Week In Review February 2

 Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review February 2
Feb 022017

  by Bill Onasch

Playing Catch Up

I’ve got more than one excuse for the ten day interval in editions called Week In Review. The biggest was a deadline for an extensive article about labor and climate in the Trump era requested by my friends at Socialist Action. I’ll share some substantial excerpts of my draft with WIR readers:

The Trump administration wasted no time before launching a veritable blitzkrieg on all fronts in pursuit of an “alt-right” America First agenda. But resistance has been swift and massive.

In addition to various movements mobilizing we also heard from scientists. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported–“Comments by US President Donald Trump on nuclear weapons and climate change have helped make the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned …. moving its symbolic ‘Doomsday Clock’ 30 seconds closer to midnight.”

This heightened warning by atomic scientists about two overarching crises closely followed an announcement by climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that, for the third consecutive year, 2016 had been the hottest since record keeping began in 1880.

Trump replaces an Obama administration that offered token gestures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that are the prime culprit in heating our planet, while at the same time also promoting fossil fuel expansion through destructive fracking of gas and oil.

The 45th President has dismissed global warming as a job-killing hoax perpetrated by China to sabotage the American economy. Rather than presenting any of his signature “alternative facts” to bolster this fantastic conspiracy theory he has wisely focused on the job-killing argument. Jobs are rightly a big legitimate concern of the working class majority.

Making Nice to Some Unions

Largely overlooked in all the turmoil was Trump’s duplicitous reach out to sectors of trade union leadership, promising to save and create middle class jobs. He invited AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, and Teamsters president James P Hoffa to the White House to celebrate his canceling of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by President Obama. All unions and environmental groups had strongly opposed TPP for good reasons. Like NAFTA and other such regional agreements, TPP is more about the unrestricted movement of capital across borders than trade. Trumka and Hoffa endorsed Trump’s action.

Trump also summoned leaders of several construction based unions to unveil his plans to create jobs by rebuilding infrastructure and reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects.

Of course, there’s plenty that needs to be done to repair or replace dangerous bridges and tunnels, deteriorating water and sewer lines, aging rail and urban mass transit systems, and much more long neglected through “deferred maintenance” imposed by austerity budgets.

But Trump’s scheme is no needed grand plan for useful public works. The last WIR exposed it as a scam to provide subsidies and tax breaks for profitable private developers. And the unions expecting to get such work should keep in mind that the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law—enacted during the Hoover administration–that has long guaranteed union jurisdiction on public projects is targeted for repeal by Congress.

The expansion of the 200,000 mile network of pipelines will exacerbate climate change and inflict major environmental damage. Leaks are inevitable. Over the past decade 38 million gallons have polluted land and water.

KXL would move not oil but bitumen—a hydrocarbon often used as an ingredient in asphalt. It is mined in the Tar Sands of Alberta and injected with chemicals to create a sludge suitable for flowing through the pipeline to special refineries that convert it in to a synthetic oil. Unlike oil, bitumen is heavier than water and when it leaks in to rivers and streams it does more damage by sinking to the bottom. It is the dirtiest fuel on the planet. Mass protests by climate activists pressured Obama to consign the project to purgatory.

The Dakota Access Pipeline would transfer shale oil extracted through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) from the Bakken in North Dakota to also special refineries in Illinois. Bakken oil has a very high methane content. Methane is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. It also makes the oil much more volatile. Currently Bakken oil is shipped by rail and there have been numerous fiery, sometimes deadly transport accidents.

Trump promises KXL will generate 10,000 short duration jobs building the pipeline. Once completed, the owners expect to operate it 24/7 with only about 30 regular employees.

DAPL is already mostly complete—except for the vital missing link planned to go through the Sioux Nation Standing Rock Reservation. Mass peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience at Standing Rock led Obama to put the project on pause, essentially handing it off to his successor. The acting Secretary of the Army has ordered the Corps of Engineers to immediately grant an easement for DAPL through the Reservation—certain to face a court battle. Protesters have already returned and more than seventy were arrested on Wednesday.

If DAPL is ultimately completed one way or another, it too will provide only a few dozen long term maintenance and inspection jobs. But a substantial number of rail jobs will be lost once the pipeline is flowing—creating an overall net loss of middle class union jobs.

Some Unions Not Welcomed

Among those pointedly not invited for a White House chat with the Denier-in-Chief are such major unions as the Service Employees International Union, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Nurses United. Those unions have made a good start in educating and mobilizing their members around climate issues. They built mass actions around KXL and DAPL with member participation and material contributions. NNU nurses cared for those peaceful protesters at Standing Rock injured by police pepper gas and rubber bullets.


These unions are affiliated to coalitions like the Labor Network for Sustainability in North America, and the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy. This labor wing of the climate justice movement understands the working class majority is the only force with both the material interest and potential power to defeat capitalist climate wrecking and replace it with a sustainable economy.

These climate conscious unionists realize that overcoming the threat of job loss is task #1 in winning over workers. They have revived and adapted the long promoted principle of Just Transition. In a nutshell, this means when workers lose their livelihood for the good of society, society must guarantee their living standards and, if necessary provide retraining and relocation expenses, until they find suitable new work.

This principle can apply to many areas such as the armaments industries and workers in the billing and advertising departments of health insurance companies. The required restructuring of the American and world economy to stop global warming short of global disaster will mean eliminating and replacing tens of millions of jobs.

Just Transition is a necessary first step in unifying the struggles for class and climate justice that can secure a peaceful, democratic, sustainable future. The working class needs to lead the discussion and planned implementation of this goal that is indispensable to the survival of human civilization.


Down But Not Out

There were high expectations in organized labor when Obama took office eight years ago. Their hopes centered on labor law reform. But no significant legislation was passed during his administration, not even during his first two years when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

There were some beneficial new Labor Board rulings about overtime coverage and “joint responsibility” of national corporations for workers in franchised workplaces. Those rules can, and most certainly will, be reversed by Trump appointees. Trump’s nominee for Labor Secretary is CEO of the Hardy’s fast food chain who will undoubtedly strangle “joint responsibility” in the crib.

Instead of a resurgence in union strength, the final annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a decline in union numbers and density on Obama’s watch to a new low since reporting of such stats began in 1983. In 2015, unions represented 16, 441,000 workers, 12.3 percent of the workforce, of which 11.1 percent were actual union members. In 2016, representation declined to 12 percent, union membership, 10.7. The new figures in the private sector show only 7.3 percent represented, 6.4 percent dues-paying members.

The discrepancy between union represented and union membership is primarily due to free-riders choosing not to join the union in those states where so-called “Right to Work” laws ban union shop agreements. The right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council has succeeded in getting RtW passed in several new states in recent years including union strongholds in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Kentucky–and passage in Missouri appears imminent. It is possible Congress will pass a national version.

Despite declining members polls show the number of Americans who view unions favorably is on the rise. A new Pew Poll shows a sixty percent approval rating. Both the positive public perception of unions and the employer drive to get rid of them are undoubtedly influenced by wages. Full-time union workers had a median usual weekly paycheck of 1,004 dollars last year. The same measure for nonunion workers was 802 dollars.

On the East Side

I continue to post links to monthly schedules of events at the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul not only for the benefit of our Twin Cities readers but also as examples other areas may find useful. I’m sure that the founders/directors of this rare gem—Beth Cleary and Peter Rachleff—will welcome any emulation. You can find the February schedule here.


Anniversary Greetings

I congratulate the Canadian ecosocialist Ian Angus on the tenth anniversary of his very informative Climate & Capitalism website.

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.

Week In Review January 23

 Uncategorized, Week In Review  Comments Off on Week In Review January 23
Jan 232017

  by Bill Onasch

‘We’re Not Going Away!’

I didn’t know such a science existed until I saw this headline in the New York TimesCrowd Scientists Say Women’s March in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as Trump’s Inauguration. They estimate around a half-million. That’s not the biggest ever march in Washington but it certainly is an impressive feat for an action organized in about two months while facing many political and logistical challenges.

But as I read numerous news accounts, supplemented by reports from our readers around North America, it became clear the DC demo was just the tip of an iceberg menacing the Titanic Ship of State steered by the big hands of the 45th President.

Massive crowds march past Grand Central Station on 42nd Street.

By Sunday afternoon, Ann Montague and Michael Schreiber had posted an excellent piece on the Socialist Action site–The Biggest Protest in U.S. History: Women’s Marches Draw 4 Million. The astonishing numbers are based on a tally of 668 demonstrations on all continents, including both low and high estimates. The event I attended in Kansas City was reported as 10,000 by the local NBC affiliate.

For most it was their first non-electoral political act and the speeches and signs were as diverse as the marchers. The initiative taken by the women’s movement was a first mass response to what Samantha Bee might call a Full Frontal assault on the whole spectrum of their social, economic and environmental values. It often begins with an anti-Trump sentiment but that will quickly prove to be insufficient.

To continue the nautical disaster metaphor, we need to not only replace the pernicious, incompetent captain but also the unseaworthy present Ship of State. As we work to save those down below in steerage we urgently need to plan a new ship and assemble the skilled workers to build it. Hopefully, some day we will be able to identify January 21 as the beginning of this rescue. Another headline in the Times attributed this sentiment to the protests—We’re Not Going Away!

Whose America First?

Oxfam released a blockbuster report about wealth inequality as the World Economic Forum gathered in the posh mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland. While shocking to most, for the WEF—a mix of top capitalists and those who nurture them—the study’s findings were an embarrassment of riches for those not easily embarrassed.

Just eight men have accumulated as much wealth as that held by the poorest fifty percent of humanity. You won’t find the 45th President, or the Koch brothers, or the liberal sugar-daddy George Soros, in the elite Eight. Compared to the Mega-Rich their paltry billions are chump change.

Six of the eight are in the USA: Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft; Warren Buffett, whose diversified portfolio includes a railroad and furniture stores; Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of FaceBook; Larry Ellison, CEO of the tech giant Oracle; and Michael Bloomberg, owner of a stable of financial information and services companies.

Armancio Ortega, founder of the Zara fashion clothing line based in the Spanish state and Carlos Slim, owner of Telmex, a giant telephone and Internet provider for Mexico and much of Latin America as well as the conglomerate Grupo Carso, round out the eight. Slim is the sole representative of a “developing country.”

An armed officer is snow camouflage stands guard on a snow-covered roof by the big Davos sign

The mood in the heavily guarded Swiss compound was aptly described in a New York Times headline–Davos Elite Fret About Inequality Over Vintage Wine and Canapés. The International Monetary Fund, founded by the United Nations in 1945 under the guidance of liberal economist John Maynard Keynes to promote growth in the former colonial countries, pledged to do more.

But the track record of the IMF, the World Bank, and the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development, has produced just the opposite of what Keynes had envisioned. Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics recently revealed in The Guardian that in 2012—the most recent year for which such statistics are available—the countries of the prosperous OECD pumped 1.3 trillion dollars in to what used to be called Third World nations. But that same year those poor countries sent 3.3 trillion back to the rich. This was no windfall—it is typical of the post-World War II period and has likely become even worse since 2012.

So was this Reverse Robin Hood expropriation good news for the working class of the richest country? Can we expect to share in the rewards of making America not just great again but greater than ever as the richest President in history has promised?

Hardly. In the December 19 2016 WIR I commented on new research on American income inequality cited in the New York Times that found,

Even with all the setbacks from recessions, burst bubbles and vanishing industries, the United States has still pumped out breathtaking riches over the last three and half decades. The real economy more than doubled in size….Yet for half of all Americans, their share of the total economic pie has shrunk significantly….the approximately 117 million adults stuck on the lower half of the income ladder has been completely shut off from economic growth since the 1970s.”

Wealth, debt and savings stats for most workers are no better.

Guided by a crypto-fascist dba “alt-right” senior strategic adviser now ensconced a few steps away from the Oval Office, and a televangelist preaching the Prosperity Gospel as his spiritual adviser, Trump tapped in to enough discontent among workers in targeted states to win an upset Electoral College victory while finishing a not so close second in the popular vote. There is some evidence of buyer’s remorse as Trump begins what is normally a “honeymoon” period for a new President with the worst ever approval rating in the history of polling.

In his inaugural address—if not the inaugural balls—Trump tried to continue to dance with those purported responsible for getting him on the big stage. There were numerous references to workers who will be liberated from the tyranny of Washington. But that was background for the introduction of a new theme—America First.

Those who crafted the speech for a leader more comfortable with a limit of 144 characters are certainly aware of the historical significance of this slogan. America First was the rallying cry of a vocal movement of admirers of Hitler during the Great Depression. They gained credibility from such prominent figures as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. There were not yet televangelists but a Catholic priest, Father Charles Coughlin, used a national weekly radio show to spew racism, anti-semitism, and xenophobia from a pro-Nazi perspective.

The proper challenge to the American Firsters redux is not America bashing but the question of whose America? James P Cannon, a Kansas City lad who played a prominent role in the labor and socialist movements of the last century, dealt with this question in a 1948 speech entitled The Two Americas. He told a national radio hook-up,

One is the America of the imperialists—of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the America the people of the world hate and fear.

There is the other America—the America of the workers and farmers and the ‘little people.’ They constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the country. They revere its old democratic traditions—its old record of friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against kings and despots—its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed.

This is the America which must and will solve the world crisis—by taking power out of the hands of the little clique of exploiters and parasites, and establishing a government of workers and farmers.”

The new American Firsters want to liberate us from what remains of the Social Safety Net, the hard won partial victories of the civil rights, women’s rights, human rights movements—and free us from unions too. And they use newly discovered “alternative facts” to obliterate the very mention of a climate crisis. We should fight these tooth and nail.

But the official American opposition, like those fretting in Davos, want to return to stagnation of living standards, “sensible” austerity, endless wars of intervention, and only token gestures as our planet gets dangerously hotter. After eight years in power those policies contributed to the discontent here at home and misery throughout the world. Their differences with the American First gang are tactical, not principled and fundamental.

It’s time to recognize what divides Our America from Theirs is class. We need to become self-reliant. Instead of the meaningless demand of accountability from our masters we should be preparing to replace them with a government of the working class majority in this country, in solidarity with our class siblings throughout the world.

We Can Fight City Hall

Kansas City Labor Party Advocates has stayed visible through solidarity support for the Verizon strike, Standing Rock, and at the Women’s March last Saturday.

Above all, we have been present at virtually every action by low wage workers fighting for 15 Dollars and a Union. Last week the Missouri Supreme Court ordered the Kansas City City Council to place a measure for a City Minimum Wage that would progress in stages to 15 dollars an hour on the ballot in April. Last year the Council illegally blocked the measure relying on a bogus legal opinion by the City Attorney.

At last Thursday’s Council meeting a procedural maneuver by a minority succeeded in at least delaying compliance with the order from the highest court in the state, vaguely suggesting they might allow the Minimum Wage to be voted on in August. Lawyers for the workers are seeking a new court order to override the scofflaws and mandate the April vote.

Whether in April, as all fair-minded workers hope, or delayed until August, the KCLPA interim board believes we should actively support this campaign. That will be the main agenda point for an LPA meeting:

Sunday, January 29, 1-2:30PM

Tony Saper’s Home, 2113 Erie, North Kansas City

We also want to have at least an initial discussion about affiliating with the Labor Network for Sustainability to bring climate issues in to our unions.

Readers in the KC region are invited to attend this meeting to plan the next goals in our long term effort to revive the movement for a labor party. Feel free to write, or call me at 816-753-1672, with any questions or suggestions.

That’s all for this week.

If you’re not already signed up you can get the Week In Review free of charge in one of the following ways.

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/sites/workdayminnesota.org/themes/workdayminnesota/images/social/large/rss.png Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Simply send your name and e-mail address to billonasch[at]kclabor.org

Follow Bill Onasch on Google +

Powered By Blogger Our companion Labor Advocate news blog posts articles of interest to working people by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

Our sole source of operating income is reader contributions. If you can help please visit the KC Labor Donate page.