Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 23, 2007

Iraqi Unions Strike, Demonstrate, Sit-In
UPI reports on a one-day strike by teachers in fifteen Iraqi provinces, along with street demonstrations in Baghdad, last Sunday. (Sunday is a regular work day in Iraq.) The same article tells of support by the General Federation of Iraqi Workers for healthcare workers in Basra–a major oil city, and scene of past oil worker strikes, where British troops just withdrew. UPI notes government ministries rely on a decades-old anti-union law to stonewall union demands. We have just received an e-mail message from the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions in Iraq announcing there will be sit-ins at ministries on December 26 “to protest against the procrastination by many ministries in recognition of their legitimate rights.”

Labor’s Two Healthcare Camps
Last week we wrote about the Nixon heritage in the drive for state-wide “universal” healthcare reform scams. This week the biggest enchilada of them all–California Governor Terminator’s–after sitting half-baked for a while, emerged hot and fresh from the oven. The chefs preparing this mis-named, unwholesome dish are poised to serve it only because of indispensable help from a section of our biggest state’s labor movement.

The California Nurses Association has, as you would expect, been quite vocal in opposition to what they have rightly called a “boondoggle for insurance companies.” So far the California state fed has followed the same line as well.

Until recently, the SEIU California State Council was also a sharp critic of the bipartisan plan. That changed when SEIU president Andy Stern, aka Chairman Andy, engineered the removal of the Council’s outspoken president, Sal Rosselli. SEIU then, along with sometime rival AFSCME, helped smooth the way for passage of the governor’s bill in the California Assembly, giving it some cover of labor backing. (It goes without saying that the treacherous AARP, a major peddler of United Healthcare policies, has also been busy backing the boondoggle while speaking in the name of seniors.)

Coincidently, added to the package before the recent vote was provision of millions for new benefits for healthcare and home care workers represented by these two unions. The healthcare robber barons and their politicians were willing to give their responsible labor friends a little taste in exchange for selling out the rest of the state’s working class. Chairman Andy flew to California to join Schwarzenegger and Democrat assembly leader Fabian Nuñez, in the limelight of a victory press conference.

But the victory is incomplete. The deal still has to clear the California Senate. And Arnold, Fabian, and Andy still have to run a gauntlet of CNA, and their fired-up labor and community allies, before they can spend their winnings of the workers’ money.

Of course, Nataline Sarkisyan is a tragic reminder that even having marketplace insurance in California doesn’t guarantee access to needed healthcare. CIGNA continued to deny approval of a liver transplant for the seventeen-year-old even after four leading physicians, including the surgical director of the Pediatric Liver Transplant Program at UCLA, pleaded with them. After emergency public protests organized by CNA, the HMO finally relented--after a week’s delay. Unfortunately, a few hours after the reversal Nataline died.

This is not an isolated example, as those of us who saw Michael Moore’s film SiCKO know. CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said this most recent incident is “a horrific tragedy that demonstrates what is so fundamentally wrong with our healthcare system today. Insurance companies have a stranglehold on our health. Their first priority is to make profits for their shareholders – and the way they do that is by denying care.” She also acknowledged “It is simply not possible to organize major protests every time a multi-billion corporation like CIGNA denies care that has been recommended by a physician.”

Chairman Andy and Rose Ann are two forceful leaders who personify two opposed approaches in the labor movement.

Just as Stern believes in “partnership” with the bosses he deals with–or wants to deal with–he also is committed to working with the insurance companies in partnership with employers and tax payer subsidies. He has facilitated healthcare “summit” meetings with corporate brass from players such as Wal-Mart and AT&T. He is a prime backer of outfits such as the Herndon Alliance, a spin-off from the old Citizen Action that helped divert a once promising single-payer movement in to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform of Bill’s first term–a text book example of political incompetence. Stern’s camp rejects single-payer today more strongly than ever, still arguing for incremental tweaking of the present failed system. 

DeMoro and the CNA begin with an adversarial advancement of the interests of their RN members, the patients they care for, and the broader working class. They’re not looking to be partners with the likes of Sutter. This is what has guided them in their decisive break with healthcare as a commodity, becoming the most vigorous and consistent labor supporters of totally replacing the corporations standing in the way of healthcare with a Canadian-style single-payer system.

There’s no doubt that the partnership camp so ably represented by Chairman Andy today has the upper hand in resources and grateful backing by the bosses, politicians and media. But Rose Ann’s camp is growing within the unions and among grass roots formations around the country.

A good example is the Single Payer Action Network of Ohio. Founded in 2003 as the result of an initiative taken by the Ohio State Labor Party, SPAN Ohio has fifteen functioning local chapters in the state, has been endorsed by dozens of healthcare professionals, community, and faith groups–and over fifty union bodies. They have recently started getting significant media attention for their efforts to bring single-payer to the Buckeye state.

There is no room for compromise between these counterposed perspectives. We all have to choose which side we are on.

The Matter Of Energy
By golly, congress did pass an energy bill before the end of the year as pledged. We really wish they hadn’t gone to all the trouble.

All attention has been focused on fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks. After much haggling, the Big Three and their UAW partner signed off on fleet wide averages of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. (For those of you in the metric majority outside the USA that’s approximately 15 kilometers per liter.)

At least this aspect–unlike most of the bill--does no harm. But neither is it going to make much difference in personal transportation’s contribution to global warming. According to a study by the World Resources Institute, “The current proposals are not enough...the number of people driving, and the congestion they drive in, will increase so much that the atmosphere will see greater overall emissions from this sector compared to today, not less.”

There were some notable omissions from the Democrat bill. The much ballyhooed initiatives for more wind and solar power were dropped. So was promised reversal of the huge tax give aways to the oil industry enacted by the previous Republican congress.

But the real, if understated center piece of this bill was devoted to the only form of “renewable” energy that has caught the fancy of America’s ruling elite–ethanol. Steven Mufson in the Washington Post pointed out,

“For farmers and agribusiness, it is a windfall, providing more support than perhaps even the farm bill. It doubles the use of corn-based ethanol -- despite criticism that corn-based ethanol is driving up food prices, draining aquifers and exacerbating fertilizer runoff that is creating dead zones in many of the nation's rivers.”

To be fair, the bill also promotes “advanced” biofuels from feedstocks other than corn. In fact it mandates production of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. So far no such fuel has been produced without huge government subsidies–and likely never will. It’s estimated the government share of cost for meeting the mandate would be about 140 billion dollars.

The bill also supplies funding for research on carbon sequestering at power plants–the pipe dream behind “Clean Coal.”

Incredibly, most environmental groups couldn’t contain their joy with the Democrat’s “huge Christmas present to the hardworking American families suffering under record high energy prices,” as the Sierra Club put it. Their executive director, Carl Pope, gushed,

“The leadership in Congress promised a new direction on energy and today they have delivered. This bill is a clean break with the failed energy policies of the past and puts us on the path toward a cleaner, greener energy future.”

Don’t labor’s top environmental allies ever read the Washington Post? As a matter of fact, I’m sure they know all of the disastrous consequences of the energy bill. But, like Chairman Andy and the UAW bureaucracy, the Establishment environmentalists are committed to partnership with corporate polluters and corporate politicians. Working people have yet to find an effective, independent voice in the dialogue--much less action--demanded by the environmental crisis.

We’ll leave the topic of mainstream environmentalism on a lighter note with a recommendation to those of you who appreciate Onion-style satire to visit this site.

Auto Worker Gathering
The Center for Labor Renewal and the Solidarity Education Center, are sponsoring a one-day conference in Flint Saturday, January 26, to analyze the recent concessionary Big Three Auto contracts and to explore strategies and tactics for reclaiming unionism’s direction. For more information contact Jerry Tucker at:

Our Holiday Schedule
Since most union operations shut down between Christmas and New Year, and a lot fewer folks visit our site during this time, we are taking a break from updating the Daily Labor News Digest until Wednesday, January 2. We do plan to have a year end Week In Review out next Sunday. Best holiday wishes to all of our readers.

That’s all for this week.

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