Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
January 15, 2006

Why We Remember and Honor King
Dr Martin Luther King Jr deserves better than being offered as an icon of another Establishment holiday. His earned moral authority allowed him to begin to forge some real unity in action between the insurgent civil rights, antiwar and labor movements of the turbulent Sixties. His assassination was a blow to all three of those struggles, a setback aggravating a leadership crisis still sorely felt by working people today.

The civil rights movement of the brief, but action-packed, days of King’s leadership ultimately won some significant victories, demolishing institutionalized segregation. Nevertheless, racism remains a central problem for the American working class. By many measures, the social, economic, and political status of Black America is even worse today than when King first became prominent in the 1950s. Our class cannot make real progress without confronting this challenge and finding ways to overcome it.

Dr King’s antiwar message continues to reverberate. African-Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the war in Iraq. When the "civic leaders" of San Antonio, Texas arranged for Air Force fighter jets to do a fly-over at this year’s official King Day celebration–to "provide a patriotic flair to the march during a time of war"–there was a justified great outcry from those who know that King was dedicated to nonviolence and would certainly be opposed to the current war.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently called transit strikers–a majority of whom are people of color-- "thugs" because of their defiance of an unjust law and injunction. He was quickly answered by those who know that Dr King was in Memphis at the time of his murder in order to support city workers--striking in defiance of an unjust law and injunction.

As fresh revelations of illegal government spying appear almost daily we recall how J Edgar Hoover–then the head of America’s secret police, the FBI–not only conducted illegal surveillance of Dr King; he also planted false rumors about him in the press.

All working people should take this occasion to remember and honor Dr King. At the same time we should demonstrate nothing but contempt for those hypocrites in politics and the media who try to bask in his glory while undermining everything he stood for.

More On Sago
The explosion that killed twelve at the Sago mine could have been contained in the abandoned part of the mine where it occurred had traditional concrete barriers been in place. Instead, the operator had used a foam barrier that failed, allowing the deadly contamination to spread. The cheaper foam theoretically met the bare minimum standards of MSHA but is considered inadequate by the more stringent guidelines of NIOSH.

Transit Give Back Just An Appetizer
Now that paycheck deductions for health care have been extracted from transit "thugs," New York labor’s very good "friend," Mayor Bloomberg, is ready to feast on similar give-backs from municipal unions representing 300,000 workers.

So far, these union leaders have only insisted on equality of sacrifice. Steve Greenhouse writes in the New York Times,

"After she met for contract talks with city officials, Lillian Roberts, the executive director of the largest municipal union [AFSCME DC 37], declared yesterday that if the Bloomberg administration wants concessions on health premiums, it should negotiate them with all the municipal unions together, not just with hers."

That suits the others. As Greenhouse notes,

"Many union leaders assert that District Council 37 set a poor pattern for the city's unions when it accepted numerous concessions in its last contract."

These leaders leaned heavily on the transit workers to call off their strike and cave in on health care. This chicken approach is now coming home to roost. Unfortunately, it’s their members that will pay the price.

A New War On Drugs
The great new Medicare prescription drug "benefit," cooked up by the Bush administration with indispensable help from the AARP, arrived with the new year. The Washington Post reports, "Two weeks into the new Medicare prescription drug program, many of the nation's sickest and poorest elderly and disabled people are being turned away or overcharged at pharmacies, prompting more than a dozen states to declare health emergencies and pay for their life-saving medicines.....As many as 6.4 million low-income seniors, who until Dec. 31 received their medications free, suddenly find themselves navigating an insurance maze of large deductibles, co-payments and outright denial of coverage."

I’m thankful that I’ve got another two years before I must accept this "benefit."

Resistance Is Futile
The top "opposition" Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee visited Bangalore, India–a center of professional, technical, and service jobs outsourced by American employers–to get the skinny on the problem of off shoring. His conclusion, according to the Detroit News: "outsourcing white-collar jobs to low-wage countries such as India has become a global fact of life -- and ... America must learn to live with it."

Conflict Diamond
Representatives of baseball club owners and the Major League Players Association are in Cuba to discuss "logistics" for the first ever World Baseball Classic–similar in concept to soccer’s World Cup competition. But this conception may never make it out of the womb because of the Bush administration’s hard ball sanctions against Cuba.

The state department has already once rejected granting travel permission for Cuban players. Fidel Castro since announced that Cuba was not interested in being paid to play and would donate any money due them to Katrina relief. MLB has submitted another application for a travel permit but has so far received no answer. The International Baseball Federation says it will withdraw its sanction of the tournament if Cuba isn't allowed to play.

Taken For A Ride By the CTA
On January 1, the Chicago Transit Authority, citing escalating operating costs, hiked base cash fare for bus and el service to 2.00. They also eliminated free transfers for cash paying riders. Holders of "Chicago Cards" can continue to pay the old 1.75 fare and get two free transfers. Protests of these changes erupted on two fronts.

First, there was outrage that the CTA had rejected an offer by Citgo–owned by the Venezuelan government–to sell the authority 7.5 million gallons of diesel fuel at a discount worth 15 million. This is part of a plan by the Chavez regime to pump back some of the profit Citgo makes in the USA to assist poor Americans with heating oil and support for mass transit.

Another twist was a law suit charging that Chicago Cards were becoming very difficult to obtain in Black neighborhoods and even in the Loop. It’s not uncommon for the working poor to have to make two transfers on the way to work. With the card they’d spend 3.50 a day; without costs them 12.00.

You Never Call, You Never Write
The powers that be don’t like the government in Venezuela because it is advancing the cause of working people both at home and abroad. They don’t miss a chance to try to smear the Bolivarian Revolution in order to offset growing sympathy.

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with some prominent European and American Jewish leaders, have denounced Hugo Chavez for a new crime–"anti-Semitism." But the venerable New York Jewish paper, Forward, carries a different story from Venezuela’s Jewish community.

"Officials of the leading organization of Venezuelan Jewry were preparing a letter this week to the [Wiesenthal] center, complaining that it had misinterpreted Chavez's words and had failed to consult with them before attacking the Venezuelan president.

"‘You have interfered in the political status, in the security, and in the well-being of our community. You have acted on your own, without consulting us, on issues that you don't know or understand.’

"Both the AJ Committee and the American Jewish Congress seconded the Venezuelan community's view that Chavez's comments were not aimed at Jews. All three groups said he was aiming his barbs at the white oligarchy that has dominated the region since the colonial era, pointing to his reference to Bolivar as the clearest evidence of his intent."

I Hate It When We’re Right
In the November 27 Week In Review I wrote, "Just as they recently did with health care, look for them [General Motors] to demand from the UAW some immediate relief from contractual restrictions on job cuts."

This week the Detroit Free Press wrote,

"With hundreds of angry autoworkers protesting outside Cobo over industry cutbacks, General Motors Corp.'s chief made it clear Sunday he wants the UAW to accept even more cost cuts before the contract expires next year.

"High priority on his list: the UAW jobs bank, which pays laid-off workers."

As usual, much of the material for this column was based on stories posted on the Daily Labor News Digest.

That’s all for this week.

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