Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 14, 2007

Is That the Time?
This Wednesday, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will be adjusting the Doomsday Clock. The publication was launched in 1945 by physicists who had worked on the Manhattan Project that produced the first atomic bombs—and began to have second thoughts about what they had created. Contributors over the years have included Albert Einstein, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Carl Sagan.

The metaphoric clock, housed at the University of Chicago since 1947, reflects the group’s assessment of how far we are from human-made destruction of our planet as we know it. Reset seventeen times over the years it currently reads seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, following huge H-bomb tests by both the USA and Soviet Union, it got as close as two minutes to zero hour. The best reading was in 1991 after the disarmament agreements with the former USSR—it went all the way back to seventeen minutes til. While making us wait for the exact number, it’s a cinch they plan to move its hands forward Wednesday to dramatize what they call “worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.”

The climate component, of course, was not a factor in the original Doomsday mission. Ecology had no deep pocketed sponsors such as nuclear physics enjoyed. Serious environmental climate research has only been around for about four decades and has had to fight powerful enemies every inch of the way to establish its legitimacy. But its dire findings now have to be factored in to calculations of grave, irreversible menace to humanity.

The working class has many challenges today and numerous topics are examined in this column every week. But we can have no economic or social security of any kind as long as that damn clock is moving forward. If we can’t reverse its motion our visions for a better civilization will be lost. Humanity will be reduced to just another endangered species trying to cling to survival.

The count down has been stopped and even pushed back at times in the past. Our self-induced doom has not yet been finalized. But we must act quickly and boldly against the twin threats of escalating wars and Global Warming.

I’m not saying drop everything else. But I am urging that along with our struggles for decent living standards, health care for everyone, and democratic rights for all, we must educate, agitate and organize around the top priorities—against war, against environmental destruction.

Actually, some modest progress is being made in these areas.

●AFL-CIO president John Sweeney issued a statement denouncing Bush’s dangerous escalation of the Iraq war and called on congress to act for rapid withdrawal of GIs. The California Teachers Federation adopted a model resolution promoted by US Labor Against the War calling on congress to cut off funding for the war to force the return of the troops. Plumbers Local 393 in San Jose concluded a statement “Be it further resolved that we call upon the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council, the U.A. and others to join us in this resolve to Bring Our Troops Home Now - Money for People's Needs, Not War - Solidarity with Iraqi Workers.” The North Shore Federation of Labor (Cleveland central labor council) picked the day of Bush’s escalation speech to unanimously vote to affiliate to USLAW. The day following the President’s surge announcement tens of thousands demonstrated against the war in communities across the country. Many more will participate in a March On Washington January 27.

●The Minnesota AFL-CIO, along with the Minneapolis and St Paul central labor bodies, and UAW Local 879, have joined with environmental activists to sponsor a Labor and Sustainability Conference in St Paul this coming Friday and Saturday, January 19-20. The gathering will deal with the tough questions that must be answered if we are to both save our environment and maintain decent jobs. I’ve been invited to speak as a “responder,” dealing with transit issues as well as the Just Transition concept advanced by the Labor Party. This is the broadest based labor-environmental joint effort yet, to my knowledge, and can serve as an example for tackling Global Warming from a working class perspective.

KFC Teenager Twice Burned In Ohio
Sixteen-year old David M. Gross was severely burned while cleaning a pressure cooker at a Dayton KFC. He got burned again by the Ohio Supreme Court who bought the local Colonel’s argument that the youngster had violated cleaning policies set forth in the employee handbook and had thus “voluntarily abandoned his job,” making him ineligible for Worker Comp payments for his extensive medical treatment. “This is the worst decision I’ve seen since I’ve been practicing law,” said Philip J. Fulton, a workers’ compensation lawyer and past president of the Ohio Academy of Trial Lawyers. “It changes the whole substance of what workers’ compensation is supposed to be.”

Deadly Retreat
They call it “retreat mining.” Ken Ward, who has unfortunately become an expert reporter for the Charleston Gazette-Mail on mining accidents, describes it as a “dangerous process where miners remove the last bits of coal possible from pillars meant to hold up the mine roof before abandoning that section of the mine.” Yesterday two miners didn’t make it out alive when the roof collapsed a mile inside the underground Cucumber Mine in West Virginia. The mine, employing 90 and producing about 375,000 tons a year, was opened in 2004 and has had an accident rate twice the national average. In 2006, MSHA inspectors cited the mine for 65 violations. This was the first fatal accident in an American coal mine this year. Last year, 47 coal miners died on the job nationwide, the most since 1995. In West Virginia, 24 miners were killed on the job in 2006, the most in the state since 1981.

Four Thousand Plus Twin Cities Janitors Authorize Strike
Conducting an overflow meeting in five languages, SEIU Local 26 in Minneapolis obtained a virtually unanimous strike authorization vote yesterday that could soon call out 4200 janitors. The last boss offer was an insulting twenty cents an hour raise. Health insurance costs are so great that only 14 carry family coverage—out of 2200 eligible. A federal mediator has set up another negotiating session.

Contrasting Views
The AFL-CIO news blog described California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's new health care plan as “A Plan Wal-Mart Can Love.” SEIU’s president Andy Stern said, “Today, Governor Schwarzenegger demonstrated the kind of leadership we are going to need if we are going to find a solution to the health care crisis....All of us - businesses, health care providers, unions, and policymakers alike - need to work together if we are to fix the broken health system.” Marilyn Clement, executive director of Health Care Now said “Oy vay”!

Pardon Another Interruption
Early Thursday morning, el Niño willing, I’ll be heading up I-35 to St Paul for the Labor and Sustainability Conference. After Wednesday’s posting our next update of the Daily Labor News Digest will be Tuesday, January 23. Look for the next Week In Review around then too.

That’s all for this week.

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