Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 10, 2011

Perhaps I should take more vacation time. It seems whenever I do there’s a spurt in significant developments. I’ll touch on a few now, others soon--and also promise to catch up on replies to the many messages that piled up in my inbox during my absence.

A Second Decade Of War
Exploiting the justifiable outrage inflamed by the 9/11 attacks, President Bush II rallied widespread enthusiastic support for launching a new “War on Terror” with the invasion of Afghanistan ten years ago. The immediate declared objective was to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and to eliminate that country as a haven for terrorists.

Even some progressives in the labor movement got caught up in the hysteria. LabourStart’s Eric Lee took some shots at those of us who showed a “knee-jerk” opposition to new wars of intervention in a piece entitled The War Is Over, written five weeks after the invasion,

“The Taliban is finished as a fighting force, with its troops having withdrawn from every Afghan city and its 'capital', Kandahar, now apparently under siege. In a matter of weeks—perhaps days—its leader, Mullah Omar, and his partner in crime, Osama bin Laden, will almost certainly be in the hands of the United States (if they're lucky) or the Northern Alliance. Humanitarian aid is already pouring into Afghanistan through the newly liberated zones in the north. Women are returning to work. Television and radio are broadcasting again. Men are even allowed to shave their beards if they wish. Children can fly kites, previously banned by the Taliban. For millions of Afghans, the nightmare is ending and new hope is born. And all this happened because the United States reacted with overwhelming force to the attack on New York City and Washington on September 11th. It is entirely thanks to US and British cruise missiles, B-52s, daisy cutter bombs, the CIA, and special forces troops that this is happening.”

In the face of this great humanitarian act by Bush/Blair Eric said to us nay-sayers,

“I'm not saying confess your sins, repent, admit that your views were, as Humphrey Bogart says in Casablanca, ‘misinformed.’ Just admit that maybe you, um, erred.”

But many of us, especially from the Vietnam generation, declined this generous invitation to say “my bad” while jumping on the victory bandwagon. The very next day I answered Eric, concluding with these remarks,

“There is nothing to celebrate, nothing to recant. The War on Terror is not over. The victories that impress Eric are victories for our ruling class, not for working people anywhere. Right now those in Eric’s camp are feeling the wind in their sails. Whether their gloating will still be in order further down the road of this war is another question yet to be decided.

“But even if their cruise missiles and cluster bombs prevail in the end our position will remain unshaken. It is not based on expediency but on the principles of working class internationalism. Eugene Debs once said,

‘Years ago I declared that there was only one war in which I would enlist and that was the war of the workers of the world against the exploiters of the world. I declared moreover that the working class had no interest in the wars declared and waged by the ruling classes of the various countries upon one another for conquest and spoils.’

“That’s the heritage we identify with, that’s the tradition that we are proud of, that’s the principle that guides us through war today.”

Fast forwarding to last week: Reuters reported, “Hundreds of Afghans marched through Kabul on Thursday, the eve of the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, to condemn the United States as occupiers and demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops.” Protest organizer Hafizullah Rasikh is quoted “ten years since the invasion, all we have seen is suffering, instability and poverty in our country.” They carried “placards and banners accusing the United States of ‘massacring’ civilians while denouncing President Hamid Karzai as a puppet subservient to Washington.” It was an action that required guts.

The British Guardian, summarizing the results of a Pew Poll said, “One in three US veterans of the post-9/11 military believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting, and a majority think that, after 10 years of combat, America should be focusing less on foreign affairs and more on domestic problems....”

From Der Spiegel, “A top German general who was instrumental in planning the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan has said that the intervention has failed and the Taliban will regain power within months of withdrawal. Ten years after the invasion, he is far from alone with his critique.”

With such negative reactions even from those promoted as heroes it was not surprising to hear from AP”s Ben Feller, “A decade of war will pass quietly at the White House this week. President Barack Obama plans no public events Friday to mark a moment the nation never really expected: 10 years of war in Afghanistan.”

Of course, the War On Terror evolved in to much more than Afghanistan. American boots are still on the ground in Iraq–more than eight years after the invasion of that now devastated land–with negotiations in progress to keep them there beyond the “final” withdrawal at the end of this year. Thousands more GIs remain ready in Kuwait, prepared to intervene in Iraq once more–with or without an invitation from Baghdad. Even though Cameron and Sarkozy already took a Mission Accomplished victory lap in Tripoli, the NATO airwar directed and supported by the USA continues in Libya. U.S. drone attacks are not only frequent inside Washington’s Pakistan ally; they have even been used in the targeted killing of an American citizen in Yemen. And this is just the stuff that’s been publicly acknowledged.

These wars were used to also justify grave attacks on civil liberties here at home through the PATRIOT Act, warrantless spying, star chamber Grand Juries, and who knows what else.

The tenth anniversary of the launch of preemptive war wherever the bipartisan Establishment feels like is nothing to celebrate. But neither can it be ignored despite all of our other problems. Good people are still being killed. Precious resources of other lands are being destroyed. Returning “heroes” are being denied the care they were promised and have a higher than average rate of unemployment. And, it is no coincidence that the Federal budget deficit is nearly exactly equal to what’s being spent on war.

As workers and students take important new initiatives in fighting injustices we should include among our demands:

Bring All the GIs Home Now–No War But the Class War!

Indian Summer, Arab Spring
Vice-President Joe Biden described them as “partyers.” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called them a “mob.” Former Godfather Pizza CEO and GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain dismissed them as “envious.” But a young woman’s sign at one of the semi-spontaneous gatherings sweeping the USA perhaps summed it up best–I Lost My Job But Found An Occupation.

The Occupy Wall Street phenomenon picked up where the Madison occupation and We Are One actions last Spring left off. Both upsurges acknowledge the inspiration of the Arab Spring that launched ongoing revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and found imitators in the Spanish state, Portugal, Chile and elsewhere. Both also have effectively used mass action tactics of previous civil rights and antiwar movements in the USA. Both pulled in significant support for their initiative from unions As in Madison, the OWS has promoted free speech and democratic decision making.

But there are differences. One is the more prominent cultural component–the “partying” noted by the Veep–that at times is reminiscent of the Be-Ins in the Sixties–minus the psychedelic drugs.

But more substantial is program. Madison focused on a clear, potentially winnable objective–defending the rights of public sector workers. OWS has appropriately chosen Wall Street as a metaphor for the many injustices coming down on the “99 percent.” They have attracted a diverse array of enthusiastic supporters ranging from those who prioritize getting a Constitutional Amendment to stop corporations from dominating election campaign financing (good luck with that one), to those ready for socialist revolution. This expanded breadth leads to both new opportunities and challenges. How the OWS will evolve is yet to be determined.

These visible demonstrations of fight-back, internal democracy, and unfettered exchange of views, are certainly a welcome respite from silent suffering. Starting in New York and DC, occupations have spread to virtually every city and town across the U.S. and this week will begin in Canada. There’s even an Occupy KC encampment next to the Federal Reserve Bank.

We can’t all camp out. But we should drop by and pitch in some way. As we used to say back in the day–be there or be square.

Philippine Solidarity Needed
While putting this edition to bed, I received an urgent appeal for solidarity from the Labor Party-Philippines on behalf of the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA). In collaboration with the government, Philippine Airlines (PAL), the national flag carrier, has carried out a PATCO-style firing of 2800 workers resisting outsourcing. I urge you to go to
this link, read their story, and help them as they suggest.

In Brief...
¶ The already ratified UAW contract at General Motors, as well as the tentative Ford deal going to the ranks, sets a new pattern that will undoubtedly be pursued by every boss--replacing wage increases with various lump sum schemes. So far, Fiat is hanging tough, resisting the Ford and GM deals as too rich for their Chrysler Division.
¶ Eleven rail craft unions representing 92,000 workers have rejected the sweetheart deal the United Transportation Union cut with the carriers. (More
here.) After 97 percent of the members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen–part of the Teamsters rail department–voted to strike, President Obama forestalled action by appointing a Presidential Emergency Board. The PEB has 30 days to recommend a contract settlement, followed by a 30-day “cooling off period.”
¶ One reason National Nurses United has joined in the OWS movement is that they see the impact of bank foreclosures on the patients they serve. They cite a Princeton/Georgia State study that reports a 39 percent increase in ER admissions for suicide attempts precipitated by home foreclosures, and a direct correlation between foreclosure rates and increases in emergency-room visits and hospitalization for hypertension, diabetes and anxiety.

That’s all for this week.

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