Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 21, 2007

Fall Out Against the War
This coming Saturday, October 27, there will be regional demonstrations against the Iraq War in eleven cities, organized by one faction of the splintered antiwar movement,
United For Peace & Justice. Just as with the September 15 March On Washington (that UFPJ boycotted) I join those who urge all to set aside sectarian differences and show solidarity with Iraqi working people–and American GIs–by supporting this Saturday’s mobilizations. Unfortunately, I will be helping out my wife Mary, who is home bound the next several weeks recovering from foot surgery, and will not personally be able to make the 500 mile trip to the closest action for us, Chicago. We will both be there in spirit and I’ll report what I know about the actions in next week’s column.

Partners Face a Tough Sell
Apparently that six-hour strike didn’t get all the rebellion out of the system of UAW members at Chrysler. Word is that it took at least three votes by the bargaining committee to finally get approval to send out the tentative agreement now being voted on by the ranks. The bargaining committee chair, widely respected Local 1700 president Bill Parker, presented a minority report and is urging the membership to reject the deal. Far from meekly accepting the surrender terms dictated by one partner to another the vote could be a cliff hanger. As this is being written more Locals have voted to reject than to approve.

Big Three contract rejections have been rare–the last was in 1982--since the current administration caucus consolidated one-party rule in the UAW in the immediate post-World War II period. They have always had a good read of what it takes to get ratification of a contract. Obviously shocked by the opposition to this one they have slowed the pace of voting to allow them more time to cajole, frighten, or intimidate enough to seal the deal.

But this delay tactic is a double-edged sword. Further revelations and dissemination of the details of this historic give-back will likely fuel the fires of rejection that have been spreading. For example, I was gratified to receive this message from a long time subscriber to our e-mail list,


Thought you'd like to know, you played a part in our opposition to the Chrysler contract. Louis Aguilar, reporter for the Detroit News, called me with questions about the new two tier plan, and among other things I was able to quote your "Clarification" about the 401k's and the other Treasury-investing "pension" fund. The News actually printed the whole thing (their upper editors must have been AWOL) and it was very helpful to lots of about-to-vote Chrysler workers.

Never know who you're helping huh?


Larry Christensen
UAW Local 140, retired
Dearborn, MI

The power of the ruling caucus is still formidable--but perhaps not invincible. An upset rejection of the Chrysler deal by the ranks could be a mortal wound to not only the caucus machine but also the stable “partnership” arrangement between the bureaucracy and the Big Three bosses.

Rejection alone of course won’t solve the problems facing UAW workers today. But it could be the catalyst for a revival of class conscious, adversarial unionism–sorely needed by all American workers to deal with what’s been aptly called a so far one-sided class war.

A Dangerous U-Turn In Canada
The Canadian Auto Workers union split from the UAW in 1985 because they didn’t support the concessions being granted to Big Three “partners” by Solidarity House. The Canadian labor movement tends to be a bit more militant in general than their U.S. counterparts and the CAW quickly established a reputation as being on the cutting edge of that militancy. They grew both through organizing new workers and absorbing groups of rail, transit, and public sector workers as well as the old Canadian district of the UE. In a book published nine years ago CAW president Buzz Hargrove wrote,

“In the neoconservative Canada of the late 1990s, the labour movement needs to become more militant, less accommodating to the demands of corporations and governments. If this sounds like a return to the days of the 1930s or 1950s, so be it. It's either that or watch decades of hard-won gains disappear. This resistance will mean arrests, charges, maybe even jail terms for some of our leaders and members. But if we are to check this massive wave of unfairness, we simply have no alternative.”

But this past week Hargrove shocked many with an announcement of a very unorthodox agreement with auto parts maker giant, Magna. Magna management will not only extend voluntary recognition to the CAW when they organize Magna workers–they encourage their workers to join the union. In return for this unusual employer welcome the union has made an indefinite renunciation of its right to strike Magna. Not even the UAW has ever gone that far. This is more like Andy Stern would cook up.

This sweetheart arrangement is creating quite a stir. Bob Nickerson, retired CAW secretary-treasurer, reminded all “Giving up the right to strike is one of the forbidden things for a union.” Bruce Allen, vice-president of CAW Local 199 said, “It's a betrayal of the reason why we established ourselves as an independent union away from the UAW more than 20 years ago.”

Sam Gindin, who spent 26 years with the CAW as an economist and strategist, working closely with Hargrove until his retirement in 1999, is not only a sharp critic of this move; as usual he has subjected it to a withering detailed analysis. Disorganizing the Working Class is well worth a read.

Some Ups and Downs of Water
Climate change fueled by greenhouse gas pollution has uneven and contradictory effects on different parts of the world. A major part of the total picture is the impact on water.

The Worldwatch Institute has released an updated study on the threat of rising sea levels to major population concentrations. 21 cities with a population of eight million or more–including New York and Los Angeles--are at risk of being submerged. More than one-tenth of the world's population, or 643 million people, live in endangered low-lying areas.

Just the opposite problem is being keenly felt in Georgia. Lake Sidney Lanier was created by the Army Corps of Engineers by building the Buford Dam in 1956 for the original authorized purpose of flood control and hydroelectric power. Later, developer’s politicians got Congress to authorize Atlanta to tap the Lake for drinking water–now supplying three million thirsty consumers. The Chattahoochee River which is the source of Lake Lanier flows through Alabama and Florida as well, including waters protected under the endangered species act and downstream electric power plants.

Because of a relentless drought, Georgia officials warn that drinking water from Lake Lanier is less than three months from depletion. Smaller reservoirs are dropping even lower.

The state’s governor, Sammy Perdue, is demanding that the Corps stop sharing water from Lake Lanier with Alabama and Florida–as they are currently required to do by law. Perdue said the state has not yet formed a contingency plan in case the reservoirs run dry. “The backup plan is to conserve and use our water wisely,” he said.

One would think that should have been the primary plan. Once the water is gone there is nothing to conserve. But the only plan associated with the Atlanta sprawl zone, that has a population of five million lovers of lush green lawns, is a market driven development profits plan. Extinction of species and power brownouts down stream are other people’s problems which cannot be allowed to interfere with the prosperity of Atlanta’s developers.

One final cheery note on water–our oceans have become pretty much saturated with carbon dioxide. CO2 is of course the major component of greenhouse gas pollution that is creating the climate change crisis. The seas, like major forests, naturally absorb much of the stuff--but there are limits. A 10-year study by University of East Anglia researchers in the North Atlantic show CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s to 2005. We’re losing a major offset to our carbon use.

All this is more cumulative evidence that our planet, like the Atlanta sprawl promoters, has gone way beyond conservation and wise use as the answer to the deepening environmental crisis. But our single biggest problem is not greenhouse gas or alternating floods/droughts. Science can help us find solutions to those challenges. What we must first overcome are those who rule in the interests of the ones profiting from pollution sources, who resist change even as they squander our very last drop of water.

About That Rattle You Hear
You’ve probably already guessed. It’s the spare change can we shake every now and then appealing for help in maintaining the modest needs of the kclabor.org web site. We, of course, don’t get any grants or paid advertising nor do we ever charge to view our content. The volunteer webmaster is a Social Security pensioner looking forward to an annual raise of 2.3 percent under the tortured cost-of-living formula governing this princely benefit. With annual renewal contracts coming up soon for our web hosting and e-mail services we could use some assistance. If you find our services of some use we would greatly appreciate a contribution of any size. You can easily do this through the PayPal button below.

That’s all for this week.


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