by Bill Onasch
It may take some time for investigators to confidently explain the circumstances leading to the tragic Amtrak derailment at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia that killed eight and injured over 200. But the Mayor of the City of Brotherly Love didn’t have to wait for such formalities. He immediately placed all blame on a worker—Amtrak engineer Brandon Bostian. The media backed up the Mayor’s reckless class bigotry with a pack of lies and half-truths.
Initial reports asserted that Bostian had refused to give a statement about the accident and was not cooperating with authorities. The truth is that while still waiting for treatment of head injuries, that included the need for 15 stitches, Bostian immediately consented to an alcohol/drug blood test and voluntarily surrendered his cell phone. He told his questioners he couldn’t remember the actual crash—not at all unusual for someone who likely suffered a concussion and certainly was in a state of shock. Had he been a Baltimore police officer involved in the death of a Black man in custody he couldn’t have been questioned for ten days. Transportation workers are held to a higher standard—and Bostian and his union representation are meeting all obligations.
Eventually some in the media got around to reporting that long available technology—in place in some areas—would have probably prevented the Frankford Junction disaster. Both Congress and the White House have delayed its implementation. These culprits warrant exposure of their criminal indifference to life while promoting the interests of the rail carriers.
My friend Michael Schreiber, a retired transit worker and frequent Amtrak rider now living in Philadelphia, posted an excellent informative piece last night on the Socialist Action site. It’s worth a read.
The Great Grass Roots Filibuster
I lost count of the number of self-congratulating e-blasts hailing the heroic filibuster by our Democrat “friends” stopping Fast Track for TPP. They heard our petitions and letters from the Grass Roots and did their duty.
TPP—Trans-Pacific Partnership—has been accurately characterized by labor and environmental opponents as “NAFTA on steroids.” It is wanted badly by most sectors of Capital—and our pal in the White House. Fast Track would give the President authority to negotiate an agreement that Congress could only vote up or down—no amendments. Had the filibuster been an actual coup de grâce for TPP a genuine celebration would be in order.
But, of course, it was no such thing, merely a choreographed stunt. By the very next day the President offered a couple of “concessions”–some gibberish about currency manipulation and vague promises of help for workers who could prove they lost jobs because of TPP. Claiming they had “fixed” the problems, more than enough filibusterers declared they were ready to support a bipartisan vote. Those dependent on union support were given dispensation to vote their “conscience.”
Since then even more bad news about what’s being negotiated in TPP has been leaked. An e-blast from 350.org reports,
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is so bad, it’s hard to believe — but this stunning part of the deal has been independently confirmed:
The TPP would eliminate environmental reviews of fracked liquid natural gas export facilities, which could be used to move half of the gas drilled in the US overseas. These massive, multibillion dollar fossil fuel projects would make fracking companies a fortune — and be completely exempt from federal environmental review.”
When we heard news accounts that 26-county Ireland was holding a referendum on same sex marriage my wife Mary wondered what Sinn Féin would do. Well, I soon received this message from them,
“Ireland will get the chance to take a huge leap forward in our republican vision of inclusion and equality this Thursday May 22nd with a Yes vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum.
A Yes vote will mean all Irish citizens living in the 26 Counties, gay or straight, will have an equal right to civil marriage. This is an opportunity to do right for all of our people.”
A Tale of Two Upsets II
The Alberta provincial election produced the exact opposite results of the British general election reviewed in the last WIR. The NDP labor party ousted a Tory machine that had held power for 44 years. Rachel Notley, the new leader selected by the party last year, now becomes the first ever NDP Alberta Premier.
Notley, 51, was raised as an orange diaper baby, the daughter of a former NDP provincial leader. Her husband, Paul Arab, is a communications staffer for the Canadian Union of Public Employees and a key NDP strategist. Since graduating from law school she has worked for unions and public agencies in British Columbia as well as Alberta as a labor lawyer specializing in worker compensation. She was first elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2008.
This is a solid pro-union resume but not particularly radical—which would be a good description of the NDP as a whole. But as moderate as the politician generating “Rachel-mania” may be, an NDP government in Edmonton is uncharted territory–raising great expectations among many workers and environmentalists and deep suspicion among extraction capital. This past week a convention of the Alberta Federation of Teachers served notice they are hopeful that the NDP will provide much needed increases in spending on schools.
Most Americans identify Alberta with the infamous tar-sands—or as capital prefers, “oil-sands.” I heard a Canadian trade unionist and climate activist explain at a Labor Notes Conference workshop that the region contains no tar, no oil, and not much sand. It does have an abundance of a gooey hydrocarbon known as bitumen that can be synthesized in to oil and gasoline. This process is 4.5 times more carbon intensive than conventional oil, making it arguably the dirtiest of all fuel sources. That’s why opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline became the central focus of the fledgling U.S. climate movement.
Notley and her party oppose KXL and an even more environmentally disastrous proposal for a pipeline across British Columbia to the Pacific. She has hinted at higher royalties and taxes from extraction industries as well as upping tax rates on the wealthy. But she has distanced herself from a more ambitious climate program of the Federal NDP, has said she is open to some new pipeline schemes, and has assured the extraction capitalists that she’s not their enemy. She recently gushed, “Things are going to be just A-OK over here in Alberta.”
But not many are likely to buy in to Notley’s Morning in Alberta pep talk for long. The working class voters who elected Notley expect some substantial change and Alberta capital will resist every move.
Some Canadian leftists whose views on many questions I’ve come to respect dismiss the significance of the Alberta victory. Herman Rosenfeld gave one of the more perceptive and measured of these to a Jacobin interviewer,
“One would have to be pretty cynical and hard-boiled not to feel good about this election. On the other hand, there is little reason to think that Rachel Notley’s NDP won’t end up reinforcing the neoliberal status quo over time. …The Canadian left cannot move forward through the NDP. It represents a component of the left that accepts the precepts of the current system, austerity, the transformation of the state and labor markets that go along with neoliberalism, and the mantra of competitiveness. The left has to operate independently, working to build a socialist movement — which implies creating a working-class base, developing orientations in and through struggles that challenge capital and its logic.”
Before responding I want to say that it has been my privilege over the years to collaborate with many Canadian unionists, and socialists both inside the NDP and out. The union that I have belonged to for 25 years has a substantial Canadian membership that played an indispensable role in the reform movement that has begun to transform the ATU for the better. My views are offered in the spirit of internationalism—not hectoring from a bossy Yank, a character type I know so well.
Most of Rosenfeld’s critique of the NDP is spot on. While I seldom say “never” I agree that it is unlikely that the NDP will eventually become a party dedicated to the fundamental social and ecological changes needed in Canada–and throughout the world.
But the left on both sides of the border is small and fragmented. At least some of its components can undoubtedly gain future mass influence, justifying the need to maintain their political and organizational independence. But for now they are not a major pole of attraction. Workers and allies prepared to challenge the Establishment are initially turning to the historic First Responders—the trade unions and labor’s NDP.
Contrary to brother Rosenfeld’s assertion, in my opinion the left can best move forward by being inside the NDP as well as out. They need to share the experiences of radicalizing workers, students, climate campaigners, and activists in national, feminist, and antiwar movements who “feel good” about the Alberta victory. They can reinforce the growing Socialist Caucus in the party, helping to educate and mobilize a new generation fighting for Class and Climate Justice throughout the Canadian state.
I can assure our Canadian sisters and brothers that there are many of us Yanks who would be happy to have a labor party even with the serious flaws of the present NDP. Our unions—and even much of the left–in the USA are still mired in lesser evil ruling class politics. One of the tools we used in the failed attempt to launch a Labor Party was that classic short animated film accompanying the Tommy Douglas Mouseland parable–so clearly explaining class.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the new NDP Alberta government will undoubtedly provide valuable lessons for class aware workers in both of our countries.
That’s all for this week.
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