visited the grieving town of Soma–where more than three hundred workers at a privatized coal mine employing six thousand have been confirmed dead after an underground explosion and fire–he didn’t sound much like Mother Jones. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan cooly asserted “Explosions like this in the mines happen all the time,” the families and friends of the victims booed and shouted him down. After the PM was whisked away by his security detachment the riot police were sent in to disperse the vocal but peaceful crowd. NBC correspondent Richard Engel narrowly avoided being doused by a water-cannon. Turkish trade unions responded with a general strike and there have been skirmishes with government storm troopers across the country.

Of course, underground mining will never be completely risk free. But safety protocols have been developed that–if enforced–eliminate explosions and greatly reduce accidents and fatalities of all kinds. Turkey has a terrible record for industrial accidents of all types that has gotten worse under a decade of rule by the present right-wing regime.

In this country, the coal bosses and government regulators congratulated themselves because there has not been a mining accident with such a high death toll as in Soma here in living memory. But they ignore the preventable deaths still occurring in a workforce that has been greatly reduced through technology.

It’s been nearly three years since Ken Ward Jr wrote in his Coal Tattoo blog, “The Obama administration announced plans to further delay a requirement for underground coal-mine operators to equip mining machines with devices meant to protect miners from being run over or crushed by those machines.” During this time Australia, Canada, and South Africa mandated this technology that can save lives. In the USA it still languishes in regulatory purgatory. This past Wednesday, a miner died from a preventable machine crushing injury at M Class Mining LLC’s MC No. 1 Mine in Franklin County, Illinois.

And noting a patently dangerous retreat mining practice–where miners risk their lives removing pillars to recover every last chunk of coal from an area that’s being abandoned–Ward closes his Thursday blog,

“Instead of just being glad we didn’t blow up 200 coal miners today, why not spend that time and effort asking why we buried two coal miners alive Monday night in West Virginia?”

Should Have Listened to Mercer
Please don’t shoot the blogger. I don’t enjoy piling climate gloom and doom on top of our other many problems nearly every week. But considering its overarching importance I believe you not only have a right to know–you need to know.

I’ve written quite a bit in past WIRs about the rising sea levels already beginning as a result of melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the melting ice sheet that has covered most of Greenland. Now the focus is shifting as far as you can go due south.

Last Monday, two separate but complementary scientific reports about the alarming state of the West Antarctica ice sheet were simultaneously released. I posted several stories about them on our companion Labor Advocate news blog. One in the New York Times began,

“A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries. Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet…”

The time line of the swelling of the seas is hard to precisely predict but it is likely the Antarctic contribution alone will raise levels as much as three feet within the lifetime of our youngest generations. This will require an inland migration of hundreds of millions of residents of coastal areas much sooner than previously considered. This means relocating the populations of cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Miami, Los Angeles in coming decades. There is no structure in place to begin planning such an unprecedented evacuation from places that will be lost for good.

We ignore science at our peril. Powerful sections of the ruling class are working–with some success–to keep climate science out of public education. The same Times article vindicates dismissed past science,

“The new finding appears to be the fulfillment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed ‘a threat of disaster.’ He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)”

Our doom is not yet sealed but human civilization is in mortal danger. We need to first clear away the ignorance, confusion, and outright lies we are fed by those who profit in the short term from destroying our biosphere in order for the working class majority to mobilize for urgently needed action. That’s why I continue to rant–and I hope you will too.

Nat Weinstein Memorial Meeting Set
Here, as promised, is the information I have received:

“There will be a Celebration of the Life of Nat Weinstein on Sunday, June 22, from 1 to 4 p.m. in San Francisco. The celebration will be at SEIU 1021’s Union Hall at 350 Rhode Island St. The entrance is on Kansas Street, between 16th and 17th. There will be remembrances by family members and life-long comrades of Nat and an open mic for those who wish to share appreciations and memories of Nat’s life. Refreshments will be served.”

That’s all for this week.

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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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