Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 19, 2007

More Déjà vu Again
The House Democrats passed fresh legislation to set a goal to “commence” withdrawal of troops from Iraq–after next year’s presidential election. As expected, it was shot down in the Senate.

Apparently antiwar movement activists are not the only ones dissatisfied with this vague and leisurely approach to ending the war. GI desertions are at a record high for a “volunteer” army. Many observers attribute the drop in GI combat deaths to the adoption by the troops of the same kind of “search and avoid” tactics seen in the final days of the Vietnam war. The collapse of troop morale and discipline then is what sealed the decision by the war makers to pull out.

Vietnam GIs were encouraged by mass demonstrations that articulated the sentiment of the big majority demanding the troops be brought home forthwith. There can be no doubt today’s troops on the ground in Iraq would welcome such action today. That kind of mass action–not the election–should be our goal.

Synthetic Report
It’s November 19 and the temperature here in Kansas City is presently 77F / 25C .That’s nearly thirty degrees above normal. But, instead of going across the street to Gillham Park to enjoy the beautiful weather, I’m sitting at my keyboard writing about the climate change crisis.

The concluding installment of the four-part report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was released over the weekend. It seeks to synthesize the first three and in so doing is more disturbing than ever. It includes more up to date and urgent warnings about melting ice packs producing a rapid rise in sea level, and rising temperatures on track for leading to the extinction of many of the Earth’s species. Even more alarming, this report is a toned-down version, the product of heavy editing and hedging at the demand of governments–especially the USA and China.

The report looks at likely rises in mean temperature of one to three degrees over many decades. A recent report of the International Energy Agency, taking in to account the much faster than anticipated growth in emissions in China and India, warns of as much as six degrees by 2030. Gernot Klepper, of the Kiel Institute for World Economy, said, “The world is already at or above the worst case scenarios in terms of emissions. In terms of emissions, we are moving past the most pessimistic estimates of the I.P.C.C., and by some estimates we are above that red line.”

If this were a science fiction movie now would be the time when the world’s leaders would put aside all other differences and start calling in the scientists to save the world. But, since we are living in the real world of global capitalism, where the marketplace and profit drive rules, the politicians keep the scientists and media on a short leash. There is even less sense of urgency about the developing environmental disaster than there is about the war.

Some may ask why we spend so much time on such issues in a labor column. In addition to the obvious answer that workers and our families will suffer the consequences of environmental calamities faster and harder than anyone, labor is the only social force with potential power that has no vested interest in maintaining the system that has so fouled up our planet.

No, this ain’t the movies. The Establishment’s not going to save the world. Al Gore’s new venture capital project is not going to turn things around either. If anyone does it’s got to be us. This has to become a priority issue on labor’s agenda.

Big Three Scores A Hit
The Detroit News put together a useful review of the process leading up to what they rightly call historic agreements between the UAW and the Big Three. It was the most remarkable piece of mass, precision choreography since the days of Busby Berkeley. Angry words, picket lines, harsh reality–all responding on cue, staying on schedule. Well, there was one slight hitch in tempo at Chrysler but the directors were able to get everybody back on the same page quickly, no harm, no foul if you prefer a sports metaphor.

Convinced that their only hope of preserving jobs–and dues base–is by making their “partners” competitive the UAW administration caucus has set in motion a process that will ultimately make Big Three labor costs lower than those at the Japanese, Korean, and German owned transplants.

Yes, it is historic–a historic defeat of immense proportions not only for auto workers but inevitably much of the rest of organized labor as well. We are working on a detailed analysis we hope to finish soon.

Correct Perception
“Thousands Rally Against Perceived Bias in Prosecutions” was the headline in the Washington Post about a big demonstration in the nation’s capital. The harsh sentences meted out to Blacks during skirmishes set off by racist incidents in Jena, Louisiana was perhaps the proverbial last straw piled on top of daily occurrences of discriminatory legal treatment in communities across the country.

But the legal system is far from the only manifestation of bias fueling this resurgence of civil rights actions. The median income for Black households has dropped from $34,735 in 2000 to $31,969 in 2006, while white households’ median income stayed at around $52,400. Those figures from the U.S. Census Bureau take inflation into account. No wonder a Pew poll finds only one in five African-Americans think Black people are better off today than five years ago. My old friend Sherwin Carroll, a business agent for SEIU janitors, told the Kansas City Star, “The way I see it, things are definitely not better. You just have to take a look at things from an economic standpoint and a health-care standpoint, and there’s no way in the world you can say that things have gotten better.”

All “middle class” workers took a beating during the restructuring of the economy in the Seventies and Eighties and the process of Globalization since NAFTA. But urban Blacks were hit hardest. In Kansas City the closings of the packing houses, Armco Steel, GM Leeds, and more recently Colgate-Palmolive, devastated much of the Black middle class. Because of bias they have had a tougher time finding other decent jobs. Their kids find it even more challenging.

These are problems we cannot afford to ignore. An injury to one is still an injury to all.

Our Thanksgiving Schedule
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the USA, the beginning of a four-day weekend for many. We will do our regular news posting on Thanksgiving Day Thursday but will not update on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

That’s all for this week.

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