Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 7, 2011

Ten Days That Shook the World
It was on this date in 1917 that the Russian October Revolution brought hope to workers and fear to bosses everywhere. (The Czar kept his subjects on a calendar different than most of the world.) An American journalist, John Reed, was on the scene and wrote a popular book about this first successful workers revolution--Ten Days That Shook the World (available from
MayDay Books in Minneapolis.) Reed returned home to help win a majority of the Socialist Party--that then had tens of thousands of members–to support for Lenin and Trotsky and also convinced many from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as well. While the great Eugene Debs stuck with the Socialist Party instead of joining the new Communists he once famously said, “From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet I am a Bolshevik–and proud of it.” In 1981, Warren Beatty produced an epic film about the revolution, in which he played the role of Reed--Reds. Though the revolution ultimately degenerated from its initial goals for reasons too numerous and complex to deal with here--and the Soviet Union collapsed twenty years ago--its spirit still inspires many. As well as cautionary tales, its history provides valuable lessons still useful today. I will open a bottle of pivo tonight and offer a toast to an anniversary worthy of celebration.

Worse Than Worse Case
It was an eventful week The Occupy demonstrations--including a brief shutdown of the Port of Oakland-- received extensive coverage in the mass media. Even more ink and pixels were devoted to the hundreds of thousands transferring their money from banks to credit unions. The contrived crisis in Greece went through a series of sometimes bizarre twists that kept many glued to their favorite business cable channel. And the October jobs figures failed to brighten chronic gloom.

But the most important story of all got scant attention. The British Guardian reported,

“The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming. The figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.”

We got some fresh reminders last week of the effects of >worse case being clearly demonstrated. Earlier in the week an Associated Press story opened,

“Freakish weather disasters — from the sudden October snowstorm in the Northeast U.S. to the record floods in Thailand — are striking more often. And global warming is likely to spawn more similar weather extremes at a huge cost, says a draft summary of an international climate report obtained by The Associated Press. The final draft of the report from a panel of the world's top climate scientists paints a wild future for a world already weary of weather catastrophes costing billions of dollars. The report says costs will rise and perhaps some locations will become ‘increasingly marginal as places to live.’”

On Thursday an AP wire about a NASA announcement said,

“NASA scientists are watching a giant crack forming over a vulnerable Antarctic glacier and they think it will soon break off into an iceberg the size of New York City.”

Though moving faster than once expected, the dynamics of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions have been long understood. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) came out of an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The first of annual Conference of the Parties (COP) took place in Berlin in 1995, bringing together governments, NGOs, and scientists to discuss solutions to the problem. COP 3 produced the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that for the first time set legally binding national targets for emission reductions. COP 17 will open in Durban, South Africa November 28.

The climate crisis is far grimmer than when international discussions began in Rio nearly twenty years ago. Even the mild-mannered Kyoto Protocol–never ratified by the USA–is set to expire after next year and a new agreement appears doubtful. Nothing of any substance is likely to emerge from Durban.

This bleak outlook is not due to a paucity of ideas about how climate change can be stopped short of destruction of the biosphere. Quite the contrary–science offers not only dire warnings but also proven solutions. But the alternatives that are available today have a short shelf life. Continued inaction heightens the danger of reaching a point of catastrophic, irreversible damage.

The obstacle at COP17 and beyond is not ignorance. It is the global market economy and the ruling class that calls the shots in it. Fossil and nuclear fuels and the industries that depend on them, are enormously profitable. Those profiting not only resist their limitation and regulation–they are seeking unrestrained growth. Cynically and falsely posing as job creators they are currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars in television, Internet, and newspaper campaigns to promote expansion that will send emissions soaring higher yet toward doomsday. Republican presidential hopefuls repeat this propaganda as gospel in their televised “debates.”

What about our side of the class divide? How are our only mass organizations–our unions–responding?

An important test struggle we’ve commented on in the past is the permit for the XL extension of the Keystone Pipeline flowing out of the Alberta tarsands. Jenny Brown does a good job exploring this issue in “Oil Pipeline Fight Roils Unions” in the November print edition of Labor Notes. She says,

“U.S. unions are bitterly split on whether Keystone XL should be built. The conflict has hamstrung the Blue-Green Alliance, the main group unifying union and environmental efforts.”

The Steelworkers have internal divisions over XL and have yet to take a position. As we have previously reported, two of the Blue-Green unions–the Amalgamated Transit and Transport Workers Unions–have taken a strong stand against XL and even supported civil disobedience actions against it at the White House that led to over 1200 arrests. As Brown quotes, this irked their Blue-Green partner Terry O’Sullivan of the Laborers,

“It’s time for ATU and TWU to come out from under the skirts of delusional environmental groups which stand in the way of creating good, much needed American jobs.”

Blue-Green O’Sullivan is among those union leaders who have cut a deal with the pipeline company for project labor agreements augmenting good American dues collection. To me, this seems equivalent to a union proclaiming four-square opposition to capital punishment–except in those cases where the hangman’s scaffold and rope are made by American union members.

Even the promised jobs are largely bogus. For her article Jenny talked to Cornell professor Lara Skinner who has studied XL’s job impact,

“Skinner estimated direct job creation from the pipeline at 2500 to 4650 jobs, mainly in construction. After construction, the pipeline can be run by a few dozen people, according to the Canadian union representing tarsands workers.”

Adopting the measures advocated by the most “delusional environmental groups” would lead to full employment for generations while saving a sustainable environment. The transit unions have at least pulled out of the barn in the right direction. It remains to be seen whether we can get the bus to our destination in time. For more news and views on these issues see our Alliance for Class & Climate Justice page.

In Brief...
¶ Last year a contingent of NNU nurses rushed to Haiti after the devastating earthquake. Last week they showed up in another French-speaking venue--Cannes, France. Their Riviera excursion was to take their demand for a Financial Transaction Tax to the security perimeter of the G20 meeting there. At the same time 1500 nurses and supporters rallied in Lafayette Park across from the White House with the same message.
¶ A GI home based in Ft Riley last Thursday became the first combat fatality in Iraq since President Obama announced last month that all United States troops would leave the country by the end of the year.
¶ The U.S. economy needs to create an average of 120,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with population growth. 80,000 were reported in October–mostly in low wage sectors. Despite an unprecedented 99 weeks of unemployment benefits the majority of jobless workers no longer receive any. The extended benefits expire at the end of the year unless Congress renews them–hardly a cinch. As the unemployed strive to avoid total destitution 46 million American residents now receive food stamps–an all-time record.
¶ The CBC reports, “Veterans across Canada staged protests on Saturday to rally against C$226 million in proposed budget clawbacks targeting Veterans Affairs.”
¶ From the Detroit Free Press, “A group of skilled-trades workers has appealed the UAW's decision to conclude that Chrysler workers ratified a new labor agreement despite a majority vote against the deal by skilled-trades workers. If successful, the appeal would force the UAW to try to renegotiate some or all of its agreement with Chrysler. Alex Wassell, a skilled-trades worker at Warren Stamping, said the appeal was signed by 227 workers and was filed with the UAW's International Executive Board. ‘In a sense, it is also a fact-finding mission,’ said Wassell, a member of a UAW activist group called Autoworkers Caravan.”

Don’t forget to check our news headlines now posted on the KC Labor home page by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

That’s all for this week.

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