Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 12, 2006

They Can’t Forget—Neither Should We
Yesterday was Veterans Day in the USA. By most accounts attendance at events was down. In St Louis only 200 showed up to watch a downtown parade. In New York City marchers down Fifth Avenue were hardly noticed by shoppers. A combination of antiwar sentiment and holiday sales at department and big box stores dampened enthusiasm for appeals to military glory by the brass dominated vets groups.

But 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.

1.5 million GIs have seen duty in those two current wars of intervention. Half of those are still on active duty or stand by status. Of the discharged veterans of these wars more than ⅓ are wounded or disabled. Their needs have swamped the Veterans Administration. Doctor/Patient ratios at VA hospitals have hit a record 630 to 1. Twice as many veterans are waiting over 6 months for disability benefits. There is currently a three billion dollar short fall in the VA budget—and there are many more wounded and disabled vets to come.

This is shameful. The labor and antiwar movements need to incorporate adequate support for veterans needs into our demands.

Did the Mice Create Grey Cats?
The midterm elections challenged pundits to search their palettes for new hues after their two year old red state, blue state divide became hopelessly washed out. This color coding reminded me of a great contribution to the case for independent labor action produced by our Canadian cousins—the animated film, Mouseland. (If you’re not familiar with this flick UE Local 222 in Connecticut has a prominent link to it.) In it, the mice keep electing cats, alternately Black or White, to govern them—with somewhat disappointing results.

Well, our union mice certainly scurried through every maze in search of votes for their cat of choice—and delivered big blocks of their cheese to the ravenous felines promising to do the right thing by their little furry friends. The AFL-CIO estimated it put 200,000 volunteers into campaigns across the country. The volunteers knocked on 8.25 million doors, made 30 million phone calls and mailed 20 million pieces of literature. The federation alone kicked in forty million bucks—just a drop in the bucket of total spending by all the various union bodies and PACs. Union households voted three-to-one for the Democrats in key “battleground” congressional contests—where total working class turn out was only about forty percent .

The union mice were often joined by their neighboring feminist mice, the ecological mice, and the peace mice. The Democrat fat cats wouldn’t be purring contentedly today without this frantic effort.

Everybody in our Mouseland has high expectations of what the cats will deliver. Today’s Los Angeles Times offers this glimmer of labor’s hopes,

“‘It's been kind of a drought for 12 years, and there is some pent-up energy,’ said Bill Samuel, legislative director for the AFL-CIO, the labor federation that has long been a Democratic Party stalwart and spent millions of dollars on get-out-the-vote activities.

“Several of the labor movement's less-controversial goals, such as raising the minimum wage and allowing Medicare to seek discounts on drug prices, are found both in the AFL-CIO's brochures and on a Democratic leadership wish list designed to appeal across ideological lines.

“But labor officials said they expected Pelosi, Reid and others to go further.

“The day after the election, labor leaders declared a mandate for their causes and called on the new Congress to immediately reverse anti-union policies enacted by the Bush administration and promote affordable healthcare ‘for all.’

“‘We're realistic about the congressional timetable, but we have our own view about why people went to the polls,’ said Samuel. ‘We think it had to do with their unhappiness with Republican inaction on the economy…. They're expecting Congress to tackle these issues, not play short ball.’”

Similar mandates were claimed by the antiwar, pro-choice, environmental, and civil liberties groups.

But Brother Samuel’s “pent up energy” doesn’t appear to have been transferred to the cats he put our money on. Like baby boomer fat, the politicians all seem to be collecting in the middle. Today’s New York Times cautions us about expecting much.

“Many in the class of 2006, especially those who delivered the new Democratic majorities by winning Republican seats, show little appetite for....ideological crusade.

“Now, they say, they have to produce — to deal with long-festering problems like access to affordable health care and the loss of manufacturing jobs, and to find a bipartisan consensus for an exit strategy in Iraq, a source of continuing division not only between but also within the parties.

“Democratic strategists say both leaders recognize that the new Democratic majority was elected, in large part, from Republican-leaning districts and states. If those new members vote in a purely partisan way, they — and the majority — will quickly be put at risk.”

Undoubtedly many surviving GOP lawmakers were chastened by the defeat of so many in their ranks. They may be less inclined to in-your-face attacks, more open to bipartisan consensus. The piled up cats in the middle may blend in to a blurry grey. But make no mistake—they will continue to see that the mouse holes are big enough to insert a cat’s paw.

Free Speech In Elkhart
Thanks to Santino Scalici and Andy Pollack for forwarding information and articles about a long, overlooked strike by workers at Steinway’s Vincent Bach plant in Elkhart, Indiana. The plant manufactures brass and reed instruments under the brands of Bach, Selmer USA, Buescher, and Bundy. UAW Local 324 members have been on the picket line for eight months. They’re still fighting mad as this account from the South Bend Tribune indicates,

“If they can’t say it on the picket line, they’ll say it downtown.

“A group of about 20 union members from the Vincent Bach plant on the east side of the city picketed in front of Elkhart County Court in downtown Elkhart on Wednesday.

“They were protesting a court order that they say took away their right to free speech.

“Two weeks ago, a restraining order issued by Superior Court Judge Stephen Pratt limited the union to three striking workers at each of the musical instrument factory’s four entrances at 500 Industrial Parkway.

“It also prohibited the union members, represented by United Auto Workers Local 364, from yelling at replacement workers or other plant employees.

“‘They took away our rights; they shut us up,’ said Deneen Seigler, a union worker who helped organize the demonstration. ‘It’s not right.’”

The strikers have established a fund to support their food pantry. Contributions can be sent to:

Food 4 Strikers, 58558 Ardmore Drive, Elkhart, Indiana.

On December 16 there will be a Solidarity Sleigh trip to Elkhart. For more information about that call Rob Wilson at 309-224-7840.

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, appearing Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

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