Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
October 9, 2005

Learning the Children–and the Rest of Us--Well
Teachers in British Columbia are giving some important lessons above and beyond the normal school room curriculum. From nontraditional venues in the streets, courts, and perhaps ultimately jails, they are educating all of B.C. about the class struggle and the limits of democratic rights for working people.

The 42,000 members of the BC Teachers Federation had been seeking smaller class sizes and wage increases. The Liberal provincial government insisted on continuing the present agreement with no changes in student-teacher ratios and a wage freeze. For the fifth time in 12 years, the Liberals introduced legislation imposing a settlement on teachers. After an overnight filibuster by the NDP labor party, the dictated contract became law on Friday.

But the teachers said "not this time." They have shut down the schools tight and other unions are respecting their picket lines. The boss executive branch got the boss judicial branch at the supreme court to declare the strike illegal and to threaten teachers with heavy fines and even jail.

Last year there was a similar defiant strike by the Hospital Employees Union. The threat of a general strike then helped get a negotiated settlement. The hospital workers have not forgotten how the teachers came to their aid in last year’s fight and the HEU is helping to build support for the embattled teachers today.

Support rallies are being called for Tuesday by labor councils across the province. The idea of a general strike by all unions is again getting serious consideration. This important courageous fight deserves our attention and solidarity.

Appeasement Only Whets the Appetite of Those Who Have Tasted Blood
In 1999, General Motors completed the spin-off of its principal parts maker, Delphi. Overnight, the new outfit became America’s 36th largest business. An agreement was secured by the UAW and IUE that the wages, benefits, and conditions of the GM master contract would remain in place at least through 2007.

Last year the UAW agreed to modify that agreement with a new seven year deal that granted Delphi a new two-tier wage and benefit structure for new hires. But no amount of give-backs in the spirit of "partnership" will ever satisfy the greedy captains of industry.

Recently the UAW gave poor, poverty pleading GM some minor relief on health care costs. At the same time the union began talks with Delphi about management demands for more, urgent concessions. Last week the Detroit News divulged the depth of the company demands in an article aptly titled "Brutal Cuts." They included slashing the present standard wage of 26.35 to ten bucks an hour. Maximum vacation allowance would go from six weeks to four per year. Seventeen paid holidays would be reduced to ten. Workers would have to start paying hefty monthly premiums and co-pays for health insurance. And the Jobs Bank program supporting laid off workers would be totally scrapped.

This was a deal that even the most conciliatory UAW and IUE leaders couldn’t dare take to their members. When the unions predictably rejected such draconian demands Delphi, running up on the deadline for bankruptcy reform, followed major air line employers into bankruptcy court. As we all now know, the courts can, and surely will, abrogate the union contracts.

We’ll have more to say at a later time on the crisis facing the UAW and the auto industry.

A Warning to the ‘Opposition’
A recent Washington Post headline made us curious. It read, "Report Warns Democrats Not to Tilt Too Far Left." William A. Galston and Elaine C. Kamarck, two intellectuals who served in the Clinton White House, think espousing liberal ideas dooms the party to minority status.

"They suggest that Democratic presidential candidates replicate Clinton's tactics in 1992, when he broke with the party's liberal base by approving the execution of a semi-retarded prisoner, by challenging liberal icon Jesse L. Jackson and by calling for an end to welfare ‘as we know it’," says the Post.

That’s all for this week.

As always, much of the material for this column is based on material in the Daily Labor News Digest, posted Monday-Saturday, by 7AM Central.

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