Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 17, 2011

Occupying Our Attention
In some areas, the local Establishments have responded to Occupy Wall Street with time-tested shows of force. Boston cops cleared out a camp in that town early last week. The Governor of Colorado sent state troopers in for a predawn Friday raid on campers in a public park in Denver. There have been mass arrests in Phoenix. And in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel–former Obama chief-of-staff–continued the Daley tradition by dispatching the CPF to trash the OWS site in Grant Park, arresting dozens in the process.

There was a similar threat to the mother camp that launched the Occupy movement that has now spread far and wide across the world. But a different outcome has so far kept the OWS pioneers in their “Zuccotti Park” home base.

Now I lived in Manhattan for a couple of years in the late Eighties. Through walking to most destinations I got to know the geography south of Times Square pretty well. I was puzzled that I couldn’t place Zuccotti Park so I did a little search engine research.

Turns out when I lived there it was known as Liberty Plaza Park. It was built by US Steel in 1968 as part of a deal with City Hall to allow a massive expansion of their 54-story headquarters--now known as One Liberty Plaza. Public access was granted to this modest park sitting on some of the most expensive real estate on the planet–but land ownership was retained by the then steel industry giant. When USS began right-sizing, they sold their building and park to Brookfield Office Properties. The park’s name was later officially changed, honoring Brookfield’s CEO, John Zuccotti. His résumé includes stints as City Planning Commission chairman and first deputy mayor under Abe Beame. Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s steady girl friend sits on Brookfield’s Board.

Considering the juice involved, it’s not surprising that when Brookfield last Tuesday asked the Police Commissioner to clear the park the reply was “will Friday be soon enough?”

But the Occupiers of what they call Liberty Park didn’t know that you can’t fight City Hall. They adopted two immediate tactics:

Since the “owners” had originally maintained they needed to clear the park in order to clean it the Occupiers said “we can do that,” and got the place in spick and span shape in short order.

But knowing that probably wouldn’t satisfy the power elite they also issued a call for all freedom loving folks to come and help them nonviolently defend themselves against police attacks.

The response to the Occupier’s call for solidarity was impressive ,boosted by member mobilizations by some important unions. In a hasty tactical retreat, Brookfield withdrew their demand at the last minute to avoid a confrontation their side could only lose at that moment.

This well-publicized victory for the Occupation added additional inspiration to the Global Day of Protest called on Saturday. Thousands turned out in New York and in Washington--where the OWS linked up with Rev Al Sharpton’s march for jobs. In most North American cities hastily organized demonstrations were in the hundreds–and new camps were set up in many locations.

But Saturday’s protests were truly global and some were huge. It’s estimated 300,000 participated in the Spanish state and tens of thousands marched in Britain, Germany, Australia, and South Africa.

Of course, the most publicized was in Rome where provocateurs posing as anarchists launched a spree of window smashing and car arson that gave the riot police plenty of excuse for attacking the massive main body of peaceful protesters.

The OWS movement has won broad popular sympathy and significant active support. It is still growing--but in to what is it growing remains an unanswered question. Some want to make OWS in to a “Tea Party of the left,” to maneuver the disenchanted “Democrat base” in to support for an Obama second term. Others would like to see the new movement assume a character similar to Jobs with Justice, mobilizing “street heat” around timely worthy issues. Socialists, syndicalists, and anarchists are explaining their visions for social change.

Wherever it may go it’s so far so good. Their lively, inspiring actions and democratic methods deservedly occupy our attention.

Trading Partners
Workday Minnesota
reports, “The free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama that Congress passed last week will destroy jobs across the United States for years to come, the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition said.” The Coalition that includes labor, environmental, farm and community groups expressed disappointment that some labor backed liberal Democrats voted for some or all of these deals. They had this to say about the Korea agreement,

“The Korea deal alone threatens over 50,000 good-paying Minnesota jobs. This hits hard in a state that has already seen tens of thousands of jobs lost to failed trade policies, with families losing health care, savings, retirement, and homes as a result.”

It’s too bad they didn’t get this message across to the leadership of the UAW. While Solidarity House did oppose the deal in Colombia–the murdered trade unionist capital of the world–the Detroit News tells us,

“The White House isn't forgetting the role of the auto industry in winning passage of the Korea Free Trade Agreement. Ford Motor Co. President and CEO Alan Murally and United Auto Workers President Bob King attended Thursday night's state dinner in honor of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and dined on Texas waygu beef, butternut squash bisque and chocolate malt devil's food layer cake with pear and almond brittle. In a sign of the importance of King's support, he sat at the head table with President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama for the dinner. Mulally sat next to the first lady. Most other labor leaders had opposed the deal.”

We might add that most labor leaders in Korea opposed the deal as well.

Tomorrow is the final day of voting by UAW Ford members on another partnership deal between Murally and King–a four-year contract. I’ll have more to say on the Big Three deals next time.

In Brief...
¶ Timothy Williams writes in the New York Times, “The infant mortality rate in the United States has long been near the bottom of the world’s industrialized countries. The nation’s current mark — 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births — places it 46th in the world, according to a ranking by the Central Intelligence Agency. African-Americans fare far worse: Their rate of 13.3 deaths per 1,000 is almost double the national average and higher than Sri Lanka’s.”
¶ 840 members of IAM Atomic Energy Lodge 778 are on strike against Honeywell, the current company managing the DOE’s nuclear weapon plant in Kansas City. The main issue in the five-year offer is introduction of a two-tier wage scheme. A Honeywell spokesperson says, “Any savings that we generate are on behalf of the government and the American taxpayer.”
¶ From the CBC, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms when it imposed back-to-work legislation on postal workers in June, the workers' union is arguing in a new legal challenge. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers filed the constitutional challenge in Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday, and it argues that the freedom to associate guaranteed in the charter was violated by the federal government's bill that ordered 48,000 Canada Post employees back to work.”
¶ The Los Angeles Times reports, “Union workers who were laid off from the Hotel Bel-Air called on protesters from Occupy L.A. to join a protest of the famed five-star hotel. The hotel laid off about 250 union workers when it closed for a two-year renovation project in 2009. It plans to reopen on Friday, having rehired only about a dozen former union workers. The union representing the dismissed workers, Unite Here Local 11, claims the hotel used the renovation project to oust the union.”
¶ Also from the LAT, “Several hundred hospital workers began a 24-hour strike Wednesday outside Keck Medical Center of USC. X-ray technicians, certified nursing assistants and housekeeping staff are picketing over working conditions, particularly the ability of workers to have a say in how the hospital is staffed, said John Borsos, vice president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents 640 hospital employees. The National Labor Relations Board in Los Angeles is scheduled to hear workers' grievances later this month, Borsos said. Contract negotiations between the union and the medical center, formerly known as USC University Hospital, began in the fall of 2010.”
¶ A National Nurses United press release last Thursday–before Bloomberg backed down, “The nation’s largest organization of nurses today announced it will set up a first aid station Friday to provide basic medical assistance to participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, an effort that will be expanded to other cities where protests continue.”
¶ From the British Guardian, “Officials in Rick Perry's home state of Texas have set off a scientists' revolt after purging mentions of climate change and sea-level rise from what was supposed to be a landmark environmental report. The scientists said they were disowning the report on the state of Galveston Bay because of political interference and censorship from Perry appointees at the state's environmental agency.” Of course, Perry’s “jobs program” is solely based on eliminating EPA regulation of oil and gas drilling.
¶ The administration’s food-to-fuel program is making solid gains. The USDA predicts more of this year’s American corn crop will go to making ethanol than feeding livestock.

Though not as comprehensive as our old Daily Labor News Digest we still provide a number of links to useful stories on the KC Labor home page by 9AM, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

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