Labor Advocate Online

Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
November 7, 2006

Big Day
As well as marking the 89th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, November 7 is election day in the USA. Most attention is being focused on congressional contests, speculation about whether the Democrats can take back control of one or both houses. In addition some states have high profile initiatives and referenda on the ballot as well. Those of us in Missouri are truly blessed with both a battleground Senate race and numerous contentious ballot issues. The usual line up of television commercials for prescription drugs and pay day loans have been coopted by pitches, just as informative and tasteful, for candidates and causes.

The Labor Party isn’t fielding or endorsing any candidates this year and has taken a stand on only one ballot issue—critical endorsement of Missouri Proposition B to raise the state’s minimum wage. I won’t try to influence anyone’s vote at this late date but I can’t resist the opportunity to comment on some random samples of American democracy at work in the heartland.

I’ve said plenty in past columns about the futility of treating the midterm as a referendum on the Iraq war. Missouri Democrat hopeful Claire McCaskill, seeking to unseat Republican Senator Jim Talent, refuses to be pinned down over such basic questions as whether troops should be withdrawn or more troops sent. This can only be answered after we’ve had “accountability,” our state auditor explains. She and her fellow donkeys want a referendum on Bush, not war. They want to dig up more dirt on the failures of the war as they look to the 2008 presidential election. Being the only alternative on the ballot in most places the Democrats will benefit from antiwar sentiment—good news for them, but no importa to the movement against this bloody, unjust war.

To reassure any who doubt her commitment to security McCaskill’s last minute advertising emphasizes beefing up the border to keep out illegal immigrants—and meth. Though she has been endorsed by virtually every union in the state the only group featured in her TV spots is the Fraternal Order of Police.

This past week a report sponsored by the British government, authored by a former economist for the World Bank, issued one of the bleakest warnings yet about global warming. The European Union moved to adopt strict new emission standards. Mass demonstrations were held in Britain, Canada, and Kenya around the growing environmental crisis. This inconvenient truth remains below the radar screen in the midterm election campaigns. The only major candidate speaking on the environment I ran across was Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only sea change that can be expected in this area if the Democrats take congress is continuing rising sea levels.

About a century ago populists thought they had won a great victory for participatory democracy by establishing initiative and referendum methods in many states—including Missouri—to make laws, and amend constitutions at the ballot box. In fact these tools have been used by the Establishment to confound democracy. The amount of money spent on disingenuous propositions benefitting the rich and powerful just in my state alone is truly staggering.

The most expensive campaign of any kind in state history has been waged around a constitutional amendment purporting to protect stem cell research. It has been billed by some as a battle between unfettered science and religious intrusion that may hinder breakthroughs in curing many diseases.

But, you have to ask yourself why such a noble cause has attracted many millions from donors not previously noted for their devotion to a selfless, secular society? Since there are currently no restrictions on stem cell research what is the urgency? And, if this amendment seeks to protect research why does it include a ban on certain types of stem cell research?

Because health care is a commodity in this country, and scientific breakthroughs can be patented, stem cell research has enormous profit potential. But the same reactionary state legislators that Missouri bosses used to gut Medicaid and Worker Comp may try to appease their religious base by enacting legislation that would hinder this opportunity in Missouri—allowing competitors in other states to reap the rewards. The Establishment are trying to preempt the religious right via the state constitution, throwing a crumb to them along the way by banning “human cloning.” The Stowers Institute in Kansas City has projected grand plans for expansion of stem cell work—but only if Amendment 2 is passed.

I believe the methods and ethics of scientific research should be left to scientists—not the church, not the state. I think the results of medical research should be made freely available to all. Amendment 2 doesn’t provide these things but a vote against will be taken to mean endorsement of clergy determining the future of medical science. A truly lose-lose proposition.

I’ll end my election commentary with a bold prediction: the bosses will win and the workers will lose.

While Ice Thaws, Canadian-American Relations Turn Frigid
Temperatures in the Arctic region of Canada have risen five degrees over the past thirty years. This is bad news for the eco-system and the First Nations folks who depend on it. But this developing environmental catastrophe is getting the attention of maritime risk takers. For the first time in human experience the dream of a navigable Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific may become a reality—or turn into a nightmare.

The Canadian government is none too keen about tankers going through these territorial waters but the U.S. doesn’t accept any restrictions and has, in the past, made some symbolic intrusions (not to mention regular clandestine trips under the ice by nuclear submarines.) Taking Alaskan oil to the East Coast via the passage is probably still too risky for most reputable transporters. Canada has no rescue service in place during the long winter. But as one Canadian maritime expert told the Washington Post, “But my worry is the tramp steamer with a single hull under a Liberian flag and Philippine crew. You dangle a 4,000-mile shortcut in front of them -- that means time and money. There will always be someone who rolls the dice. They run into an uncharted rock, and all of a sudden it's Exxon Valdez times ten.”

Colgate Washes Hands Of Armourdale
My Dad grew up in a big family. He and his siblings didn’t need a lot of career counseling. The boys went to work in the Armour packing house while the girls went off to the Colgate plant in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas. The packing house closed more than thirty years ago but Colgate, after many incremental layoffs that reduced the workforce from about a thousand to 250, is making its last bar of Irish Spring in Armourdale at the end of this year—when the remaining USW organized workers will be cut loose.

With some tax incentives from KCK, the Indian company VVF will be setting up shop in the old plant making its own lines of soap, mainly for hotels. A VVF spokesman told the Kansas City Star, “Burns said the company will consider applications from the current work force, adding that no ‘detailed thought’ has been given to union recognition.”

As usual, much of the material for this column was taken from stories posted on our Daily Labor News Digest, appearing Monday-Saturday by 7AM Central.

That’s all for this week.

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