Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 28, 2007

Respectable Turnout
Yesterday’s antiwar actions called in eleven cities by United For Peace & Justice were billed as regional demonstrations. In fact, because of their wide geographic dispersion outside the Northeast Corridor, they proved to be essentially scattered local protests. As this is written reports are still drifting in but clearly well over 100,000 participated in the eleven events.

Organizers claimed 45,000 in New York, 30,000 in San Francisco, 7,000 in Seattle, 2,500 in Orlando. Press reports estimated 10,000 in Boston, 5,000 in Chicago, 1,000 in Salt Lake City. Torrential rain held the Philadelphia action to a few hundred dedicated marchers. (Rain was also a factor in New York and Orlando.) I have yet to see any estimates of turnout in Los Angeles–expected to be substantial, New Orleans, or Jonesborough–hard to predict. Neither the New York Times nor the Los Angeles Times chose to report on the local actions in their cities, running only brief national wire reports.

One gratifying achievement was that UFPJ’s arch rival, ANSWER, did the right thing and pitched in to support the October 27 call even though UFPJ had boycotted the ANSWER led March On Washington in September. This was particularly crucial to the success of the West Coast actions.

In some cities there was significant labor involvement–at least in terms of endorsements and appearance on speaker platforms. In several areas the same was true for Black based civil rights, and Latino based immigrant rights groups as well. Arab-Americans and Palestinian groups were well represented in most places. Iraq vets led all the marches. In a few places congressional Democrats spoke to the gatherings.

All in all, the turnout for October 27 was respectable. The organizers are to be congratulated. But respectability is not our ultimate goal. Divided antiwar forces are still far short of being the kind of mass movement needed to have a real impact on the war. I remain convinced that the sentiment that could build such a movement is out there. The challenge is forging a strategy, tactics, and unity to realize that potential. UFPJ, ANSWER, and US Labor Against the War need to work together to find the right formula for mass action that can finally put a stop to this unjust, and unpopular war.

We’ll have a collection of stories about the Saturday actions on the Monday Daily Labor News Digest.

The Fire Next Time?
No person alive had ever seen such wild fires as have raged–and continue to rage--through much of California. Wild fires can be a natural occurrence but it was human activity that sparked the unprecedented scale of the current conflagration.

I’m not talking about the suspicion of arson in a few of the fires. A bigger culprit is development of homes and their infrastructure within recently pristine territory. Wild fires are a natural method of renewal in such areas and are not respecters of property rights. Developers started putting fire suppression methods at work to protect their investments. But these methods lead to a build up of tinder like vegetation. The net result is when fires inevitably elude suppression they burn hotter and wider with a vengeance. In just the last four years California has lost 1.5 million acres to wild fires. That’s double the rate of loss in similar terrain in Baja California where nature is allowed to run its course.

When you add this problem in with the drought and the Santa Anna winds that are being influenced by the climate crisis, you have the makings of a disaster of truly Old Testament proportions.

A bad crisis was made worse in Orange County–the sixth wealthiest place in the USA–because of penny-pinching cutbacks on firefighters. Fewer trucks were available for dispatch and those that went out had only three-person crews instead of the standard minimum of four. Courage and exhausting hard work by these first responders could not fully compensate for OC’s “fiscal responsibility.”

I know there are some who feel no sympathy for the wealthy losing luxury houses blighting the wilderness. Personally, I feel compassion for anyone losing their home. I’ve been there and know how they feel. But, in any case, the rich are not the sole or even primary victims of upscale sprawl.

The majority of fire fatalities were undocumented immigrant workers. The pollution now hanging over all southern California affects all classes. Much farm land was wiped out–including most of the U.S. avocado crop.

Once again we are confronted by an environmental problem that has great social ramifications–and requires great social changes in response. SoCal has the unique twin threat of eventual flood by rising sea level and/or more rampaging fires coming from the other direction. Perhaps they will lead the way in figuring out a workable solution to their–and our–future. As everywhere, this will require halting and reversing sprawl.

The Partners Pull It Off
Midweek chances for ratification of the UAW agreement at Chrysler appeared as likely as the Rockies sweeping the World Series. But General Holiefield, the UAW vice-president for Chrysler, mobilized staffers and Local officials to hit the shop floors and managed to secure enough votes in the Detroit area to overcome rejection at several major assembly plants. The final yes vote broke down: 56 percent of production workers, 51 percent of skilled trades workers, 94 percent of office and clerical workers, and 79 percent of UAW-represented Chrysler engineers.

You knew it was going to be close just from coverage in the major pro-boss press. In addition to the usual pontificating of academic experts, such as Harley Shaiken, we started hearing from prominent oppositionists such as Jerry Tucker and Ron Lare. The Detroit News even printed an opinion piece by Labor Notes editor, Chris Kutalik. This was not a sign of some new policy of fairness but a recognition that thousands of UAW members were paying serious attention to alternatives to the failed policy of partnership.

Now on to the final round at Ford.

That’s all for this week.

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