Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 11, 2010

Since most readers saw my long Midterm election screed last Friday I decided both of us could use an extra few days until the next WIR. We’ll aim to get back to normal next week.

An Ambivalent Holiday
It’s Veterans Day in the USA. It started out as Armistice Day, marking the end of combat in the War to End All Wars–now known as the First World War–November 11, 1918. In 1954, recognizing there had been bigger wars since and more to come, Congress changed the name to Veterans.

Most Vets are neither heroes nor war criminals. They are mainly the sons and daughters of the working class who did what elected officials told them was their duty. That’s true whether, like my generation, they were subject to conscription, or today’s “all-volunteer” armed forces that mainly sign up on the promise of help through college, a path to citizenship, or maybe just “three hots and a cot.”

Today’s Vets, whether greying survivors of Vietnam, or those stressed out from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, are being short changed by the government that sent them in to harm’s way. They deserve our support.

But we also should remember all the victims of wars past and current be they “enemy combatants,” or working class civilians such as those who perished in the fire-storm bombings of Hamburg and Tokyo in World War II, bombing Vietnam “back in to the stone age,” or drone attacks on wedding parties in Afghanistan today. But that’s hardly the official motif for Veterans Day observances.

Nearly two centuries ago the German military expert Carl von Clausewitz hit the mark when he wrote, “War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means.”

In Clausewitz’s time capitalism was still fighting to supplant feudalism as the dominant social system. Since that battle was won corporate agendas have driven not only domestic politics but its extension in too many wars large and small to keep track of.

The great pioneers of the working class movements in this country and abroad understood these wars were only in the interest of the bosses and bankers–not the workers. Eugene Debs said for him there was “no war but the class war.” A White House “friend of labor” had him imprisoned for his opposition to World War I. We should remember Debs and the thousands of other working class fighters who have opposed war over the years.

In that spirit we should come to the defense of current working class opponents of war threatened by the Obama administration. The Justice Department has reissued Grand Jury subpoenas to three of the fourteen activists who were subjected to FBI raids on their homes in September. You can find out more, and how you can help, by visiting their defense website.

Today’s Veterans Day ceremonies are much lower key than normal. They don’t want to remind us about the two wars currently being fought by GIs, and the Vets facing so many challenges and hardships. We need to get the spotlight back on these shameful unjust wars and demand our troops be brought home where they belong–and where they deserve to have their needs met.

Hold Your Fire
So advised President Obama as the co-chairs of the debt reduction commission he appointed released their shock and awe recommendations. The commission had been tasked to bring back proposals December 1. This surprise announcement by Alan K. Simpson, the former Republican Senate leader, along with Erskine B. Bowles, who was White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton , done while the President was at the G20 meeting in Seoul, most likely got sprung for two reasons:

* They thought the mandate for reduced government claimed by the GOP winners in the Midterm would put some wind in their sails.
* It’s a move to push the faint hearted within the full eighteen-member commission to get with the program.

The cuts are truly draconian and include:

* Ending cost-of-living indexing of Social Security while raising the early retirement age to 64 and the full retirement age to 69.
* Cut the Federal workforce ten percent and freeze their wages for three years.
* Eliminate 250,000 non-Defense service and contractor staff.

Tax changes would include:

* A 15-cent per gallon increase in gasoline tax.
* Axing the tax deduction for mortgage interest claimed by many homeowners.
* Ending the tax-free treatment of employer-provided health insurance.

The top income tax rate, however, for both individuals and corporations would be reduced.

One bizarre departure from their general theme was reported by the Wall Street Journal, “Creating a public health insurance option — perhaps the most contentious idea of last year’s health overhaul debate — is among the possible solutions for reducing federal spending outlined in today’s debt commission report.”

Some didn’t hold their fire. National Nurses United had a statement out within a few hours which said, “Nurses are aghast at the Commission on the Deficit's Bowles-Simpson proposal for a cruel and senseless cut to the Social Security and Medicare programs that are the core of American retirement and healthcare security for tens of millions of people. This is just heartless at a time when the average Social Security benefit is already insufficient, especially for women, and for the millions of Americans who have seen their retirement savings lost in this Great Recession.”

But others were more sanguine. The New York Times reported on labor’s representative on the commission, “‘At least people stayed in the room,’ Andy Stern, the former president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview, recalling his concerns and others’ that Republicans would walk out if taxes were on the table and Democrats if Social Security and other spending programs were.”

It’s possible that some of these are bargaining chips designed to make us feel better about future compromises. But there can be no doubt the Establishment is dead serious about changes that will adversely affect every working person. It won’t be stopped by sending a few e-mails.

My Silent Majority Sources
Some readers wanted to know where I got statistics supporting my assertion that a majority of the working class did not vote in last week’s Midterm elections. The best source I have found is the
United States Election Project run by the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Votes are still trickling in from Alaska and a few other places but the latest calculation is that 40.3 percent of those eligible to vote actually did so.

But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Millions–with a disproportionate representation of African-Americans–have lost voting rights because of felony convictions and millions more are ineligible because they are not citizens. Only 37.3 percent of voting age population took part in the voting.

Forum Ahead
The group of Kansas City activists who first came together to work on the
New Crises, New Agendas conference held in April, 2009, and went on to build participation in the 2010 Labor Notes Conference, has decided to launch a monthly public forum series beginning in January. Sponsored by the kclabor.org website, the series will take up topical issues of interest to working people. It will be held at the same time and place each month–both still to be determined. If you live in the KC area and are interested in working to get this new project up and running, please give me a call at 816-753-1672.

Health Care Now!
I don’t care what WC Fields said, I’d rather be in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, due to my own budget restrictions, I won’t be able to make it to the venue of the Health Care Now! 2010
National Strategy Conference this weekend. I do, however, send my greetings and best wishes to the folks continuing the fight to win single-payer health care.

9K, No Way
That was the slogan of 50,000 students who marched in London yesterday against the Tory/Liberal government’s decision to triple university fees to nine thousand pounds (14,500 US$). Of course, the only attention given by the main stream media was to a small group of self-proclaimed “anarchists,” who diverted the message to their trashing of the lobby of the building housing Conservative Party offices.

Locked Out In Hamilton
US Steel Canada has locked out the 900 workers at the former Stelco plant in Hamilton, Ontario. The company is demanding that new hires be switched from a defined benefit to defined contribution pension. The Hamilton Spectator reports, “I’m really proud of the support we’re getting from the community,” said picket captain Gary Seguin just as retired high school principal Dave Hutton dropped off coffee and doughnuts for the locked out workers.”

That’s all for this week.

Alliance for Class & Climate Justice

KC Labor Home Daily Labor News Digest Past Weeks In ReviewSign Up For E-Mail List

Site Meter