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KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, November 14, 2004
by Bill Onasch,
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B&B Boys Get PR Break
Yasser Arafat died and a California man was convicted of murdering his pregnant wife. Bush and Blair caught a break with these sensational stories bumping the battle for Falluja from top billing in the news.

Falluja was a city similar in size and working class composition to Flint, Michigan. I say was because much of the population heeded the call of U.S. commanders, and their puppet government in Baghdad, to flee for their lives. Those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t abandon their homes find themselves cowering among rubble reminiscent of pictures of Berlin in 1945. The religious among them had to skip going to their mosque on Friday because those are considered resistance centers and have all been heavily damaged by air strikes and artillery.

There are critical shortages of drinking water and medicine. But American commanders, even as they claim to completely control the city, at the time of writing of this column are still blocking a Red Crescent relief convoy.

A local journalist reporting to the BBC confirms the American claim of control–during daylight hours. But, he continues, "The night belongs to the fighters. Under cover of darkness, they regroup and receive fresh weapons and ammunition. They are elusive figures. I have seen them in action, firing mortars and grenades at American troops. Anyone who moves around at night is a target. The fighters can shoot you if they mistake you for an American. The Americans, who leave some snipers behind in the city every night, will get you if they think you are a fighter."

American brass claim 1200 "insurgents" have been killed in Falluja along with an unknown number of "civilians." Back in the days when President Johnson was urging commanders in Vietnam to "nail some coon skins to the wall," all dead over the age of ten were routinely counted as VC. I suspect these tried and true counting methods are still being applied today.

Thirty-one U.S. and six RVN–excuse me, Iraqi–troops have been killed in Falluja combat. More than 500 GIs have received serious wounds requiring evacuation to Army hospitals in Germany.

Some devastating wounds are not immediately apparent. A story in today’s Los Angeles Times reports, "A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research found that 15.6% of Marines and 17.1% of soldiers surveyed after they returned from Iraq suffered major depression, generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder — a debilitating, sometimes lifelong change in the brain's chemistry that can include flashbacks, sleep disorders, panic attacks, violent outbursts, acute anxiety and emotional numbness."

Of course fighting was not restricted to Falluja. Uprisings in solidarity with Falluja erupted across all of Iraq. In Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, fighters effectively chased the police into hiding and took over the town. Baghdad’s airport has been closed indefinitely.

All this was done, if you will recall, to make Iraq stable and secure enough for January elections. It was orchestrated to begin after our election–and with the blessing of Senator John F Kerry.

The sense of déjB vu for those of us from the Vietnam generation grows stronger. But what’s missing from today’s events are the mass protests that helped bring an end to that earlier unjust war. Working people need to build a similar antiwar movement now. It is both our moral duty and in our material self-interest to put an end to this slaughter of Iraqi and American workers that serves only our corporate masters.

If you’re not already a member, I urge you to sign up with US Labor Against the War.

After Walking That Walk It’s Time To Talk
At the urging of their leaders, tens of thousands of union volunteers walked neighborhoods, and otherwise promoted the failed bid of John F Kerry for the White House. Many of those leaders gathered for an AFL-CIO executive council meeting this past week in what proved to be a contentious event. I began writing about this conclave but, as sometimes happens, I found my story turning into a much bigger project. I am finishing an article on the emerging broader debate about the future of the labor and social movements in the United States. Those of you on the KC Labor mailing list can expect notification of posting of this piece late Sunday or early Monday. If you’re not on the list you can sign up here.

Ma Bell Offspring Hits a Daily Double
Those of you who regularly peruse our Daily Labor News Digest will have noticed two Lucent stories posted the same morning. One reported on new contracts with CWA and IBEW that require, for the first time, that 70,000 retirees, as well as 3,250 still remaining active employees pay a portion of their health insurance premiums. Lucent had sold this give-back by pointing out that their annual health care costs were now an "astronomical" 800 million dollars. The other article announced a Lucent agreement with the IRS giving the poor equipment manufacturer a tax refund of 816 million dollars.

A Scandinavian Example Worth Noting
Norway is a small country with about as many people as Philadelphia. Last Thursday tens of thousands of workers stopped working to protest "reforms" to Norway’s labor laws that would make it easier for bosses to eliminate jobs and extend working hours.

My Grief Knows No End
After taking an early retirement, along with a lump-sum payment of my pension, I was sure my days of filing grievances against the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority were over. As it turns out it was a good thing I held on to some of those grievance forms.

The ATA is bound by contract to pay ninety percent of health insurance premiums for retirees under age 65, rather than the eighty percent they pick up for active employees. I was therefore somewhat shocked to learn during open enrollment that I was being told to pay more for my insurance than what my still working brothers and sisters were signing up for. Repeated questions about this obvious discrepancy went unanswered or were brushed aside.

Finally, I submitted a written grievance to the deputy general manager. With a lack of good grace she agreed to get on the phone and asked some tough questions of those who had blown me off. It turned out that there had just plain been a screw-up in calculations and they agreed to fix it and get back to every affected retiree with the corrected figures.

In this case, the near cheating of dozens of retirees out of thousands of dollars was not an evil plot but merely a fresh example of management incompetence. It’s a reminder not to ever just assume the veracity of what the company tells you–also check out their stories and be prepared to hit them with a grievance if they try to stonewall you.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all