Week In Review
A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 18, 2010
I suspect a substantial number of you who have an e-mail subscription to Week In Review didn’t receive the one sent out about 3PM Wednesday October 13. Though my service reported only a couple of “bounces,” for full mailboxes, “opens” are running only about sixty percent of the normal rate. There have been no opens from Verizon, and only one from Comcast–ISPs that account for nearly forty percent of the list, are fierce opponents of net neutrality, and indifferent to letting list mails vanish in to thin hyperspace. If you didn’t get your e-mail copy of the October 13 Week In Review you can access it here. Links to the current WIR are always available on the kclabor.org home and news pages. And, if you have a Verizon or Comcast e-mail domain, you might want to consider using a free account from Yahoo or Google for your mailing lists instead.
la jeunesse dans la rue
A specter left over from 1968 is haunting France. The French Establishment have not forgotten how close they came then to seeing their system replaced by a peaceful revolution. They vividly remember all those young people in the streets four decades ago--and when they saw the current generation of youth out again in recent days their reaction was just short of panic.
As is so often the case with old memories they have a few things mixed up. In ‘68, the May-June Days were triggered by massive student demonstrations. This could perhaps be blamed on the French educational system that allowed the daughters and sons of the working class to deal with ideas and issues before going off to military conscription or a job.
The students gained a lot of attention and sympathy but they knew they didn’t have the social power to change society. They appealed to the workers to join them–and, after the de Gaulle government brutally attacked the students the workers came to their defense. But once in motion French workers did more than defend their kids against bullies with batons and fire hoses. They took up their own demands–and they took over their workplaces.
For two months there was a stage of dual power both on the job and in the administration of government. Mass demonstrations were supplemented by mass workplace meetings where workers decided what did or did not get done and when. These included some of the most sensitive civil service jobs. De Gaulle became alarmed when unions cut off telephone service to the presidential office. The mostly draftee soldiers stationed in France were mainly of the same generation as the students and could not be counted on. The former general hastily called back some elite forces from abroad to guarantee his personal security.
We don’t have room to deal with how the 1968 struggle wound down leaving the old system greatly changed but essentially intact. Another time perhaps. Up until these French events there had been a great deal of pontificating by academics calling themselves New Left that the working class had become hopelessly passive, corrupted by capitalist prosperity. They placed their hope in struggles developing in the Third World–with some of their tactics being implemented by vanguard youth in the First World.
In France most of the prominent leaders of the student actions that were the catalyst went on to become part of the workers movement both in unions and in new political formations and have had profound influence.
France is not yet back to the level of struggle we saw forty-two years ago. This time around it was the workers who launched the massive strikes and demonstrations involving millions that show no signs yet of running out of steam. This time around it was the workers who asked the students to join them–and they have begun to do so.
Certainly young people see the injustice of breaking society’s commitment on retirement–as do seventy percent of the French population according to the latest polls. But they also grasp the argument advanced by the working class that youth have a material stake in this battle. Forcing older workers to stay longer on the job means delay for younger workers in finding decent employment. And, if this sacred pledge on retirement can be taken back all of the other social benefits won through past struggles–including 1968–will likely be rolled back as well.
Since I know the French love Jerry Lewis and Disney World, and consider snails a delicacy, I am not prepared to acknowledge they are inherently smarter than workers and students on this side of the Atlantic. But when it comes to class solidarity and class struggle they leave us North Americans looking like the IWW’s Mr Block. A majority of Americans polled believe U.S. public sector promised pensions are outrageous and should be slashed. The prime issue for most U.S. voters going in to the midterm elections is not jobs, not war, not climate change–but deficit reduction! Of course, that is the line of both boss parties and our labor leaders support one of them uncritically.
We should cheer on the French workers and youth in their truly heroic battles. But even more importantly, we need to absorb the lessons they can teach us and pass them on to others post haste.
Labor Solidarity With
Witch-Hunt Victims Grows
Joe Burns gives a good In These Times summary of early union support of those antiwar and labor activists raided by the FBI and subpoenaed by Obama’s Justice Department to appear before a Grand Jury. The most recent labor resolution comes from the Duluth Central Labor Body, which you can read here.
Day For Copiapo
Like everyone else, we shared in the joy that 33 miners were rescued in Chile after being trapped for more than two months. The men below showed remarkable courage, determination, and solidarity in the long ordeal. Great skill and dedication was also demonstrated by those planning and executing the rescue. The dogged exploitation by the mass media and politicians who normally wouldn’t go near a mine or miners can perhaps be overlooked.
Not all threats to miners in Copiapo have ended so joyously. In addition to largely unreported mine accidents over the years this town was the site of a massacre on October 17, 1973. After murdering President Allende, and completing mass killings and jailings in Santiago, General Augusto Pinochet–supported by the U.S. government–turned his attention to the socialist miners. A Caravan of Death dispatched to the region stopped in Copiapo and shot sixteen, dumping their bodies in a pit. That is also a day never to be forgotten in Copiapo.
Not Half Bad
On short notice and with limited resources, about 200 UAW members and retirees protested at their union’s Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit Saturday. As we reported in the last WIR, they were hitting a deal made by the tops allowing General Motors to pay forty percent of senior workers at the reopened Orion Assembly the half-pay tier established in 2007 for new hires–and without a vote of those affected. I was pleased to see my friend Larry Christensen, and the brother he calls his union mentor, Sam Johnson, prominently featured in a Detroit Free Press photo. The French press agency AFP, in a story headlined about investors being nervous, said, “With General Motors Corp. inching towards an initial public offering of stock, nearly 200 workers and retirees have turned up for a demonstration outside the gates of United Auto Workers headquarters, underscoring the automaker's tenuous relations with union members.”
Offshoring More Than Jobs
Juliette Jowit, writing in the British Guardian, examined two fresh reports on European carbon emissions. One claims carbon pollution from the 27 member countries of the European Environment Agency have fallen 17 percent since 1990, putting them “well on track” to meet the EU target pledge of a 20 percent reduction by 2020. But she notes, “However a report due to be published soon by the Policy Exchange think tank has measured the emissions generated by goods and services consumed by those countries and found that it has increased by more than 40 percent.”
This confirms once more that the traditional industrialized countries have not only offshored production and jobs but also pollution of all kinds, including greenhouse gases. The localized impact in this surge is leading to severe problems more quickly than anyone expected. A report in The Scotsman says,
“Man-made climate change was a major cause of devastating floods in Pakistan this year, shifting monsoon rains away from flood defenses and into areas of the country incapable of dealing with the deluge, according to Pakistani scientists. More than 1,700 people died and millions lost their homes as catastrophic levels of flood water surged south from mountains in the north-west of the country.”
These European figures come from the countries with the relatively best “green” records. Canada has done much worse and the USA, though it dictated conditions of the Kyoto Accords, has never signed on.
This year’s big United Nations climate conference is in Cancun, Mexico from November 29 to December 10. US climate negotiator Todd Stern says bluntly: “No one is anticipating or expecting in any way a legal treaty to be done in Cancun this year.” Even more pessimistic is UN climate chief Christiana Figueres: “I don’t believe that we will ever have a final agreement on climate, certainly not in my lifetime.”
As long as their bosses (and ours) continue to call all the shots gloom and doom will remain and our grandchildren’s biosphere will be destroyed. “The time has come/A fact’s a fact/The heat is on/No turning back!” There’s no more important challenge for our side.
That’s all for this week.
Alliance for Class & Climate Justice
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