Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
December 9, 2007

Fight Continues At Ford
The city of islands in the mouths of the Neva River in Russia has, under various names, played a big role in history. After kicking the Swedes out of the area, the Czar who became known as Peter the Great built a beautiful new city there and made it the Russian capital. He named it after his patron saint. During the First World War the authorities changed the name from German-sounding St Petersburg to Slavic Petrograd. Before the end of that war the city became the venue for
Ten Days That Shook the World as Petrograd workers led a revolution that not only overthrew the Czar but the pro-boss government that tried to replace the monarchy as well. Stalin later changed the city’s name to Leningrad. During the Second World War the city’s workers held out against a siege by Hitler’s army that lasted 900 days. I had an opportunity to visit the moving exhibits at a museum dedicated to that heroic struggle while on a 1977 vacation tour in the Soviet Union. One of the first acts in the drive to restore capitalism–if not yet the Czar–in the break up of the Soviet Union was reverting to the pre-revolutionary, German-sounding name, St Petersburg.

What’s all this got to do with Ford? One of the most successful examples of Ford’s global operations is Ford-Vsevolojsk in suburban St Petersburg–an area becoming Russia’s new Detroit. The plant cranks out the most popular “foreign”marque in the Russian market–the Focus. This sturdy compact sells for about 17,000 dollars over there–just slightly higher than in the USA. However, the Russian Ford workers are paid a little over 200 dollars a week–less than UAW workers assembling the same car get in a day. While plant management has received substantial raises this year the workers have got bubkus.

Breaking with Putin’s sweetheart unions, the Ford workers, organized in the Inter-Region Union of Automotive Workers, are on point in a new resurgence of independent, militant unionism. Demanding a thirty percent raise, COLA protection against inflation, and improvements in working conditions, they have cut Focus production by two/thirds with creative strike tactics and are making appeals for global support.

It’s in the interests of American workers–especially auto workers–to show solidarity with the union upsurge shaping up in the Russian auto, and other industries. Ford is not the only multinational muscling in for a piece of the action in the rapidly expanding Russian market. Toyota and Nissan are already building plants in the Petersburg region and Renault is taking over the huge Lada works in Togliatti, on the Volga–historically geared to the export market. (GM is concentrating on the even bigger market, with cheaper labor costs, in China. They’re taking five billion out of the give backs they recently received from the UAW to invest there–where they expect to sell a million cars next year.)

The working class has taken a beating in the two-tier society resulting from the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Now expanding industry is accompanied by a labor shortage and workers are beginning to sense they again have potential power. Perhaps the workers of Petersburg will once again inspire and lead Russian workers in battle--in the same fight, against the same bosses, we deal with in the USA.

Nurses I
It was one of those good news-bad news weeks for striking nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare. A federal appeals court upheld a lower court judgment against ARH for flagrantly violating, since December 2005, the union contract provision calling for forty hours pay for 36 hours work That could add up to a welcome chunk of change for the 700 members of the United American Nurses.

But the employer rejected the union’s offer to return to work for ninety days while negotiators worked to come up with a settlement that could close out the strike that began October 1. Instead ARH insisted that they were permanently replacing the strikers with scabs who have accepted the terms of the take-back deal voted down nearly unanimously by the union nurses.

With the strike well into a third month, coming up on the holidays, the strikers are feeling the pinch of missed pay checks. They’ve made it this far mainly because of material solidarity. The AFL-CIO has collected tens of thousands of dollars for their relief fund and AFSCME and the California Nurses Association have each contributed ten thousand. Continued assistance is needed. Online contributions can be made by clicking here.

Nurses II
It seems like most of our good news these days comes from the California Nurses Association and their
National Nurses Organizing Committee arm. This week the union won, by a 2-1 margin, bargaining rights for 500 RNs at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada.

Can’t See the Forest ‘Cause There’s No Trees
The milk-toast Kyoto treaty never addressed a major problem creating global warming–deforestation. As an article in today’s Washington Post noted,

“Deforestation is one of the biggest drivers of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Each year, tropical forests covering an area at least equal to the size of New York state are destroyed; the carbon dioxide that those trees would have absorbed amounts to 20 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, about the same as total U.S. emissions.”

The Bali conference (where attendance is now up to 12,000) is well situated to examine deforestation first hand. Massive stretches of tropical forest have been burned in Indonesia to make room for palm plantations. Palm oil has long been used as an ingredient in foods, soaps and plastics. Now it’s highly prized as a “biofuel,” and the market can’t get enough of the stuff. Undoubtedly the processors will get subsidies and tax breaks for making alternative fuel that is good for the environment!

While Bali debates whether such insanity should even be an issue for the treaty replacing Kyoto, activists took to the streets in many parts of the world yesterday to focus on the urgency of climate change. Reports from the USA I’ve seen so far are of quite modest turnouts. Some European countries did better. Fifteen thousand marched in freezing rain in London. Four thousand braved cold weather and a national rail strike to march in Brussels. In Berlin, ice sculpture artist Christian Funk carved a polar bear out of 15 tons of ice at the Brandenburg Gate and Christmas markets turned their lights out for five minutes in solidarity. Al Gore, in Oslo to pick up his Nobel Prize, declined to join Norwegian protesters.

In Sync
We’re finally back to our goal of Sunday publication. We’ll try to stay on schedule for a while.

That’s all for this week.


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