Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 11, 2007

Remembering It Like It Is
Today is Veterans Day–though those getting it as a paid holiday will be off tomorrow–in the USA, Remembrance Day in Britain, Canada, and Australia. Last year on this occasion I wrote,

Regardless of our views about the wars these men and women may have fought in, or groups like the American Legion who claim to speak in their name, America’s veterans need and deserve our help. They didn’t pick their missions—the politicians did. The vets did their duty but the politicians cut and run from their obligations to those who served in uniform. Things were bad enough for the vets of my generation returning from Vietnam—and there are still many of those neglected. The situation is even worse for those deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, those words stand up this year as well. This past week two new reports came out showing new depths of the shabby treatment of vets in the USA. One in four of America’s homeless population is a veteran. Veterans and their families make up twelve percent of those without health insurance–nor do these uninsured vets have access to VA health facilities.

Exploited and neglected by the politicians and the brass dominated veterans groups, these mainly working class men and women should be a top concern of the labor and antiwar movements.

That’s EntertainmentNot
If you haven’t yet seen the video describing the issues in the Writers Guild strike check it out
here. It’s a model for clearly and effectively stating the union’s case. They’ve also organized impressive mass rallies on both coasts, involving supporters from other crafts affected by their action and high profiles from outside the entertainment industry, such as Jesse Jackson. They’re off to a good start.

It appears likely the writers will be in for a long haul. Their last strike, in 1988, lasted 22 weeks and the bosses seem every bit as determined this time around. There was an early counter-attack on the legal front. At the beginning, the union asked all members to forward unfinished work in progress to them, to be returned at the end of the strike. The employers claimed this work was their property and demanded it be immediately turned over to them. Writers failing to comply would be terminated. The lawyers will be arguing for a while over this issue.

Meanwhile New Yorkers and tourists won’t have the entertainment option of seeing a Broadway show. Most major live productions have been shut down by the very first strike ever of Local One stage hands union. The Broadway bosses, imitating their industrial colleagues, are demanding big changes in work rules that would eliminate many union jobs.

Foul Play In the Water
It’s been a busy week for the capitalist custodians of our aquatic environment.

There are reports this morning of a Russian tanker breaking in half in a storm in the Kerch Strait between the Azov and Black Seas. Initial estimates of discharge of fuel oil are 2000 tons–more than a half-million gallons. A spokesman for the Russian equivalent of the EPA said, “This problem may take a few years to solve. Fuel oil is a heavy substance and it is now sinking to the seabed. This is a very serious environmental disaster.” The thirty year old vessel was designed for coastal work, not for seas producing twenty-foot high waves that cracked it open. At the same time two nearby ships, carrying thousands of tons of sulfur, also went under. At this point at least eight sailors are missing.

On Wednesday, a German flag container ship somehow managed to collide with a support for the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, rupturing the craft’s fuel tanks. Initial reports said 140 gallons leaked in to the Bay. A little later the Coast Guard upped the estimate to 400 gallons. The final count was 58,000 gallons of heavy bunker diesel released. By Friday containment and capture had got 9,000 gallons back–the rest is beyond recovery in the San Francisco Bay ecosystem. All beaches are closed, massive kills of birds and marine life are certain, long term effects are as yet unknown.

On Friday several loaded coal cars on a CSX train derailed and landed in the Anacostia River in Washington, DC. The accident occurred during “yard operations” on a bridge that had not been used for over a year.

Friends Give Us ‘Less Than Perfect’ Peru Trade Deal
Most union, environmental and human rights groups strongly opposed the Peru trade deal approved by the Democrat controlled House this week. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, while congratulating labor’s “friends” for improving the deal, acknowledged it was “less than perfect.” Among the 109 Democrats joining virtually all Republicans to get the latest assist to Globalization passed was Kansas City’s Emmanuel Cleaver. Last week Alan Garcia’s Peruvian government assisted mining companies such as Doe Run to break what they called an “illegal” strike by 22,000 Peruvian metal miners.

Nurses United Shall Never Be Defeated
Kansas City area AFT-affiliated Nurses United won a solid representation election victory at Centerpoint hospital in Independence. Centerpoint is owned by notoriously anti-union HCA, a project of the Frist family that includes a former Senate majority leader.

Elsewhere, the California Nurses Association won two more contract victories, and all nurses unions joined together in a caravan throughout Kentucky and West Virginia in support of striking Appalachian Regional Healthcare nurses.

Ford Votes Quietly
Voting is under way on the UAW’s tentative agreement with Ford. In contrast to the uproar at Chrysler local officers unanimously backed the deal and opposition has been low profile. Ford got a slightly better break than GM or Chrysler on their VEBA contribution and they can have up to twenty percent of the workforce in the new second tier for new hires in any classification.

Zero Tolerance For Protest
Dozens of students at Morton West High School in the working class Chicago suburb of Berwyn, decided to organize a little protest against the Iraq war in their school cafeteria. The superintendent asked them to move their demonstration to an area less disruptive to classes, assuring them there would be no discipline beyond a Saturday detention for cutting class. The students complied. The school boss did not. At the end of the day, with cops standing by, they were given notices of ten-day suspensions and possible expulsion.

One parent of a suspended sixteen-year old said,

“Who’s the next group to go off to war? These kids. The kids do a peaceful sit-in and they’re threatened with expulsion, yet the military’s running around the school trying to recruit.”

The executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, Colleen K. Connell, said she could not comment on the case because her organization was investigating to determine whether it will take it up. In general, public school students have constitutional rights, she said, but they can be limited in a school setting.

The learned educators in Berwyn perhaps didn’t pay close enough attention in history class. The student radicalization of the Sixties, that gave school administrators so much grief, began with an episode called the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Telling young people they have no rights in a school setting or anywhere else can be a risky proposition.

That’s all for this week.

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