by Bill Onasch
I had happy holidays, shared with some of those I love and cherish, and I hope you did as well. Now it’s time to return to duty in the war for Class & Climate Justice.
Transition From Lame Duck to a Lame Excuse
There’s plenty of reasons for anxiety about the President-Elect. But there is no reason to feel nostalgic about the legacy of his predecessor.
The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate leaves with no end in sight for a 15 year war in Afghanistan; creation of a failed state in Libya; a return of troops on the ground in Iraq and their introduction in to Syria—and launching a new era of drone warfare.
The Environmental President championed Fracking that is a major contributor to record Global Warming as well as triggering earthquakes and deadly train and pipeline accidents.
This President set a new record for deporting immigrant workers.
He quashed a promising movement for single-payer health care to instead drive through a mis-named Affordable Care Act, written by experts on loan from private insurance companies. It provides no actual care—only subsidized insurance with unaffordable co-pays and deductibles. The literal decisive vote for this scam was provided by the “democratic socialist” Senator Bernie Sanders.
President Obama’s biggest claim of success has been turning around the economy since he inherited the Great Recession from Bush II. No one seems to recall that early on he imposed a “pre-approved” bankruptcy at General Motors and Chrysler that led to the permanent loss of 100,000 auto related jobs. And far too little is being said about his decimation and downgrading of jobs in the oldest and most successful public sector—the US Postal Service.
But there are even more transformative trends in the recovery of the world’s biggest economy, summarized on investing.com,
“A new study by economists from Harvard and Princeton indicates that 94% of the 10 million new jobs created during the Obama era were temporary positions. The study shows that the jobs were temporary, contract positions, or part-time ‘gig’ jobs in a variety of fields. Female workers suffered most heavily in this economy, as work in traditionally feminine fields, like education and medicine, declined during the era.
“The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%.
“Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. ‘Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,’ said Krueger. Under Obama, 1 million fewer workers, overall, are working than before the beginning of the Great Recession.”
I appreciate this study by two prominent economists. But I am astonished they were surprised by their results. The Ivy League has not been immune to these trends as demonstrated by resistance among the blue collar workers who feed and clean, the exploited casually dressed graduate teaching and research assistants, and adjunct professors in elbow patched jackets who can’t find steady work and adequate compensation even with a PhD attached to their name.
Yes, the next President will be even worse, perhaps much worse—though nothing can be really worse than stuck in the lesser evil feed-back loop. It’s time to say good riddance to the old—and a fight to the finish against the new.
Good News, Bad News From SEIU
In recent years, the WIR has often had good news to report about the two-million member Service Employees International Union. They have played an exemplary role in championing long neglected low wage workers. The Fight for 15 Dollars and a Union has become the most important and inspiring class struggle effort in the USA. Beginning with Fast Food workers it has come to also embrace Airport Service workers, Home Care employees, Adjunct Professors, and Childcare workers. They have carried out one-day strikes along with marches, rallies, and civil disobedience that have attracted wide solidarity by other unions and working class communities.
These efforts have now won union recognition, and some first contracts, for thousands of workers. The Faculty Forward “partner” of SEIU has won recognition for Adjunct Faculty on twenty campuses. Recently SEIU Local 32BJ negotiated a first contract covering 8,000 baggage handlers, airport security officers, wheelchair attendants, skycaps, cabin cleaners and terminal cleaners at JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York City and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
In coalitions with others, SEIU has been in the forefront of winning increases in state and local minimum wage laws boosting pay for millions. A year-end report from the National Employment Law Project stated, “When combined with increases approved in recent years, on New Year’s Day 2017, workers in at least 41 states, cities and counties will receive raises – followed later in 2017 by raises for workers in another 21 states and cities.” Even the boss-backed American Enterprise Institute acknowledges these advances in the minimum are the biggest component of the minuscule national increase in wages.
Of course, these new minimums are uneven. Even the 15 dollar goal is 5 dollars less than the average blue collar wage. But it’s more than double the current Federal minimum and full-time at 15 can provide a modest living rather than poverty. And if the 15 is accompanied by a union contract there is a path to further improvement.
But it’s not just low wage workers who have money problems and that’s where the bad news from SEIU comes in. A December 28 article in the The Guardian about an internal union memo they had obtained was titled “SEIU, one of the largest US unions, plans 30% budget cuts in wake of Trump win.”
The union’s concerns are not paranoid. While the Obama administration was certainly no faithful friend of labor, Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is a Fast Food CEO, with a personal interest in smashing the Fight for 15 as well as being a class enemy of all unions. There is also a serious threat of the new Congress enacting a national “Right to Work Law” banning union shop contracts, that would result in some lost dues revenue.
SEIU was undoubtedly already feeling a financial squeeze. SEIU in Texas had to file for bankruptcy after an employer won a judgment of 7.8 million dollars in a lawsuit arising from a Justice for Janitors strike in Houston. And it’s estimated the union has spent 25 million dollars over the course of the Fight for 15 campaign.
The 25 million was well spent. But the hundreds of millions of dollars collectively spent by unions, and union PACs—including SEIU—on the last election was waste bordering on malfeasance. Nearly all went to Democrats who are not only faux “friends” but are such inveterate and inventive losers they failed to win an election while receiving the most votes.
Some of those funds should have gone to sustain and expand organizing successes like the Fight for 15. The rest could have been used to finance the launch of a party of our own—a labor party.
My wife, Mary Erio, is a self-employed environmental engineer and Certified Industrial Hygienist, mainly doing workplace health and safety plans and monitoring for companies big and small. She also does a monthly Safety First feature for the Heartland Labor Forum on KKFI, 90.1, community radio in Kansas City. Every January she picks the most egregious stories, usually involving preventable fatalities on the job, from the previous year.
I won’t reveal in advance what I know about her picks for 2016. If you live in range of KKFI you can tune in Thursday evening at 6PM Central, or you can hear a live stream on the KKFI website. Archived shows are available online later.
I will say there’s concern among professionals in her field about what to expect from Trump appointees—and the new Congress—concerning changes in laws and regulations, and scope of enforcement. The rail carriers have a long shopping list and the trucking industry would like to roll back recently mandated expanded rest times for drivers—until they can convert to driverles vehicles.
* I had promised to write more extensive remembrances of Jerry Gordon and Frank Rosen, two outstanding working class leaders that influenced me over decades of collaboration, who passed away last year. I’ve since discovered extensive articles about each of them containing many facts new to me about these men I thought I knew well. Instead of reworking them with only anecdotal additions I’ll offer you links to those articles. Jerry Gordon’s widow Bonnie’s contribution can be found here. For an appreciation of Frank Rosen by the Bill of Rights & Dissent Defense Committee go here.
* A Call to Arms: Join Me in Our National Contract Fight is an informative and suitably titled letter/article addressed to the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen by their national president Dennis R Pierce.
* More information here
* As they do every month, the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul has an impressive schedule of events for January. Included is a screening of the film Love and Solidarity, an exploration of nonviolence and organizing through the life and teachings of Rev. James Lawson. Lawson provided crucial strategic guidance while working with Martin Luther King, Jr., in southern freedom struggles and the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968.
I resumed posting this morning on our companion Labor Advocate news blog.
That’s all for this week.
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