Labor Advocate Online

KC Labor Newsletter
Week In Review, November 28, 2004
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by Bill Onasch, webmaster, kclabor.org

Tough Week for Wal-Mart
First, they lost a Saskatchewan court appeal of a Labour Board ruling ordering them to turn over documents to the UFCW, including their labor relations bible, Wal-Mart: a Manager's Toolbox to Remaining Union Free.

Then they had to accept a Chinese government order to recognize unions at 39 stores in China employing 20,000 people. Though they clearly don’t like unions in principle they can take comfort in the fact that, unlike the Canadian UFCW, the only legally permitted government-controlled unions in China are strictly sweetheart arrangements.

Later in the week Wal-Mart issued a statement that, while reaffirming their opposition to "third-party" representation for their "associates," they will graciously comply with labor laws in the countries in which they operate.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, a Wal-Mart heiress lost her purchased naming rights to the University of Missouri’s basketball arena in Columbia. It seems there was a little unpleasantness about her alleged paying for term papers while a student at Southern Cal. The Tiger’s home will now be known as Mizzou instead of Paige.

Theoretically Speaking
In the beginning there was the state of Tennessee and a teacher named Scopes. More recently, there was the Kansas state board of education, and Cobb County, Georgia. Now Dover, Pennsylvania is getting on board the train that will leave no student behind to be corrupted by the teaching of Evolution as science.

"Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it is still being tested as new evidence is discovered," a statement on their school board web site said. "Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence."

No word yet over when they might caution about other dubious theories such as the earth being spherical in shape, or this invisible magnetism that supposedly keeps us from flying off into space–gravity, I think they call it.

US Labor Against the War
US Labor Against the War was launched in January, 2003 with the objective of bringing the issue of the Iraq war into the labor movement–and bringing labor into the antiwar movement. I will be representing Kansas City Labor Against War at a national conference of USLAW affiliates, meeting in Chicago December 4-5. A summary of USLAW’s accomplishments since its last national gathering in October, 2003 was recently posted on their web site. It is quite impressive. Some highlights:

* Formal affiliations by 4 national unions and AFL-CIO constituency groups, 11 State and Regional labor organizations, 3 State Federations of Labor, 11 Central Labor Bodies, 53 local unions, and 20 allied labor organizations, local constituency groups and labor antiwar committees.

* Helping to pass resolutions calling for "End the Occupation -- Troops Home Now" at the conventions of SEIU, CWA, AFSCME, APWU, Mail Handlers (LIUNA) and the state labor federations in California, Wisconsin, Washington and Vermont.

* Helping to draft Proposition N in San Francisco, a ballot initiative that registered 64% of voters in favor of an end to the occupation of Iraq and return of U.S. troops to their homes and families.

* Raised $10,000 for the USLAW Iraq Labor Solidarity Fund which was given to the two Iraq labor federations last summer.

* More than 1500 activists have signed up as individual members.

These are considerable accomplishments for an ad hoc group operating on a shoe-string budget.

Budget will be a major topic of discussion. While the lion’s share of USLAW work is carried out on a volunteer basis by union leaders, activists, and retirees, there is a need for a modest full-time staff who require a living wage and an office to work in. Printing, postage, travel, the web site, telephone, are expenses that can’t be covered on the run by personal donations. More money and in-kind contributions from affiliated unions are needed. And every opponent of the war can help by signing up or renewing individual membership.

The meeting will certainly discuss how to continue and expand our educational efforts, getting union positions adopted against the war, and promoting solidarity with Iraqi workers.

I think, in addition to these projects focused on the labor movement, USLAW also needs to contemplate what can be done to rejuvenate and refocus the broader antiwar movement that does not seem to have yet recovered from distraction and diversion during the election campaign. Aside from the anti-Bush demonstration at the Republican convention there has been no mass national demonstration against the war in over a year. No future action has been announced.

I think USLAW should consider taking the initiative in calling for massive demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco on March 19–the second anniversary of the invasion–around the theme, "End the Occupation–Bring the GIs Home Now." I believe such a call would be supported by some important unions and could draw together United For Peace & Justice, the various antiwar veterans and military families organizations, the folks who built the Million Worker March, and others.

Such an initiative would be unusual for a labor formation. During the Vietnam, Central America, and around Iraq so far movements, unions had always deferred to traditional peace groups to set the agenda, endorsing actions called by others.

Unfortunately, today’s peace movement does not, at least yet, measure up to what was built during the Vietnam war. It was disappointing to see the offensive in Falluja claim so many lives on both sides with no significant response from peace groups.

Labor should not be shy about stepping up to the plate to fill this leadership void and try to bring visibility to the widespread sentiment among the American people against the war.

Labor Party INC Meeting
Shock and despair were the dominant reactions among union activists that fought so hard to defeat Bush. But all is not hopeless. Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic said it well in his excellent article, After the Elections: What Next?,

"Sometimes a defeat can act as a catalyst for change. The crushing of the Pullman Strike over 100 years ago led unions to reconsider how they organized workers and led Eugene Debs to organize a new movement that broke with the Democratic and Republican parties. The activism unleashed by this year's election changed many people's lives. Fed up with Bush and all that he represents, they yearn for a better world. We must speak to those millions and build a new politics of hope. We must reach out to those who have fallen under the sway of populist conservative demagogues and present them with an alternative that will make a real difference in their lives. We must convince those who have concluded that politics is nothing more than a corrupt rich man's game that activism can bring real change. We must build a Labor Party out of the ashes of this election."

The need for and future of the Labor Party has to be an important part of our overall discussion of the future of the labor movement. Recently we posted an article submitted by Jerry Gordon, chair of the Ohio State Labor Party, What Next for the Labor Party?. Partially in response to the Dudzic and Gordon pieces, I posted an article of my own, The Labor Party: What It Is, What It Isn’t, What We Hope It To Become. Comments on this discussion are welcome.

On December 10, the Labor Party Interim National Council–the party’s highest body between conventions–will meet. I plan to attend representing Midwest chapters. There is sure to be a lively discussion about LP’s post-election strategy and I will report on the decisions coming out of that gathering.

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Because I will be on the road for about two weeks the Daily Labor News Digest will not be updated between after December 1 until December 14. And I’m afraid there will be no more Weeks In Review until after my return.

That’s all for this week.

Regards to all