Week In Review June 12

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Jun 122017

by Bill Onasch

Second Place Winner

I’m not talking about the 45th President of the USA. My reference is Thursday’s general election in Britain. While Theresa May’s Tories won the most seats in the House of Commons there is near consensus among the pundits that the real winner was the second place Labor Party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

May could have governed for three+ more years but chose to call a snap election to strengthen her majority—and authority in negotiating Britain’s Brexit departure from the European Union. At the time of her hubris polls were predicting a landslide victory for her–ranging from 20-35 percent–over a Labor Party seemingly plagued by internal spats led by the remnants of Tony Blair’s “New Labor.” A majority of Labor MPs had tried, unsuccessfully, to remove the socialist Corbyn from his elected leadership. The Blairites warned old school Corbyn would lead the party to such a drubbing it might never recover.

The same pollsters who had predicted a Labor victory in 2015 got it very wrong this time as well. The Tory plurality in votes was about two percent over Labor. But they lost 13 seats—leaving them seven short of a majority.

Labor gained 30 seats. The xenophobes of the United Kingdom Independence Party, who had been granted a White House audience with Trump, won zero. The republican Sinn Fein picked up an additional three seats in occupied Ireland for a total of seven—but they don’t actually participate in the occupier’s parliament.

May immediately secured Her Majesty’s blessing to try to form a minority government with the backing of the loyalist Democratic Unionist Party in Ireland who won ten seats. The DUP was founded by the late infamous Ian Paisley who once heckled a Pope giving greetings to the European Parliament. Despite their virulent anti-Catholicism they are defacto champions of the Vatican’s efforts to outlaw birth control and same sex marriage. They believe Darwin was evil and share Trump’s views on climate change. And their base is divided over May’s “hard Brexit.” It remains to be seen whether this union can be consummated. Even if it does it probably will not long survive the normal attrition of by-elections.

But these shenanigans pale in significance to the renaissance of the historic party of the British working class.

In 1918, undoubtedly influenced by the Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky, the Labor Party adopted the famous Clause 4 of their constitution calling for “common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange,” and “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

The Labor government that replaced Sir Winston Churchill in the summer of 1945 partially implemented some of this socialist agenda. Their biggest lasting achievement was the socialized medicine of the National Health Service—still the best health care system by far in any industrialized country despite whittling away by Tories and Blairites. They also carried out extensive nationalizations of industries–though nearly all of those were later reversed by the Tories.

Tony Blair

The 1918 Clause 4 language stood even through the Cold War until Tony Blair’s “New Labor” makeover in 1995. New Labor diluted the power of the trade unions and strengthened the rule of the party’s Leader and MPs. It was designed to imitate the American Democrats—though Blair was actually closest to the Republican Bush II as a junior partner in the Iraq war. Blair also had a close relationship with Rupert Murdoch, a godfather to one of the media mogul’s children. After serving three terms as Prime Minister, this Fabian Socialist became a well compensated adviser to JP Morgan Chase, and collected many six-figure speaker fees.

During the reign of the Blairites, there were attempts to form a new left working class party but they never got off the ground. Workers showed great loyalty to their traditional party. British socialists I have come to know often advanced the slogan—Vote Labor With No Illusions. But not this time. Socialist Resistance ran an editorial For a Labour Victory on June 8! which said in part,

“Labour’s General election manifesto launch has boosted Corbyn’s campaign, which has been drawing thousands to rallies across the country. Debate has shifted to a new level, replacing endless ridicule of the Labour leader with a serious discussion on an alternative policy; not to only to end austerity but seeking to reverse it – for the many, not the few….there is a real alternative on offer in this election to the politics of austerity, welfare cuts, low wages, job insecurity, zero-hour contracts, and food banks. It is a unique opportunity for the left. It is a manifesto that can cut through the shadow of Brexit that May is using in an attempt to win a Tory majority.

“It does not contain everything we wanted, but it is a radical departure from the politics served up by Labour leaderships since Kinnock and then Blair in their embracing of ‘new realism’ i.e. neo-liberalism….We are calling on our supporters to pull out the stops, get fully involved, and strain every nerve to bring a about Labour victory.”

In their first post-election article the same publication noted,

We are seeing tectonic shifts taking place at several levels in British politics. Labour’s anti-austerity election platform has appealed to many of the same marginalised people who were drawn towards a Brexit vote. The vote is a massive rejection of austerity—bringing about a fundamental change in British politics. There is a new generation on the scene for the first time, completely open to the kind of radical alternative Labour is putting forward. For example, it was the student vote which took Canterbury for Labour which has been Tory for 170 years….In this situation the job of the radical left is clear. Join the Corbyn movement if you have not done so yet, help him to change and democratise the Labour Party. Deepen the political trajectory that he has initiated, and stand ready to fight the next election as and when it comes.”

Jeremy Corbyn

American socialists who have advocated a labor party in this country, beginning with the great Eugene V Debs, have long recognized that elections are a tactic, not a salvation, for the working class in our struggle against capital. But they are useful in assessing the progress of that struggle and election victories can ratify and codify nonelectoral ones. Within that context, I agree with both the British comrades and the pundits that this election was a victory for our side in the class war, though more like Stalingrad than Waterloo.

The Labor Party Manifesto was not a hastily prepared collection of bullet points for a snap election. It was the platform Corbyn had been campaigning for since Labor’s 2015 loss—first to recruit tens of thousands of new, mostly young members to the party. That was the initial base that elected him party leader.

Corbyn became the first leader in decades to reach out to the unions that had initially launched the party and again put Labor squarely in solidarity with their strikes and demonstrations.

He also continued his support for the Stop the War Coalition he had long headed with its record of mass antiwar demonstrations going back to Blair’s criminal Iraq war.

In December, 2015, Corbyn spoke at a big trade union rally in Paris to pressure the summit then in progress hammering out a climate change accord. He worked to incorporate key demands of the global Trade Unions for Energy Democracy in to the election Manifesto.

I agree with my British cothinkers the Manifesto doesn’t go as far as I would like. But endorsing  their positive approach puts us both in harmony with the advice of Debs. In advance of a union conference in the 1920s that failed to launch a labor party he wrote,

If a genuine labor party is organized at Chicago I shall not expect the platform to go the limit of radical demands but shall be satisfied with a reasonable statement of labor’s rights and interests as well as its duties and responsibilities, doubting not that with the progress of the party its platform will in due time embrace every essential feature of the working class program for deliverance from industrial servitude.”

Corbyn appears to be making an honest, and so far effective effort to return the British Labor Party to the road to that deliverance. In this country our class still doesn’t have a competitive party of our own. The British example is the best current model we can learn from.

I know some readers were among the 4,000 who attended a Peoples Summit in Chicago this past weekend where Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders declared he was delighted with the Labor Party showing in Britain. I will offer my take on this event next time.

That’s all for this week.

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Week In Review June 2

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Jun 022017

  by Bill Onasch

Storage + Conservation Enables Sustainability

Even with many plants now using marginally cleaner gas rather than once favored coal, electricity production is still the single biggest component of greenhouse emissions in the USA.

Utility companies have long argued that converting grid power from fossil or nuclear fuels to only clean renewable sources is an elusive goal that probably can never be totally implemented. Some of their assertions appear persuasive. Solar and wind are affected by uncontrollable conditions that could lead to drastic unplanned reductions in power. Even in California, the relative leader in “clean power initiatives,” most companies are struggling to reach their next goal of 40 percent renewable by 2018. There is still ongoing debate about the need for new gas-fired “peaker” plants as backup.

But an executive of the electric utility serving California’s second biggest city recently said 100 percent renewable is possible right now with existing technology. In an article published on the website of a PBS station in San Diego, two commentators discuss remarks by Patrick Lee, vice-president of the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric. Lee says,

‘If you were to ask me three years ago, you know as a power engineer, can we actually achieve a high percentage of renewable, my answer was probably ‘no.’ I’d say, ‘we’re going to need some base load generation,’ Lee said. ‘But today, my answer is, the technology has been resolved. How fast do you want to get 100 percent? That can be done today.’”

Lee refers to big advances in storing energy in hydro form, supercapacitors, molten salts, even rechargeable batteries, that can keep the grid supplied even when the sun doesn’t shine and wind speed is calm–“the adjusted intermittency of solar and wind energy is no longer a technology challenge. Now it’s really an economic decision.”

KPBS comments,

I think what he means is that any given company would still have hundreds of millions or billions of dollars invested in assets which still have many years of useful life, and which they are still planning on receiving an economic return on. And you can’t just abandon them or you certainly have to think very carefully at what pace you’re going to switch away from them.”

How fast do we want to get to 100 percent renewable? I think most reasonable people with some knowledge of the climate change crisis would say—as soon as possible.

But for the capitalist owners of not only electric and gas utilities but also Big Oil, Big Coal, Big Nukes, and industries such as auto that are married to those fuels, would answer, perhaps less bluntly–not until our present investment is no longer profitable.

But as our planet is growing hotter at an alarming rate that’s a delay we cannot afford. We need a crash program to utilize the technological breakthroughs. That’s not going to happen through the private sector.

London Calling?

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy is spot on with their call for socialization of all energy. The British Labor Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn is making re-nationalization of electric power a centerpiece of their election campaign. When Tory Prime Minister May called a snap election, polls showed her with a 35 percent lead over Labor. Now the difference is within the margin of error.

If Labor wins an upset victory next Thursday, and follows through on their program including nationalization of the grid, it could inspire workers movements around the world presently choosing lesser evils. Even if the Tories win, or if there is a hung parliament with no majority, the socialist climate demands have become a credible alternative to capitalist climate wrecking.

But now for something completely different….

Adieu Paris

Of course, not all capitalists have a direct stake in a fossil/nuke fueled economy and many recognize that their damage to the climate also threatens the long term health of Free Enterprise. After decades of denial and dallying, a compromise global Climate Accord was concluded in Paris in December, 2015. Hailed as the “last best chance” for stopping global warming, it registered non-binding goals by all but two countries.

However those tardy “goals” fall far short of what is needed for the preferred capping of global warming at 1.5C over an 1880 benchmark. (Right now we’re about 1.0C.) Beyond 1.5 some substantial and irreversible regional damage would be inevitable. Beyond the fall back limit of 2C, climate change becomes profound on a global scale. Breaking the 3C mark—a real danger at present trends–would be catastrophic, likely leading to a collapse of civilization as we know it. That’s a steep price for humanity—and all creatures great and small–to pay for a “compromise” respecting private property rights of the biggest culprits responsible for this crisis.

But even the inadequate goals of Paris depend on a paltry commitment from the world’s biggest economy—mainly Obama’s “Clean Power Initiative.” Obama’s carbon emission reduction goal of 26-28 percent below a peak year of 2005 by 2025 had already been largely accomplished when it was announced. Market forces drove a massive conversion of power plants to cheap fracked gas replacing dirtier coal.

His successor declared during his 2016 election campaigns that global warming is a hoax. He promised to renounce the Paris Accord and to make American coal great again. His initial budget cuts targeted the EPA in general and his minions frankly stated they would not waste any more tax payer money on climate.

Still, there were persistent rumors that Trump’s inner circle of advisers were sharply divided over whether to actually withdraw from the Paris agreement. His EPA administrator and alt-right strategists couldn’t wait to shake the dust of Paris off their feet. His Secretary of State, who is also a recent CEO of ExxonMobil, along with Trump’s daughter and son-in-law urged him to “keep a seat at the table.” When questioned by other heads of state at last week’s Sicily gathering of the G7 industrial powers as to whether he would stay or leave he told them he would issue a statement “soon.”

That promise he, of course, kept. Yesterday, he bravely chose to stand in solidarity with only the Assad dictatorship in Syria, and the betrayer of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution Daniel Ortega, by initiating the lengthy process of leaving the world body on climate change.

His “talking points” released in advance of his remarks to hundreds of supporters in the White House Rose Garden were the usual assortment of half-truths, alternative facts, and bald faced lies. Most of the “statistics” cited by the President who reaffirmed his love for workers—especially those in Pittsburgh—were supplied by the Chamber of Commerce. I refuse to engage in polemics with those with such contempt for both reality and our intelligence–but there were plenty who did and, if interested, you can read some of those answers posted on Friday’s Labor Advocate news blog.

Almost immediately following the Trump rally at tax payer expense, I received appeals to join in an emergency demonstration. While I try to make climate actions whenever I can I don’t agree this was an emergency. It didn’t really matter which way Trump decided in the tactical dispute over leave versus disrupting through a seat at the table. This President has never wavered in his climate destruction offensive. That’s certainly an ongoing crisis but neither unexpected nor an urgency that can be quickly resolved.

We need to remain in the streets. But to replace the climate wreckers, and the too little, too late compromisers, we need to also follow the example of a rejuvenated working class party in Britain.

In Brief…

* I want to commend my friend Ann Montague, a long time SEIU activist in Oregon, for an excellent article about big Fight for 15 actions in downtown Chicago and at the suburban headquarters of McDonald’s. She not only explains the issues but also gives us some of the flavor of this persistent mass workers movement that has developed their own leaders out of the ranks. There’s even a couple of Kansas City angles. You can read it here.

* Think Globally, Act Locally is the June theme at the East Side Freedom Library in St Paul. Included is training a team of people ready to respond to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in our communities. At 7PM on June 12 there will be a presentation on Diamond Mining and Child Labor in Sierra Leone. You can view a complete list of June events here.

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.

Privacy Policy. We don’t share any information about our readers with anyone else—period.

The original content we provide is copyrighted and may not be reproduced by commercial media without our consent. However, labor movement and other nonprofit media may reproduce with attribution.