Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 14, 2011

Three Ws For Our Side
They may be partial and tentative but three high profile wins for the good guys and gals are worth celebrating.

Ohio
By a 61-39 margin, Ohio referendum voters repealed legislation earlier passed by a Tea Party-dominated legislature and Governor debilitating bargaining rights for over 400,000 public sector workers. It had taken a heroic effort just to put the proposition on the ballot with a petition signed by 1.29 million.

Some have spoken of Ohio labor’s “Lazarus-like” resurrection But this analogy based on the Gospel of John doesn’t hold up. First of all, Ohio unions were never quite dead and buried. And, even more importantly, their spectacular rise was not a miracle performed by a tardy messiah–a role now claimed by the Democrats–but mainly through their own hard work.

Though not as big and well publicized as actions in Madison, Ohio unionists and sympathizers staged a series of impressive mass rallies at the state capitol while the repressive legislation was being considered. After passage, to their credit, Buckeye unionists didn’t shrug and wait until the next election might bring more Democrat “friends” in to power in Columbus. Even though unions represent only a minority of workers in Ohio–as in all states–they were confident about taking their case directly to those now called the 99 percent by the Occupy movement. Their optimism was vindicated big time.

While the Democrats need labor labor doesn’t need the Democrats. The donkey party may be willing to tail-end winning fights against Republicans such as in Ohio. But public sector workers are getting a shellacking from Democrat governors in New York, Illinois, California, and many other states. Fights with “friends” are also raging in many municipal venues such as Los Angeles and Chicago.

Ohio is a fresh fleeting glimpse of the latent power of organized labor to mobilize majorities for action in their interests at the ballot box as well as in the workplace and streets. It’s time to take the next indicated step–relaunch the Labor Party project.

Mississippi
It wasn’t labor rights up for a vote in the hardest to spell state–it was the most basic of human rights, wrapped up in the principle of separation of church and state.

After defeats in Colorado in 2008 and 2010, the “Personhood Amendment” movement decided to go for a sure win in Good Ol’ Miss’. With the objective of ultimately replacing Roe v Wade–the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down theocratic bans on abortion–they submitted a ballot proposal that defined human life beginning with fertilization of an egg. Not only abortion but some other forms of birth control would essentially become murder. Even destruction of unused material in medical programs inducing pregnancy could have become criminal.

The Personhood extremists expose that the so-called Right to Life movement is not just about opposing abortion but all forms of birth control. Forces that usually otherwise oppose Big Government want government to dictate family planning decisions of women and their doctors.

But the Magnolia State was no more receptive than Colorado. Clearly even some whose personal religious views prohibit birth control joined the champions of Right to Choose in deep-sixing church/state intrusion in to bedrooms and doctors’ offices. “Personhood” was rejected by a solid majority of voters last Tuesday.

XL
The least expected victory last week was the stunning White House announcement that approval of the XL extension of the Keystone Pipeline would at least be delayed until after next year’s election. I’ve often written, including just last week, about why the expansion of this pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to Gulf of Mexico ports has become a defining issue in the fight against climate change.

I first learned of the decision in an e-mail message from the NRDC who implored me to send a thank you note to the President. If the leader of the Free World had reversed his policy of support for fossil, nuclear, and food sources of energy--currently putting our biosphere in imminent danger--such courage would warrant commendation. My suspicion that the XL delay was instead motivated only by narrow political expediency finds support in another action last week.

On Tuesday, AFP reported, “The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed a new plan for offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, including the environmentally sensitive Arctic.”

That announcement coincided with the most urgent warning yet from the International Energy Agency summed up in the British Guardian,

“The world is likely to build so many fossil-fueled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be ‘lost for ever’, according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure.”

With so much at stake, and so little time left for action, some may dismiss the XL victory as inconsequential. But not the TransCanada pipeline company, construction outfits, material suppliers, and short-sighted union bureaucrats–they are fuming over delay and threat of loss of profits and dues-payers. Nor is the blocking of greenhouse and other environmental destruction that would accompany XL insignificant.

But most important is that this tentative victory was the direct result of a gathering new mass movement. The civil disobedience with more than 1200 arrests at the White House, followed up by a mass demonstration week before last, featuring prominent scientists and artists, including even some union support–that was what made XL too hot to handle for Obama’s reelection campaign.

This is a dramatic departure from the “mainstream” environmental groups who partner up with Big Business and always hustle votes for the least destructive candidates at election time. We need to build this fledgling independent mass movement, that now has a victory under it s belt–pronto.

Back to School
The main organizing center and source of activists during the more radical times of my youth in the Sixties and in to the Seventies was the college campus. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committees (SNCC) and for a while, even the NAACP Youth–the first political group I joined–played an important role along with churches and some unions in the Civil Rights movement. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley brought a definitive end to the witch-hunt atmosphere of McCarthyism. The ultimately successful movement against the Vietnam war was launched and largely sustained on campus. Students were catalysts in the resurgence of feminism and the blossoming of the modern environmental movement in the Seventies.

Political life on campus never completely died of course but in recent decades it rarely reached the levels of the earlier youth radicalization. Now there are signs that may be changing.

One reason is that students are among the hardest hit in the present economic crisis. Tuition and other costs are soaring and student loan debt in the USA now exceeds credit card debt. Graduating students–often already more in debt than their parents–are not finding jobs they prepared for and often no job at all. This has begun to set students in motion. Just last week, there were massive student protests in Britain, Quebec, and California that came under police attack.

Students have also been prominent participants in the Occupy movement. After a tuition protest of thousands at Berkeley last week, some demonstrators established an Occupy camp on campus. A New York Times article this morning says,

“As city officials around the country move to disband Occupy Wall Street encampments amid growing concerns over health and public safety, protesters have begun to erect more tents on college campuses....Though only a handful of colleges have encampments, tents went up last week at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and here at the University of California, Berkeley. Additionally, protesters in California have vowed to occupy dozens of other campuses in the coming days.”

Maintaining outdoor camps over the long haul–especially in regions with a less forgiving climate than California–may prove to be unsustainable. But reviving the tradition of using campuses as an organizing base for thousands of energetic activists will be a welcome addition to our side.

Second Installment Coming Soon
In case you missed it, I posted what turned out to be a first installment of a promised article on the impact of the Big Three settlements on collective bargaining--
In Give-Back Leap Frog, UAW Surges Forward.

I Extend My Hand...
While I always feel good about lending a hand in solidarity I dread holding out my palm for a hand out. I know times are tough for some readers and there are many worthy causes competing for a share of dwindling discretionary spending. But I have little alternative to begging.

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Now that I’ve got that chore out of the way,

That’s all for this week.

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